With Plans to Address Crisis, Administration Faces Pressing Challenges

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President Biden, Jill Biden, the first lady, Vice President Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff, the vice president’s husband, watch the virtual Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at the White House on Thursday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden prepared to spend his first full day in the White House addressing a confluence of crises, with the pandemic at the top of that list.

The Biden team said it had identified 12 “immediate supply shortfalls” in the Trump administration’s pandemic response plans, which Mr. Biden is expected to address later on Thursday when he speaks about his approach to confronting the crisis.

Some of Mr. Biden’s advisers said they were stunned by the vaccination plan — or the lack of one — that it inherited from the Trump administration, and said the Trump team failed to share crucial information about supplies and vaccine availability.

“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said.

Mr. Biden will participate Thursday morning in the Virtual Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. Because of the pandemic, he and Vice President Kamala Harris will watch the service from the White House Blue Room, officials said. After that, they are scheduled to receive the daily intelligence briefing prepared for the president, and then they will quickly turn to the virus, with Mr. Biden speaking about the pandemic and signing about a dozen related executive orders in the afternoon, including on mask wearing and more.

Local officials have expressed a hope that the Biden administration would step up vaccine production to make second doses available for the expanded pool of eligible people. Production of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines authorized in the United States are running flat out, and it is not clear whether the administration could significantly expand the overall supply any time soon.

Though Mr. Biden has indicated his administration would release more doses as they became available and keep fewer in reserve, he said on Friday that he would not change the recommended timing for second doses: 21 days after the first dose for Pfizer’s vaccine, and 28 days for Moderna’s.“We believe it’s critical that everyone should get two doses within the F.D.A.-recommended time frame,” Mr. Biden said while discussing his vaccine distribution plans.

The 12 supply shortfalls identified by the Biden team include N95 surgical masks and isolation gowns, swabs, reagents and pipettes used in testing — deficiencies that have dogged the nation for nearly a year. Jen Psaki, the new White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday evening that Mr. Biden “absolutely remains committed” to invoking the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law, to bolster supplies.

Mr. Biden also signed executive orders on Wednesday that were designed to undo signature policy initiatives of the Trump administration, including ordering officials to work to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has protected hundreds of thousands of people who came to the country as young children from deportation. He also recommitted the United States to the Paris climate agreement, the international accord designed to avert catastrophic global warming.

Another order he signed on Wednesday requires masks to be worn on all federal property and by all federal employees. He urged all Americans to take this most basic of precautions for 100 days.

When Mr. Biden speaks about his administration’s plan to confront the virus on Thursday, he will outline a national strategy that promises to harness the broad powers of the federal government, including the aggressive use of executive authority to protect workers, advance racial equity in the pandemic response and ramp up the manufacturing of test kits, vaccines and supplies.

The “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness,” previewed Wednesday evening by Mr. Biden’s advisers, is an attempt to present a highly coordinated federal response that Democrats and some public health experts have long demanded and that Mr. Trump rejected, in favor of a state-controlled approach. The speed with which the Biden team can put the plan into effect is unclear, in part because of the less-than-adequate cooperation provided by the previous administration but more because of the inherent limits in private-sector production capacity that will take time to remedy.

Inheriting an economy battered by the pandemic, the Biden administration is also moving to extend a federal moratorium on evictions and has asked agencies to prolong a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages. Mr. Biden will need the cooperation of Congress, where Democrats now control both chambers, to push through a $1.9 trillion rescue package.

President Biden signing executive orders on his first day in office.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden signed a raft of measures late Wednesday to dismantle some of the Trump administration’s most contentious policies, moving hours after taking office to sweep aside his predecessor’s pandemic response to and reverse his environmental policies and anti-immigration orders.

Here are some of the most notable issues President Biden addressed with the 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations:

Mr. Biden signed an executive order appointing Jeffrey D. Zients as the Covid-19 response coordinator, an effort to “aggressively” gear up the nation’s response to the pandemic. Mr. Biden is requiring social distancing and the wearing of masks on all federal property and by all federal employees, and starting a “100 days masking challenge” urging all Americans to wear masks.

Mr. Biden is also reinstating ties with the World Health Organization after the Trump administration chose to withdraw the nation’s membership and funding last year.

With an executive order, Mr. Biden has bolstered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation. Mr. Trump sought for years to end the program. The order also calls on Congress to enact legislation providing permanent status and a path to citizenship for those immigrants.

Three other orders revoke the Trump administration’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count, overturn a Trump order that pushed aggressive efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants, and block the deportation of Liberians living in the United States.

