Thursday Reads: Biden Gets Down to WorkPosted: January 21, 2021
Last night I slept better than I have in a long time. For the first time in four years, I actually felt safe. I know there will be times when I disagree with what Biden does as POTUS, but at least I don’t have to worry about him blowing up the world in a fit of pique. The images are from yesterday’s inauguration ceremony.
Mark Leibovich at The Washington Post: Washington Breathes an Uneasy Sigh of Relief.
Quite a difference between two chilly Wednesdays in January: Under a crystalline Inauguration Day sky and a bunting-draped Capitol, the Marine Band welcomed the 46th president into office with a procession of fanfares — in the same spot that a mob answering the call of the 45th had ransacked the building two weeks earlier to try to stop this transfer of power.
There was no mention of Donald J. Trump, the departed and deplatformed commander in chief who flew out of town early in the morning as the first president in 152 years to refuse to attend the swearing-in of his successor.
Whether or not related to the former president’s absence, a bipartisan lightness seemed to prevail across the stage. Snow flurries gave way to sun and an aura distinctly serene. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and now former Vice President Mike Pence — both close allies of Mr. Trump who broke bitterly with him in his final days — were seen cracking grins, even chuckling with their counterparts in the opposing party.
Supreme Court justices greeted former presidents with elbow bumps and waved to masked members of Congress from several feet away, a literal separation of powers mandated by the pandemic. The rampage on Jan. 6 had brought on uniformed troops clustered in all directions across a Capitol complex otherwise abandoned by civilians. Still, the inauguration felt like a friendly gathering, a small step toward President Biden’s elusive promise of national unity.
After his inauguration in 2016, Trump took the weekend off. Biden got right to work signing executive orders that reversed some of Trump’s worst policies.
The New York Times: Biden’s 17 Executive Orders and Other Directives in Detail.
In 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations signed hours after his inauguration, President Biden moved swiftly on Wednesday to dismantle Trump administration policies his aides said have caused the “greatest damage” to the nation.
Despite an inaugural address that called for unity and compromise, Mr. Biden’s first actions as president are sharply aimed at sweeping aside former President Donald J. Trump’s pandemic response, reversing his environmental agenda, tearing down his anti-immigration policies, bolstering the teetering economic recovery and restoring federal efforts to promote diversity.
Head over to the NYT for the details. Here’s a brief list:
Biden quickly dumped some problematic Trump appointees. Slate: Biden Has Already Fired Three of Trump’s Worst Appointees.
Hours into his presidency, Biden has already ousted three of his predecessors’ most unqualified and corrupt appointees. This clean break sends a clear message that Biden will not tolerate hostile Trump holdovers in his administration, including those with time remaining in their terms.
First, Biden terminated Michael Pack, who was confirmed to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media in June. Pack sought to transform the agency, which oversees the international broadcaster Voice of America, into a propaganda outlet for Trump—despite a statutory mandate that prohibits such political interference. He purged the staff of VOA and its sister networks, replaced them with Trump loyalists, demanded pro-Trump coverage, and unconstitutionally punished remaining journalists who did actual reporting on the administration. In a perverse move, he refused to renew visas for foreign reporters who covered their home countries, subjecting them to retribution by authoritarian regimes. Pack also illegally fired the board of the Open Technology Fund, which promotes international internet freedom, and replaced them with Republican activists….
Second, Biden sacked Kathleen Kraninger, who was confirmed as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2018. Kraninger, who had no previous experience in consumer protection, immediately tried to undermine the agency’s role as a watchdog for the financial sector. She scrapped a landmark rule that restricted predatory payday lending, pressuring staff to downplay the resulting harm to consumers. And she refused to enforce a federal law that protected military personnel against a broad range of predatory lending. Her decision yanked federal support from military families who were defrauded by lenders. In the midst of the pandemic, Kraninger also approved a rule that allows debt collectors to harass Americans with limitless texts and emails demanding repayment….
Third, Biden demanded the resignation of Peter Robb, who was confirmed as the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel in 2017. The NLRB was created to enforce federal laws that guarantee workers the right to form a union and bargain collectively. Yet Robb is vehemently anti-union; during his tenure, he tried to limit employees’ free speech, give managers more leeway to engage in wage theft, hobble unions’ ability to collect dues, and prevent employers from helping workers organize. He also tried to seize near-total control of the agency by demoting every regional director and consolidating power in his office. If successful, this gambit would’ve given him unprecedented authority to bust existing unions and prevent new ones from forming.
