Miami Herald (Sunday)

In first few days, Bi­den surges into ac­tion as deep prob­lems loom

- BY JONATHAN LEMIRE Associated Press US Elections · U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · Elections · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Joe Biden · Donald Trump · White House · Pennsylvania · Republican Party (United States) · United States of America · Princeton University · Princeton University · Executive Office of the President of the United States · Oval Office · Andrew Jackson · Cesar Chavez · Mexico · World Health Organization · Paris · United States Senate · Charles Schumer · New York · Robert Gibbs · Barack Obama · Twitter · Mitt Romney · Utah · John F. Kennedy

Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den signed a flurry of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders dur­ing his first few days in of­fice, un­do­ing key el­e­ments of the Trump le­gacy. But he and oth­ers warned that dark days are ahead be­fore the na­tion’s crises ease.

In­side the White House, Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den presided over a fo­cused launch of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, us­ing his first days in of­fice to break sharply with his pre­de­ces­sor while sign­ing ex­ec­u­tive or­ders meant as a showy dis­play of ac­tion to ad­dress the his­toric chal­lenges he in­her­ited.

But out­side the gates at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Ave., there are signs ev­ery­where that those crises are as deep and in­tractable as ever. The coro­n­avirus pan­demic surges, the econ­omy teeters and Repub­li­cans in Congress have sig­naled ob­jec­tions to many of Bi­den’s plans.

Bi­den is look­ing to jumps­tart his first 100 days in of­fice with ac­tion and sym­bol­ism to re­as­sure a di­vided and weary pub­lic that help is in the off­ing. He also knows that what a pres­i­dent can do on his own is lim­ited, so he is call­ing for Congress to act while he is be­ing can­did with Amer­i­cans that dark days are ahead.

“The cri­sis is not get­ting bet­ter. It’s deep­en­ing,” Bi­den said Fri­day about the im­pact of hte pan­demic. “A lot of Amer­ica is hurt­ing. The virus is surg­ing. Fam­i­lies are go­ing hun­gry. Peo­ple are at risk of be­ing evicted again. Job losses are mount­ing. We need to act.”

“The bot­tom line is this: We’re in a na­tional emer­gency. We need to act like we’re in a na­tional emer­gency,” he said.

Bi­den’s first mo­ments as pres­i­dent were meant to steady Amer­i­can democ­racy it­self.

He took the oath just be­fore noon Wed­nes­day in front of a Capi­tol that still bore scars from the in­sur­rec­tion that took place pre­cisely two weeks ear­lier and was aimed at stop­ping Bi­den’s as­cen­sion to power. The vi­o­lence un­der­scored the frag­ile na­ture of the peace­ful trans­fer of power and led to the his­toric sec­ond im­peach­ment of Don­ald Trump.

Bi­den re­sisted calls to move the in­au­gu­ra­tion to a more se­cure in­door set­ting. He was in­tent on pre­serv­ing the usual in­au­gu­ra­tion trap­pings as a sig­nal that nor­malcy could be achieved even though there were signs ev­ery­where that things were far from nor­mal: a mil­i­tary pres­ence that re­sem­bled a war zone, guests on the dais wear­ing masks, a Na­tional Mall filled with 200,000 Amer­i­can flags stand­ing in for the Amer­i­can peo­ple who were asked to stay away be­cause of the pan­demic.

Bi­den was plain-spo­ken and di­rect about the con­flu­ence of crises the na­tion faces. More than 410,000 Amer­i­cans have lost their lives to the pan­demic, mil­lions are out of work and the af­ter­shocks of a sum­mer reck­on­ing with racial jus­tice are still felt.

“You can hear this col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief that

Trump is gone, but we have no time for a sigh of re­lief be­cause of the cas­cad­ing crises,” said Ed­die Glaude Jr., chair of the de­part­ment of African Amer­i­can stud­ies at Prince­ton Univer­sity. “We don’t want to as­sume that the elec­tion of Bi­den solves ev­ery­thing. The scale of the prob­lems is im­mense and the ques­tion for us is do we re­spond at scale.”

The changes within the White House have been swift.

Af­ter Trump’s de­par­ture, his fi­nal staffers cleared out and a deep clean be­gan.

The White House had been the site of mul­ti­ple COVID-19 out­breaks and, in a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of a new ap­proach to the virus, plas­tic shields were placed on desks and scores of new staffers were told to work from home.