Mr. Biden has also ended travel restrictions for people from several predominantly Muslim and African countries and halted construction of the border wall with Mexico.

Chief among executive orders that begin to tackle the issue of climate change, Mr. Biden has signed a letter to re-enter the United States in the Paris climate accords, which it will officially rejoin 30 days from now. Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, under which nearly 200 nations have pledged to cut greenhouse emissions, in 2019.

In additional executive orders, Mr. Biden began the reversal of many environmental policies, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline; reversing the rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards; undoing decisions to slash the size of several national monuments; enforcing a temporary moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and re-establishing a working group on the social costs of greenhouse gasses.

Mr. Biden will end the Trump administration’s 1776 Commission, which released a report on Monday that historians said distorted the role of slavery in the United States. The president also revoked Mr. Trump’s executive order limiting the ability of federal agencies, contractors and other institutions to hold diversity and inclusion training.

Mr. Biden designated Susan E. Rice, the head of his Domestic Policy Council, as the leader of a “robust, interagency” effort requiring all federal agencies to make “rooting out systemic racism” central to their work.

Another executive order reinforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to require that the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a policy that reverses Trump administration actions.

Mr. Biden is moving to extend a federal moratorium on evictions and has asked agencies, including the Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development Departments, to prolong a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages that was enacted in response to the pandemic. The extensions run through at least the end of March.

The president is also moving to continue a pause on federal student loan interest and principal payments through the end of September.

Avril D. Haines is now the director of national intelligence.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Biden began his first full day in the White House on Thursday with only one member of his cabinet approved by Congress — Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence — in a break from recent precedent that could delay the administration’s efforts to implement its broad policy agenda.

The Senate confirmation on Wednesday, after Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office, came after a last-ditch deal to avoid breaking the long tradition of confirming a new president’s top national security officials on Inauguration Day.

An 84-10 vote elevated Ms. Haines, signaling broad bipartisan support that Senator Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat and likely new chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said was welcome.

Former President Donald J. Trump consistently maligned the nation’s intelligence officials throughout his time in the White House, politicizing intelligence in a way his predecessors sought to avoid. Mr. Trump’s first director of national intelligence, former Senator Dan Coats, won confirmation easily in 2017, but he was not confirmed until mid-March that year.

The confirmation process has been delayed this year because of the unusual nature of the White House transition, in which the outgoing president never conceded, and Republicans declined for weeks to recognize Mr. Biden’s victory. The late resolution of two Georgia races also left the balance of power in the Senate up in the air until two weeks ago.

The Senate, where Democrats are in charge only by virtue of the vice president’s tiebreaking power, held confirmation hearings on Tuesday for four more cabinet nominees: the Treasury, state, homeland security and defense secretaries.

On Thursday, hearings are set to continue as lawmakers consider the nomination of Pete Buttigieg to be secretary of transportation. If confirmed, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., would be a key player in advancing Mr. Biden’s ambitious agenda on both rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and on climate change.

On Friday, the finance committee is expected to hold a meeting on the nomination of Janet L. Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve whom Mr. Biden nominated to be Treasury secretary.

As Mr. Biden pressed for his slate of nominees to be confirmed, his administration on Wednesday afternoon announced the appointment of acting leaders for more than 30 federal agencies.

The White House press secretary, Jennifer Psaki, said in her first briefing on Wednesday that Mr. Biden had been in communication with members of Congress, underscoring the urgency to have a team in place to tackle key issues.

Ms. Psaki said the desire to get a cabinet in position was “front and center for the president.”

“We have prioritized getting our national security team in place, given the crisis we’re facing, given the importance of keeping the American people safe at this time,” she said. “But we are eager for those to move forward quickly in the coming days.”

Lloyd J. Austin III testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday during his confirmation hearing to be the next secretary of defense.
Credit…Pool photo by Greg Nash

The House will take the unusual step Thursday of bypassing its own Armed Services Committee and voting on whether or not to give a special waiver to Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired four-star Army general who is President Biden’s pick for secretary of defense, to take the job.

The waiver is required for any Pentagon chief who has been retired from active-duty military service for fewer than seven years and must be approved by both the House and Senate. Congress approved a similar measure four years ago for President Donald J. Trump’s first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine officer.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has already held a hearing on the matter, and this week General Austin came before that committee for a confirmation hearing during which he provided a direct and extensive justification as to why permitting him to fulfill the role would not denigrate the principle of civilian control of the military.

