• The Star Staff

Trump orders lifting of virus travel ban, but Biden aides vow to block move

By Michael D. Shear

President Donald Trump on Monday ordered an end to the ban on travelers from Europe and Brazil that had been aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus to the United States, a move quickly rejected by aides to President-elect Joe Biden, who said Biden will maintain the ban when he takes office Wednesday.

In a proclamation issued late Monday, Trump said that the travel restrictions, which apply to noncitizens trying to come to the United States after spending time in those areas, would no longer be needed on Jan. 26, the date on which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

Trump wrote that Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of Health and Human Services, had recommended ending the restrictions on travel from most parts of Europe and Brazil, while maintaining restrictions on Iran and China, which Trump said had not been cooperative.

“I agree with the secretary that this action is the best way to continue protecting Americans from COVID-19 while enabling travel to resume safely,” the president said in the proclamation.

But Jennifer Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary for Biden, said the new administration would not allow Trump’s directives to take effect.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” Psaki tweeted shortly after the White House issued Trump’s proclamation.

“On the advice of our medical team, the administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26,” she said. “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”

The proclamation lifting the travel ban was part of a flurry of executive orders Trump issued on Monday that will most likely be rescinded or reversed by Biden.

The president-elect has made getting control of the pandemic the centerpiece of his new administration, and has been highly critical of how his predecessor handled the worst public health crisis in more than 100 years.

Biden has said the American people must be prepared to endure a “dark winter” in which the virus spreads rapidly and creates more sickness and death. His advisers have recommended that he institute a mask mandate in federal workplaces and for interstate travel in the hopes of slowing the increase in the number of infections.

Aides to Biden made it clear Monday that relaxing restrictions now did not make sense.

Trump has long sought to use his willingness to ban travel to slow the spread of the virus as evidence that he acted swiftly in the early days of the pandemic. In fact, medical experts have said the restrictions on travel from China, which Trump imposed in late January, were riddled with exemptions that allowed tens of thousands of people who had been in China to enter the United States in the weeks after the ban.

Trump’s restrictions on travel from Europe did not go into effect until mid-March, by which time the virus was well established in the United States. In May, the administration imposed a travel ban on people who had been in Brazil.

The proclamation on the travel restrictions appeared to be an effort to help the airline and hospitality industries, which have been hard hit by the ban.

In it, Trump said that the ban was not needed any more because unrestricted travel into the United States “is no longer detrimental to the interests of the United States” and added that he found it “in the interest of the United States to terminate the suspension of entry into the United States of persons who have been physically present in those jurisdictions.”

The president’s attempt to alter policy related to the pandemic just two days before he leaves office is in keeping with the unorthodox way he has conducted the transition to a new administration. Normally, departing presidents refrain from issuing new executive orders without consulting with the incoming president.

But Trump has refused to abide by those norms. For weeks after Biden was projected to be the winner of the presidential race, the president refused to acknowledge defeat and held up the formal process of transitioning power to Biden’s team.

And more recently, Trump administration officials have been racing to put in place policy changes that could be disruptive to the incoming president.

Trump’s other executive orders Monday included one that would allow federal agencies to issue new regulations only at the instigation of political appointees.

That order appeared to be intended to allow existing political appointees from Trump’s administration to keep control of new regulations until Biden replaces them with appointees of his own, a process that can sometimes take weeks or months.

Trump also issued an executive order directing the federal government not to purchase drones “that present unacceptable risks and are manufactured by, or contain software or critical electronic components from, foreign adversaries.” That order appeared to be aimed at China.

Trump ordered the creation of a National Garden of American Heroes that would include statues of notable people. The order followed Trump’s complaints during the summer that protesters were defacing statues, something he used as a cultural wedge issue in his losing presidential campaign.

He also issued one executive order that would try to increase protections for prosecutors and another that would aim to protect Americans from “overcriminalization” by regulations.

None of Trump’s executive orders are likely to be in force long past noon on Wednesday.

Biden has pledged to work to reverse Trump’s legacy and plans a blitz of executive orders of his own — many of them reversing the Trump agenda — in the first hours and days that he is in the White House.

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