Other personnel moves:
Meanwhile, the Senate approved Biden’s choice for DNI.
The Bidens moved quickly on Wednesday to fire White House chief usher Timothy Harleth, who was installed by the Trumps, two sources with knowledge have confirmed to CNN.
Harleth was hired by Melania Trump in 2017 to fill the important role of chief usher. Harleth came to the White House from Trump International Hotel DC, where he was rooms manager….
Harleth took the place of Angella Reid, who was hired during the Obama administration. Reid made history when she took the job in 2011 as the first woman to serve in the position. She was previously the general manager at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City, just outside Washington.
She was let go by the Trumps a few months after they took over the White House….
The White House usher is responsible for the management of the building and oversees residence staff. “Construction, maintenance, remodeling, food, as well as the administrative, fiscal and personnel functions” fall under the role’s responsibilities, according to the White House Historical Association.
Reid was the White House’s ninth usher and the second African American.
The chief usher and residence staff are not political positions, and it’s highly unusual for someone to leave at the beginning of a new administration.
I wonder if they can hire Reid again.
There will be plenty of bad news for the new administration to discover about the mess Trump has left them, but they have already learned that there was no plan whatsoever for getting the coronavirus vaccine to desperate Americans.
Newly sworn in President Joe Biden and his advisers are inheriting no coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to speak of from the Trump administration, sources tell CNN, posing a significant challenge for the new White House.
The Biden administration has promised to try to turn the Covid-19 pandemic around and drastically speed up the pace of vaccinating Americans against the virus. But in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration’s Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.
“There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” one source said.
Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from “square one” because there simply was no plan as: “Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence.”
More from The Daily Beast: ‘Worse Than We Imagined’: Team Trump Left Biden a COVID Nightmare.
“What we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 czar, said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “We don’t have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”
“I think we have to level-set expectations,” added Tom Frieden, the former director for the Centers for Disease Control in the Obama administration. “There are lots of things that an incoming administration can do on Day One, including speaking honestly about the pandemic.”
The new administration is already behind, in part because the Trump administration was unprecedentedly hostile during the transition. The question now, however, is how Biden can get a handle on a raging pandemic when his team is already so far behind.
The task at hand is enormous. More than 400,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. Every state, territory and the District of Columbia is in a state of emergency. The number of people infected with the virus who are now hospitalized is more than double the number reached during the spring and summer peaks.
It’s not just the spread of the virus that the Biden team needs to tackle. Officials will also have to confront the disinformation and misinformation about the virus that has permeated all four corners of the country—where people still believe the virus is a hoax and that public health guidelines are too great of an imposition on their personal freedom to follow. But it’s unclear what power of persuasion the Biden administration will hold and if it will be enough to convince people to take the virus more seriously.
Biden will be busy again today. CNBC: Biden to sign 10 executive orders and invoke Defense Production Act to combat Covid pandemic.
On his first full day in office, President Joe Biden released details Thursday of his sweeping plan to combat the coronavirus, announcing 10 executive orders and directing agencies to use wartime powers to require U.S. companies to make N95 masks, swabs and other equipment to fight the pandemic.
The president’s plan emphasizes ramping up testing for the coronavirus, accelerating the pace of vaccinations and providing more funding and direction to state and local officials. A key component of the plan is restoring trust with the American public. It also focuses on vaccinating more people, safely reopening schools, businesses and travel as well as slowing the spread of the virus.
“The National Strategy provides a roadmap to guide America out of the worst public health crisis in a century,” the plan says. “America has always risen to the challenge we face and we will do so now.”
Biden has taken office at a pivotal moment in the pandemic, many epidemiologists and U.S. health officials say. Nearly 3,000 Americans are dying every day of Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and newly discovered, more infectious strains are establishing footholds in the U.S., threatening to push the nation’s outbreak to even more deadly heights. The plan released Thursday expands on initiatives outlined last week and details how Biden plans to bring the outbreak under control and help the country recover.
So this seems like a good start. I’m beginning to feel somewhat hopeful again. It’s such a relief to know that I won’t be waking up to horrible tweets and stories about the childish man in the oval office throwing epic tantrums and demanding undying loyalty from everyone. How are you feeling today? As always, this is an open thread.