For weeks, Mr. Austin’s chances for getting the waiver seemed tenuous — members of both parties said they were unhappy breaking with the waiver law twice in a row, and some Republican senators clearly saw rejecting the waiver as a way to take a poke at one of Mr. Biden’s nominees without having to oppose his confirmation outright.

But over the last two weeks, officials from Mr. Biden’s transition team put intense pressure on Democrats to approve General Austin. Further, the riot by Trump supporters at the Capitol earlier this month, and the participation of some veterans and active-duty members of the military, underscored the military’s continued failure to root out white supremacy and right-wing extremism from its ranks. General Austin, who said at his confirmation hearing that this would be one of his top priorities, would be the first Black American in the job.

Many Democrats have begun to scrap their reservations, and on Wednesday, Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who previously said he would not grant such a waiver again, said he would back General Austin. House lawmakers also began to openly agree.

“We cannot overlook the historical significance of Secretary-designate Austin being the first African-American selected to be secretary of defense in our history,” Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to House colleagues this week.

“Our country is facing a violent insurrection from right-wing extremists, driven primarily by white supremacist organizations,” he wrote. “In the face of these realities, it would be a grave mistake for the United States House of Representatives to block Secretary-designate Austin from being confirmed as our Secretary of Defense.”

Pete Buttigieg speaking during his confirmation hearing to become transportation secretary in Washington on Thursday.
Credit…Pool photo by Stefani Reynolds

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., is testifying before the Senate on Thursday for his confirmation hearing to become President Biden’s transportation secretary.

If confirmed, Mr. Buttigieg, 39, would become the first openly gay cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the Senate and the youngest member of Mr. Biden’s cabinet.

In his opening remarks before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Mr. Buttigieg did not focus on specific policy proposals, and instead outlined a broad vision for his tenure, one centered on safety, green infrastructure and investing in transportation overhaul to revive the economy.

Mr. Buttigieg also said he would work closely with state, local and tribal leaders in addressing their transportation issues, while also pledging that the department’s policies would not adversely impact poor and minority communities.

“I believe good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American dream,” he said. “But I also recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality.”

Some of Mr. Buttigieg’s critics have said his record on policing and race relations — including his firing of a Black police chief and his inability to diversify South Bend’s overwhelmingly white police force — and his relatively thin experience with the specifics of transportation overhaul demonstrate he has much to prove.

If confirmed, Mr. Buttigieg would take over an agency with 55,000 employees and a budget of $87 billion at a time when the nation’s transportation systems are reeling from the pandemic.

Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, a protester killed in the Charlottesville violence in 2017.
Credit…Matt Eich for The New York Times

Susan Bro recognized the palpable anger and open bigotry on display in the mob that attacked the United States Capitol earlier this month. It reminded her of the outpouring of hate that killed her daughter, Heather Heyer.

That was in 2017, when white supremacists, self-avowed neo-Nazis and right-wing militias marched on Charlottesville in the name of intolerance — and former President Donald J. Trump — and one of them drove a car into a crowd, fatally injuring Ms. Heyer.

More than three years later, Ms. Bro and other Charlottesville residents say they have a message for the nation after the latest episode of white violence in Washington, and for President Biden, who is emphasizing themes of healing and unity in the face of right-wing extremism.

Healing requires holding perpetrators accountable, Ms. Bro said. Unity follows justice.

“Look at the lessons learned from Charlottesville,” she said. “The rush to hug each other and sing ‘Kumbaya’ is not an effective strategy.”

Mr. Biden regularly invoked Charlottesville during a campaign in which he reclaimed five states that Mr. Trump had won in 2016. And though Mr. Biden nodded to the violence here and at the Capitol during his inaugural address on Wednesday, he framed the solutions in the sort of terms that Ms. Bro questioned, demonstrating a belief that kindness and compassion could overcome systemic discrimination.

In interviews this week, Charlottesville activists, religious leaders and civil rights groups who endured the events of 2017 urged Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party to go beyond seeing unity as the ultimate political goal and prioritize a sense of justice that uplifts the historically marginalized.

When Mr. Biden called Ms. Bro on the day he entered the presidential race in 2019, she pressed him on his policy commitments to correcting racial inequities. She declined to endorse him, she said, focused more on supporting the antiracism movement than any individual candidate.

Local leaders say this is the legacy of the “Summer of Hate,” as the white supremacist actions and violence of 2017 are known in Charlottesville. When the election of Mr. Trump and the violence that followed punctured the myth of a post-racial America, particularly among white liberals, these leaders committed themselves to the long arc of insulating democracy from white supremacy and misinformation.

