Biden’s First 100 Days Agenda Targets Executive Orders, Fresh Covid Aid
President-elect plans to reverse some Trump policies swiftly while attempting to steer big-ticket legislation through narrow Democratic majorities in Congress. Biden’s First 100 Days Agenda Targets Executive Orders, Fresh Covid Aid
President-elect Joe Biden takes office this week with a far-reaching set of plans for his first 100 days, but he must grapple with narrow Democratic majorities in Congress and an unsettled country as he seeks to roll back some of his Republican predecessor’s policies and curb the pandemic.
Mr. Biden’s agenda includes some moves he can make quickly, like executive orders reversing some of President Trump’s actions and rejoining international agreements. He also has goals that require congressional cooperation, including a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package and getting cabinet nominees confirmed, that will play out as the 50-50 Senate takes up the president’s second impeachment trial over the charge that he incited the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to keep him in power.
A new administration’s first 100 days are typically scrutinized for signs of a president’s governing style and priorities. Past presidents have ushered in big initiatives, as President Barack Obama did with the passage of an economic-stimulus bill, or begun work on a major deal like President George W. Bush with his tax-cut package. But they also feature stumbles, such as Mr. Trump’s inability to immediately overhaul health care. And Mr. Biden will have narrower margins in Congress than Mr. Trump did when he took office.
“It’s a difficult 100 days. They always are. Even though Democrats control Congress, it’s not an overpowering majority. It’s clear the current president retains a lot of support, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Princeton University history professor Julian Zelizer.
Mr. Biden is planning a rush of executive actions for his first 10 days. On Inauguration Day, that includes rejoining the Paris climate accord; reversing a travel ban from several majority-Muslim and African countries; requiring masks to be worn on federal property and during interstate travel on airlines, trains and transit systems; and extending restrictions on evictions and foreclosures.
“President-elect Biden will take action—not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration—but also to start moving our country forward,” said his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, in a memo to future White House staff.
White House spokesman Judd Deere described Mr. Biden’s plans to reverse Trump policies as a “a grave error that will make the United States less secure, slow our economic recovery and hurt the American worker.”
Mr. Biden’s executive actions might not go as far as some in his party’s liberal wing would like, signaling a clash that could continue throughout his presidency. For example, while he plans to extend a suspension of interest-free student-loan payments, some Democrats have pushed for an order to forgive most or all of Americans’ $1.6 trillion in federal student debt.
During a December conversation with opinion columnists, Mr. Biden questioned whether he had that executive power. Trump administration lawyers have argued such a move would be illegal.
In the following days, Mr. Biden also plans a number of moves on the coronavirus crisis and economic relief. And in the subsequent week he is expected to take actions on criminal justice, climate change and immigration, including efforts to reunite families that the Trump administration separated at the border.
Democrats have long criticized Mr. Trump’s executive moves as an overreach of his authority. Mr. Obama was attacked on similar grounds for using executive power to take actions like setting up Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program offering some deportation protections to young immigrants living in the country without authorization.
Mr. Biden could face similar criticism from conservatives. In his memo, Mr. Klain argued that the legal footing for the planned moves was sound, saying it “represents a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the President.”
He also said Mr. Biden would send an immigration bill to Congress on his first day in office. The president-elect has promised legislation outlining broad immigration changes including a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. who lack permanent legal status. A transition official said Monday that the plan would include an eight-year path to citizenship, confirming details first reported in the Washington Post.
Comprehensive immigration legislation has eluded the last three presidents, and such a measure faces slim odds of passage in a 50-50 Senate.
On the coronavirus, Mr. Biden has pledged 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days and reopening most K-8 schools during the same time. He is promising to work with Congress on the $1.9 trillion relief package, which would expand vaccinations, improve testing and treatment, provide more economic aid and deliver funding to cities and schools.
To speed up vaccinations, he is planning to increase the government’s role in distribution, including by setting up federally supported community centers and mobile clinics for delivering shots. He plans to expand the use of a national-security mobilization law known as the Defense Production Act to boost manufacturing of vaccines and vaccination supplies.
If companies’ earlier projections hold up, Mr. Biden’s 100-dose goal should be achievable by his target date, according to manufacturing and supply-chain experts. Efforts to significantly accelerate vaccinations and slow the spread of the virus will also depend on state partnerships and public support for some public-health measures.
Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan includes funding to expand testing at schools, as well as $130 billion to help schools reopen. Because reopening decisions are made at the local level, that funding is described as flexible and could go to reducing class sizes, modifying facilities, buying protective gear or investing in mitigation efforts.
While most bills require 60 votes to advance in the Senate, Democrats could pass some of Mr. Biden’s proposed policies through a process called reconciliation, which allows a simple majority for certain legislation. That path comes with restrictions, including a limit on how many times it can be used and rules confining reconciliation bills to tax and fiscal matters.
Allies have argued that his 36 years in the Senate would help Mr. Biden negotiate with Congress. “He is talking with Republicans leaders in the Senate more than you realize,” said Sen. Chris Coons, (D., Del.), a longtime friend of the president-elect.
A number of Republicans have said Mr. Biden’s coronavirus aid package is too expensive, previewing a renewed focus on spending and the national debt that was often muted during Mr. Trump’s tenure. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said Mr. Biden’s proposal “would be a colossal waste and economically harmful.”
Mr. Biden will also face a challenging path within his own party, given the scale of his proposals and the need to keep liberal and moderate Democrats united in both chambers of Congress.
On foreign policy, Mr. Biden is expected to continue many of Mr. Trump’s policies toward China. He told the New York Times that he wouldn’t make any immediate moves to remove tariffs Mr. Trump placed on some Chinese imports or to alter the outgoing administration’s “phase one” trade deal with China.
Mr. Biden plans to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal from which Mr. Trump withdrew using executive authority, though the timing isn’t clear. The president-elect has conditioned any action on whether Iran reverses all its breaches of the agreement restraining its nuclear activities.
Past administrations have also sought to move quickly in their first 100 days.
Rahm Emanuel, who served as Mr. Obama’s first chief of staff, said they entered office with different plans for one month, 100 days and one year. They did some things quickly, like an executive order seeking to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, before turning to negotiating the stimulus bill. He said the goal was to signal that “this is a new day.”
Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for Mr. Bush, recalled early progress on the tax cuts and education as well as a high-profile clash with Beijing over a collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter. But he also noted that they tried to avoid evaluations of their first 100 days.
“We initially wanted to downplay everything about 100 days because we felt it was a phony measure that comes too soon,” he said. “But real life didn’t work that way. The media will do the stories anyway.”
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