President Joe Biden has proven to be anything but “sleepy,” filling his first week with a pile of proclamations, plans, and executive orders. I’m finding it hard to keep up with the news—but in a good way. So here’s my recap of recent developments:
- Racial Equity: Besides denouncing white supremacy in his inaugural address, Biden said that “advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice and equal opportunity is the responsibility of the whole of our government.” He began by signing a racial equity executive order on his first afternoon as president, but that’s only one order. The New York Times quotes Cecilia Rouse, Biden’s nominee to head up the Council of Economic Advisers. Rouse, who will be the first Black economist in that position, said: “Racial equity is not a silo in and of itself. It is woven in all of these policy efforts.”
- Planning to reopen the Affordable Care marketplaces “as soon as Thursday”: That’s going to be a big help to millions who have lost their health care coverage along with their jobs during the pandemic. The WaPo article says he will also reverse Trump-era restrictions on Medicaid, according to “individuals familiar with the plan.” Medicaid is the health plan covering about 70 million low-income people in the United States.
- Extending the eviction moratorium through the end of March: That move comes along with a request to Congress to provide rental assistance, which would help both tenants and landlords.
- Canceling Keystone XL and oil and gas drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge: Keystone XL is a pipeline to take Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast for export, a project rejected by Obama and revived by Trump. The first-day executive order signals the Biden administration commitment to address climate change and environmental protection generally. Inside Climate News notes that:
“The Keystone XL battle was also one of the first to broaden the environmental movement beyond mostly white and expert voices to include those of Indigenous groups and rural farmers, a strategy that has since spread widely. The Gwich’in people of northern Alaska have played a central role in the fight against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Indigenous groups have also led opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Line 3 pipeline, two projects that may now draw scrutiny from the Biden administration.”
- Increasing food aid: Biden’s executive order directed the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and to increase benefits through a school meals program started during the pandemic.
I’ve already written about Biden’s executive orders and proposed legislation on immigration, and about his COVID plan. I planned to write more about the actions listed above, but the news is moving too fast, and I’ve run out of time, so this brief list will have to be enough.
While Biden has moved rapidly to do what he can through executive orders, the heavy lifting remains in getting Congress to act. One big battle looms immediately: the $2 trillion COVID relief package. Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki asks rhetorically: “Is unemployment insurance only an issue that Democrats in the country want? Do only Democrats want their kids to go back to schools? Do only Democrats want vaccines to be distributed across the country?”
Let’s hope Republicans want these things enough to vote for them.