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The new president quickly turned to a deluge of day one priorities.
President Joe Biden was sworn into office on Wednesday, imploring Americans to unify and assist him as his government seeks to tackle the “cascading crises of our era.”
Biden highlighted in particular the need to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, inequality, systemic racism, climate change and America’s disengagement from the international stage. He vowed to do so while keeping the public’s interest top of mind and refusing to exploit his position for “personal interest.” He stressed that he is taking the job as the government’s chief executive at a time of historic tumult, calling this moment a “winter of peril and significant possibility.”
There is “much to do, much to heal, much to restore, much to build and much to gain,” Biden said. “Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.”
The president promised he and his administration would always speak honestly to the American people, alluding to the falsehoods delivered by President Trump and his allies that ultimately contributed to the violent insurrection at the Capitol Building earlier this month.
“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson,” Biden said. “There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and a responsibility as citizens as Americans and especially as leaders. Leaders who are pledged to honor our Constitution to protect our nation.”
After calling for “boldness” in his inaugural address, Biden will quickly provide a laundry list of day one activities for agencies to accomplish. On a governmentwide level, that will include actions to boost equality in the federal workforce and rolling back Trump-era restrictions on regulatory actions. Biden immediately released more than 100 specific Trump administration actions for agencies to review related to climate change and scientific integrity.
The newly sworn in president additionally will issue mask mandates for federal employees and contractors and reorganize the COVID-19 response effort so all agencies report to his coordinator, Jeff Zients. He will also call on all federal agencies to reassess how they can better deliver policy outcomes to advance racial equity. More specifically, the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development will receive directives to extend foreclosure moratoriums. Biden will call on the Education Department to extend the pause on payments for federal student loans. He will ask the Census Bureau to include non-citizens in its apportionment data, the Homeland Security Department to stop border wall construction and ramped up interior immigration enforcement, and the State Department to restart the visa process for countries from which Trump had banned travel.
The Biden administration will begin this work without any of its leadership requiring Senate confirmation in place. While in recent decades the Senate quickly confirmed presidential appointees considered of utmost importance for national security, it appeared as of Wednesday afternoon that tradition would not extend to Biden. Federal agencies will be led in the interim by career federal executives. The new administration was expected to name those career employees shortly after inauguration. The New York Times reported Biden’s team intentionally did not disclose those names, an unusual move taken to protect those individuals from potential interference from the outgoing Trump administration.
Biden on Wednesday repeatedly made clear he will put tackling the pandemic at the top of his priority list, a point emphasized by the newly transferred over WhiteHouse.gov.
“We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation,” Biden said. “We will get through this together.”
Eric Katz is a senior correspondent for Government Executive.
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