First Week on the Job

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Alex Whipkey, Editor

Joe Biden has had a busy week.

 

Taking the helm of a nation ravaged by a pandemic and reeling from a riot at the Capitol would be a daunting task for anyone. The first thing the President did was proclaim January 20, 2021 a National Day of Unity, setting the stage for what he believes will be “the next story in our democracy.”

 

Beginning that same day, the new president took aim at many of the previous administration’s policies and actions. He immediately made good on his promise to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, showcasing the urgency that his administration will place on environmental policy. Next, he revoked the Trump-era travel bans on entry to the United States directed at Muslim and African countries, citing a long history of welcoming all newcomers to the nation.

 

Shifting his gaze to the ongoing public health catastrophe, the President retracted a Trump decision to leave the World Health Organization and issued executive orders mandating mask-wearing in federal buildings and organizing a coronavirus response. The latter executive order created the position of “Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and Counselor to the President,” who will oversee the response and advise the President.

 

Executive orders were also issued combatting discrimination based on ethnicity or orientation, addressing humanitarian concerns over immigration while still upholding immigration laws, and pausing all federal student loan payments and keeping their interest at 0%.

 

This was all on President Biden’s first day in office.

 

His second day was focused on pandemic action. The executive orders from January 21 take the stance of a comprehensive, data-driven response. Analysis of the capacity of agencies and infrastructure to carry out such massive operations was ordered. Equitable recovery was also a major point, which would ensure that everyone would get the same relief priority regardless of ethnicity or orientation. A Pandemic Testing Board was established and the place of the US in the international response was redefined as a more active role.

 

The President spent much of the rest of the week on the phone with various world leaders to discuss foreign policies of mutual importance, but also managed to squeeze quite a few more orders in.

 

The Trump order barring transgender people from serving in the United States military was revoked on January 25. According to the new order, anyone who is qualified should be able to serve their country. On the same day, travel to the US from the UK, Ireland, the Schengen Area, South Africa, and Brazil was suspended to contain the spread of COVID-19. Another order introduced a plan to bolster domestic industry.

 

Another important order was issued on the 26th which mandated that the Department of Justice would not renew its contracts with privately operated prisons, citing widespread consensus against private prisons and federal reports showing the substandard conditions of these prisons. The language of the order is somewhat misleading, as it will not eliminate the private prison system outright. Thousands of migrants will still be kept in privately-operated prisons, and private prison companies will still make money from “services” that convicts are made to preform for profit. If the new administration wants to end this industry, though, this is a major first step.

 

If the past week has proven anything, it is that the new president is not as inactive as many believed he would be. This opening flurry of executive action is almost unprecedented, but only time will tell the effects it will have and whether the administration delivers on its promises.

 

All executive orders are available to read at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/.

 

On a more bizarre (and uplifting) political note, internet memes of Bernie Sanders wearing mittens at the inauguration have reportedly raised over $1.8 million for charity in Vermont. Here are some highlights.