In his first week, Biden emphasizes equality, environment and Covid-19

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President Biden speaking on climate change on Jan. 27. (Youtube screenshot.)

Throughout their campaign, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised to “be ready on Day One to hit the ground running.” Harris was even regularly photographed striding across airport tarmacs wearing her signature Chuck Taylors. In their first week, President Biden and Vice President Harris have met that promise — and more.

The Inauguration set a tone that was diametrically opposed to the previous administration. Kamala Harris, the first woman, first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to be elected Vice President, was sworn in by the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, with her hand on Justice Thurgood Marshall’s Bible.

Lady Gaga sang the national anthem. Jennifer Lopez sang America the Beautiful, a beloved patriotic song written in 1895 by lesbian academic Katharine Lee Bates, a Wellesley College professor in a decades-long relationship with another woman. Firefighter Andrea Hall was the first to sign the Pledge of Allegiance in ASL, and Press Secretary Jen Psaki is the first to initiate all White House press briefings being signed in ASL, a full 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.

The first week of the Biden-Harris administration has presented a tectonic shift from Trump-Pence. With an unprecedented and historic flurry of nearly three dozen executive orders, President Biden has worked to undo, where possible, some of the most egregious policies former President Trump championed, notably Trump’s attacks on marginalized groups, attacks on social justice and racial equity, and assault on the environment.

Biden has also followed through on his promise to make curtailing the coronavirus pandemic a top priority, issuing a series of executive orders to address what should have been done a full year ago when Covid-19 first hit the U.S.

Biden also vitiated the ban on trans people in the military, saying that “all Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve” and that “gender identity should not be a bar to military service” and that “America’s strength is found in its diversity.”

Biden ended Trump’s xenophobic and Islamophobic “Muslim ban,” which had barred travel from primarily Muslim nations. The New York Times reports that “42,000 people were prevented from entering the United States from 2017 to 2019.” Immigrant visas from Muslim countries fell by up to 79 percent over the same period.

As PGN has reported, Trump’s impact has been harsh for LGBTQ Muslims. Family separations and access to asylum for LGBTQ Muslims have been closed for the past four years, as has access to often life-saving medical procedures.

Ending the Muslim ban and ending the military trans ban will effect thousands of lives.

On Inauguration Day, Biden had issued a sweeping executive order addressing discrimination against LGBTQ people, a stark counterpoint to Trump’s removal of the LGBTQ webpages from the White House website on his first day in office.

Biden’s executive order was felt immediately on Jan. 22, when Greg Friel, who is currently acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, issued a directive revoking a 23-page memorandum released by Trump two days before the Inauguration. That memo over-ruled the landmark June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court employment discrimination ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which officially added lesbians, gay men and trans people to Title VII of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Trump’s memorandum took Justice Samuel Alito’s dissenting stance, noting, “Unlike racial discrimination, the Supreme Court has never held that a religious employer’s decision not to hire homosexual or transgender persons ‘violates deeply and widely accepted views of elementary justice’ or that the government has a ‘compelling’ interest in the eradication of such conduct.”

Friel wrote, “I have determined that this memorandum is inconsistent in many respects with the E.O.” He continued with “I plan to confer with Department leadership about issuing revised guidance that comports with the policy set forth in the E.O. As part of that process, we will seek the input of Division subject matter experts.”

On Jan. 26, Biden issued a series of racial justice executive orders, which he said would help address the issues raised last summer during the protests over the murder of George Floyd by four police officers. These included orders to end reliance on private prisons and an expansion of Native American Tribal Sovereignty.

On Jan. 27, Biden issued a series of environmental executive orders which would — in addition to his re-signing the Paris Climate Accord and ending the Keystone XL pipeline — address manifold issues like environmental racism that directly impact cities like Philadelphia.

In addition to these dramatic executive orders, there have been daily press conferences from Biden and Harris and hour-long daily press briefings from Press Secretary Jen Psaki, replete with experts in various sectors of the administration.

On Jan. 27 there was a televised round table briefing from the president’s Covid-19 response team led by Dr. Anthony Fauci and new CDC director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, a first for the administration, but also a first for the U.S. after a year of the pandemic and more than 420,000 deaths from the virus.

Three of Biden’s Cabinet members have been sworn in: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Austin is the first Black person to be Defense Secretary and Yellen is the first woman to head the Treasury. Yellen was previously the first woman to head the Federal Reserve under President Barack Obama.

On Jan. 27, the Senate Commerce Committee moved the confirmation of Pete Buttigieg forward in a vote of 21-3, sending his nomination to the Senate floor for a possible final vote by Jan. 29. When confirmed, Buttigieg will be the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet position by the Senate.

Buttigieg had engaged in a surprisingly convivial two and a half hour hearing before the committee a week ago. His thorough responses on a wide range of issues impressed members of both parties, with most Republicans being highly receptive. Buttigieg addressed questions on the major issues he and the administration will face: recovery from the coronavirus, the administration’s desire to invest in infrastructure and climate change.

“Good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American Dream,” Buttigieg said, in explaining how it impacts inequities in the social fabric.

Buttigieg also responded to a combative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who took issue with Buttigieg’s emphasis on climate change.

The climate crisis was a focal point of Buttigieg’s own run for president and it is top on the Biden-Harris agenda, as the executive orders on Jan. 27 and press conference with John Kerry and Gina McCarthy affirmed. Kerry, former Secretary of State under President Obama, is in a wholly new position as Special Envoy on Climate. McCarthy, who previously headed the EPA under Obama, is now the first White House National Climate Advisor.

As a senator, Vice President Kamala Harris co-wrote Green New Deal legislation with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and was the first to co-sponsor the Green New Deal in the Senate.

Buttigieg, who will be the first millennial Cabinet member in history, considers climate change pivotal to his position as Transportation Secretary. He told Cruz, “When the books are written about our careers, one of the main things we’ll be judged on is whether we did enough to stop the destruction of life and property due to climate change.”

President Biden also signed orders on Jan. 27 to re-open the healthcare marketplace for people to sign up for health insurance. The marketplaces were closed by former President Trump on December 15. And Biden also expanded access to Medicaid and food stamps under the SNAP program.

As Biden noted in his Jan. 27 press conference on the climate crisis, “We can’t wait any longer.” He continued, saying “there is more to come” from his administration on a plethora of issues.

Philadelphians and others in Pennsylvania can sign up for health insurance plans at healthcare.gov and for Medicaid and SNAP benefits at www.dhs.pa.gov.