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Presidency of Joe Biden

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Joe Biden presidential portrait.jpg
Presidency of Joe Biden
January 20, 2021 – present
CabinetSee list
PartyDemocratic
Election2020
SeatWhite House
 
 
Seal of the President of the United States.svg
Seal of the President
Official website

The presidency of Joe Biden began at noon EST (17:00 UTC) on January 20, 2021,[1][2] when Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. A Democrat from Delaware, he took office following the 2020 presidential election, in which he defeated incumbent Donald Trump. He is accompanied in office by Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman, first African American, and first Asian American to hold that office.[3]

Biden entered office amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the worst infectious disease outbreak to affect the U.S. in a century, as well an accompanying economic crisis and increased political polarization.[4]

On his first day in office, Biden took two steps to reverse President Trump's energy policy by restoring U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Change Accord and revoking the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. He also halted funding for expansion of the Mexican border wall, though wall construction was revived in April 2021.[5] On his second day, he issued a series of executive orders to deal with COVID-19, including activating the Defense Production Act of 1950; and set an early goal of achieving a hundred million U.S. vaccinations in his first 100 days.[6] Early in his presidency, Biden ordered retaliatory airstrikes against Syrian buildings used by Iranian militias to stage rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.[7] On March 11, 2021, he signed his first major bill into law—the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.[8]

2020 election

2020 electoral vote results.

Biden announced that he would run for president in April 2019. He had tried and failed to win the nomination in 1988 and 2008.[9]

On November 7, four days after Election Day, Biden was projected to have defeated the incumbent president Donald Trump, becoming president-elect of the United States[10][11][12][13][14] with 306 of the total 538 electoral votes, and 81,268,924 popular votes versus 74,216,154 votes for Trump. Shortly afterwards, the Trump campaign launched several lawsuits against the results in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada and Michigan, raising unevidenced claims of widespread voter fraud that were subsequently dismissed by several courts.[15][16]

Transition period and inauguration

National Guard soldiers at the Capitol, January 20, 2021.

Though Biden was generally acknowledged as the winner,[11][12][17][14] General Services Administration head Emily Murphy refused to initiate the transition to the president-elect, thereby denying funds and office space to his team.[18][19] On November 23, after Michigan certified its results, Murphy issued the letter of ascertainment, granting the Biden transition team access to federal funds and resources for an orderly transition.[20]

Two days after becoming the projected winner of the 2020 election, Biden announced the formation of a task force to advise him on the COVID-19 pandemic during the transition, co-chaired by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy, former FDA commissioner David A. Kessler, and Yale University's Marcella Nunez-Smith.[21]

On January 5, 2021, the Democratic Party won control of the United States Senate, effective January 20, as a result of electoral victories in Georgia by Jon Ossoff in a runoff election for a six-year term and Raphael Warnock in a special runoff election for a two-year term.[22][23] President-Elect Biden had supported and campaigned for both candidates prior to the runoff elections on January 5.[24][25]

On January 6, a mob of thousands of Trump supporters violently broke into the Capitol in the hope of overturning Biden's election, forcing Congress to evacuate during the counting of the Electoral College votes.[26] More than 26,000 National Guard members were deployed to the capital for the inauguration, with thousands remaining into the spring.[27]

Chief Justice John Roberts administers the presidential oath of office to Biden at the Capitol, January 20, 2021.

On January 20, 2021, Biden was sworn in by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts as the 46th president of the United States, completing the oath of office at 11:49 AM EST, eleven minutes before the legal start of his term.[28]

Inaugural address

Biden's inaugural speech laid out his vision to unite the nation, prefaced by the various impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic strife, climate change, political polarization, and racial injustice.[29] Biden called for an end to the "uncivil war" of political, demographic, and ideological American cultures through a greater embrace of diversity.[30] He cited the Civil War, Great Depression, world wars, and September 11 attacks as moments in American history where citizens' "better angels" prevailed, saying that the solution – unity – must again be invoked to rise from the "cascading" crises of the present; this unity, he proclaimed, exists in the "common objects" that define America: "opportunity, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and ... truth".[31][32] He explicitly decried white supremacy and nativism, calling them an "ugly reality" of American life he vows to defeat that clouds the "American ideal" set out in the U.S. Declaration of Independence – that all Americans are equal.[30][32][33] Biden pledged that the United States would "engage with the world once again"; "repair our alliances"; and act as a "trusted partner for peace and security".[34] Near the conclusion of his speech, Biden held a moment of silence for those who died in the COVID-19 pandemic.[31] Quoting the Gene Scheer composition "American Anthem",[35] he implored Americans to consider their legacy in answering the "call of history" to protect "democracy, hope, truth, and justice", "secure liberty", and make America a "beacon to the world", insisting that generations of their descendants will judge them on their actions.[31] Full text Wikisource has information on "Joe Biden's Inaugural Address"

