“Americans have a new president but not a new country.”
A leading European think tank delivered that bracing message as world leaders welcomed President Biden with open arms and the Delaware Democrat vowed to immediately start repairing frayed relationships with American allies.
The message is this: Global skepticism about the United States, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) warned this week, runs deeper than concerns about Donald Trump and can’t be fixed solely by the long-standing affection for his successor.
Biden told Washington’s partners in his inaugural message he’s taming the tumult of the past four years and they have a more reliable friend.
That is one who does not interpret the NATO alliance as a bad bargain for the United States or accuse the European Union of treating the United States “worse than China,” much less side with Russian President Vladimir Putin over American intelligence agencies.
“Here is my message to those beyond our borders. America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it,” he said minutes after taking the oath of office on the West Front of the Capitol. “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.”
And, crucially, “we will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security,” Biden promised.
In keeping with the new mood, one of the few new pieces of information to come from White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s first briefing Wednesday was that Biden’s first world leader call would be with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On Friday.
In some ways, Biden’s plea for repairing alliances is the perfect parallel message to his calls for unity at home: Everyone knows the uplifting tone masks significant, even volatile divisions on a range of major issues. Biden’s incoming national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, delivered an unmistakable, though diplomatic, whoa-hold-on-there message to the European Union as it raced to seal an investment deal with China — perhaps Exhibit A in the case ECFR could make about wary allies charting their own course.
But things might not go entirely as planned as America's allies are still reeling from Trump and wondering if he was truly an aberration or a warning.
“Many people in other countries are looking at the United States and they realize we have elections every four years,” said former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “And one threat would be that you know, maybe Trump gets reelected in four years and everything Biden works towards is upended again.”
Trump’s “disdain” for allies and “warmth” for autocrats like Putin, as well as his encouragement of the Jan. 6 riot in which his supporters attempted to overthrow the November election results, have eroded America’s standing, Corker said.
“It doesn’t surprise me that people feel distrustful of America today,” he said. “Here we had our own president undermining democracy here in the U.S.”
Biden is strongly signaling a restoration of traditional U.S. foreign policy.
His administration’s public pledges to find a way back into the Iran nuclear deal sealed by Barack Obama and torn up by Trump seem sure to set up a clash with Israel. Even Trudeau, whose welcome message to Biden included the latter’s “build back better” campaign slogan, publicly declared himself “disappointed” Wednesday after Biden halted construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
At the same time, the Democrat has already taken other steps to fulfill key foreign policy promises — putting the United States on the path to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and ending travel restrictions on seven majority-Muslim nations in Africa.
And world leaders have, for the most part, welcomed Biden — including some who were happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Trump. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, sometimes (simplistically) called The Trump Of Latin America, tweeted a letter he sent Biden highlighting bilateral “bonds of brotherhood” and “shared fundamental values” while seeking a free trade deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Trump pleased at every turn, underlined that he and the Democrat had a “warm personal friendship going back many decades” and played down differences over Iran.
Others have been even more effusive.
“I hope he will … be conscious of the great pride we in Ireland take in his immense achievement. He is one of us, part of our global family,” Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said in a statement.
“Five years ago, we thought Trump was a bad joke, but five years later we realized he jeopardized nothing less than the world’s most powerful democracy,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said.
“Despite the attempts to tear at America’s institutional fabric, election workers and governors, the judiciary and Congress, have proven strong,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a video statement. “I am greatly relieved that, today, Joe Biden is being sworn in as president and will be moving into the White House. I know many people in Germany share this feeling.”
And Biden looks broadly popular abroad. The Pew Research Center found that most Germans (79 percent), French (72 percent) and Britons (65 percent) say they are confident Biden will do the right thing in world affairs. (It is easier for a foreign leader to side with an American leader popular domestically). But that same study found just 40 percent of Germans and about half of respondents in France and the U.K. had a favorable view of the United States. And 73 percent of Germans, 64 percent of the French and 62 percent of the British said America’s political system requires major changes or a top-to-bottom overhaul.
This leads back to the ECFR report, which found 6 in 10 respondents say China, not the United States, will be more powerful 10 years from today. And “At least half of the electorate in every surveyed country would like their government to remain neutral in a conflict between the U.S. and China,” it said. Across the countries surveyed, 67 percent of respondents said they cannot rely on the United States to defend them, requiring European military investments.
One core tenet of foreign policy is that countries act in their perceived self-interest. The Biden administration may test whose self-interest, and who does the perceiving.
What’s happening now
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Pelosi says GOP members could be prosecuted
The House speaker said at her weekly news conference that Republican colleagues who may have “aided and abetted” the Capitol insurrection should face charges. Pelosi also indicated it would be “harmful to unity” not to proceed with a Senate impeachment trial of Trump, and that she doesn't think "it’s very unifying to say, ‘Oh, let’s just forget it and move on.’ That’s not how you unify.”
