President Biden Takes Office, Issues Orders

Joseph R. Biden Jr. became the country’s 46th president on Wednesday after taking the oath of office before a scaled-back crowd limited by public health and enhanced security concerns. Vice President Kamala Harris became the first female, first Black, and first South Asian to serve in that office. The new administration pledged several immediate executive actions related to the public health pandemic, economic relief, climate change, and racial equity.

“I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new,” said President Biden on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. “History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity.” He added, “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”

Referencing the COVID-19 pandemic and the country surpassing 400,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Biden said, “Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.”

“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words,” he continued. “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.”

The official account of the vice president tweeted three words just minutes into the new term: “Ready to serve.” Prior to the inauguration, the transition team released a list of over 100 regulations that various federal agencies will review as well as several day-one executive actions.

Noting that masks “are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease,” the president will require masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors. President Biden also launched his “100 Days Masking Challenge,” asking the American people to wear masks over the next 100 days.

The president charged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to engage state and local officials to implement masking, physical distancing, and other CDC measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. A newly created COVID-19 response coordinator will manage efforts to produce, supply and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccines and tests.

The transition team identified nearly 50 regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for specific review. Those cover issues such as drinking water, air quality, solid waste, and wastewater standards. The EPA and other federal agencies will review their regulations over the next 200 days.

Biden also asked the CDC and agencies with federally secured mortgages to extend the current federal eviction moratorium through at least March 31, 2021. He called on the Department of Education to extend a pause in principal and interest payments on direct federal student loans through September 30, 2021.