Administration

Cabinet of President Joe Biden in 2021.jpg
The Biden Cabinet
OfficeNameTerm
PresidentJoe Biden2021–present
Vice PresidentKamala Harris2021–present
Secretary of StateAntony Blinken2021–present
Secretary of the TreasuryJanet Yellen2021–present
Secretary of DefenseLloyd Austin2021–present
Attorney GeneralMerrick Garland2021–present
Secretary of the InteriorDeb Haaland2021–present
Secretary of AgricultureTom Vilsack2021–present
Secretary of CommerceGina Raimondo2021–present
Secretary of LaborMarty Walsh2021–present
Secretary of Health and
Human Services
Xavier Becerra2021–present
Secretary of Housing and
Urban Development
Marcia Fudge2021–present
Secretary of TransportationPete Buttigieg2021–present
Secretary of EnergyJennifer Granholm2021–present
Secretary of EducationMiguel Cardona2021–present
Secretary of Veterans AffairsDenis McDonough2021–present
Secretary of Homeland SecurityAlejandro Mayorkas2021–present
Administrator of the
Environmental Protection Agency
Michael S. Regan2021–present
Director of the Office of
Management and Budget
Shalanda Young (acting)2021–present
Director of National IntelligenceAvril Haines2021–present
United States Trade RepresentativeKatherine Tai2021–present
Ambassador to the United NationsLinda Thomas-Greenfield2021–present
Chair of the
Council of Economic Advisers
Cecilia Rouse2021–present
Administrator of the
Small Business Administration
Isabel Guzman2021–present
Director of the Office of
Science and Technology Policy
Eric Lander*2021
Chief of StaffRon Klain2021–present
* Pending Senate confirmation.

On November 11, 2020, Biden selected Ron Klain, who served as his vice presidential chief of staff to serve as his White House chief of staff.[36] Biden chose Jen Psaki, deputy White House press secretary and Department of State spokesperson during the presidency of Barack Obama, as his White House press secretary. Psaki announced, and has held, daily press briefings for White House reporters. On March 25, 2021, Biden held his first solo press conference after 64 days in office,[citation needed] unlike his most recent predecessors (back to Herbert Hoover in 1929), who all held their first solo press conferences within 33 days of taking office.[37][38]

On November 17, 2020, Biden announced that he had selected Mike Donilon as senior advisor and Steve Ricchetti as counselor.[39] Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, who had served as campaign manager for Biden's successful presidential campaign, was named as deputy chief of staff.[40]

Cabinet

President-elect Biden planned to announce his first nominees to the Cabinet before Thanksgiving 2020.[41] On November 22, 2020, several news outlets reported that Biden had selected Antony Blinken to be secretary of state, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, and Jake Sullivan as national security advisor.[42][43]

On November 23, 2020, Biden announced Alejandro Mayorkas to be his choice for Secretary of Homeland Security and Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.[44] Throughout December and January, Biden continued to select cabinet members, including Marty Walsh, the current mayor of Boston, as his Secretary of Labor.

Biden altered his cabinet structure, elevating the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and ambassador to the United Nations as cabinet-level positions.[45][46][47] Biden removed the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from his official cabinet.[48]

While administering the oath of office to hundreds of White House officials through video conferencing, Biden called for more civility in politics, saying: "If you ever work with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot. ... No ifs, ands, or buts."[49]

Domestic affairs

Health care

The Biden administration rescinded work requirements for Medicaid recipients.[50] The administration opened a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, as well as extended the normal enrollment period; citing the COVID-19 pandemic.[51][52] The administration provided larger premium subsides.[53]

COVID-19

President Biden touring a vaccine manufacturing plant

On January 20, 2021, his first day as president, Biden implemented a federal mask mandate, requiring the use of masks and social distancing in all federal buildings, on federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors.[54][55][5] Biden also signed an executive order that reversed the withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO), making Dr. Anthony Fauci the head of the delegation to the WHO.[55] On January 21, the administration released a 200-page document titled "National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness".[56][57] On his second day in office, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up the vaccination process and ensure the availability of glass vials, syringes, and other vaccine supplies at the federal level.[58][59] In justifying his use of the act, Biden said, "And when I say wartime, people kind of look at me like 'wartime?' Well, as I said last night, 400,000 Americans have died. That's more than have died in all of World War II. 400,000. This is a wartime undertaking."[60] Biden furthermore established the White House COVID-19 Response Team, a White House Office dedicated to coordinating a unified federal government response.

