Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Mark­ing a new legacy in 1st month

The ques­tion is whether Bi­den can de­liver with pol­icy

- By Jonathan Lemire and Calvin Wood­ward U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Elections · Washington · Joe Biden · Donald Trump · Republican Party (United States) · Democratic Party (United States) · Oval Office · White House · Barack Obama · Iran · United States of America · World Health Organization · Paris · NATO · Beijing · United States Senate · United States Office of Management and Budget · Office of Management · Robert Gibbs

WASH­ING­TON — Joe Bi­den is a month into his pres­i­dency and at least one pat­tern is clear. He doesn’t want to talk about “the for­mer guy.”

That guy is Don­ald Trump. But if Bi­den is re­luc­tant to say Trump’s name too much, a lot of what he has been do­ing has been in di­rect con­trast to his pre­de­ces­sor’s legacy.

On pol­icy, sym­bol­ism and style, Bi­den has been purg­ing Trump­ism how­ever he can in an open­ing stretch that is wholly un­like his pre­de­ces­sor’s first month.

The test for Bi­den is whether his stylis­tic changes will be matched by poli­cies that de­liver a marked im­prove­ment from Trump, and a month is not long enough to mea­sure that. Fur­ther, the length of Bi­den’s honey­moon is likely to be brief in highly po­lar­ized Wash­ing­ton, with Repub­li­cans al­ready say­ing he has caved to the left wing of the

Demo­cratic Party.

The first time the na­tion saw Bi­den in the Oval Of­fice, he sat be­hind the Res­o­lute Desk wear­ing a mask. Trump, of course, had es­chewed masks, and made their use a cul­ture war totem and po­lit­i­cal cud­gel.

Though Bi­den wore a mask in the cam­paign, see­ing it on the face of the new pres­i­dent in the Oval Of­fice made for a dif­fer­ent mes­sage. Bi­den wished to make a sharp break with his pre­de­ces­sor while his ad­min­is­tra­tion came to own the deep and in­tractable crises that awaited him.

With ex­ec­u­tive or­ders, pol­icy pro­nounce­ments and the stir­rings of leg­is­la­tion, Bi­den set out to un­wind the heart of Trump’s agenda on im­mi­gra­tion, the pandemic and more.

“The sub­text un­der ev­ery one of the im­ages we are see­ing from the White House is the ban­ner: ‘Un­der new man­age­ment’,” says Robert Gibbs, press sec­re­tary for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“Whether show­ing it overtly or sub­tly, the mes­sage they are try­ing to de­liver, with­out en­gag­ing the for­mer pres­i­dent, is to make sure ev­ery­one un­der­stands that things were go­ing to op­er­ate dif­fer­ently now and that hope­fully the re­sults would be dif­fer­ent, too.”

In ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions, Bi­den re­versed Trump’s course on the en­vi­ron­ment and placed the Obama health law at the cen­ter of the pandemic re­sponse with an ex­tended en­roll­ment pe­riod for the in­surance pro­gram that Trump swore to kill.

The Iran nu­clear deal that Bi­den’s pre­de­ces­sor aban­doned is back on the diplo­matic plate. The United States is back in the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion as well as the Paris cli­mate ac­cord.

But that only goes so far. The world wants to see how far Bi­den will ac­tu­ally go in making good on cli­mate goals, whether he will steer more help to poorer coun­tries in the pandemic and whether his words of re­newed sol­i­dar­ity with NATO may only last un­til the next pen­du­lum swing of U.S. pol­i­tics.

In ad­di­tion, Bi­den faces the re­al­ity that over the past four years China has moved in to fill the void left by the U.S. on trade, and al­lies have learned to rely less on the U.S. dur­ing the more hos­tile Trump era.

One month into Trump’s pres­i­dency, he had al­ready lost his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and his choice for la­bor sec­re­tary to scan­dal. The re­volv­ing door of burned-out, dis­graced or dis­fa­vored aides was al­ready creak­ing into mo­tion. Some of his prime ini­tia­tives were blocked by courts.

Bi­den’s first month has been com­par­a­tively dra­mafree, with many of his Cabi­net picks ap­proved.

Af­ter 40 years in Wash­ing­ton, eight years as Obama’s vice pres­i­dent and two failed pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns be­fore his suc­cess­ful one, Bi­den has had a life­time to think about how to get rolling as pres­i­dent.

There have been chal­lenges: the dis­trac­tion of Trump’s post-pres­i­den­tial im­peach­ment trial, a more nar­rowly di­vided Se­nate than his pre­de­ces­sor faced and a nom­i­nee to lead the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get who’s been busy delet­ing years of so­cial media posts as­sail­ing Repub­li­cans and some on the Demo­cratic left.

The Demo­crat framed his first month as one to start to “heal the soul” of the na­tion and re­store the White House as a sym­bol of sta­bil­ity and cred­i­bil­ity.

Gone are the predawn Trump tweets that rat­tled Wash­ing­ton with im­promptu pol­icy an­nounce­ments and in­cen­di­ary rhetoric. Gone are rosy pro­jec­tions about the virus.

Bi­den has lev­eled with the pub­lic about the pandemic.

“You had the for­mer guy say­ing that, well, you know, we’re just go­ing to open things up, and that’s all we need to do,” Bi­den told his first town hall meet­ing as pres­i­dent, this month. “We said, no, you’ve got to deal with the disease be­fore you deal with get­ting the econ­omy go­ing.”

The pres­i­dent and his team have been de­lib­er­ately set­ting ex­pec­ta­tions low — par­tic­u­larly on vac­ci­na­tions and school re­open­ing — set­ting up the prospect of a po­lit­i­cal win sim­ply by ex­ceed­ing mod­est goals.

At his town hall, Bi­den re­peat­edly talked about how he doesn’t want to talk about the for­mer guy.

“I’m tired of talk­ing about Don­ald Trump,” he said. “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the Amer­i­can people.”

That’s a tall or­der. The ex-pres­i­dent main­tains his hold on mil­lions of sup­port­ers and his lock on much of the Repub­li­can Party, whether he ends up run­ning again or not.

 ?? EVAN VUCCI/AP ?? Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den signs a se­ries of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day at the White House in Wash­ing­ton.
EVAN VUCCI/AP Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den signs a se­ries of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day at the White House in Wash­ing­ton.

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