In his Nov. 7 victory speech, President Biden credited Black voters for having saved his campaign and promised them “you’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” He has now put a down payment on that pledge, signing executive actions aimed at battling systemic racism, and giving a top White House aide, Susan Rice, the mission of ensuring that domestic policy reflects that goal.
“I'm not promising we can end it tomorrow,” Biden said yesterday in the State Dining Room of the White House.
“But I promise you we're going to continue to make progress to eliminate systemic racism, and every branch of the White House and the federal government is going to be part of that effort,” he said.
His statement amounted to a reaffirmation of his values, a promise of sustained action — as well as a little bit of realistic expectations-setting. “We must change, and I know it's going to take time,” Biden said. “But I know we can do it.”
But activists and allies are warning that the president needs to follow pleas for patience with action, or face a political cost, my colleagues Cleve R. Wootson, Jr. and Tracy Jan report. Beyond his personal connection to the issue, Biden is well aware of the political danger of disappointing voters who rescued his foundering primary campaign and powered his November victory. And broken promises can break a presidency — consider George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes.”
“Black people didn’t just help the Biden-Harris ticket win for our health. I’m not waiting on announcements, I’m engaging,” said Melanie Campbell, who heads the Black Women’s Roundtable, a group of Black female activists. “Maybe we’ll give them a week or two to settle in, but we are not sitting around waiting.”
“I think people are certainly hoping that by spring we will begin to see some of these executive orders turn into legislative policy,” said Ravi Perry, chairman of the political science department at Howard University. “And if it doesn’t happen, then Democrats are going to have a lot of young people to answer to in the midterms of 2022.”
Earlier, in the White House briefing room, PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked an important question about Biden’s far-reaching racial equity agenda.
“Can you talk a little bit about how you're going to measure success, and what the federal government's role is, on something so big as inequality and racism?” she asked Biden press secretary Jen Psaki.
Psaki did not directly address how the White House will know whether it’s winning the fight — perhaps through data on policing, or evidence of narrowing gaps in family income and wealth, or courtroom victories rolling back policies seen as discriminatory.
But, she said, Biden’s actions “will make it a priority and infuse expertise and personnel to ensure we are addressing issues that impact communities of color across the country every day, and not just every few months when it's an issue that comes up.”
Making promises and measuring success are central to policymaking, but if the former is easy, the latter can bedevil presidents.
One example is the war in Afghanistan. For years, officials and some gullible pundits assured the public that victory was there for the taking if only people would wait another six months, while objective criteria told a different story. Barack Obama’s promises that Americans wary of a big change to the health-care systems could keep their health plan and their doctor didn’t age well. Another example is the pandemic: For months, President Donald Trump promised the coronavirus would go away and the country was rounding the corner, while scientific experts warned the opposite.
Biden himself said Monday he thought it would be possible for Americans to get 150 million doses of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office — an increase from his prior number of 100 million. A day later, Psaki described that number as aspirational, not an actual plan, and that the smaller number “continues to be the goal.”
If setting ambitious goals and falling short gets politicians in trouble, American voters sometimes punish them roundly for setting modest or nuanced aims.
In the heat of the 2004 campaign, within a matter of weeks, candid assessments of when the United States would win the global war on terrorism tripped up both then-president George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, who was a senator from Massachusetts at the time.
“I don’t think you can win it,” Bush told NBC’s “Today Show.”
He went on: “I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.” The angry response forced Bush to retreat.
Not long thereafter, Kerry sat down with the New York Times and declared that defeating terrorism meant eventually getting to the point “where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance.”
“I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling,” the future secretary of state told the Times. “But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”
One of the presidential promises remembered most fondly by history came in John F. Kennedy’s 1961 address to a joint session of Congress. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” he said. The country kept that date, six years after JFK’s assassination.
It’s a commitment Biden had in mind when he coupled his announcement that he would not seek the presidency in 2016 with this plea: “I believe we need a moonshot in this country to cure cancer. It’s personal. But I know we can do this.”