On January 21, 2021, Biden signed ten executive orders pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.[61] In order to meet his vaccination goal of a hundred million shots in his first 100 days in office, Biden signed an executive order increasing needed supplies.[6][62] Biden signed an order on January 21 that directed FEMA to offer full reimbursements to states for the cost of using their own National Guard personnel and emergency supplies such as Personal Protective Equipment in schools.[6][63] On January 24, 2021, Biden reinstated a travel ban imposed by previous President Trump on Brazil, United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa and 26 other European countries.[64][65][66] The travel ban prevents non-U.S. Citizens living in the prospective countries from entering the United States.[67] Biden implemented a face mask requirement on nearly all forms of public transportation and inside of transportation hubs; previously, the CDC had recommended that such a policy be enacted but it was blocked by the Trump administration, under which the CDC issued strong, albeit non-binding recommendations for mask use in these settings.[68]

In mid-March 2021, Biden dismissed a request by the European Union to export unused COVID-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca out of the U.S. even though the manufacturer endorsed it and vowed to resupply the doses. The rationale for this decision – which contributed to low European vaccination rates – was that the U.S. had to be "over-supplied and over-prepared", according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.[69] Whereas the U.S. exported no vaccines, the European Union exported 77 million doses to the world from December 2020 to March 2021.[70] Eventually, the U.S. reversed course and gave vaccines to Mexico, Canada, and Japan by the end of March.[71]

Economy

On January 22, 2021, Biden signed an executive order that removed schedule F, overturning a number of Trump's policies that limited the collective bargaining power of federal unions.[72][73][74] Biden's executive order also promotes a $15 minimum wage for federal workers and repeals three of Trump's executive orders which made the employee discipline process stricter and restricted union representatives' access to office space. As well as promoting a $15 minimum wage, Biden's executive order increases the amount of money going to the families of children who are missing meals because of school closures due to the pandemic by 15%.[75] The repealing of Trump's three executive orders comes as the orders were used to transfer civil servants and career scientists and replace them with employees friendly to the Trump administration.[76]

Biden has called on Congress to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. This rate was lowered by the Republican's 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act from 35% to 21%, so Biden's proposal represents a partial reversal. The 21% tax rate does not expire, in contrast to the individual rates, so legislation would be required to raise it.[77]

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

President Biden signs the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law, March 11, 2021.

On January 14, 2021, Biden revealed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.[78] The plan includes $1 trillion in direct aid – including $1,400 per-person checks – for working Americans, and will provide for direct housing and nutrition assistance, expanding access to safe and reliable childcare and affordable healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance, and giving families with kids and childless workers an emergency boost this year.[79][80] It will also expand the eligibility of these checks to adult dependents who have been left out of previous rounds of relief.[79][80][78] The plan additionally includes $440 billion in community support, providing $350 billion of community support to first responders while the rest goes to grants for small businesses and transit agencies; $400 billion for a national vaccination plan and school reopenings; and $10 billion for information technology, modernizing federal cybersecurity infrastructure.[78][80] In her first press briefing, press secretary Psaki said the plan was likely to change.[81]

The plan invokes the Defense Production Act to ensure the production of personal protective equipment, glass vials, syringes, and other supplies exceeds the demand.[79] It allows partners of states to create vaccine centers in stadiums, convention centers and pharmacies.[58] The federal government will identify communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19, and ensure the vaccine does not reach them at an unfair pace.[80][79][58] In addition, the plan will launch a national campaign to educate Americans about the vaccine and COVID-19, targeting misinformation related to the pandemic.[58] Vaccines will also be freely available to all citizens regardless of immigration status.[79] Also in Biden's plan, he will issue a national testing strategy that attempts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by increasing laboratory capacity and expanding testing. The plan will also develop new treatments for COVID-19.[79][78][80][58]

