WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden established himself on the campaign trail as the antonym to President Donald Trump when it came to key policy stances, promising strong responses to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, criminal justice, immigration and health care.
“Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said during the final debate about Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic that resulted in 239,000 deaths and counting.
Now, as he plans for the opening days of his presidency, Biden has made the pandemic his top priority. In his acceptance speech on Saturday, he said “getting COVID under control,” is the key to winning the “battle for the soul of America.”
Biden also has signaled that he will use his presidential powers on a number of fronts in his first days in the White House, according to multiple news organizations: he will reengage the United States with the world community on combating climate change and return to the Paris climate agreement, rejoin the World Health Organization, suspend temporarily deportations and repeal the ban on travel from many Muslim nations, protect against deportation the children of undocumented immigrants (the so-called “Dreamers”), and end a Trump ban against transgender people serving in the military.
Legislation to provide additional economic relief to those impacted by the pandemic and policing reforms also are likely early priorities of the new administration.
“The new administration will use every tool available to reverse the damage caused by the Trump administration and restore integrity, decency and empathy to America’s leadership at home and abroad,” Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said in a statement after Biden won.
In one of his first moves as president-elect, Biden announced the appointment of a Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board of public health experts, doctors and government officials, as the country crossed 10 million coronavirus infections.
According to his campaign website, Biden also wants to establish a task force to examine the racial and ethnic disparities of the pandemic, and create a nationwide pandemic dashboard to look into local transmission rates by ZIP Codes.
Biden also plans to double the number of drive-through testing sites — which stood at 8,413 as of Oct. 30, according to GoodRx, a company that provides health care information and some health care services. The new president also will use the Defense Production Act to produce more masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment, and revamp the testing and tracing process nationwide.
However, Biden has said that the country should not be shut down — although Trump has repeatedly claimed that Biden would order a complete shutdown.
Instead, Biden will look to “evidence-based guidance” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to decide size restrictions for gatherings, when to open or close schools and businesses, and the steps necessary to make facilities safe.
Richard E. Vatz, a professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University, told Capital News Service he does not think that “there is anything (Biden) can change that will change much of the reality of COVID-19.”
A COVID vaccine ultimately could return life in the United States to some level of normal and allow Biden to claim that his administration successfully mobilized and distributed the vaccine, Vatz said. On Monday, pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. announced that its vaccine is more than 90% effective.
Biden will seek to expand healthcare coverage, and has said he will protect the Affordable Care Act and build on it, a task that may depend on the Supreme Court’s decision next year on the constitutionality of the law.
While Republicans and Democrats failed to find a compromise before the election on additional stimulus measures, tax reforms and economic relief from the pandemic will be at the top of the Biden administration’s agenda, according to Peter Ubertaccio, dean of arts and sciences at Stonehill College in Massachusetts.
But a key obstacle may be a Republican-controlled Senate, which will be determined after two runoff elections in Georgia in January.
“We’re probably not going to get a lot of policy innovation through Congress over the next two years as long as there is a divided government,” Ubertaccio said.
Thomas Donohue, CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that “while there may be differences of opinion on how to best move forward, our nation must rally around the common cause of recovery. On this, there can be no division…Job number one must be pandemic relief. American small businesses cannot afford for Congress to wait another three months to act.”
Biden’s approach will consist of the creation of a task force that reports to him twice daily, and a strategy to craft a new legislative package that would provide additional checks to qualified families, forgive a minimum of $10,000 per person on federal student loans, increase monthly Social Security checks by $200, provide emergency paid sick leave, and provide additional fiscal relief to states.
On his campaign website, Biden states that he will rebuild the middle class by investing in the nation’s infrastructure — such as highways, airports, railroads and public schools — and create and sustain “quality, middle-class jobs at home.” He specifically pinpoints union jobs.
Donohue said “modernizing our infrastructure has broad support and can drive the growth and jobs we need now.”
“If the Biden administration prioritizes something that can – and must – be done in a collaborative manner, it can set the tone for good governance on other priorities essential to rebuilding our economy,” he said.
Gabriel Winant, a labor and economics historian at the University of Chicago, said a Biden presidency might mean a more worker-friendly National Labor Relations Board.
However, he cautioned that a legislative approach to progressive economic policy was probably dead on arrival in the event that Republicans maintain control of the Senate after the two Georgia contests.
“The Republicans will not pass any version of labor law reform through the Senate. It simply won’t happen,” Winant said, adding that progressive change in the economic sphere might have to come from places other than Capitol Hill.
When it comes to race-related issues, there will be an “immediate difference” in “tone and attention,” according to Ubertaccio.
