- “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days,” Biden said. “I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.”
But the freshly sworn in president's pleas for a united path forward might ultimately clash with his desire to push through his ambitious legislative agenda, as Republicans object to some of his first moves in office.
Some Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) even trashed Biden's speech itself, which was widely lauded for its appeals for Americans to set aside their political differences and work together for a better country. He called for Americans to join forces to defeat political extremism, white supremacy and domestic terrorism. (Here's his full speech, annotated.)
- “If you read his speech and listen to it carefully, much of it is thinly-veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people who don't tell the truth,” Paul (R-Ky.) said on Fox News last night.
Biden faces some immediate roadblocks: The Senate confirmed just one of Biden's nominees by the end of his first day in office — Avril Haines for the director of national intelligence — a shift from tradition. The Senate has yet to agree on a power-sharing arrangement that will dictate how the 50-50 chamber will operate. Not to mention the looming impeachment trial of former president Trump that stands to further delay confirmations of Biden's Cabinet and eclipse his legislative priorities.
- While Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) released his hold on Haines, “it is going to take more than Mr. Biden’s trademark backslapping and good nature to break through the persistent gridlock in Congress,” the New York Times's Carl Hulse writes. “Already, Republicans are mounting challenges to his cabinet nominees, and Mr. Biden nearly became the first president since at least Jimmy Carter to not win confirmation of a cabinet nominee during his first hours in office.”
Biden's spate of executive orders — rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, signing a mandate to wear masks in federal spaces, revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and more — also received immediate pushback from GOP lawmakers:
- Republicans “were particularly critical of the Biden administration’s decision to roll back key energy and climate regulations of his predecessor, arguing that doing so would ultimately cost jobs,” our colleague Seung Min Kim notes.
- Biden’s “policies from Day One hurt American workers and our economy,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “This virtue signaling comes at the expense of low-income and rural families that rely upon industries opposed by liberal environmental groups,” she added of the administration's climate actions.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), even before Biden's speech:
The Department of Homeland Security's late-breaking deportation pause for 100 days is sure to cause a stir. Biden also ordered a halt to border wall construction as the government assesses whether its funding sources are legal and can be redirected elsewhere — and rolled back the controversial “remain in Mexico” policy.
- Republican lawmakers and conservative groups have voiced their opposition Biden's broader immigration plan: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) described the proposal that calls for an eight-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as “blanket amnesty” and called it a “non-starter.” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) went even further; his spokesman bashed the plan as “a radical immigration agenda of amnesty and open borders.”
And Biden's expansive coronavirus plan was already being panned by GOP lawmakers before his inauguration. It will require the support of at least 10 Republican senators to be passed through “regular order.” Republicans said the price tag was too big and includes provisions — such as a $15 federal minimum wage — that are extraneous and not pressing.
- Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) called the $1.9 trillion dollar bill “a colossal waste and economically harmful”: “The ink on December’s $1 trillion aid bill is barely dry and much of the money is not yet spent,” Toomey said.
- “Biden’s current proposal appeared very unlikely to command that much support in a GOP caucus already uncomfortable with the more than $4 trillion already spent by the U.S. in response to the pandemic, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a right-leaning policy group, citing conversations with numerous Congressional Republican offices,” our colleagues Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.
A NEW LEAF?: Biden himself has made it clear that he's personally been involved with negotiations on both sides of the aisle on a new round of coronavirus relief — a contrast from Trump who was largely disengaged from negotiations on the bill he begrudgingly signed in December after a last-minute veto threat.
The White House “hopes to court a smaller circle of influential GOP lawmakers, particularly senators, and had reached out to key Republicans such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to get their input on their virus aid plan,” per Seung Min Kim.
- “It’s going to require, I think, a fair amount of debate and consideration,” Murkowski said Wednesday. “But he’s made it clear that this is his initial priority. I don’t disagree with that.”
- “[Biden] has already had a number of conversations with Democrats and the Republicans — those will continue,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during the first press briefing yesterday. “His clear preference is to move forward with a bipartisan bill. There’s no question about it.
But Psaki did leave room for the possibility the unity plan doesn't exactly pan out: “We’re also not going to take any tools off the table for how the House and Senate can get this urgent package done. Less than a day has he been President of the United States, but he’s going to continue to work with members of both parties to get it done.”
One such tool that Psaki might be referring to is the filibuster. Democrats have been under pressure to ditch the filibuster to make it easier to pass some of Biden's legislation. “But this week, [Mitch] McConnell has insisted that Democrats provide assurances on maintaining the filibuster, our colleague Mike DeBonis reports. “With the Senate evenly divided and the Democratic majority in the House down to single digits, McConnell hinted that any attempt to steamroll Republicans would invite calamity,” per DeBonis.
- “The people intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power to shape our nation’s direction,” McConnell said. “May we work together to honor that trust.”
- “…. As Republican opposition surfaced to advancing his nominees and Mr. McConnell dug in behind the filibuster, some Democrats privately wondered whether Mr. Biden was now getting the idea that Republicans did not mean to help him govern,” the New York Times's Hulse writes.
There were some encouraging signs, as Biden and Vice President Harris received bipartisan applause throughout the day.