“We were the canary in the coal mine,” said Jalane Schmidt, an activist and professor who teaches at the University of Virginia and was involved in the 2017 activism. She compared the current political moment to the aftermath of the Civil War, framing the choice for Mr. Biden’s administration as either committing to sweeping change akin to Reconstruction or going along with the type of compromise that brought its end.

“We have a whole major political party that, too large of a section of it, supports undemocratic practices, voter suppression and the coddling of these conspiracy theories,” Dr. Schmidt said, referring to Republicans. “So healing? Unity? You can’t do that with people who don’t adhere to basic democratic principles.”

Tom Hanks hosted a concert in honor of President Biden’s inauguration.
Credit…Noel West for The New York Times

President Biden’s inauguration could not feature grand galas or star-studded balls across downtown Washington, in a nod to the coronavirus pandemic and the new administration’s effort to model public health behavior it hopes Americans will adopt.

But presidential inaugurations are also cultural touchstones and moments to do something with millions of eyeballs watching on television and online. So the Presidential Inaugural Committee arranged a 90-minute musical celebration to commemorate the day — one that has the added benefit of demonstrating Mr. Biden’s support from a wide array of A-list performers, something former President Donald J. Trump longed for but never received.

“In the last few weeks, in the last few years, we’ve witnessed deep divisions and a troubling rancor in our land,” said Tom Hanks, the host of the program. “But tonight, we ponder the United States of America — the practice of our democracy.”

The special, which began at 8:30 p.m. Eastern and was carried live by the major networks and most cable news stations, had a lineup featuring Katy Perry, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon Bon Jovi, Ant Clemons, Foo Fighters, John Legend, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen and Justin Timberlake, many of whom campaigned for Mr. Biden and, in past campaigns, for former President Barack Obama.

To open the program, Mr. Springsteen greeted Americans and said he was “proud” to be in Washington. Then he began to perform “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which he offered as “a small prayer for our country.”

As has been the custom at big Democratic political events, viewers then toggled between musical performances by celebrities — many of the songs that were selected featured themes about a bright future — and brief remarks from regular Americans. There was an 8-year-old girl from Wisconsin who raised $50,000 from a virtual lemonade stand to feed the hungry; a nurse from New York who was the first American to receive the coronavirus vaccine; and a UPS driver from Virginia who was beloved by his customers for delivering packages during the pandemic.

The program also featured remarks from Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — who was introduced by Sarah Fuller, the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game — as well as a conversation between former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The night concluded with Katy Perry singing her hit song “Firework” as fireworks lit the night sky, illuminating the Washington Monument behind her. Midway through the performance, Mr. Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, emerged to take in the display for themselves.

“In many ways, this moment embodies our character as a nation,” Ms. Harris — the first woman, first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to hold her office — said in her remarks earlier in the evening. “It demonstrates who we are. Even in dark times, we not only dream. We do.”

“This,” she said, “is American aspiration.”

Analysis

Lights honoring those who have died in the pandemic surround the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall, a somber setting for the celebratory concert.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Inaugural balls are generally thrown for the winners. After a long, hard-fought campaign, the newly elected leaders, their families and their supporters have a chance to dress up and enjoy themselves.

This, like so many things in this pandemic, was not going to happen this year. Instead, “Celebrating America,” the star-filled Inauguration Day special that aired across several networks, took the party national.

This meant, for starters, that the atmosphere was far less partylike. The big reason was written in lights: the Reflecting Pool memorial, in honor of America’s Covid dead, that faced the opening act Bruce Springsteen from his nighttime stage at the Lincoln Memorial. The tone was not one of a victory bash so much as a morale boost.

Which is not to say “Celebrating America” was apolitical. It centered and valorized President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who were in fact the candidates of one party that defeated another in a bitterly fought (and violently contested) election.

It didn’t require you to be happy that they won, but it did at least assume you were capable of being happy for them. Doubtless that is still a deal breaker for some of the country.

But the special’s politics, as framed by the host, Tom Hanks, were less about policy than a kind of diagnosis of political sickness, and a hope for a cure. “In the last few weeks, in the last few years, we’ve witnessed deep divisions and a troubling rancor in our land,” Mr. Hanks said. It was like a telethon for cancer of the body politic.

The show’s politics were open but nonspecific. Mr. Biden, in the shadow of Lincoln, delivered remarks about the triumph of democracy (a repudiation of the antidemocratic attacks on the election, but only between the lines).

