President Biden on Thursday signed two executive actions focused on healthcare, describing the directives as a necessary effort to “undo the damage” done by former President Trump.
Biden signed an order directing federal agencies to open a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges from Feb. 15 to May 15 in response to the coronavirus pandemic and to review existing policies put in place under the Trump administration that limited access to healthcare.
The president also signed a presidential memorandum rescinding the Mexico City policy preventing federal funds from flowing to foreign aid groups that provide abortion-related services.
Biden repeatedly insisted Thursday that the directives did nothing but reverse the Trump administration’s policies and restore the policies of the Obama administration.
“I am not initiating any new law, any new aspect of the law. This is going back to what the situation was prior to the president’s executive order,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office.
The Mexico City policy, also dubbed the “global gag rule” by reproductive health advocates, was first established under former President Reagan in 1984 and has been consistently reversed by Democratic administrations and reenacted by Republican administrations.
The memo also directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to consider rescinding controversial changes to its Title X family program put in place during the previous administration.
The directives are among dozens of executive actions Biden has taken in his first eight days as president, many of which have been aimed at rolling back the Trump administration’s policies. While Biden’s focus on Thursday was on healthcare, he has also signed executive actions addressing climate change, immigration, the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden administration officials defended his use of executive action as the moves came under scrutiny from the New York Times editorial board earlier Thursday. The paper’s editorial board implored Biden to “ease up” on the executive actions, describing executive orders as a “flawed substitute for legislation.”
“We are not taking executive action in lieu of legislation: we are taking executive action to fix what Trump broke in the executive branch, and to keep the President’s commitments to use his power – within appropriate limits – to make progress on four crises,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted in response.
After signing the executive actions, Biden made clear that his top priority is working with Congress to pass a coronavirus relief package. White House aides have fanned out to engage with lawmakers and other stakeholders on the $1.9 trillion package Biden proposed shortly before taking office.
“We got a lot to do and the first thing I’ve got to do is get this COVID package passed,” Biden said.