Biden seeks to immediately turn page from Trump era
President Biden sought to turn the page on the Trump era immediately upon taking office, calling on the nation to move past the political warfare that defined the last four years and signing a slew of executive actions reversing the last president’s most controversial policies.
Biden halted the construction of both the southern border wall and the Keystone XL pipeline hours after taking the oath, while reversing former President Trump’s order restricting migration from certain majority-Muslim countries.
The new president began the process of reentering the U.S. into both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris Agreement on climate change, while freezing regulations issued by the Trump administration in the past 60 days.
Day one was just the beginning for Biden, who in the coming days will end Trump’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military and allow federal funds to flow to providers of abortion services.
Biden is asking Congress to deliver a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to bolster the economy and a flagging vaccine distribution program.
He also sent an immigration proposal to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, revamp border security and look to address root causes of migration to the U.S.
The policy signals reflected a new era in Washington from the “America First” effort championed by Trump and a GOP Congress in 2017. Biden’s executive actions and legislative proposals were the difference between night and day when compared to Trump’s decisions that withdrew the nation from multilateral efforts while building a wall on the Mexican border and imposing what critics labeled a travel ban on Muslim countries.
It was a difference also reflected in tone and message by the new president, who made unity the theme of his inaugural address and pledged to end what he termed an “uncivil war.”
“We can see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect,” he said. “We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace. Only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos.”
There were some signs of optimism for Biden’s approach on Wednesday, at least.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called Biden’s remarks “very strong,” while Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said he had “struck the right themes of unity, a call for us to come together, to stop viewing one another as adversaries but rather as fellow Americans.”
But one of those senators is a leading GOP critic of Trump and the other hails from a state Biden won in last year’s election. The road ahead is almost certain to get bumpier.
The Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties, leaving little room for error, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) majority in the House is narrower than during the last Congress.
This is likely to lead Biden to use executive action, something underscored by a document obtained by The Hill laying out 53 executive actions Biden could take over the next 10 days to reverse some Trump administration policies and implement his own.
On Wednesday, Biden signed a total of 15 executive actions and sent out two additional agency directives, which compares to only two executive actions taken on the first day in office by Biden’s four immediate predecessors combined.
On Thursday, Biden plans to sign 10 additional executive orders pertaining to the pandemic aimed at expanding testing, doling out the vaccine, reopening schools and businesses and ensuring racial equity.
Those moves will be headlined by Biden’s “100 Days Masking Challenge” asking Americans to commit to wearing face coverings in public for the next three months. Biden has also signed an executive order requiring masks be worn by all federal workers and anyone who steps inside a federal building.
“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach, to respond to COVID, and we’ve seen the tragic costs of that failure,” said Jeff Zients, Biden’s coronavirus response czar. “As President Biden steps into office today, that all changes.”
Biden’s Cabinet is taking shape more slowly due to the sluggish confirmation pace in the Senate, but the new president is making key appointments immediately.
Biden has tapped Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert and a familiar face to Americans from the last year, to act as U.S. envoy to WHO.
Fauci addressed the organization’s executive board meeting on Thursday morning.
“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” he said.
There were some signs on Wednesday of a return to an old normal, with a new Democratic president who served in his party’s last administration returning the nation to some of those previous policies.
Business groups that were often at odds with the Obama administration, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, praised Biden’s move to rejoin the Paris Agreement but panned his move to kill the Keystone project.
Biden will also be dealing with a progressive base in the Democratic Party that is hungry for action and that did not see him as its preferred candidate during the primary.
“These are welcome first steps after four brutal years of attacks on Black and Brown people,” Manar Waheed, the legislative policy counsel for the ACLU, said in a statement about Wednesday’s actions. “But much more needs to be done. The incoming administration is inheriting the horrific policies and legacy of the Trump administration, and it must sharply, swiftly, and completely reverse course and begin to move us forward.”
Addressing social justice will be a top priority for a Biden administration that views Trump as hostile toward people of color, women and LGBTQ Americans.
Racial equity will be a driving factor behind Biden’s vaccine distribution plan.
Biden will rescind Trump’s “1776 Commission,” which critics said papered over the nation’s history of systemic racism.
And Biden has signed an executive order revoking Trump’s effort to exclude noncitizens from the U.S. census, while eliminating the term “alien” from federal documents discussing noncitizens.
—Updated at 10:10 a.m. Brett Samuels contributed.
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