No Republican in Congress voted for the American Rescue Plan.[82] While debates and negotiations over the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 were ongoing, many Republicans focused instead on culture war issues unrelated to government actions, such as the decision by the Dr. Seuss estate to stop publishing what many viewed as a racially incendiary Dr. Seuss book and the re-branding of the "Mr. Potato Head" toy.[83] Biden signed the Plan into law on March 11, 2021.[84]

Domestic manufacturing

Biden signed an executive order intended to support domestic manufacturers by increasing a federal preference for purchasing goods made wholly or partly in the United States. Using the broad term "Made in America laws", the executive order's stated goal is to strengthen "all statutes, regulations, rules, and Executive Orders relating to Federal financial assistance awards or Federal procurement, including those that refer to 'Buy America' or 'Buy American'".[85][86]

Trade

The Wall Street Journal reported that instead of negotiating access to Chinese markets for large American financial-service firms and pharmaceutical companies, the Biden administration may focus on trade policies that boost exports or domestic jobs. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration wants a "worker-centered trade policy".[87][88] U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said she planned to aggressively enforce trade rules to combat unfair practices by China.[89]

In March 2021, in her first interview since taking office, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told The Wall Street Journal the U.S. would not lift tariffs on Chinese imports in the near future, despite lobbying efforts from "free traders" including former U.S. Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson and the Business Roundtable, a big-business group in the U.S., that pressed for tariff repeal.[90]

On March 29, 2021, the United States suspended its diplomatic trade engagement with Myanmar, which sought to help integrate the country into the global economy, following an escalation in violence perpetrated by the Burmese military against anti-coup protesters, until what Katherine Tai says would be "the return of a democratically elected government".[91]

Climate change and the environment

President Biden and Texas governor Greg Abbott visit the Harris County Emergency Operations Center in Houston following the 2021 Texas power crisis, February 2021.

During his first week in office, Biden established the position of White House National Climate Advisor, appointing environmental health and air quality expert Gina McCarthy to the role. Biden also created the position of U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry.[92]

On January 20, 2021, Biden signed an executive order rejoining the United States to the Paris Agreement.[93][94] With the United States rejoining the agreement, countries responsible for two-thirds of the global greenhouse gas emission will make pledges of becoming carbon neutral, while without United States it is only half.[95] On the same day, Biden also cancelled the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, an extension of the Keystone Pipeline, by signing an executive order. The pipeline was heavily criticized by environmental and Native American activists and groups.[96][97] As a result of the executive order, TC Energy was forced to eliminate more than a thousand construction jobs both in Canada and in the United States.[98][99] This order also directed agencies to review and reverse more than 100 actions made by Trump on the environment.[55]

On January 21, the Biden administration issued a 60-day ban on oil and gas leases and permits on federal land and waters.[100]

On January 27, Biden signed a number of executive orders aimed at combating climate change,[101] one of them setting climate change as a key consideration for U.S. national security and foreign policy.[102]

In an attempt to encourage U.S. membership to the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement aimed to reduce the production of hydrofluorocarbons, Biden's executive order directed the State Department to submit the Kigali Amendment to the Senate.[103][104]

On March 18, attorneys general of 21 states sued the Biden administration for revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit. The suit claims Biden exceeded his authority to regulate interstate commerce by invoking the order: "The president lacks the power to enact his 'ambitious plan' to reshape the economy in defiance of Congress's unwillingness to do so."[105]

On March 27, Biden invited more than forty world leaders for a climate summit.[106]

Electoral and ethical reform

In response to what Biden describes as the growing influence of special interests and gerrymandering in elections, he has pledged to seek electoral reforms.[107] The Biden administration pledged to pass government ethics reform.[107]

Gun control

President Biden announces new executive measures on gun control with Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland in the White House Rose Garden, April 8, 2021.

