This is a snapshot overview of President Biden's first weeks in office in comparison to several prior presidents. For this snapshot, we simply tally the number of certain kinds of actions. These include the following document categories: Executive Orders, Memoranda, and Proclamations. As the graph below illustrates, President Biden has set records for the numbers of such actions at the outset of his presidency.
As of February 19, Biden appears to have entered a period of relative inaction compared to the torrid pace of his first two weeks. This relative "pause" is very similar to the trends observed for Clinton, Obama, and Trump.
- Documents vs. Orders. We are counting “ordering documents.” A single document may contain multiple orders. For example, Executive Order 13990 arguably includes at least 18 kinds of statements directing a particular kind of administrative action (e.g.., “immediately review,” “seek input,” “place a temporary moratorium,” “provide recommendations,” “shall rescind,” etc.). There are sometimes multiple instances of particular instances of specific ordering language. Included among those directives is the immediate revocation of: 9 prior executive orders, 3 memoranda, one pipeline permit, and the 90-day suspension of another executive order. The order specifies 13 regulations for review and revision as appropriate. So a single executive order includes language directing around 40 distinct actions. EO 13990 is just one count on the graph below.
- Orders in other document categories. Presidential orders can appear in documents with other kinds of category titles. An important example is President Biden’s 1/20/21 “Statement” in which he “hereby accept[s]. . . every article and clause” of the Paris Agreement of December 12, 2015.
- National Emergencies. The graph below does not include "Notices" which we would count as an order. In a Notice, a President announces that he is continuing a prior declaration of a "state of emergency." On February 11, Biden gave notice of his continuation of the State of Emergency with respect to Libya. On the same day he had declared a National Emergency with respect to Burma in Executive Order 14014. In Proclamation 10142 (1/20/21), Biden had terminated the State of Emergency on the Southern Border proclaimed by Trump in Proclamation 9844 (2/15/2019).
- Disaster and Emergency Declarations. Other orders not reflected in the graph include action under the Stafford Act. This gives presidents discretion to declare a domestic "emergency" or a "disaster," and to provide Federal relief. The President usually acts following a request from a state governor or the Chief Executive of a tribal government. A "disaster" triggers more Federal assistance than an "emergency." Bidden has declared five disasters (the fifth is for Texas, which was signed late on the 19th) and three emergencies.
- Order clusters. As of 2/19/21 (with no change over the week), Biden had issued 11 documents that included references to "climate change" or a "climate crisis" or the President's "Special Envoy for Climate." He had referred to COVID-19 in 26 of 54 documents.
- Reversals. Typically, we expect incoming presidents, especially after a change in party, to explicitly reject some policies of their predecessor. Among the Biden documents, there are explicit rejection actions (revoking, amending, suspending, reinstating, etc.) in 19 out of 51 documents. For Biden, an important reversal involves the aggressive stance he has taken on addressing COVID-19 at the national level and his emphasis on reliance on scientific advice (as reflected in a number of separate documents). As a reference point, starting in March 2020, President Trump issued 63 ordering documents addressing COVID-19.
- DAY ONE priorities. The Biden campaign identified a set of “Day One” priorities. These especially featured: Climate change (including reentering the Paris Agreement); diversity of political appointees; immigration and asylum; COVID-19 (and the related economic crisis); racial injustice; creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. By February 4, each of these has been addressed in at least one ordering document, and we have concluded that all of them were addressed in orders on “day one.” Among those actions, Biden had promised to submit legislation for Immigration Reform--which the White House announced on 1/20. The bill was formally introduced in the House on 2/18/21; Senate introduction will be in the week of 2/22/21.
The number of Biden actions early in his first month in office has rarely been reached by presidents before the 7th or 8th week in office. It seems unlikely, as of this writing, that he will be continuing this pace of activity. Our graph will be updated weekly.
The graph below compares presidents who took office following a partisan change in the Presidency, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt. So, we excluded from the analysis Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and George Bush. In the graph, Republicans are represented in red and Democrats in blue.
It is axiomatic that each of these kinds of actions will not be equally important, especially when viewed over a longer term. Most proclamations are symbolically significant but do not involve a Presidential order that attempts to alter the status quo in an important way. Through 2/19/21 (no change from prior week), Biden had issued 8 proclamations of which four are traditional symbolic calls for recognition of groups or causes (Unity, Heart Month, Black History Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month). The other four proclamations are substantive and deal with immigration and imports.
[Dates of important revisions: 1/29/21; 1/30/21; 2/5/21; 2/12/21; 2/19/21]