The First Twenty Four Hours (Or So)
In just a few hours, Joe Biden will become the president of the United States. Today’s inauguration ceremony will not look like ceremonies past, though the day did begin with President-elect Biden attending church services, a tradition carried out by many previous presidents.
One reason the ceremony felt different is that there are more than 25,000 U.S. troops stationed in the central parts of the nation’s capital city. They stand ready, in the wake of the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, to quell any potential unrest that could unfold today or over the rest of this week. Additionally, the National Mall, where hundreds of thousands of Americans normally gather to watch the inauguration ceremony, is closed to the public. According to The Hill, “the 200,000 tickets that would go out in a normal year” for the inauguration ceremony were “reduced to only about 1,000 members of Congress, past presidents and dignitaries.” Instead of individual Americans, the National Mall was dotted with U.S. flags.
Of course, there also is this fact: while Vice President Mike Pence will stand on the U.S. Capitol steps today as President-elect Biden takes the oath of office, President Donald Trump will not. It will be the first time in 152 years that a sitting president refused to attend the inauguration of his successor. The last individual to make this choice was President Andrew Johnson who, in 1869, decided not to attend President Ulysses S. Grant’s inauguration.
After taking the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, President-elect Biden will participate in a “Pass in Review” on the East Front of the building. This tradition involves the president ceremonially reviewing representatives of every branch of the military for their readiness. After this event, the president normally participates in a public parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Instead, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will make their way to Arlington National Cemetery, where they will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at Tomb of Unknown Soldier.
Tonight, there will be no inaugural ball – no excuse for Washington’s political class to don their black-tie attire and head to the city’s biggest ballrooms. (There normally is usually more than one soiree, sometimes even a dozen or more representing various U.S. states, including those from which the new president and vice president hail.) The Biden and Harris families will instead spend the evening at the White House where they will, according to their official schedule, “attend inaugural program.”
The first and second couple will end the day by appearing on a balcony of the White House at about 10 p.m. to wave to the American public.
In Washington, D.C., politics is major industry. According to Reuters, the city “will see little of the $107 million increase in tax revenue that an inauguration week normally brings,” as a result of the more muted inauguration celebration this year.
One of the day’s historical traditions will be preserved, however: much like his predecessors, President-elect Biden will unleash a flurry of policymaking activity this afternoon and tomorrow in an attempt to undo as much of his predecessor’s agenda as he can through executive orders and other actions.
According to The Hill, this afternoon Biden will sign a “mix of 15 executive orders, memoranda, directives and letters from the Oval Office.” These initiatives will include efforts to institute a national mask-wearing “challenge”; pause required interest and principal payments on federal student loans; extend the national moratorium on evictions; stop construction of the Southern border wall; end restrictions on travel and immigration from some predominantly Muslim countries; rejoin the World Health Organization; and restore a global health and biodefense unit in the White House’s National Security Council. (Note to those who frequent federal buildings or who have gotten their COVID quarantine energy out by hiking in national parks: while the administration’s mask policy is just a “challenge,” it will include a mandate that face coverings and physical distancing be required on federal land.)
The president’s actions also will include an executive order bringing a coronavirus task force inside the White House, to create a position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator who will report directly to him, and to embed “equity across federal policymaking and rooting out systemic racism and other barriers to opportunity from federal programs and institutions.”
Regarding energy and environmental issues, President-elect Biden will immediately start the process of rejoining the Paris climate accord, which was negotiated while he was vice president. This international agreement requires countries to create emissions targets that will keep global average temperatures to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
President-elect Biden also reportedly will rescind a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would carry nearly one million barrels of oil daily through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Former President Barack Obama had rejected this application, but the Trump administration approved it. As The Hill explained, the Biden administration also will quickly work to undo last-minute Trump administration regulations that: limited consideration of public health research in EPA rulemaking; rolled back protections for migratory birds; curbed habitat protections for endangered species; blocked future administrations from setting greenhouse gas regulations on many industries; and reduced the cost of oil and gas drilling on public land.
These regulations are not the only ones President Biden will seek to undo.
As part of today’s list of executive actions, the new commander in chief will issue a “sweeping order will direct all executive departments and agencies to begin reviewing all federal regulations and executive actions from the past four years to root out those viewed as ‘harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.’”
President Biden’s team also will get to work fulfilling his promise to deliver 100 million coronavirus vaccines in the administration’s first 100 days. Is it possible to fulfill this promise? National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci so. In a television interview on Sunday, Fauci said, “I can tell you one thing that’s clear is that – the issue of getting 100 million doses in the first 100 days, is absolutely a doable thing.”
To help boost vaccine manufacturing, President-elect Biden reportedly will sign an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act today.
The Associated Press has reported that President-elect Biden also is likely to send legislation to Congress this afternoon to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented individuals living in the United States. (Congress is not expected to actually consider the legislation imminently.)
All in all, a busy first day in office.
According to Politico, later this week President-elect Biden will sign executive actions to help schools and businesses reopen safely, increase COVID-19 testing, institute new COVID-19 protections for workers, and establish clearer public health standards regarding the virus.
At some point, President-elect Biden also is expected to issue rules that will ban senior presidential appointees from accepting special bonuses from former employers before they join the government. Aimed at limiting the revolving door from government to lobbying and Wall Street, that move would come after a last-minute act by President Trump to lift a federal ban on White House staff taking lobbying jobs immediately after their service in government – a prohibition that President Trump himself put in place in 2017.
Finally, in a hearing yesterday, Janet Yellen, President-elect Biden’s nominee to be secretary of the U.S. Treasury, previewed the administration’s economic focus for its first few weeks in office. Yellen said the Biden administration would work quickly to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package through Congress, establish a Department of the Treasury team to examine climate change’s threat to financial systems, and begin writing legislation to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent.
So while some of the more visible traditions of Inauguration Day may be gone this year, the time-honored convention of the new administration issuing a burst of policy mandates will hold true.