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VERIFY: Here's what powers the president has on their first day in office

The Verify team spoke with a trio of political experts about what the president-elect can do without Congress' support.


What can Joe Biden do right away as president, without Congress' approval? 


The Verify team spoke with a trio of experts who outlined numerous immediate actions, including Executive Orders and appointments to his massive staff.

All three emphasized that he also will now hold the "power to persuade," as he can set the tone in Washington and across the country. 


  • Gary Nordlinger, Adjunct Professor of Politics at The George Washington University
  • Hans Noel, Associate Professor of Politics at Georgetown University
  • Dr. Ravi Perry, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Howard University


At noon on January 20th, the constitutionally mandated transfer of power will occur, and Joe Biden will become president. Many on social media questioned what actions he can take immediately, without Congressional approval. 

To find answers, the Verify team contacted a trio of political science experts. 

Executive orders:

All three said that Biden could immediately issue numerous Executive Orders. 

"There are certain things that he can change on day one," said Dr. Ravi Perry from Howard University. "Hour one. Minute one." 

Biden's office has not announced the specific executive orders publicly. However, the Associated Press has reported that Biden's Chief Of Staff, Ron Klain outlined several possible executive orders in a memo to staff that would be issued within the first ten days. 

Here are a few of the major executive orders planned, according to Klain's memo.

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Accord
  • Reverse the travel ban from several majority-Muslim countries
  • Issue a mask mandate on federal property and interstate travel 

"There is a ton you can do with Executive Orders," said Nordlinger. "Providing that it doesn't circumvent Congressional laws."

Noel said that this type of seesawing policies through executive orders has become the norm over the last few decades. 

"In part because of polarization," he said. "And because of divided government over the last couple decades, presidents have gotten really good at using executive orders, signing statements and the like to adapt."


One of the major responsibilities of a president is to appoint a staff to fill the massive bureaucracy of the federal government.

"The president has 4,000 people to appoint to federal office," said Nordlinger.

Dr. Perry pointed to the influence of figures like Attorney General Bill Barr in the Trump administration. He says these appointees can make a major difference in the day-to-day operations.

"They set the tone," he said. "To be clear, where I live in D.C. as you do as well, there are a lot of bureaucrats that are career employees that work in these departments that have been DMV residents their whole lives. Their lives aren't going to change that much. But the tone of the office changes."

Noel said that these appointments can change policy. 

"It doesn't require the writing of whole new laws," he said. "You just need someone in charge who says 'we're going to prioritize this and not that' within, within the mandate that they have from Congress."

The power to persuade:

All three political experts mentioned the same phrase when talking about presidential powers

"The power of the presidency is the power to persuade," said Noel. 

"One of the main powers that we talk about when we talk about the American presidency is the power to persuade," said Perry. 

"The number one presidential power is the power to persuade," said Nordlinger.

All three experts explained that typically when the president speaks, the attention follows. This gives the president the power to set the agenda on Capitol Hill, and perhaps change public opinion nationwide. 

"The president's words get repeated and amplified as the news media carries reports of this all over the world," said Nordlinger. 

Noel said that the COVID-19 response from Biden could be a primary example. 

"The president can't tell states how to implement policies," he said. "But the president can try to help coordinate across states. And encourage them. And say this is what we'd like states to do."