Still, some say Biden’s rhetoric is not different enough. The president-elect has been criticized for his response to Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing in Philadelphia, which included more words on “looting and the violence” than on the death of another Black man at the hands of police, critics said.
He was taken to task during the campaign for his help in drafting the 1994 Crime Bill, which increased incarceration rates, especially of Black men. Recently, he admitted that supporting the bill was a mistake.
“The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally,” he said at a town hall hosted by ABC on Oct. 15. “What we did federally…it was all about the same time for the same crime.” But he repeated that still “it was a mistake” on his end.
Biden’s plan to advance racial equity includes lowering barriers to homeownership for minority communities, supporting minority-owned small businesses, and ending pay discrimination.
By contrast, Trump never outlined a broad policy plan to address racial inequities, and has even questioned or denied whether systemic racism exists in the United States. But he has said more funding should go toward addressing racial disparities in health care, and he signed the First Step Act into law.
That law shortens mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and retroactively applied the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
To address systemic racial and socioeconomic disparities specifically within the justice system, Biden has said he will establish another task force. He also plans to propose eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty, ending cash bail, decriminalizing cannabis and ending incarceration for drug use.
The new president also wants to establish a grant program to encourage states to focus on prevention over incarceration, boost spending on public defenders, and invest in education and direct more federal money toward mental health disorders and substance abuse research and services.
“President-elect Biden has the experience and empathy that our country needs in our commander-in-chief,” Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement. “As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, our economy struggles, climate change threatens our planet and we reckon with systemic racial inequality, the leadership of President-elect Biden will guide our country through these unprecedented times.”
Last year, the Trump administration began implementing its policy barring transgender people from serving openly in the military. Biden has pledged to reverse Trump’s ban “on day one.”
However, when it comes to defense and national security, there might be little difference between Trump and Biden, according to some observers
“The expectation is that under Biden there would not be a significant change to the militarized status quo,” said Stephanie Savell, a senior research associate at Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs.
The military budget has grown under the Trump administration, and Savell said there “won’t be much of a change for that industry under Biden.”
Biden has not clarified whether he would increase or decrease the defense budget, but instead has said he would make investments in technology and innovation.
Both the Trump administration and the Obama administration delivered historic amounts of missiles and bombs from aircraft in Afghanistan.
That type of warfare routinely has killed civilians in the Middle East, according to the Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic organization founded by billionaire George Soros.
Savell said Biden will likely continue such airstrikes. But progressives hope Biden will keep his promise to end the war in Afghanistan, and to rely on diplomacy more than force.
While Trump questioned climate change and downplayed science in general, including withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, Biden said he will rejoin the pact on his first day as president.
Biden campaigned on creating a “100% clean energy economy” with a net of no emissions no later than 2050.
In the final presidential debate, Biden clarified after previous conflicting statements that he will not ban hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking and said he does not support the Green New Deal. Both stances contradict Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s positions.
Vatz said he does not believe that Harris’s more liberal ideology on multiple issues will lead to more progressive policies.
“The question is, if Kamala Harris becomes president, would she be the classic example of a vice president who would want to adopt his president’s policies?” Vatz said. “She will be less of a force, in going more radical left, than people think.”
But some environmental organizations are enthusiastic about new White House leadership.
“The politics of climate have changed and the success of the Biden-Harris campaign proves that the American people are demanding action on climate change – a clear mandate for all of our leaders to act on science,” a statement by Climate Power 2020 said. The group is run jointly by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club.
Trump’s highly controversial immigration policies also are targets for Biden reversals, especially the family separation policy, which took migrant children from their parents at the border and placed them in cages.
On Monday, it was discovered that parents of 666 migrant children — up from the initially reported number of 545 two weeks ago — cannot be found. Biden announced in a digital ad on Oct. 29 that if elected, he would form a task force to examine this issue and reunite families.
Biden also has pledged that through executive orders he will reinstate the right of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients — commonly known as “Dreamers” — to remain legally in the country, as well as partly repeal the ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries.
But analysts say it may be more difficult for Biden to make change through legislation, with a divided country, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, and the possibility of a Republican-controlled Senate.
Throughout his campaign and in his victory speech, Biden has promised to reach across the political aisle.
“To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” Biden said Saturday night in WIlmington, Delaware. “Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.”
However, while Biden’s moderate stances on climate change and other issues may appeal to congressional Democrats in swing states and districts, it may cause further divisions in his party.
“I don’t know how open they’ll be,” progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told the New York Times concerning the Biden administration’s willingness to consider more left-leaning perspectives. “I think the transition period is going to indicate whether the administration is taking a more open and collaborative approach, or whether they’re taking a kind of icing-out approach.”