Following the 2021 Boulder shooting, Biden advocated for further gun regulations, such as a restored ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as reinforcing preexisting background checks, in a national address delivered on March 23. He had made no mention of gun control following the Atlanta spa shootings, the week prior.[108][109]

Immigration

Presidential Proclamation 10141 – Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States

On January 20, 2021, Biden halted the construction of the U.S.–Mexico barrier[55] and ended a related national emergency declared by Trump in February 2018.[5] Biden issued a proclamation that ended the Trump travel ban imposed on predominantly Muslim countries in January 2017.[55][5] Biden also reaffirmed protections to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.[110] The same day, Biden sent a memorandum to the U.S. Department of State reinstating Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians.[111][112]

On January 20, 2021, the Biden administration issued a moratorium on deportations from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the first 100 days of his presidency.[113] On January 22, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration for violating Biden's written pledge to cooperatively work with the State of Texas.[114] A federal judge in Texas subsequently issued a temporary restraining order barring the Biden administration from enforcing its moratorium, citing the lack of "any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations".[115]

On January 21, 2021, Biden proposed a bill that, if passed, would replace the word alien with noncitizen in U.S. immigration law.[116][117] The following day, Biden had a call with Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. On the call, Biden and López Obrador spoke about immigration, where Biden spoke of reducing immigration from Mexico to the U.S. by targeting what Biden deemed as root causes.[118] According to an Associated Press report, López Obrador noted that Biden pledged $4 billion to "help development in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – nations whose hardships have spawned tides of migration through Mexico toward the United States".[119]

On January 23, Biden proposed an immigration bill[120] aiming to give a path to citizenship to eleven million immigrants living in the U.S. without a permanent legal status.[120] The bill would also make it easier for certain foreign workers to stay in the U.S.[121][122] Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin called the bill "aspirational". It is widely expected not to pass both houses of Congress without significant revision.[120][121][122]

Biden instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to focus on violent offenders of immigration laws rather than all offenders of immigration laws.[123][124]

In February 2021, it was reported that DHS agents who had been empowered by Trump to enact his anti-immigration policies were resisting and defying Biden's immigration policies.[123] The union representing ICE agents signaled that its agents would not accept reversals of Trump policies.[123]

In March 2021, the Biden administration granted Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans fleeing the country amidst the ongoing political and economic crisis.[125]

Surge in unaccompanied minors

Vice President Kamala Harris meets with State Department Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zúñiga, and other officials on the surge of migrants from Central America, March 2021.

The number of migrants arriving in the United States from Central America had been rising since April 2020 due to ongoing violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in the region.[126] In February 2021, the United States Border Patrol reported a 61% increase in encounters with unaccompanied children from the month before. The reported 5,858 encounters in January to 9,457 in February constituted the largest one-month percentage increase in encounters with unaccompanied children since U.S. Customs and Border Protection began recording data in 2010.[127][128][129]

On March 24, 2021, Biden tasked Vice President Harris to reduce the number of unaccompanied minors and adult asylum seekers. She is also tasked with leading the negotiations with Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.[130]

Infrastructure

As a part of the American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration aims for massive spending on the nation's infrastructure on the order of $2 trillion.[131]

An analysis from Moody's Analytics found Biden's infrastructure plans would create 18.6 million jobs and increase average American income by $4,800 during his first term, far exceeding Trump's infrastructure proposals, which would create 11.2 million new jobs and "minimal real income gain". The analysis also found an increase in long-term economic growth, attributable to workforce size and productivity from expanded public education, health care for the elderly, and paid family leave, while Trump's restrictive immigration policies would dilute the workforce.[132][133]

Social issues

President Biden signs executive orders expanding the Affordable Care Act and revoking Trump administration health policies, January 2021

During his early days in office, Biden focused on "advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice and equal opportunity". According to The New York Times, Biden's early actions in office focused on racial equality more than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson, who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[134] On January 25, 2021, Biden signed an executive order that lifted the ban on transgender military service members.[135] This reversed a memorandum imposed by Trump.[136]

The Biden administration is seeking to put Harriet Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill.[137][138] This effort follows that of the Obama administration, which was blocked by Steven Mnuchin.[139] Press secretary Psaki said it was important that U.S. money and notes reflect the "history and diversity" of the country and that putting Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill would do so.[140]

On January 26, Biden directed the Department of Justice to reduce their usage of private prisons and ordered the attorney general to not renew contracts with private prisons, citing the need to "reduce profit-based incentives" for the incarceration of racial minorities.[141] GEO Group considered the policy "a solution in search of a problem". David Fathi, the director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the executive order did not fully end America's usage of private prisons.[142][143]

On March 19, Biden and Vice President Harris travelled to Atlanta and spoke to Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates and leaders while condemning 2021 Atlanta shootings caused by racism, sexism and hate.[144]

