On Sunday afternoon, the US will reach the 100th hour of Joe Biden’s presidency. Already, there has been a blitz of executive actions and a bewildering pace of change. Four years after Donald Trump set about undoing Barack Obama’s legacy, Obama’s vice-president appears to be returning the gesture with interest.
Biden’s inaugural address was a soulful plea to come together after four years of division.
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge and unity is the path forward,” he said, promising to be a president for all Americans.
The pared-down ceremony at the US Capitol, stormed by a mob just two weeks earlier, was a bipartisan affair that included outgoing vice-president Mike Pence. Trump, who falsely claimed he won the election, was conspicuously absent.
Biden lost no time in rejoining the Paris climate agreement, earning Republican criticism. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said the move indicated Biden was “more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh”, contending it would destroy thousands of jobs.
The president also revoked the Keystone XL oil pipeline permit and instructed the Environmental Protection Agency and transportation department to reestablish fuel efficiency mandates weakened by Trump.
Biden pledged a “wartime undertaking” to combat a pandemic in which more than 400,000 have died. He released a 198-page Covid-19 strategy and signed 10 executive orders and other directives.
These included a mandate requiring anyone visiting a federal building or land or traveling on a plane, train, ship or intercity bus to wear a mask. There are stricter protocols at the White House, to avoid any repeat of Trump’s “superspreader” events.
Biden ordered agencies to speed up manufacturing and delivery of personal protective equipment, directed officials to provide guidance on the reopening of schools and reversed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, returned to the White House briefing room after months of near banishment. “The idea that you can get up here and talk about what the evidence, what the science is and let the science speak, it is somewhat of a liberating feeling,” he said.
Before taking office, Biden sent Congress a proposed $1.9tn stimulus package. That remains the priority but he has ordered actions including a 15% boost to a programme for families whose children miss meals due to school closures. Nearly 30 million last week said they did not have enough food, according to the White House.
Biden is seeking to extend moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. He also wants a longer pause on student loan payments and interest. In a preview of demands from the left, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “OK, now let’s cancel them.”
Biden sent Congress a bill overhauling the system and offering an eight-year pathway to citizenship for nearly 11m people without legal status. The president told the homeland security secretary to preserve and strengthen Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), which prevents the deportation of undocumented young people brought to America as children.
He reversed an order excluding undocumented people from the census and ended an immigration ban on several Muslim-majority countries, an infamous Trump policy that press secretary Jen Psaki said was “rooted in religious animus and xenophobia”. Biden halted funding or construction of Trump’s wall at the US-Mexico border and cancelled the so-called “national emergency use” to divert billions of dollars to the wall. Trump proposed the wall when he launched his campaign in June 2015 and it remained his signature issue.
Kamala Harris was the first woman of colour to be sworn in as vice-president. “Don’t tell me things can’t change,” Biden said in his inaugural address. The breakout star of the ceremony was Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old African American poet.
Biden issued an executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, described by Psaki as a “whole-of-government effort to advance racial equity and root out systemic racism from federal programmes and institutions”. Notably, it rescinded a Trump order that blocked federal agencies from offering diversity and inclusion training involving critical race theory.
The Senate confirmed Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, the first woman to lead the US intelligence community, and retired general Lloyd Austin as defense secretary, the first African American to run the Pentagon.
Biden has leaned heavily on Obama alumni and his cabinet will not include progressive lions such as senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren – in part because their replacements in a 50-50 Senate would be nominated by Republican governors. But the Democrats have shifted left on economics, immigration and other issues. Biden’s pick for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, is Rohit Chopra, a Warren ally.
Brian Deese, director of the national economic council, told reporters: “When you’re at a moment that is as precarious as the one we find ourselves in, the risk of doing too little, the risk of undershooting far outweighs the risk of doing too much.”
In four years, Trump made 30,573 false or misleading claims, according to the Washington Post. On Wednesday Biden promised to “always level with you”. Psaki underlined his commitment is to “bring transparency and truth back to government,” during a restored daily press briefing light years removed from the lies and insults of Trump.
Like his predecessors, Biden gave the Oval Office a makeover.
In : a deep blue rug last used by Bill Clinton, a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and busts including civil rights activists César Chávez and Rosa Parks and former attorney general Robert Kennedy.
Out: a red button that Trump reportedly used to summon a butler when he wanted a Diet Coke; a portrait of President Andrew Jackson; and a bust of Winston Churchill, triggering a media kerfuffle. Asked about its removal, Psaki replied sarcastically: “Oh, such an important question.”