During a gift ceremony following inauguration, McConnell praised the pair as the “son and daughter” of the Senate who “skipped the House altogether,” eliciting laughter in the room.
- McConnell has a history of working with Biden: “Not only did I like Joe, but I also learned that he didn't only talk; he also listened. He was, therefore, someone I could work with, McConnell wrote of Biden in his memoir, ‘The Long Game.’
- And 128 former Republican and Democratic members of Congress released an open letter to Congressional leaders asking them to “abandon the politics of tribalism” and work with the new administration.
Psaki was also asked if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer should drop a Senate impeachment trial of Trump for the sake of unity: “We are confident though that just like the American people can, the Senate can also multitask and they can do their constitutional duty while continuing to conduct the business of the American people.”
A NEW PANDEMIC PRESIDENT: Biden plans to issue a new national strategy today to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, while taking executive actions intended to make tests and vaccines more available, make schools and travel safe, and help states afford their role in the long road back to normal life,” Amy Goldstein, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Laura Meckler report.
- On his second day in office, Biden will sign an additional 10 executive orders, plus presidential memorandums, that address the public health crisis, including the creation of a Pandemic Test Board that can spur a “surge” in the capacity for coronavirus tests.
- Other orders will foster research into new treatments for covid-19, strengthen the collection and analysis of data to shape the government’s response, and direct the federal occupational safety agency to release and enforce guidelines to protect workers from getting infected.
- As Biden announced in a vaccine plan last week, the government will help create mass vaccination sites and call for greater use of the Defense Production Act, a decades-old law giving the government power to spur manufacturing during wars or other national emergencies.
Last night, the president signed three other executive orders requiring Americans to wear masks and social distance on federal property, halt the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization and recreate a White House unit on global health security and biodefense.
On the Hill
INTELLIGENCE GAINS HAINES: The 84-to-10 vote that confirmed Avril D. Haines, a lawyer and former deputy director of the CIA, as the director of national intelligence, signaled early bipartisan support for Biden’s slate of national security nominees, Shane Harris reports.
Four other nominees left waiting in the wings: The confirmations of Janet Yellen for treasury secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin for defense secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas for homeland security secretary and Antony Blinken for secretary of state — were left on hold due to procedural hurdles and GOP objections.
Today's another busy day on Capitol Hill as confirmations and negotiations over splitting power continues.
On the calendar:
- Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s pick for transportation secretary, is scheduled to appear this morning before the Senate Commerce Committee.
- The House will also vote today on a waiver to allow Austin to serve as Biden’s Defense secretary.
Prospects look good: Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the incoming chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that he'll back Austin to be defense secretary and support a waiver for him to take the job, Politico reports.
- Key quote: “Lloyd Austin is a decorated leader who has led a distinguished career and is exceptionally qualified,” said Reed, adding, “his character and integrity are unquestioned and he possesses the knowledge and skill to effectively lead the Pentagon.”
BREAKING UP WITH TRUMP APPOINTEES: U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams resigned as Biden sought to make a symbolic break with his predecessor’s coronavirus response, Dan Diamond reports. Although dozens of Trump appointees across the health department resigned on Wednesday, the surgeon general role is often regarded as nonpartisan.
- The Biden administration also fired Peter B. Robb, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, a Trump appointee who was a polarizing figure and deeply unpopular with prominent labor unions after he refused to resign, Bloomberg Law reports.
- “Michael Ellis, the recently installed general counsel at the National Security Agency, was placed on administrative leave Wednesday because his appointment is now the subject of an investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General,” CBS News reports. There is also a separate allegation that he mishandled classified information.
THE WORLD WAS WATCHING as Biden was sworn into office, effectively closing the chapter on the Trump era after the most tumultuous presidential transition in living memory, Adam Taylor reports.
Key quote: “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.
At the Pentagon
DEFEND AND DENY: “The Army falsely denied for days that Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, the brother of disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, was involved in a key meeting during its heavily scrutinized response to the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol,” Dan Lamothe, Paul Sonne, Carol D. Leonnig and Aaron C. Davis report.
- Charles Flynn confirmed to The Washington Post that he was in the room for a tense Jan. 6 phone call during which the Capitol Police and D.C. officials pleaded with the Pentagon to dispatch the National Guard urgently, but top Army officials expressed concern about having the Guard at the Capitol.
- The general’s presence during the call came weeks after his brother, who was pardoned by Trump in November, publicly suggested that the president declare martial law and have the U.S. military oversee a redo of the election.
- “The episode highlights the challenge for the Army in having an influential senior officer whose brother has become a central figure in QAnon,” my colleagues report.
Of all the historic images from the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president, a singular shot went viral.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) showed up for the occasion in a greenish Gore-Tex and oversized mittens made by a Vermont teacher and sat, arms-crossed and alone while the political pomp commenced around him. The Internet exploded. A meme was born.
RIDIN' WITH BIDEN: In 1972, Biden arrived in Washington as one of the youngest senators on Capitol Hill. This week, he entered the presidency as the oldest to serve the office. The New York Times has a visual journey to his presidency.