Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of the swearing in of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden Jr. My plan of weekly recaps of everything hasn’t exactly come together, given that I haven’t had enough free time to put it together, but I wanted to recap the President’s first month in office. President Biden may not be as flashy, loud, and brass as his predecessor, but he has taken dozens of steps in his first month to improve the lives of the American people, even if they don’t always get the same media attention as a mean Tweet would.
The most pressing issue facing our country right now is the coronavirus, both from a public health perspective and an economic perspective. President Biden has taken a number of executive actions to combat this crisis on both fonts in his first month in office. He implemented a federal mask mandate everywhere he was legally able to, which includes federal land and buildings, among federal employees, and on public transportation such as buses, trains, planes, boats, and taxis and ride share services. He implemented a requirement for a negative COVID test before entering the country from overseas, in addition to a 7 day home quarantine period. He also tightened travel restrictions from countries with new variants of the virus. He’s implemented the Defense Production Act (DPA) to speed up the production of tests, PPE, and vaccines. He’s also instructed OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to take a more active role in developing and enforcing coronavirus safety standards for the workplace.
Speaking of vaccines, he has purchased 200 million more shots total from Moderna and Pfizer, which will allow for 600 million shots to be delivered by the end of July, enough for every American to get vaccinated. He has begun the process opening up 250 federal community vaccination centers across the US, and authorized 1000 federal troops to assist with vaccinations. He has also instructed federal agencies to make it easier for retired doctors and nurses to assist with the vaccination effort. He’s also rolled out the Federal Retail Pharmacy program, which will use up to 40,000 retail pharmacies to assist in vaccine distribution to eligible participants. He authorized FEMA to reimburse states for 100% of the cost of using the national guard to distribute vaccines. The administration has increased the number of vaccines being delivered to the states to 13.5 million a week, up from 8.6 million. 2 million of those per week will go directly to pharmacies in the Federal Pharmacy program. He also announced a $2 billion US contribution to COVAX, the global partnership for vaccinations for lower and middle income countries. Vaccinating the rest of the world reduces the chance of the virus mutating to more transmissible strains. He has also reentered the US in the World Health Organization (WHO).
On testing, he has implemented billions of investments in testing, including ramping up manufacturing of testing kits and raw materials, purchasing millions of home coronavirus test kits, investing in testing programs for K-8 schools and underserved communities, and investing $200 million to increase our ability almost 4 fold to sequence genomes of the virus, which will allow us to better detect new strands of the virus.
These initiatives are already showing results. In President Biden’s first month, daily new cases have decreased by 2/3rds, current hospitalizations by 50%, and weekly vaccinations have doubled since he took office. Approximately 45 million vaccine shots have been given in President Biden’s first month, well above his goal for 100 million in 100 days.
But as I mentioned, the public health front is only one area of the crisis. President Biden has also taken action to confront the economic crises as well. The President extended the eviction moratorium through 3/31/21 and the student loan payment freeze through 9/30/2021. He’s made another 12 million families eligible for a 15-20% increase in SNAP benefits, as well as increased to benefits of P-EBT (supplemental program for kids on free/reduced lunches who can’t get them at school) by 15%. He increased the eligibility of unemployment benefits so that those who are not able to work due to fear of COVID infection are eligible for benefits. President Biden instructed FEMA to reimburse states retroactively for a number of pandemic related expenses, which will give $3-5 billion to the states to help with their budget shortfalls.
The President has also reopened Healthcare.gov. for open enrollment from February 15th-May 15th so that anyone without insurance can purchase a plan. Many people who lost their job may be eligible for no or low cost plans.
Additional economic actions not directly related to the Pandemic include strengthening the Buy American regulations, so that hundreds of billions in federal purchasing each year will be required to include more products made in America. He’s also begun the process of raising the minimum wage to $15 for federal employees and federal contractors.
These economic actions are all things that make real, and immediate impact in peoples lives. However most major economic actions require Congressional legislation such as the President’s American Rescue Plan, which is currently moving through Congress. I can’t wait to do the write up on that one when passed.
The Coronavirus is not the only disaster facing America now. The situation in Texas due to winter storms is grave, and the President has taken action. He issued a federal disaster proclamation for all of Texas on the day of the storm, and FEMA has provided generators, diesel, blankets, water, and meals at Texas’s request. He also declared a major disaster emergency for many parts of Texas, which will allow individuals to seek aid from FEMA which includes aid for housing and repairs.
Unfortunately, some old disaster situations have not been fully resolved, as Puerto Rico is still suffering years after Hurricane Maria. Despite 10s of billions being allocated by Congress for aid, the previous administration had refused to allocate much of it. The Biden administration has taken action, allocating an $1.3 billion in aid, and removing limitations that had been placed on and additional $4.9 billion in aid.