Ms. Harris said that in America, “We not only see what has been, we see what can be,” citing the civil rights and women’s rights movements. You could read in a reference to her election, which broke racial and gender barriers, but she left you to do that yourself.

Likewise, when the former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama appeared to wish Mr. Biden well and talk about shared American values, they didn’t need to point a finger at Donald J. Trump for America’s toxicity. We’d already seen him ourselves — or didn’t see him, pointedly, at his opponent’s inauguration.

As an entertainment show, “Celebrating America” kept its aesthetic, like its politics, basic and broad. (No one expects, or wants, edginess from a Joe Biden production.) The roster of stars wasn’t exactly apolitical: the fact that Mr. Trump was never able to assemble a Hollywood roster like this was no accident.

But the cast and the art was aggressively normie and mainstream, and the performances stuck to a theme: hope in a dark time.

The songs referenced the dark and the light and the dawn: John Legend performing “Feeling Good,” Demi Lovato doing “Lovely Day,” Jon Bon Jovi covering the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” The nighttime performances’ settings, too, emphasized bringing light to the darkness, even before Katy Perry performed “Firework” to actual fireworks over the Mall.

The subtext of “Celebrating America” was inevitably political: politics gets countries into big problems, and public action is often the only way out of them. (In pandemic America, even having members of a country band wear face masks on stage inevitably and sadly feels like a political statement.)

But the content was more the entertainment-politics equivalent of a chain restaurant with a big menu: it wasn’t going to be anyone’s favorite, but everyone could find something on the menu for them. And what the country was hungriest for right now, “Celebrating America” guessed, was to believe, with Jon Bon Jovi, that the long, cold, lonely winter would end, and the sun would come.

Vice President Kamala Harris hugged her husband, Douglas Emhoff, after being sworn in on Wednesday.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

With the inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first female, Black and Asian-American vice president, her husband, Doug Emhoff, also registered firsts of his own: the first male and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. Although the details of what Mr. Emhoff might do with the platform are unclear — he has discussed focusing on “access to justice” — his presence indicates slowly shifting gender roles in politics and beyond.

That shift leaves Mr. Emhoff with a responsibility to help define the role for men who come after him and alter traditional perceptions of the role of a high-profile spouse.

“I doubt people are going to be so careful about scrutinizing what he’s wearing or whether or not he decided to put new carpeting in the living quarters there at the vice president’s residence,” said Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University who studies women’s history and first ladies.

Ms. Harris and Mr. Emhoff married in 2014, while Ms. Harris was the attorney general of California. Mr. Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, became an eager surrogate for his wife on the campaign trail. After the general election, Mr. Emhoff left his job at the law firm DLA Piper amid questions about whether his work could pose conflicts for the Biden-Harris ticket. Mr. Emhoff joined the faculty at the Georgetown University Law Center and is teaching a course called Entertainment Law Disputes this semester. A transition official declined to make him available for an interview.

Chasten Buttigieg, a former theater teacher and the husband of Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Mr. Biden’s pick for transportation secretary, recalled a moment on the campaign trail with Mr. Emhoff. “I’m not a theater guy,” Chasten Buttigieg said Mr. Emhoff told him. “I’m just, you know, a husband, and I’m here to tell people why I love Kamala.”

With Mr. Emhoff’s new role, men in the United States could see that they could step back “and let women lead,” Chasten Buttigieg said in an interview. “And women can be the ones who hold the power in a relationship, and also like what it means to be a loving and supportive spouse, and sometimes that means taking a back seat or encouraging your spouse to fly.”

In an interview posted on his Twitter account on Tuesday, Mr. Emhoff reflected on the legacy he might leave for future vice-presidential spouses.

“I’m going to really take what I learned as I move into this role, but I’m also going to make it my own,” he said. “I understand that I am the first gentleman to hold this role, and I certainly do not want to be last.”

Donald J. Trump extended Secret Service protection for his adult children, among others, for six months. 
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

As one of his last act as president, Donald J. Trump extended Secret Service protection for his adult children for six months, as well as for two cabinet secretaries and the White House chief of staff, an administration official said on Wednesday.

The protections are for each of Mr. Trump’s adult children and their spouses, as well as the former Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, the former national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and the former chief of staff Mark Meadows, the official said.

The Washington Post reported earlier on the extensions.

The moves mean that the federal government will continue to pay for expensive security arrangements for the wealthy former first family, unless President Biden decides to undo them. But that could be a delicate move for Mr. Biden that might depend on threat assessments by security agencies.

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