Biden's high volume of executive actions — though it has drawn criticism from conservatives as governing outside the system — is "not a huge surprise" given recent political polarization, one expert tells PEOPLE

By Sean Neumann
Updated March 12, 2021 02:04 PM
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President Joe Biden signs three documents including an inauguration declaration, cabinet nominations and sub-cabinet nominations in the President's Room at the US Capitol after the inauguration ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
President Joe Biden
| Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo/AP/Shutterstock

Within minutes of stepping into the Oval Office after his inauguration on Jan. 20, President Joe Biden began signing a stack of executive orders waiting on the Resolute desk.

Biden, 78, signed 25 executive orders within his two weeks in office — the most by a new president in modern U.S. history. In the weeks since taking office, the new president has continued to reshape the federal government with executive orders.

Biden’s sweeping use of orders has drawn applause from supporters hoping the president would reverse many of former President Donald Trump's policies, but his historic use of them has brought criticism as well.

"You can't govern with a pen and a phone," Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, tweeted days after Biden took office. Another Republican, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert (who has drawn controversy of her own) pleaded for someone to "please hide the pens" at the White House.

In late January, The New York Times editorial board published an op-ed titled: "Ease up on the Executive Actions, Joe."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden's rush of executive orders within the administration’s first few days in office, saying the president was merely taking steps "immediately to address the pain and suffering that the American people were feeling," which "includes overturning some of the detrimental, harmful, and, at times, immoral policies and actions of the prior administration."

President Joe Biden signs three documents including an inauguration declaration, cabinet nominations and sub-cabinet nominations in the President's Room at the US Capitol after the inauguration ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
President Joe Biden
| Credit: JIM LO SCALZO/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
President Joe Biden signs three documents including an inauguration declaration, cabinet nominations and sub-cabinet nominations in the President's Room at the US Capitol after the inauguration ceremony, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
President Joe Biden (center), with Vice President Kamala Harris (right), as he signs three documents including an Inauguration declaration, cabinet nominations and sub-cabinet nominations on Wednesday.
| Credit: JIM LO SCALZO/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Biden's 25 first-month executive orders were more than double the amount any president in the modern U.S. era had signed in their own first months, says Dr. Adam Warber, a Clemson political science professor and the author of Executive Orders and the Modern Presidency.

Trump had signed seven executive orders in January 2017 and President Barack Obama signed nine in January 2009, while no president from Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush signed more than two during their first weeks in office.

"Although the number is large for Biden, it is not a huge surprise because Democrats want to reverse a good portion of the policy actions that were undertaken by the Trump administration and given the high polarization in Washington politics," Warber tells PEOPLE.

Here are some of the biggest executive orders Biden has signed during his first weeks in office.

On COVID-19

Biden promised many times before taking office that his administration's No. 1 goal would be to manage the dueling health and economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president signed an executive order requiring people wear protective facemasks on federal property, while he also extended a pause on federal student loan payments and interest until at least Sept. 30.

Biden also ordered a pause on evictions and foreclosures through the end of March.

On the Environment

Last week, the president declared "we can't wait any longer" to combat climate change. Biden signed a sweeping list of executive orders aimed at thwarting negative impacts on the environment, including his executive decision to end the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and re-committing the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement.

In addition to his executive actions, Biden also signed a memo vowing the federal government will "make evidence-based decisions" based on science and ordered that "scientific findings should never be distorted or influenced by political considerations."

On Immigration

Biden reversed Trump's expansion of immigration shortly after he was sworn in on Jan. 20, signing an executive order that vowed to "reset the policies and practices for enforcing civil immigration laws."

The president later halted the construction of Trump's border wall between U.S. and Mexico, eliminated a Trump-era ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and strengthened DACA protections for immigrants who are seeking U.S. citizenship after being brought to the country by their parents as children.

With three more orders signed on Tuesday, Biden took aim at reversing Trump's controversial approach on immigration. Responding to criticism that he's signed too many executive orders, Biden said: "I'm not making new law, I'm eliminating bad policy."

Biden's most prominent new immigration order creates a task force to reunite families separated at the US-Mexico border under his predecessor's "zero tolerance" policy. (Justice Department lawyers revealed last October they still haven't been able to locate the parents of hundreds of migrant children separated from their families under the Trump administration's policy.)

A second executive order on immigration seeks to better manage the flow of migrants traveling from Central America through Mexico and to the U.S. Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters Tuesday that the order develops "a strategy to address the root causes of migration." Meanwhile, a third executive order designed to review the U.S. immigration system "promotes immigrant integration and inclusion," Psaki said.

"These actions are centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous with a fair, safe, and orderly immigration system," the White House spokesperson added.

On Equality

Biden ended Trump's ban on transgender military members — one of the previous president's most controversial decisions. On racial inequality, Biden issued an executive order calling on government agencies to reallocate "resources in a manner that increases investment in underserved communities," while he also issued an order condemning racism against Asian Americans following a rise in incidents amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On gender equality, Biden also issued another executive order banning workplace discrimination. "Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear," Biden wrote in that order, adding, "All persons should receive equal treatment under the law."

In March, Biden signed three more executive orders promoting equality and equity in the government.

The president established a Gender Policy Council that will deliver him a plan to "advance gender equity and equality in the United States and around the world," while he also signed an order reaffirming the stance that no students shall face discrimination based on sex or gender. Both of those orders were signed on International Women's Day.

A day earlier, Biden also signed an executive order promoting equal voting access. The order Biden signed directs every government agency to come up with a plan to expand voting access, while it also directs an overhaul of the vote.gov site, bringing it up to date. The order also promotes more equal access by requiring jails to receive education materials on voting.