Space policy

On February 4, 2021, the White House announced a change from the Trump administration's method of using the National Space Council to coordinate commercial, civil, and military space policies, instead of using the National Security Council for the same purpose. This means national security memoranda will replace the Space Council's space policy directives. As of February 5, it was not known whether or not the Biden administration will keep the Space Council. A coalition of 17 industry groups lobbied Chief of Staff Ron Klain to keep it.[145]

In the February 4 press briefing, Psaki expressed the Biden administration's support of the Artemis program to send people back to the Moon, though no details about funding levels or adherence to the 2024 first landing goal were given.[146]

On March 19, 2021, Biden announced his intent to nominate Bill Nelson as NASA administrator to replace Jim Bridenstine.[147]

On April 9, 2021, as part of his overall budget request, Biden proposed a $24.7 billion budget for NASA in 2022, a $1.5 billion increase on what Congress allocated to 2021.[148] The proposal includes funding for the Artemis program, which is the NASA plan for a new moon landing.[148]

Foreign affairs

Defense

President Biden signs his first bill, H.R. 335.

On January 22, 2021, Biden signed his first bill,[149] H.R. 335 into law, providing a waiver to the law preventing appointment of a Secretary of Defense who, within the past seven years, had been on active duty in the armed forces.[150] This was the third time such a waiver was granted by Congress. Retired army four-star general Lloyd Austin was confirmed by the Senate in a 93–2 vote that same day, making Austin the first African American Defense Secretary.[151][149]

President Biden delivers remarks at The Pentagon, February 2021

Austin has said his number one priority is to assist COVID-19 relief efforts, pledging he would "quickly review the Department's contributions to coronavirus relief efforts, ensuring that we're doing everything that we can to help distribute vaccines across the country and to vaccinate our troops and preserve readiness".[152]

On February 10, 2021, Biden visited the Pentagon for the first time as president.[153] In remarks to service members alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Biden announced a Department of Defense-led China task force to "to provide a baseline assessment of department policies, programs and processes in regard to the challenge China poses".[154]

Space Force

After some miscommunication in answer to a question in a February 2, 2021 press briefing,[155] Psaki said in the next day's briefing that the U.S. Space Force, established during the Trump administration, "absolutely has the full support of the Biden administration".[156] Biden does not have the executive authority to unilaterally keep or disband the Space Force, as it was established by law and has bipartisan support in Congress.[155]

China

Biden has said the U.S. needs to "get tough" on China and build "a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China's abusive behaviors and human rights violations".[157] He described China as the "most serious competitor" that poses challenges on the "prosperity, security, and democratic values" of the U.S.[158]

Biden nominated Antony Blinken to serve as Secretary of State who took office on January 26, 2021.[159][160] During his nomination hearing, Blinken said that previous optimistic approaches to China were flawed,[161] and that Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, "was right in taking a tougher approach to China", but that he "disagree[s] very much with the way [Trump] went about it in a number of areas".[160] He endorsed former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's report that China is committing a genocide against Uyghur Muslims.[160]

In March 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met with the Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, and other Chinese officials in Alaska with heated exchanges on China's human rights abuses, cyberattacks, its threats against Taiwan, its crackdown in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and other issues of U.S. interest. The Chinese side countered, "The U.S. does not have the qualification to speak to China from a position of strength [and] does not serve as a model to others [and] China's development and strengthening is unstoppable."[162][163]

The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration got "a taste of China's 'wolf warrior' diplomacy" during the first meeting with its Chinese counterpart, which was "remarkably undiplomatic", adding "China's diplomats appeared more forceful than they had been in any public meeting during President Trump's term."[164] The Atlantic published an article saying that the Biden team "flushed Beijing's true intentions out into the open for the world to see", quoting a senior administration official's comment that it is "increasingly difficult to argue that we don't know what China wants".[165]

In April 2021, it was reported that the Biden administration was rallying U.S. allies in consideration of a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The U.S. Department of State spokesman Ned Price told reporters that a joint boycott "is something that we certainly wish to discuss".[166]

Quad and the Indo-Pacific region

In March 2021, Biden held a virtual meeting with leaders of Japan, India and Australia, an alliance of countries known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad, that work together to address China's expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region.[167][168] A few days later, the administration officials, including secretary of state Antony Blinken and secretary of defense Lloyd Austin, met with U.S. allies in Asia and imposed sanctions on senior Chinese officials.[169][162] Austin also visited India to deepen the defense ties between the two countries.[168]