What’s happening now
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John Kerry, Biden's special envoy for climate, and National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy, are joining a White House press briefing at 12:15 p.m. ET. Biden is preparing a slew of executive orders building out the new administration's agenda for tackling climate change, in what is being dubbed “Climate Day." Dino Grandoni outlines what to expect.
Millions earmarked for public health emergencies were used to pay for unrelated salaries, administrative expenses and even the cost of removing office furniture. A government investigation found that hundreds of millions of dollars intended for the development of vaccines, drugs and therapies by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the federal health department, were misused, Dan Diamond and Lisa Rein report. An unidentified whistleblower alleged that officials the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS, which oversaw that agency, wrongly dipped into the funds beginning in 2010 and continuing through at least 2019.
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was a “prolific” informer for law enforcement. Tarrio repeatedly worked undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, Reuters reports. His undercover work was addressed in a 2014 hearing in Miami, where a federal prosecutor, an FBI agent, and Tarrio's own lawyer said he helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling. Tarrio denied working undercover. “I don’t recall any of this,” he said.
Prosecutors have opened case files on 400 potential suspects in connection to the Capitol riots, some of which may face sedition charges. Acting U.S. attorney Michael Sherwin said that while new arrests in the nationwide manhunt will plateau soon following an initial wave of 135 arrests and 150 federally criminal charged cases, investigations will continue into whether “militia groups” and individuals from several states conspired and coordinated the assault, Spencer Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Devlin Barrett report.
The acting Capitol Police chief apologized for “failings” that allowed the Jan. 6 breach. “Acting chief Yogananda D. Pittman cited a lack of manpower, an insufficient supply of ‘less-lethal’ weapons, confused and garbled communications, and a possible failure in lockdown procedures for leaving the Capitol and its occupants exposed to the marauding crowds that pressed their way into the building,” Karoun Demirjian, Aaron Davis and Peter Hermann report. In a closed-door meeting with House lawmakers, Pittman warned lawmakers that, in order to prevent a similar breach in the future, they will have to sacrifice public access to the building.
Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) requested that a total of 500 members of the D.C. National Guard remain activated through March 12 for Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial, Biden’s February speech to Congress and potential extremist activity in the city on March 4, Emily Davies reports.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “The Holocaust as an underlying condition,” by Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin: “Recent research shows that while many survivors — a resilient group almost by definition — are holding up well, others are suffering higher rates of post-traumatic stress, loneliness and fear than the general population.”
- “Teachers are moving to the front of the vaccine line — but that doesn’t mean all schools will reopen right away,” by Hannah Natanson, Donna St. George and Perry Stein: “These efforts are sparking opposition from some who question why educators working remotely, without a clear end in sight, should receive vaccinations alongside or ahead of more vulnerable populations.”
- “Anti-Trump Republican Adam Kinzinger knows fate is coming for him,” by Ellen McCarthy: “Kinzinger hopes that the end of the Trump presidency will bring about an epiphany among his colleagues, that they’ll realize governing on the basis of fear and lies can hurt them more than it helps them. ‘Leaders have got to start telling the truth,’ he says. But he’s realistic, too. ‘I think we’re going to have an epic battle in the next six months for the definition of this party,’ he says.”
… and beyond
- “C.I.A. Warns Former Officers About Working for Foreign Governments,” by the Times's Julian E. Barnes and Maggie Haberman: “The warnings against working for foreign governments and disclosing sensitive material to the public were not touched off by any single incident or disclosure. But intelligence officials are worried that people cobbling together information from the public comments of retired C.I.A. officers could create a ‘risk of unintended disclosure of classified information.’”
- “California would ban bear hunting under new legislation, even as wild population rebounds,” by the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Sabalow: “Bear tags generated $1.39 million in revenue last year for the state’s wildlife agency. The money goes into a big game management fund that supports habitat preservation for bears and other species including deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep.”
At the table
Today we're lunching with two national advocates for curbing gun violence, Giffords Executive Director Peter Ambler and Everytown President John Feinblatt. Equipped with a new survey on attitudes toward firearms, they’re making the case for President Biden and the narrowly divided Congress to take action on a range of proposals before the 2022 midterm elections. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Knox: Which two or three measures meant to curb gun violence have the broadest support?
Feinblatt: There is absolutely no doubt that background checks are something that 90 percent of the American public approves — Democrats, Republicans, gun owners, even National Rifle Association members approve of it. It’s something that the country wants, it’s something that when people run on, they win, and I think that people who oppose background checks do it at their own political peril.
Ambler: Not only is this an issue that’s popular with Democrats and Republicans and gun owners, but when you look at the folks who are going to decide the House majority, who are going to decide the Senate, people who split their tickets in 2020, people who come from battleground districts, you see especially strong support. That tells me that you’re talking about that’s an issue that’s going to be especially important for Democrats in the House.
Knox: As you mentioned, you found a lot of on ticket-splitters from the 2020 election in your survey data. Why?
Ambler: We’re focused, as always, on changing the politics of this issue, it’s what we’ve been working on for the past eight years. We need to show members of Congress that — not only is it the right thing to do — that passing universal background checks is vital to responding to the priorities of the voters.
Feinblatt: There’s no question about it. You focus on the ticket-splitters because in many ways they decided the 2020 election ... they’re expecting urgent action on gun safety. And so as you look to 2022 and beyond, you’ve got to focus on ticket-splitters and focus on what they’re telling you. And they’re ready to hold politicians accountable if they don’t act on gun safety.
Knox: One of the challenges — and we saw this after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 — is that the popularity of firearms-related policies doesn’t guarantee congressional action. How do you plan to convert the public opinion into action?
Feinblatt: Things have changed markedly since the days after Sandy Hook. There now is a grass-roots movement in support of commonsense gun measures. The politics have changed markedly on this — only look at [the] 2018 midterms when gun-sense champions won, look at Virginia in 2019, where gun-sense majority flipped both houses of the state legislature. And to boot, the NRA is sidelined by bankruptcy.
Knox: President Biden hasn’t been in office a week but he’s signed a blizzard of executive actions. Do you expect him to sign any in the next 10 days or so that pertain to the issues your organizations care most about?
Ambler: I don’t know about the next 10 days. We fully expect gun safety to be addressed within the first 100 days. This is an issue that we have worked with then-vice president Biden on, with then-Sen. Kamala D. Harris on. We’ve worked with them on this issue during the courses of their campaigns. We have both worked with the transition and the incoming White House. We know their values, we know their priorities. We know that change is going to come and they’re going to take executive action to address the epidemic of gun violence in its myriad forms along with pushing a robust legislative agenda.
Feinblatt: Susan Rice was asked this very question about executive actions, and she said the ones we put out are just the beginning, and there’s more to come. President Biden understands this issue, he’s a man of his word, he’s committed to act on gun safety. We expect to see action soon.
Knox: Americans bought millions more firearms in 2020 than in previous years. Will that complicate the push for the kinds of measures you’re proposing?
Feinblatt: I don’t think so at all. There was certainly a surge in gun buying that went along with the insecurity that Americans have felt over the past year. There’s no question about it, nonetheless, Americans overwhelmingly support [efforts to curb gun violence]. If anything, I think that the need for gun safety has been all the more underscored for the American public as armed insurrectionists attempted a coup just two weeks ago. If that’s not a call to action on gun safety, I don’t know what is.
The first 100 days
Biden’s plan to combat climate change places racial and economic disparities front and center.
The president's executive order will direct federal agencies to invest in low-income and minority communities that often bear the brunt of pollution, Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Darryl Fears report. At the heart of Biden’s action is an effort to improve conditions in Black, Latino and Native American communities targeted for hazards including power plants, landfills, trash incinerators, uranium mines and factories.
- It will also establish a White House interagency council on environmental justice, create an office of health and climate equity at the Department of Health and Human Services, and form an environmental justice office at Justice Department.
All international entrants to the U.S. must quarantine upon arrival under a new Biden executive order.
