What to expect from the Biden/Harris administration
Starting on the night of his inauguration, Joe Biden signed 30 executive orders within the first three days of his presidency. They’re meant to fulfill promises he made while campaigning, assist the fight against COVID-19 and reverse a number of Donald Trump’s actions.
Looking into these preliminary actions, there are a few priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration that predict where the new president and vice president will take this country.
Criminal and racial justice
Biden’s extensive criminal justice plan includes fighting the prison-industrial complex, reducing prison sentences for drug-related offenses and ending the criminalization of poverty. It also addresses police reform by restoring an Obama-era practice: using investigations and consent decrees to address police misconduct and restore trust between police and communities.
State Rep. Russell Holmes says this should be the focus going forward in the call for an end to police brutality, and cited Massachusetts as a model.
“Our Chief Justice Gants did send Harvard over to try to figure out why our system is so racist,” Holmes said, referring to former Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants’ work with Harvard’s Criminal Justice Policy Program, “and we need to do something similar for the national level as well.”
Under the Trump Administration, only one investigation into police departments was conducted.
“Having it so that the Department of Justice comes in and gives concrete solutions and metrics that must be measured before they can be considered as a police department, I think is very, very important,” Holmes continued. Solutions include requiring departments to hire more Black officers or addressing racial biases in stop-and-frisk practices.
So far, Biden has signed two executive orders in this vein: One requires executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge and requires them not to interfere with the independence of the Department of Justice; the other rescinds the Trump Administration’s 1776 Commission, which was heavily criticized by historians for its mischaracterizations of slavery.
Biden also opposes the death penalty and is in support of rehabilitation programs for drug users instead of incarceration.
The president addressed immigrant concerns immediately with four moves, three of which rescind Trump-era rules.
Trump in 2017 issued a restriction on entry into the United States for passport-holders from seven countries, all with Muslim-majority populations, in what was known as the “Muslim ban.” He also began construction on a wall along the U.S.’s southern border and worked to expand immigration enforcement beyond ICE’s original rules.
All of those orders are officially paused, and Biden added executive orders halting deportation and removals of work authorization for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before Nov. 1, 2020 and protecting Liberian refugees who have been under a deportation moratorium.
He went even further to show his support for immigrants by issuing a memorandum supporting DACA recipients, immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. In his policy, he mentioned that his goal is to protect national and border security. Biden acknowledged “humanitarian challenges” at the border without referring directly to family separation and children kept in cages.
President Biden has rejoined the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Trump dropped out of the agreement last year. Stepping outside of that was an indication of some Americans’ belief that climate change is not caused by humans, nor does it endanger human health.
The agreement was signed and ratified by 194 states and the European Union before the U.S. withdrew.
Boston Environmental activists are calling for more than just rejoining the 2015 accord. Sunrise Movement Boston wants the president to endorse the Green New Deal brought to the forefront by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and take action through an office that mobilizes federal departments against climate change.
“What he could do is create the Office of Climate Mobilization on Day One, without Mitch McConnell’s approval,” reads a Dec. 17, 2020 tweet from the @sunrisemvmt account. “He has the movement at his back, and a mandate to act. This is Biden’s moment.”
Biden has said before that he won’t support the Green New Deal, even though his environmental plan is similar. The Green New Deal plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. to net-zero by the year 2030 and create more jobs in clean energy industries.
Instead, Biden wants to reach this goal by 2050 and make a $2 trillion investment towards carbon-free electricity by 2035.
One of the first things Biden did to support individuals going through pandemic-related financial struggle was extend the CDC’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to March 31. But there is much more to do to recover an economy marred by the health emergency, says UMass Boston Economics Professor Randy Albelda.
“Getting aid to the people who need it most, and tamping down the virus, and getting the vaccine out as quickly as possible, I think are the most important things,” she said.
Still, Biden may have it better than President Obama did in recovering from the Great Recession.
“It’s better, in that the causes of it are not the same causes of the Great Recession, which is a financial bubble bursting,” Albelda said.
There are still individuals, mostly white, who are working from home and saving up during quarantine, waiting to spend their money once things are normal again, she noted.
In his series of executive orders and memorandums, Biden has also called for more assistance for those needing food stamps or missing their stimulus checks, and he extended the delay on student loan payments to Sept. 30.
Albelda says for those left behind by Congress’ aid, unemployment is what Biden will have the most trouble dealing with. The unemployment rate reached a record 14.8% in April 2020 and lowered to 6.7% in December — still well above pre-pandemic levels — according to the Congressional Research Service. Part-time workers suffered more, at a rate of 24.5% in April compared to full-time workers at 12.9%.
“It’s a very unequal recession,” Albelda said. “In this case, that’s why this money needs to go only primarily to the people who need it the most.”