Russia

On the day of Biden's inauguration, the Russian government urged the new U.S. administration to take a "more constructive" approach in talks over the extension of the 2010 New START treaty, the sole remaining agreement limiting the number of U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear warheads.[170] In Biden's first telephone call as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on January 26, 2021, Biden and Putin agreed to extend the New START treaty (which was set to expire in February 2021) by an additional five years.[171]

Biden and his administration condemned human rights violations by the Russian authorities, calling for the release of detained dissident and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, his wife, and the thousands of Russians who had demonstrated in his support; the U.S. called for the unconditional release of Navalny and the protestors and a credible investigation into Navalny's poisioning.[172][173][174] On March 2, 2021, the U.S. and European Union imposed coordinated additional sanctions on Russian officials, as well as the FSB and GRU, over Navalny's poisoning and imprisonment. The State Department also expanded existing sanctions from the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act that had been imposed after the poisoning of Skripal.[175]

The Biden administration is also planning to impose sanctions against Russia because of the 2020 SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign, which compromised the computer systems of nine federal agencies.[176] Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the response "will include a mix of tools seen and unseen, and it will not simply be sanctions."[176][175]

The Biden administration's comprehensive review into Russian activities has included an examination of reports that the Russian government offered bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.[177][178]

Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "killer" in an ABC News interview, and said that Russia will pay a price for election meddling.[179]

Europe

President Biden participates in a virtual G7 summit from the White House Situation Room, February 2021

President Biden promised to repair "strained" relationships with European allies in contrast to his predecessor Trump. "An attack on one is an attack on all. That is our unshakeable vow," Biden said, referring to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (the mutual defense clause).[180] Biden pledged support for the European project and for Ukraine's sovereignty, as well as the need for global cooperation on fighting the pandemic and climate change.[181]

Iran

The Biden administration has expressed interest in re-engaging with Iran on the Iran nuclear deal. Biden's predecessor, President Trump, withdrew from the deal in 2018, resulting in swift backlash from international community.[182][183] Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would be interested in re-entering the agreement so long as Iran shows "strict compliance".[184]

On February 25, 2021, President Biden ordered retaliatory airstrikes on buildings in Syria that the Department of Defense said were used by Iranian-backed militias to carry out rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq. The operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden administration.[7] The attacks prompted condemnation from many Democratic members of Congress. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia questioned the administration's "legal justification for acting without coming to Congress". Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) claimed, "the Administration should have sought Congressional authorization."[185]

Myanmar

On February 1, 2021, Biden condemned the Myanmar coup d'état and called for the release of detained officials. Biden also left open the door to re-imposing sanctions on the country, saying in a statement that "[t]he United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action."[186]

On March 5, 2021, Biden imposed sanctions on Myanmar's Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence and certain junta conglomerates.[187]

On March 22, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced sanctions on several military generals in response to a violent crackdown on peaceful protests.[188]

Northern Ireland

Biden has reiterated his commitment to maintaining peace in Northern Ireland by resisting the possibility of a hard border as a result of Brexit. When asked by The Irish Times in March 2021 about comments made by Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney that the UK "cannot be trusted" on the Northern Ireland protocol, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, "President Biden has been unequivocal about his support for the Good Friday Agreement." As part of his own Irish-American heritage, Psaki said that Biden "has a special place in his heart for the Irish" underpinning his commitment to Northern Ireland's peace.[189]

Saudi Arabia & Yemen

Biden ordered a halt in the arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which the Trump administration had previously agreed to.[190] Two years after Jamal Khashoggi's assassination, Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence under Biden's administration, announced that the intelligence report into the case against Saudi Arabia's government will be declassified. It was reported that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would be blamed for the murder, as was concluded by the CIA.[191]

On February 4, 2021, the Biden administration announced that the United States was ending its support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen. President Biden in his first visit to the State Department as president said "this war has to end" and that the conflict has created a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe".[192]

Worldwide LGBT rights

On February 4, 2021, Biden issued a presidential memorandum for expanding protection of the LGBTQI rights worldwide, which includes the possibility to impose financial sanctions.[193]

Approval ratings

As of February 2021, opinion polls have found that Biden's approval ratings have been steadier than Trump's, with an average approval rating of 55% and an average disapproval rate of 39%.[194] Biden's approval ratings have been more polarized than Trump's, with 98% of Democrats, 61% of independents and 11% of Republicans approving of Biden's presidency in February 2021, a party gap of 87%.[195]

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