by Bryson Durst
On January 20, Joseph Biden was sworn in as the forty-sixth President of the United States.
Since then, President Biden has issued a sweeping number of executive orders and actions. These decisions touch numerous areas of everyday life, including:
COVID-19: President Biden is requiring masks to be worn on federal property, parks and monuments, and on public transportation between states. Outside these contexts, the president is encouraging the general public to wear masks. Many states, cities and private businesses already have mask mandates.
President Biden is using the Defense Production Act to support production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, requiring private business to produce supplies for the vaccines. Dr. Mark Caleb Smith, Chair of the Department of History and Government and Professor of Political Science at Cedarville, adds that the Biden administration has benefitted from the Trump administration’s vaccine development and initial rollout.
President Biden brought the U.S. back into the World Health Organization. Former President Donald Trump withdrew, citing concerns about transparency and Chinese influence.
Smith said, “President Biden understands that his success or failure as a president, at least in these first couple of years, is going to be judged based on how he responds to COVID.”
On the whole, Smith believes Biden will pursue a “more aggressive” federal response than former President Trump, though issues such as lockdowns and curfews are outside the federal government’s control.
Climate: On his first day in office, President Biden cancelled construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Smith says this appealed to environmentalists, though the pipeline was “pretty popular and produced jobs.”
The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline also affects American relations with Canada because it would have brought oil from Canada. Sims says Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, isn’t happy about the cancellation.
The president returned the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accords, an international treaty on climate change goals that was negotiated during the Obama administration. Former President Trump withdrew from the agreement.
President Biden also ordered federal agencies to start transitioning to electric cars. Smith says that due to the size and budget of the federal government, this will have an effect on the automobile sector.
Diversity: President Biden reinstated diversity and sensitivity training programs in federal agencies, programs that former President Trump cancelled. Smith says opponents of these programs believe President Biden’s “really trying to enforce a particular view of race and race relations,” one they disagree with.
President Biden has made racial equity a major focus of his administration. Sims says that “equity speaks to outcomes,” compared to equality, “which means that everybody gets a chance.”
Immigration: President Biden has said no one will be deported from the country during his first one hundred days, a policy Sims says has already been challenged in the courts. He also stopped construction of former President Trump’s border wall.
Sims adds that President Biden has ordered the 2020 U.S. Census to count undocumented immigrants—a policy opposed by former President Trump.
Abortion: President Biden repealed the Mexico City Policy. Under that policy, taxpayer dollars used for foreign aid couldn’t be used to fund abortions overseas.
Smith adds that there may be legal disputes if President Biden reinstates Obama administration policies that “tried to force non-profits and other entities to provide funding for birth control and other kinds of procedures they objected to.”
Other: President Biden reinstated guidance from the Obama administration for schools to, as Smith puts it, “consider policies that would integrate transgender students into locker rooms and athletic teams and things like that.” The guidance had been repealed by former President Trump.
President Biden also extended access to apply for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.
Smith says that President Biden’s two major congressional priorities are COVID relief and immigration reform. Congressional action will be difficult, given the divided nature of the current Congress.
Democrats have a slim majority in the House of Representatives, but the Senate is split fifty-fifty between Democrats (including two Democrat-aligned independents) and Republicans. Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, holds the tiebreaking vote.
Due to a Senate procedure called the filibuster, no bill can pass the Senate without sixty votes–meaning ten Republicans will need to join the Democrats to pass most legislation.
There are exceptions: appointments to the courts and executive branch offices only require fifty-one votes, as do budget bills passed under a process called reconciliation.
Fifty-one Senators can vote to eliminate the filibuster, but two Democrats–Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ)–have already said they won’t vote to eliminate it.
Bryson Durst is a junior communication major. He enjoys theology, history, playing strategy games with friends, and anything “Star Wars” related.