Biden will keep Christopher Wray as FBI director, CNN reports. The move was expected.
House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) urged the FBI to conduct a “robust examination” of conservative-friendly tech platform Parler's alleged role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The committee will do its own internal probe of Parler and similar sites.
Unemployment claims remain high amid coronavirus pandemic
Another 900,000 people filed new unemployment claims last week, a snapshot of the significant labor market challenges Biden faces, Eli Rosenberg reports. An additional 423,000 people in 47 states filed new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program created to help gig and self-employed workers. All told, nearly 16 million people were claiming benefits as of Jan. 2.
Biden and Harris participated from the White House this morning in a virtual national prayer service. Bishop William Barber II, co-founder of the Poor People’s Campaign, preached, and Patti LaBelle sang the national anthem:
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi pressed the White House to release billions in hurricane relief aid held up by Trump. Congress approved close to $60 billion in emergency funding for the island after it was decimated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Close to four years later, less than half of the aid has actually reached Puerto Rico, Jeff Stein reports.
Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will not immediately move into the Naval Observatory while work is done on the 128-year-old home, Matt Viser and Carol D. Leonnig report.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “All overweight D.C. residents will get priority for the coronavirus vaccine. Experts are skeptical,” by Julie Zauzmer. “But offering vaccines to so many adults will be a logistical challenge for the city, which has struggled to keep its website and phone line for vaccine registrations running smoothly for the senior citizens and health-care workers who are currently eligible.”
- “Rare twin suicide bombings rock Baghdad market, killing at least 28,” by Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim. “There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Although security forces continue to fight ragtag bands of Islamic State militants in Iraq’s peripheral regions, major security incidents in the capital are rare.”
- “An alleged Saudi troll campaign is targeting a movie about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” by Steven Zeitchik. “The trolling effort, Thor Halvorssen says, could threaten the public standing of ‘The Dissident’ — and the likelihood that Americans would watch it. Review sites are critical for many political documentaries, which without a massive marketing budget relies heavily on word-of-mouth buzz.”
- “A look inside Biden’s Oval Office,” by Annie Linskey. “Paintings of former president Thomas Jefferson and former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton hung near each other … Busts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy flank a fireplace in the office. … Behind the Resolute Desk is a bust of Cesar Chavez. The office also includes busts of Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt and a sculpture depicting a horse and rider by Allan Houser of the Chiricahua Apache tribe … A painting of Benjamin Franklin is intended to represent Biden’s interest in following science.”
… and beyond
- “Why I took the photo at Beau Biden’s grave that is going viral,” by the Delaware News Journal’s Patricia Talorico: “I saw a lone person in a blue uniform kneeling at Beau's grave. No one else was around on this cold, windy afternoon except for a few people doing outside work at the cemetery. In my car, I had the radio tuned to CNN. Joe Biden was being sworn in as president and was about to begin his address. The person in the uniform bowed their head and clasped their hands. The image brought tears to my eyes.”
- “Charlottesville inspired Biden to run. Now it has a message for him,” by the Times’s Astead Herndon. “Charlottesville activists, religious leaders and civil rights groups who endured the events of 2017 urged Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party to go beyond seeing unity as the ultimate political goal and prioritize a sense of justice that uplifts the historically marginalized.”
- “IOC chief says ‘no plan B’ for Tokyo Olympics,” by the AFP. "We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July," Thomas Bach told Kyodo News.
- “Covid-19 could forever change South Carolina restaurants – especially in food capital Charleston,” by the State’s Caitlin Byrd. “Now, nearly one year into the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a push to make outdoor dining a permanent offering in Charleston, a place where such a move could also change the look and feel of the peninsular city’s historic downtown.”
And ICYMI any of last night's explosive inauguration festivities, here's a recap:
The first 100 days
Biden will issue a new national strategy to respond to the pandemic.
Among the moves:
- Making tests and vaccines more abundant, schools and travel safer, and states better able to afford their roles, Amy Goldstein, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Laura Meckler report. The actions come as the U.S. coronavirus death toll reaches 404,000.
- Signing 10 orders, plus presidential memorandums, covering many aspects of the crisis. These include the creation of a Pandemic Testing Board that can spur a “surge” in testing capacity.
- Improving federal agencies’ data collection, including to ensuring the government directs enough support to racial and ethnic groups disproportionately suffering from the pandemic.
- Attempting to persuade Congress to cover the entire cost for states to vaccinate low-income residents on Medicaid. Creating mass vaccination sites, including in gyms and stadiums.
- Setting a goal for most K-8 schools to open within Biden's first 100 days, but how they would meet it is unclear.
- Directing the departments of Education and Health and Human Services to issue guidance to help schools, child-care providers and higher education institutions operate safely, including an expansion of testing in schools.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske said the administration will pause deportations, among other measures, including:
- Setting strict limits for arresting and deporting immigrants while the department reviews its policies and practices, Maria Sacchetti reports, effectively ending Trump's policies exposing anyone in the U.S. illegally to deportation. In a memo, Pekoske ordered DHS’s chief of staff to review the agency’s immigration policies over the next 100 days.
