Joe Biden last night overturned Donald Trump’s ban on transgender personnel in the military and said “all Americans” qualified to serve should be able to do so.
The new president reversed his predecessor’s decision, announced on Twitter in 2017, to stop transgender people serving “in any capacity”.
Mr Biden also introduced new measures to make the US government buy products made in America as he sought to boost manufacturing jobs.
And he maintained a ban on nearly all non-US travellers from the UK and Europe, which had been due to expire this week
Jen Psaki, his press secretary, said: “With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel.”
Meanwhile, Republican senators increasingly backed Mr Trump as Democrats were last night due to formally deliver an article of impeachment – for incitement of insurrection – to the Senate.
With polls showing a large majority of Republican voters also still approving of Mr Trump, Sarah Sanders, his former press secretary, launched a vocally pro-Trump bid to become governor of Arkansas.
And Rob Portman, a moderate Republican senator from Ohio, announced he would not stand again next year.
In the Oval Office, Mr Biden signed an executive order, saying he wanted to allow all “qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform.”
Today, I repealed the discriminatory ban on transgender people serving in the military. It’s simple: America is safer when everyone qualified to serve can do so openly and with pride.
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 25, 2021
A White House spokeswoman said: “An inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
Mr Biden appeared alongside Lloyd Austin, who has become America’s first black defence secretary.
In 2016 Barack Obama initiated a move to allow transgender people to serve openly in the US military and receive medical care to transition genders.
The following year Mr Trump, taking the Pentagon off guard, declared in a tweet that transgender people could not serve because it would cause “disruption and tremendous medical costs”.
He said the military should focus on “decisive and overwhelming victory”.
In 2016 Rand Corp, a US policy research institute, estimated about 2,450 active service members were transgender.
Nic Talbott, a transgender man who was forced to drop out of the military after the ban in 2017, said he would rejoin.
He said: “This is such a huge relief, such a huge weight off my shoulders. I know there are thousands of other people out there just like me who have been counting down to this day, waiting to be able to start our careers.”
Mr Biden signed another “Buy American” executive order giving US companies priority in government contracts.
It also increased the amount of a product that has to be sourced from the US in order for it to be considered “Made in America”.
The president believes he can use the $600 billion Washington spends each year on contracts to boost domestic manufacturing jobs.
A White House official said: “He does not accept the defeatist idea that automation and globalisation mean that we can’t have good-paying union jobs here in America.”
Last night, the article of impeachment against Mr Trump was due to be taken by Democrats to the Senate in a ceremonial procession through the US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, where three weeks ago rioters marauded.
Some Republican senators said they were being flooded with calls from constituents and donors urging them to acquit Mr Trump.
A growing number of the senators questioned whether a trial should take place at all.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, has allowed a free vote. If 17 of the 50 Republican senators join Democrats, Mr Trump would be convicted.
But on a conference call Mr McConnell was asked by fellow Republican senators to do more to defend Mr Trump, and even to go to the Supreme Court to get the case thrown out.
Indications were that Mr Trump also continued to have the support of a majority of the 168 members of the Republican National Committee.
Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, called for a boycott of the “sham” trial.
Mr Paul said: “To argue that any politician that tells a crowd to ‘fight to take back your country’ is somehow guilty of incitement is absurd.”
It emerged that Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, would preside over the impeachment trial instead of Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Constitution only requires that the chief justice preside in the trial of a sitting president.
Republicans said the decision created a conflict of interest and delegitimised the trial.
In a video announcing her pro-Trump bid in Arkansas, Ms Sanders lambasted socialism, “cancel culture,” and the Green New Deal.
She added:: “With the radical left now in control of Washington your governor is your last line of defence.”
Mr Portman, the Ohio senator, said: “Members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left.”
Jeff Flake, the former moderate Republican senator from Arizona, said continuing support for Mr Trump was “concerning”.
He said: “My former colleagues are wondering where the base of the party is going to land, and there is concern they might stick with the [former] president.
“[But] there’s essentially no future with Trumpism, it’s a demographic cul-de-sac.”
In a new court case Dominion, a voting machine company, sued Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani for defamation, seeking damages of $1.3 billion.
The company accused Mr Giuliani of perpetuating a “big lie” about widespread fraud in the presidential election.
The US Supreme Court brought an end to legal cases in which Mr Trump was accused of illegally profiting from his presidency.
Cases had been brought alleging he violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting payments from foreign and domestic officials when they stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
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