New pic­tures were hung on the West Wing walls and the Oval Of­fice re­ceived a fast makeover. Gone were a paint­ing of An­drew Jack­son and the Diet Coke but­ton of the desk; in came im­ages of Robert Kennedy and Ce­sar Chavez. But the most im­por­tant sym­bol, the clear­est break from the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, came from the pres­i­dent him­self.

When Bi­den sat down at the Res­o­lute Desk to sign his first batch of his ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on Wed­nes­day, he was wear­ing a mask. Trump had re­sisted wear­ing one, putting one on only oc­ca­sion­ally and in­stead turn­ing mask-wear­ing into a po­lar­iz­ing po­lit­i­cal is­sue

Bi­den urged all Amer­i­cans to wear a mask for the next 100 days and used his plat­form to model the same be­hav­ior, one of sev­eral ways he tried to change the tone of the pres­i­dency in his first few days.

Daily press brief­ings re­turned, ab­sent the ac­cu­sa­tions of “fake news” that marked only spo­radic brief­ings in the Trump era. Bi­den held a vir­tual swearingin for hun­dreds of White House staffers, telling them to treat each other with re­spect or they would be­dis­missed, a marked change from the con­tentious, ri­valry-driven Trump West Wing. Calls to the lead­ers of Canada and Mex­ico were made without drama.

The ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions Bi­den signed dur­ing the week were a mix of con­crete and sym­bolic ac­tions meant to undo the heart of Trump’s le­gacy. Bi­den halted con­struc­tion of the bor­der wall, re­joined the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Paris cli­mate ac­cord and bol­stered the means for pro­duc­tion for vac­cines.

But the might of the ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions pales in com­par­i­son to the $1.9 tril­lion COVID-19 re­lief pack­age that he re­quested from Congress. Bi­den has not ruled out ask­ing Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to push it through by tac­tics re­quir­ing only Demo­cratic sup­port. But the pres­i­dent, who spent decades in the Se­nate, hoped to per­suade Repub­li­cans to sup­port the mea­sure.

“Lean­ing on ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion makes sense at the start; you can get things go­ing and show mo­men­tum right away without wait­ing for Congress,” said Robert Gibbs, for­mer press sec­re­tary for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. “But this is go­ing take a while. Like it was for us in 2009, change doesn’t come overnight.”

“Ev­ery­thing he in­her­ited is likely to get worse be­fore we see im­prove­ment,” Gibbs said. “One thing you learn on Jan­uary 20th is that you sud­denly own all of it.”

Just two Cab­i­net nom­i­nees were con­firmed by week’s end, to the frus­tra­tion of the White House.

But with the Fri­day night an­nounce­ment that

Trump’s im­peach­ment trial will not be­gin un­til the week of Feb. 8, Bi­den aides were op­ti­mistic that the Se­nate would con­firm more be­fore then.

The trial looms as an un­wel­come dis­trac­tion for the Bi­den team. But while Trump will shadow the White House, Bi­den aides have noted that the for­mer pres­i­dent com­mands far less at­ten­tion now that his Twit­ter ac­count is gone. They have ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the Se­nate can bal­ance the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings with both Cab­i­net con­fir­ma­tions and con­sid­er­a­tion of the COVID-19 re­lief bill.

Bi­den has made clear that steer­ing the na­tion through the pan­demic will be his sig­na­ture task and some Repub­li­cans be­lieve that Trump’s im­plo­sion could create an open­ing to work across the aisle on a re­lief deal.

“There is a very nar­row per­mis­sion struc­ture for con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans who want to move past the Trump era and want to es­tab­lish their own po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­ties,” said Kevin Mad­den, a Repub­li­can strate­gist who was a se­nior ad­viser on Mitt Rom­ney’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Rom­ney is now a Utah sen­a­tor.

“There is an old say­ing: ‘Make the main thing the main thing.’ And the Bi­den White House knows that’s the main thing,” Mad­den said. “If they can im­prove the pan­demic re­sponse in the next 100 days, then they can move on to other pri­or­i­ties, they'll have the cap­i­tal for leg­isla­tive fights. But they need to get it right.”

 ?? CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA TNS ?? Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den pre­pares to sign a se­ries of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders at the Res­o­lute Desk in the Oval Of­fice just hours af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion on Wed­nes­day.
CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA TNS Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den pre­pares to sign a se­ries of ex­ec­u­tive or­ders at the Res­o­lute Desk in the Oval Of­fice just hours af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion on Wed­nes­day.

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