- Imposing an “immediate” 100-day pause on the deportations of certain noncitizens, which will take effect no later than Friday.
- Suspending the Migrant Protection Protocols, ordering that no new migrants be added to the program, which requires Mexico host asylum seekers as they await their U.S. hearings.
- Biden is expected to announce additional immigration actions on Jan. 29.
The president's new measures have predictably already angered some Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who said they put “people here illegally – or attempting to come here illegally – before American workers.”
Biden rejoined the Paris climate accord.
- Biden recommitted the U.S. to the international campaign to slow global warming. He also ordered federal agencies to review Trump’s climate and environmental policies and, if possible, quickly reverse them, Juliet Eilperin, Steven Mufson and Brady Dennis report.
- Biden is expected to take more sweeping action next Wednesday. He plans to sign an executive order elevating climate in domestic and national security policy, reestablishing the Presidential Council of Advisers on Science and Technology and announcing that U.S. data will support the Climate Leadership Summit hosted in Washington in April.
Quote of the day
“I think the fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country,” former president George W. Bush said in a joint message for Biden recorded with former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. “America's a generous country, people of great hearts. All three of us were lucky to be the president of this country.”
Hot on the left
Trump extended Secret Service protection to his four adult children, two of their spouses and three of his top officials — Steve Mnuchin, Mark Meadows and Robert O’Brien — for the next six months, which will cost taxpayers millions. None of them were automatically entitled to receive these protections. Under federal law, only Trump and his wife, Melania, and their 14-year-old son are entitled to Secret Service protection after leaving office. Biden could undo the move, Leonnig and Nick Miroff report.
Hot on the right
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Biden’s inauguration speech was “innuendo calling us white supremacists.” Paul told Fox News that Biden was “calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people who don’t tell the truth.” In his speech, Biden said Americans “must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” but he never mentioned Trump by name, nor did he explicitly refer to his allies who supported his false election fraud claims. He did speak of “the rise of extremism, white supremacy,” but he didn’t link it to the Capitol riots, Newsweek reports.
Tracking Biden's nominations
- Confirmation hearings are not being rushed because Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) have not yet reached a power-sharing agreement, which would dictate how the 50-50 split Senate will operate. And don't forget Trump's impeachment trial.
- Our nation’s agencies, meanwhile, are being run by an acting Cabinet. In announcing the acting leaders, White House officials said “nearly all” are career civil servants. Among them are Pekoske, current TSA administrator, who will temporarily lead the Department of Homeland Security; and David Cohen, who Biden tapped as CIA deputy director, will temporarily lead the spy agency, per Politico.
- The Senate confirmed Avril Haines, Biden’s pick to lead the office of national intelligence. She was confirmed in an 84-10 vote after Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) dropped an objection to her nomination. She will be the first woman to serve in the position, Shane Harris reports. Ten Republicans voted against confirming her, including Sens. Cruz (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Josh Hawley (Mo.)
- Cotton is now targeting Xavier Becerra, Biden’s pick for health and human services secretary. In an op-ed for Fox News, Cotton argued the Senate should reject Becerra because he is a lawyer and a politician and “has no experience in public health” or “other challenges of the pandemic.”
- Pete Buttigieg testified before the Senate this morning. He cited a “bipartisan appetite for a generational opportunity to transform and improve America’s infrastructure” in his bid to become Biden’s transportation secretary, per Ian Duncan and Michael Laris. If confirmed, Buttigieg would become the first openly gay member of a Cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate and the youngest person to serve as transportation secretary. Michael Patton, the former president of South Bend’s chapter of the NAACP tweeted his support for Buttigieg last night, saying he has seen firsthand how he “partnered with the community” to turn around that city as mayor.
- The House will vote today on a waiver to allow retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as secretary of defense, per CNN.
- Janet Yellen, who will likely be confirmed, tapped a slate of Obama administration veterans for key Treasury roles. Among them is Didem Nisanci, who will serve as Yellen’s chief of staff and was the Securities and Exchange Commission chief of staff during the Obama administration. Yellen also named Julie Brinn Siege, who previously served as economic policy counsel for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as deputy chief of staff, the AP reports.
- The Pentagon swore in a long list of Biden staffers as it began to refill its ranks following years of half-empty halls, Defense One’s Kevin Baron reports.
And while McConnell and Schumer still haven't agreed on how to share power, there was a digital transfer:
Biden's inauguration speech, visualized
This week in Washington
Biden will deliver remarks at 2 p.m. on the pandemic and sign related executive orders. He will also be briefed by the White House coronavirus task force.
Anthony Fauci will attend today’s White House press briefing.
Seth Meyers said Inauguration Day was not short of inspiration:
And the Sen. Bernie Sanders on a chair memes abounded. He popped up everywhere: