Inside the White House, President Joe Biden presided over a focused launch of his administration, using his first days in office to break sharply with his predecessor while signing executive orders meant as a showy display of action to address the historic challenges he inherited.
But outside the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., there are signs everywhere that those crises are as deep and intractable as ever. The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic surges, the economy teeters and Republicans in Congress have signaled objections to many of Biden’s plans.
Biden is looking to jump-start his first 100 days in office with action and symbolism to reassure a divided and weary public that help is in the offing, declaring the nation is “in a national emergency.”
“The crisis is not getting better. It’s deepening,” Biden said on Saturday about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. “A lot of America is hurting. The virus is surging. Families are going hungry. People are at risk of being evicted again. Job losses are mounting. We need to act.”
“The bottom line is this: We’re in a national emergency. We need to act like we’re in a national emergency,” he said.
The executive actions Biden signed during the week were a mix of concrete and symbolic actions. Biden halted construction of the border wall, rejoined the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accord and bolstered the means for production for vaccines.
But the might of the executive actions pales in comparison to the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that he requested from Congress. Biden has not ruled out asking Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (Democrat-New York), to push it through by tactics requiring only Democratic support. But the president, who spent decades in the Senate, hoped to persuade Republicans to support the measure.
“Leaning on executive action makes sense at the start, you can get things going and show momentum right away without waiting for Congress,” said Robert Gibbs, former press secretary for President Barack Obama. “But this is going take a while. Like it was for us in 2009, change doesn’t come overnight.”
“Everything he inherited is likely to get worse before we see improvement,” Gibbs said. “One thing you learn on January 20th is that you suddenly own all of it.”
Biden has made clear that steering the nation through the pandemic will be his signature task and some Republicans believe that Trump’s implosion could create an opening to work across the aisle on a relief deal.
“There is a very narrow permission structure for congressional Republicans who want to move past the Trump era and want to establish their own political identities,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Romney is now a Utah senator.
“There is an old saying: ‘Make the main thing the main thing.’ And the Biden White House knows that’s the main thing,” Madden said. “If they can improve the pandemic response in the next 100 days, then they can move on to other priorities, they’ll have the capital for legislative fights. But they need to get it right.”