- Travelers — including Americans returning home — are directed to follow CDC guidance to self-quarantine for seven days. But it remains unclear how a self-quarantine would be enforced, and the CDC said it will not enforce its guidelines for quarantine as a rule, Shannon McMahon reports.
A Trump-appointed federal judge blocked Biden’s deportation “pause.”
- Judge Drew Tipton granted a temporary restraining order that will be in effect for 14 days in a case sought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Nick Miroff reports. Tipton said the state had demonstrated a likelihood of facing immediate harm from Biden’s pause.
- The Texas lawsuit portends more legal challenges by Biden opponents, appealing to a judicial branch reshaped by the confirmation of hundreds of Trump appointees.
In an unusual step, the White House released this video of Biden speaking to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Biden reaffirmed the U.S.'s commitment to collective defense:
Data suggests that cutting off stimulus checks to Americans earning over $75,000 could be wise.
- Families earning about $75,000 typically spend the money quickly, according to an analysis by nonprofit research organization Opportunity Insights, which studied how Americans used the $600 stimulus checks sent out earlier this month, Heather Long reports. Families earning more than $75,000 typically save their stimulus payment, which provides little help to the overall economy.
Tracking Biden's nominations
The Senate Commerce Committee approved Pete Buttigieg’s nomination for transportation secretary.
The nomination will head to the Senate floor for a possible final vote this week, Ian Duncan reports. Buttigieg, 39, would become the youngest person to lead the department and would be the first openly gay person confirmed to a Cabinet seat by the Senate. Only three senators — Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) – voted against his nomination.
Jennifer Granholm, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Denis McDonough, Biden’s picks to lead energy, the United Nations and Veteran Affairs respectively, all testify today. Antony Blinken will be sworn in today as secretary of state.
During her confirmation hearing, Thomas-Greenfield said she regrets speaking at a 2019 Savannah State University event sponsored by the Confucius Institute, an educational institute that is funded by the Chinese Communist Party, Anne Gearan reports.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, largely muzzled during the Trump era, is poised to start barking again.
- Rohit Chopra, Biden’s nominee to oversee the agency and an acolyte of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is expected to use the agency’s enforcement authority to shake up how big businesses interact with consumers where he perceives widespread abuse, Tory Newmyer reports.
- That would mark a dramatic turn since the agency secured less than $700 million in relief for consumers last year despite a record number of complaints, a fraction of the $5.6 billion collected in 2015.
Biden’s commerce secretary pick pledged a tough line on China but didn’t detail how she’ll deal with Huawei.
- Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) in Senate testimony said she plans on being “very aggressive” in combating China’s “unfair” trade practices, Jeanne Whalen reports, but declined to detail how she would handle the Chinese tech giant or the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed under Trump.
Quote of the day
“The actions of the president post-Election Day were not great. What happened on January 6th was not great,” Nikki Haley told Fox News. “Does he deserve to be impeached? Absolutely not… Give the man a break. I mean, move on.”
Hot on the left
On Facebook, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) indicated support for executing prominent Democrats in 2018 and 2019, before she was elected to Congress, CNN reports.
Hot on the right
Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo will stay in Washington and join the conservative think tank Hudson Institute, giving him a way to stay active in policy discussions ahead of a tentative 2024 run, Axios reports. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, meanwhile, is joining the Conservative Partnership Institute, a group run by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, per Axios.
Trump's second impeachment trial, visualized
Two-thirds of senators present and voting on an article of impeachment are necessary to convict. Ashlyn Still and JM Rieger are tracking where senators stand and what they have said about impeachment and convicting Trump.
Today in history
It has been 76 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
On this year's Holocaust Remembrance Day, more than 400 Holocaust survivors in Austria and Slovakia were poised to get their first coronavirus vaccine, the AP reports. “We owe this to them,” said Erika Jakubovits, the Jewish Community of Vienna organizer of the vaccination drive. “They have suffered so much trauma and have felt even more insecure during this pandemic.”
Seth Meyers wondered when Republican senators think is the right time to pass a coronavirus stimulus bill: