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In his first day on the job, President Biden signed 17 executive orders to advance his agenda, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, lifting the restrictions on immigration from Muslim-majority countries, expanding protections for the LGBTQ community, stopping the construction of the border wall, extending a moratorium on evictions for certain renters, and extending a freeze on federal student loan payments.
These executive orders are aggressive moves to implement an ambitious agenda. But what alternative exists if President Biden wants to undo so much of the work of the previous administration? Executive orders are not without precedent, as we have seen in recent years. They are also an aggressive means by which to exercise the executive power of the Office, despite President Biden’s stated preference to work with both parties in Congress to accomplish his goals, and not make unilateral decisions.
The battle to regain the trust of the nation will have to be fought on multiple fronts.
President Biden’s team will have to bring Congress around to authorize the trillions required in spending for their priorities, as well as the many other priorities President Biden underlined during his campaign. Such priorities include: raising the minimum wage, funding community health care clinics, creating a national police oversight commission, funneling money for schools to reopen safely, job creation, raising corporate taxes, fighting racism, and supporting climate initiatives. And some initiatives will undoubtedly require much more convincing than others, such as President Biden’s plan to offer aid to the countries of Central America in order to reduce the influx of immigrants from that region. His advisors and administration will have to do some heavy lifting in policy and legislation to reverse the previous administration’s policies in all of the above-mentioned areas and to rebuild an atmosphere and practice of cooperation across parties.
President Biden’s deep knowledge of Congress and his long-time personal relationships with its members give him a strong fighting chance to regain the control of the country’s top institutions. But the President’s team will have a great deal of work ahead of them to rebuild the American public service. Sadly, there is no shortage of reports that recount a hollowing of the public service where experienced career staffers have steadily fled their positions. Sadly, this trend can be traced to a chaotic transition – or lack thereof – initiated by the previous administration. Restoring capacity in the public service will be essential to ensure the effective administration of the country. Until this work is done, it’s unlikely that President Biden’s team will succeed in advancing their policy priorities. After all, one cannot win a race with a lame horse.
The toughest battle will be the one for the hearts and minds of the citizens, among whom tens of millions still adhere to narratives peppered with alternative facts. For many, the new administration’s performance in dealing with a weakened economy during a pandemic will no doubt become an important indicator of their trustworthiness.
The new administration must therefore take full advantage of the goodwill they will most likely enjoy during the “honeymoon period”. However, with images of the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on January 6 still fresh in the minds, it is – ironically – the overall realization by senators, public servants, and citizens alike, of the extent of disunity and fragmentation in their country that may be this administration’s greatest weapon to move forward.
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