Progressives Not Impressed With Biden's Executive Orders: '3rd Obama Term Is Not Good Enough'

President Joe Biden spent his first week in office signing executive orders and memorandums on priority issues, including climate change, LGBT rights, the economy and health care.

To little surprise, conservatives and allies of former President Donald Trump have not been impressed. U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise called Biden's first week in office "radical," "scary" and "a disaster," and accused the president of only looking out for the "far left."

But progressives, who helped oust Trump and loft Biden into office, also are voicing concerns—arguing the president isn't doing enough to meet their demands and could miss a narrow window to make significant change as Americans struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, economic hardships, and the growing threat of natural disasters linked to climate change.

"I'm seeing too much hesitation," Jeff Cohen of RootsAction, a progressive activist group, told Newsweek. "If they don't deliver amid these multiple crises, then Republicans will storm back into power in 2022."

After campaigning for Biden's election, RootsAction pivoted to campaigning for him to adopt more progressive positions through its "No Honeymoon for Biden" effort, with Cohen noting the "narrow window" that Democrats have in control of the House of Representatives, Senate and White House ahead of next year's midterm elections.

Cohen said he already fears a midterm election cycle like 2010 in Obama's first term, when Republicans took control of the House and narrowed the Democrats' majority in the Senate.

"We're looking at history and trying to save Biden from himself," Cohen said.

The White House has repeatedly stressed that Biden's been in office a little over a week and his top priority at the moment is trying to build support around his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The president and key members of his administration have been lobbying lawmakers since before the inauguration.

Biden has signed at least 42 executive actions—the first flurry coming just hours after he was sworn into office on January 20. Nearly every weekday since then, he's had more.

"We're actually pretty hopeful and optimistic about the opportunity and the ability to work with Democrats and Republicans to get packages through to help bring relief to the American public. But we also recognize that members of Congress have different points of view. They have lots of ideas, they're gonna bring those forward. We're hearing them, and we're just eager to move things forward as quickly as we can," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters this week. "We're still on a pretty rapid pace here."

Republicans in Congress have seized on Biden's executive actions as divisiveness from a president who pledged unity in his inaugural speech.

"He spent the first week-and-a-half of his presidency carrying out executive orders that are divisive and devastating to millions of families in America," Scalise told Newsweek.

Scalise said that in his home state of Louisiana and elsewhere, the president's executive actions on energy and decision to reenter the Paris climate agreement will cost thousands of jobs.

"In one short week we will have lost over a million jobs, seen our energy security drop and seen global emissions on the path to increasing," Scalise said.

Scalise said he was also bothered by Biden's decision to repeal the Reagan-era Mexico City policy that Trump resigned to bar federal funds from going to organizations that provide abortion services abroad.

"It's an insult to millions of people in America whose religious beliefs are being attacked and the people who don't want taxpayer dollars going to fund abortions," Scalise said.

A president's authority through executive orders, which skirt congressional approval, is finite. Orders can be reversed by future administrations and often are limited in scope.

But progressive activists say they expect more from Biden, who has hung a portrait of progressive folk hero Franklin D. Roosevelt near his desk in the Oval Office.

"(FDR) transformed this country," Cohen said. "Biden's impulse is to reach across the aisle to Republicans and assure them he's not making big changes."

When the president signed an executive order undoing Trump's efforts to dismantle the Obama-era federal Affordable Care Act, he said publicly that his action wasn't doing anything new—it was just a return to the Obama plan.

"Who did he feel he was assuring with those comments?" Cohen said. "He was infuriating us."

"A third Obama term is not good enough," Cohen added.

JOe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office just hours after his inauguration on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden became the 46th president of the United States earlier today during the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Chip Somodevilla/Getty