Shortcuts / 28 January 2021

US President Joe Biden’s Agenda

In the past few months, there’s been a bit happening in the United States… Democrat Joe Biden is now the president and there’s been a lot of talk about what he will change, and what needs to be done to unify the nation after the turmoil of Donald Trump’s stint in office. In this Squiz Shortcut, we look at Biden’s top priorities, how he plans to tackle them, and why Trump still looms large.

So Democratic stalwart and former Vice President Joe Biden made it – he’s America’s 46th president. New prez, fresh start?

Not really… Biden has taken the leadership of a nation in crisis when it comes to the coronavirus. There are concerns about the economy as a result of the impacts of the pandemic. And it’s a nation divided given the political heat of the Trump era and on racial and equality issues.

It’s a big to-do list and to start addressing those priorities, Biden has a 10-day and 100-day plan to address those priorities and more. He got out of the gates on day one with 15 executive orders and two directives. 

Isn’t that what they all do?

Not everyone. Fun fact: no US president has changed so much so quickly since Franklin D Roosevelt came to office in the middle of the Great Depression.

What’s the top priority? 

COVID. The virus is currently raging the US as they go through winter. Four-hundred-thousand Americans have dies from the coronavirus since the start of last year, and the next 100,000 will come quickly, experts say. January is shaping up to be America’s deadliest month of the pandemic so far.

Does he have the power to fix things? 

Ramping up America’s response to the pandemic at this stage of the game isn’t easy given America’s system of government. Much like here in Australia, there are things the federal government is responsible for and things the states deliver. 

So former President Donald Trump left Biden with nothing to work with? 

That’s not fair. The focus of Trump’s administration was Operation Warp Speed which put US$18 billion into the development of vaccines – something widely recognised as a good thing. 

So why am I hearing about problems with getting American’s vaccinated? 

The criticism of the former administration is the plan to distribute vaccines and get them into the arms of Americans was deficient – if not non-existent. That’s something Biden’s team says is a top item to be addressed ASAP. 

Anything else on the coronavirus?

Biden has also signed an order mandating social distancing and the wearing of face masks on all federal property across the country and by federal employees – that’s the extent of his power on the front. But he has issued a ‘100 day mask challenge’ asking all Americans to mask up in an effort to break the chains of community transmission. He has also put a bloke named Jeff Zients in charge of his COVID-19 response team – he’s known as a Mr Fix-It who has deep business and political connections. And on the global effort, Biden recommitted US funding to the World Health Organisation. 

And the economy?

America’s is, of course, the world’s largest economy so its good health is important to the world. On where things are at now – economic growth went backwards and then picked up towards the end of the year. The US stock market has been resilient, albeit with big ups and downs. And while unemployment in April was at the highest rate since the Great Depression, it eased significantly – but there are still 10 million American’s out of work.

What’s he done to address that?

He’s already extended a federal moratorium on evictions and foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages until March, paused federal student loan payments and interest. And his biggest announcement yet was a massive US$1.9 trillion stimulus plan, but that needs to go through Congress first.

That’s a lot of money… 

It sure is and he’ll need to argue his case for that to get the bipartisan support he wants. 

Moving on from COVID, what was in that pile of executive orders he signed on day one? 

An order for the US to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, along with reviewing a swathe of other energy and environmental policies. On immigration, Biden ended Trump’s travel ban on predominantly Muslim and African countries, and ordered construction to be halted on the US-Mexico border wall. Equality is another area of attention – he signed a broad executive order directing federal agencies to conduct reviews aimed at eliminating racial, sexual or gender discrimination in policymaking and government programs.

And what about unifying America? 

Yeah, that little thing… It’s something Biden can’t solve with legislation. A lot has been said about that with the Trump presidency ending in angry scenes.

But because Trump created a lot of the division, eyes are on Biden to fix it… 

Exactly. And it’s a tough ask because you’ve got to remember that 46.9% of Americans who voted – more than 70 million people – voted for Trump in the 2020 election. And about half of them believe the false claim that the election was rigged, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. So it remains to be seen how many of them will get onboard.

Where’s impeachment up to?

The Senate trial is due to go ahead from 9 February. Remember Trump became the first president in history to be impeached twice by the House in mid-January on charges of “incitement of insurrection” following the violence by his supporters in the Capitol. The Senate trial is the next step. 

What else is he up to?

Well, there are pending legal battles relating to hush money allegedly paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels, an investigation in Georgia about his alleged meddling there in last year’s election. And there is the possibility of federal prosecutors pursuing him over the siege of the Capitol.

So we’re going to be talking about Trump for a while yet?

Yep. We are, particularly given he says he’ll be “back in some form.”

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