On Wednesday, Jan. 20, President Joe Biden called for unity as he and Vice President Kamala Harris took the constitutional oath of office. After an insurrection at the nation’s capitol just 14 days before the new administration took office, Biden and Harris inherited a country torn by political polarization and scarred with the repercussions of the ongoing pandemic.
“To overcome these challenges — to restore the soul and to secure the future of America — requires more than words. It requires the most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity,” said Biden as he delivered his inauguration speech.
Unity was at the forefront of the President’s message, his speech at the forefront of a divided America.
On the first day of his presidency, 17 out of a total of 30 executive orders to date were signed by President Biden that dismantled much of former President Trump’s policies on anti-immigration, the environment and the pandemic. Following one of his major campaign promises, the President signed an executive order to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, an international agreement to reduce global warming emissions, that Trump had withdrawn from in 2017.
Biden also committed to pulling funds from the border wall, requested to extend the freeze on federal student loan payments, ended the ban on U.S entry from majority Muslim countries, extended federal nondiscrimination protections on gender and sexual orientation and revoked the controversial Keystone XL pipeline permit that carried crude oil from Canada to the U.S through Indigenous lands. In the following days, Biden and his team signed symbolic legislation to promote racial equity in the Federal government.
Biden’s team additionally released a 200-page COVID-19 strategy. The document included an ambitious goal of administering 100 million shots of the vaccine to US residents in its first 100 days in office. It also included opening 100 vaccination centers run by the federal government. Biden’s strategy stated that he rejoined and helped fund the World Health Organization so it will be more equipped to deal with health emergencies in the future.
Following the $2 trillion relief package in March and the $900 billion relief program in December, the Biden Administration introduced a $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package aimed at the economy and recovery of the people. The bill proposed personal checks of $1,400, as well as money to reopen schools, proposed a federal minimum wage of $15 by 2025 and set aside $160 billion for a national vaccination program.
Biden hoped to get bipartisan agreement on the bill, but on Feb. 5 the House of Representatives voted primarily along party lines with a 219-209 vote to adopt a budget blueprint on the bill. The Senate used reconciliation, a process to pass a bill with limited debate, to avoid the controversial filibuster, a process where senators debate a bill for an exhausted period of time to stall its adoption with 60 Senate votes to override it. G.O.P senators introduced various amendments to the bill in a “vote-a-rama” where Vice president Kamala Harris passed the resolution in a Senate tie-break of 51-50 votes.
Republicans raised concerns over the size of the stimulus package and its effects on the economy. Legislative committees are drafting the bill that is hoped for democrats to pass in mid-March.
Bipartisanship has been a common message from the new administration. Biden met with 10 G.O.P senators on Feb. 1 to discuss the bill, but the precedent set by the proposed stimulus bill in Congress has some republican members across the aisle unconvinced of their efforts.
“If you want unity, you want bipartisanship, you have to start with the group that’s willing to work together,” echoed Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
Vice President Harris made history on inauguration day, becoming the first female vice president and the first black woman and person with Indian descent to be sworn into the role. Although historically the vice president has very limited influence that is dependent on the president’s wishes, Biden has suggested otherwise.
“I asked Kamala to be the last voice in the room. To always tell me the truth,” stated Biden.
Harris has recently spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, Feb. 15, to express commitment to strengthening ties between the two countries. Harris is projected to be seen in the Senate again for more tie-breaks due to the partisan and divided nature of the Senate today.
In the coming months, the United States will face efforts to recuperate from the pandemic and unify the country. In the coming years, President Biden and Vice President Harris will be tasked to lead the nation through political gridlock, and revive the country from the lasting effects of the pandemic.