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Biden to target Covid and the economy amid stack of orders in first 100 days

Daniel Strauss in Washington
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

When Joe Biden is sworn in as president on Wednesday, he plans to trigger a range of executive orders aimed at solving two of the biggest crises facing the country: the economic downturn and the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Biden inauguration: Donald Trump's last full day as US president - live updates

The president-elect’s team has been floating its ideal scenario for how Biden’s first hundred days in office will go. That includes almost a dozen executive orders and pushing for a massive $1.9tn coronavirus and economic stimulus plan. The Biden team is also planning another proposal aimed at reinforcing the economy.

The executive orders concern fighting climate change, battling Covid, pausing payments on student loans, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, and ending the travel ban from Muslim-majority countries. He also plans to quickly take steps to change the country’s criminal justice system and expanding healthcare to low-income Americans.

“President-elect Biden is assuming the presidency in a moment of profound crisis for our nation. We face four overlapping and compounding crises: the Covid-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a racial equity crisis,” Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, circulated in a memo the campaign released to the public over the weekend.

Klain added: “All of these crises demand urgent action. In his first 10 days in office, President-elect Biden will take decisive action to address these four crises, prevent other urgent and irreversible harms, and restore America’s place in the world.”

On immigration, Biden is aiming to end some of the hardline immigration policies of the Trump administration. He plans to unveil proposals that will offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and foreign aid to countries in Central America.

At the same time, however, a Biden official cautioned to NBC that did not mean the next administration would grant entry to all asylum seekers coming to the country.

In laying out his agenda, Biden has worked to frame it as more of a moment for the nation to rally and forget partisan divides.

“It’s not hard to see that we’re in the middle of a once-in-several-generations economic crisis with a once-in-several-generations public health crisis,” Biden said during a press conference over the weekend.

The stimulus proposal and the executive actions underscore Biden’s hypothesis that his decades-long career in the Senate and deep ties in Washington can help heal the partisan rancor and political divides that kept Congress in gridlock through multiple presidencies.

“Unity is not some pie-in-the-sky dream, it’s a practical step to getting the things we have to get done as a country get done together,” Biden said at the press conference.

The incoming president has shown more interest in trying to work with Republicans and Democrats rather than vowing than this presidency would fulfill progressives’ legislative wishlists.

Unity is not some pie-in-the-sky dream, it’s a practical step to get things done

Joe Biden

Democratic control of the House of Representatives, and the slimmest of majorities in the Senate (a 50-50 split where Kamala Harris, as vice-president, will play the tiebreaker) also means that much of Biden’s first – and possibly only – term as president depends on whether enough senators support a bill to overcome a filibuster.

Unlike the beginning of the Trump administration, where the new president opted to fulfill the No 1 item on Republicans’ wishlist: gutting Obamacare. That decision resulted only in a partial victory. It also erased any tiny vestige of openness Democrats may have secretly kept that maybe some kind of bipartisanship was possible under Trump.

Biden, though, is starting out advertising priorities that, at least in the abstract, aren’t obviously objectionable to Republicans or Democrats: curbing the virus, helping small businesses, and improving the economy.

Biden has also set a goal of 100 million vaccine shots in the first hundred days of his presidency.

“We’ll have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated,” Biden said.

One Biden transition adviser who’s joining his administration said of the $1.9tn plan: “We believe that across this plan are proposals that are pragmatic, that have support only in Washington but in capitals and cities and communities across the country and are urgently necessary. And so the president-elect will make the case that we need to come together and move on this as well.”

Asked which part of Biden’s first hundred days in office would be the toughest, House majority whip Jim Clyburn, the most influential African American Democrat in Congress, said stimulus payments.

“Because all that’s wrapped into one. Everybody’s out for that, so I don’t see them being able to turn around for that,” Clyburn told the Guardian. “I think the toughest thing is going to be his infrastructure package.”

Clyburn said “you’ve got to have some ‘pay-fors’. I don’t think he ought to put all of that on the credit card. The Republicans are always going to try to keep Wall Street from paying for anything, but I think the time has come, and I’m going to be very vocal, and other people are going to be very vocal about it.

“We can’t keep doing these infrastructure programs and having them paid for by rural farmers, rural communities. We’ve just got to stop doing that.”

Related: 'We weren't intimidated': A diary of Cori Bush's first two weeks in the House

Despite Biden’s vocal optimism that the Trump fever will leave with his administration, there are already signs of top Republicans getting ready to stonewall Biden’s agenda and paint it as a thinly veiled push by progressives and the left.

“I think we are going to have, in the first hundred days by the Biden administration, the most aggressive socialized policy effort in the history of the country,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said during a recent appearance on Fox News.

Still, that opposition may be weaker than the obstruction put up during Barack Obama’s administration.

Biden and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Senate Republican, have a longstanding relationship, and Republican and Democratic veterans of Washington say they are in closer contact than is publicly known. Publicly they have both been relatively quiet, refraining from lobbing potshots.

That detente could turn into a quiet working relationship where bipartisan policy proposals become law, just as Biden has hoped.