On the environment, the President has also taken a number of major steps. On day one, he reentered the US into the Paris Climate Accords, a move that has already gone into effect. He’s cancelled the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as put a 60 day hold on all new leases of for gas and oil drilling on federal lands and water. He’s put a hold on the all the new environmental regulations issued by the prior and ministration and has started the process of rolling 4 of them back: The limitations limitation of new fuel efficiency standards for cars, appliance and building efficiency standards, methane emission rules, and air pollution rules.
The President also issued major environmental executive orders establishing the first ever White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a National Task Force on Climate Change with representatives from 21 federal government agencies, taking a whole of government approach. The orders also order the federal government to procure carbon free electricity as well as zero emission vehicles, the latter of which is part of the President’s plan to replace the entire 650,000 federal vehicle fleet with electric vehicles.
The orders also call for a rigorous review of all existing oil and natural gas leases on federal land, as well as for the government to develop a plan to double offshore wind energy production by 2030. It will also conserve at least 30% of our oceans and lands by 2030. And perhaps most importantly, it instructs all federal agencies to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies which they have authority to issue. This will result in the removal of billions in federal subsidies to fossil fuel production.
There’s actually too much good stuff in these environmental orders to sum up, so I strongly recommend reading the fact sheet from the White House on them.
On immigration, the President has repealed the border wall emergency, issued an executive order to strengthen DACA, repealed the Muslim ban, established a task force to reunify families separated by the previous administration (a policy which his administration has officially rescinded), extended DPS for Liberians and TPS for Syrians, and ordered a top to bottom review of all rules and barriers to the legal immigration system that prevents immigrants from properly taking advantage of it. This includes a review of of the public charge rule, and well as rescinding a rule that required families to reimburse the federal government if a sponsored immigrant relative used federal benefits.
The President is also ending the inhumane “Remain in Mexico” policy by beginning to allow entry into the US from those still there to have their asylum claims processed. The President is no longer sending new asylum seekers there as they wait for their claims to be processed. He is also increasing the cap of asylum seekers from the current cap of 15,000 (which was functionally 0 under the previous administration) to 125,000 for the 12 month period beginning October 1st.
The President is also establishing an initiative, in coordination with NGOs and Central American governments, to address and combat the root causes of irregular migration. This is the most effective and humane to reduce undocumented immigration, rather than inhumane border policies.
The President attempted to implement a 100 day deportation ban. Unfortunately, that ban was struck down by a judge. Because we are a nation of laws, the President had to reissue guidance, and he has issued new guidance for ICE that will reduce the number of deportations by limiting their deportation priorities to immigrants convicted of serious felonies.
On Civil Rights, the President has taken a number of steps to combat racism and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes an executive order ensuring that all federal departments do a review of their compliance with non-discrimination rules and issue reports on areas of improvement. He also instructed the OMB to ensure equity when distributing federal funds. The order also revokes a ban on federal diversity training, and ends the racist 1776 commission. The President also directed HUD to ensure that they are complying with Fair Housing regulations. The Treasury department is also reinitiating the process to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, as well as speeding up the process. The President also signed a memorandum combatting discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and an executive order strengthening consultations and relations with Native American and Alaskan Native Tribes.
In a major move, President Biden is banning federal private prisons by instructing the Justice Department not to renew any contracts between the federal government and private criminal prisons.
For LGBT Americans, the President has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the federal government, as well as banning housing discrimination against LGBT people. The Justice Depart also has rescinded previous administration guidance that limited the implementation of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that banned discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring. The President has also revoked the ban on transgendered troops from serving in the military.
On foreign policy, the President is being defined both by what is administration is doing and not doing. The administration has already ended US involvement in a war, by ending US support for offensive operations in the Saudi War in Yemen. The administration has also removed the terrorism designation from the Houthis in Yemen, allowing for humanitarian aid to flow into the region. The US has also paused arm sales to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E as all of them are reviewed. And in a move fully supported by Berlin, the US is maintaining our bases in Germany. The Biden administration also extended the New START Treaty for an additional 5 years (through February 4th, 2026) with Russia, which places limits on Russian ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.
In terms of what the president is not doing, it’s drone strikes. As per this article on February 16th, the President has not yet authorized a single drone strike during his first month, compared to his predecessor who authorized one on his first day. At the time of the article, the US had only engaged in one airstrike, which had 0 civilian casualties.
President Biden has also repealed the global gag rule, which prohibited any federal funding to NGOs that even mention family planning services. This will free up much needed aid to a number of organization that save lives across the globe.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end, congrats, you win a prize (the prize is knowledge)! I know this was long, but the truth is that even this doesn’t include a lot that the President has done in the first month. The moves the government makes aren’t always hugely visible, but they make a difference in a lot of peoples lives, and the Biden administration has done a ton of that in just the first 2% of his first term.