Ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s time in the White House, which lasted from 1933 to 1945, US presidents have been judged on what they achieved during their first 100 days in office. FDR – who took office at the peak of the Great Depression – enacted so many pieces of significant legislation during his first 100 days that books have been written about this period of his presidency.
Incoming US President Joe Biden – who regards FDR as one of his personal heroes – has explicitly referred to the 100-day milestone when outlining his policy goals. And he has compared the severity of the challenges he faces to those Roosevelt confronted when he took office. Unless Democrats take control of the Senate in the January 6 Georgia run-offs, Biden will have to rely largely on executive orders, rather than legislation, to get things done.
Confirming his crew
An immediate priority for Biden will be getting as many of his cabinet nominees confirmed by the US Senate as possible. Many of his picks – such as Antony Blinken for secretary of state – are expected to be swiftly confirmed. But Republicans are expected to put up a fight and attempt to block some of Biden’s nominees to signal to the party’s conservative base that they will not be push-overs.
Neera Tanden, a prolific tweeter whom Biden has chosen to run the Office of Management and Budget, is likely to face significant resistance from Republicans. There has also been some pushback to Biden’s plan to nominate Lloyd Austin as his secretary of defence given Austin only retired from the military four years ago, rather than the seven years required under US law. Austin will need a special waiverfrom Congress to take the job.
Tackling the pandemic
Biden’s top priority in the early days of his presidency will be the coronavirus pandemic, which will likely still be killing around 3000 Americans a day when he takes office on January 20. COVID-19 hospitalisations have continued to hit record highs throughout December and the country is recording around 200,000 new infections a day.
COVID-19 vaccinations have already begun under the Trump administration, but Biden’s team will be responsible for overseeing the rollout to the general population. They will have to make difficult decisions about who receives the vaccine next: for example, should frontline workers or the elderly be first in line? Biden has said he believes 100 million vaccine doses could be administered within his first 100 days – that is, by the end of April. He will also have work to do to build up trust in the vaccines among sceptical communities, including African-Americans and Republicans.
Biden has also said that, on inauguration day, he will call for Americans to wear masks for 100 days, describing it as their “patriotic duty” to slow the spread of the virus until vaccines are widely available. He will also move quickly to rejoin the World Health Organisation, which Trump withdrew the US from in June.
Reviving the economy
Biden will also inherit a struggling economy that has seen millions of Americans fall into poverty over recent months. Biden has said that even a $US900 billion ($1.2 trillion) financial rescue package will not be enough and he will quickly press Congress to pass another round of stimulus to help boost the economy. One of his big priorities is securing federal support for state and local governments so that all American schoolchildren can return to the classroom within his first 100 days as president.
Climate change reforms
Biden has said that taking action on climate change will be one of his major priorities. He is expected to rejoin the Paris climate agreement as one of his first significant presidential acts – something he can do without any input from Congress. He has also said that, within his first 100 days, he will convene a climate summit with leaders from the biggest global economies. Expect the Biden administration to immediately rescind a large number of President Trump’s executive orders on energy, particularly a March 2017 order calling on every federal agency to dismantle their climate policies. He also plans to reinstate stringent fuel efficiency standards introduced in the Obama era but scrapped by Trump.
Welcoming more immigrants
Biden has vowed to make a series of significant changes to immigration policy in his first 100 days – including cancelling Trump’s emergency declaration that has allowed him to fund the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico. He has said that he will reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows people who were brought to the US legally as children to remain in the country and apply for work permits. He has also said that he would rescind Trump’s ban on people from Muslim-majority countries such as Iran, Syria and Yemen from entering the US. Biden has also vowed to soften US asylum laws and to move quickly to introduce legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
But will he wipe student debts?
Senior Democrats are also pushing Biden to use executive authority to cancel up to $US50,000 in debt per borrower for college students who took loans. Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer recently said: “We have come to the conclusion that President Biden can undo this debt, can forgive $50,000 of debt the first day he becomes president. You don’t need Congress; All you need is the flick of a pen.”
Biden has yet to commit to the measure, which would reduce debt levels for tens of millions of American college graduates.
By : Matthew Knott – The Sydney Morning Herald