President Joe Biden has served notice that America’s war on COVID-19 is under new command, promising a fraught nation progress to reduce infections and lift the siege it has endured for nearly a year.
The United States has now suffered over 410,000 deaths, more than the U.S. losses in World War II.
Biden’s national strategy will ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks. It also includes a requirement that Americans mask up for travel. A key goal is to administer 100 million coronavirus shots in 100 days.
He signed 10 virus-related executive orders with the nation deep in the deadliest wave of the pandemic and facing worrisome new mutations, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Zeke Miller report.
While Biden has vowed to take more aggressive measures than his predecessor to contain the virus, he faces steep obstacles, including uncertainty over whether congressional Republicans will help pass his $1.9 trillion coronavirus package.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around,” Biden said at the White House. But then, looking directly into the TV camera, Biden declared: “To a nation waiting for action, let me be clear on this point: Help is on the way.”
The Economy: Biden plans to sign two executive orders today that would increase food aid, protect jobseekers on unemployment and clear a path for federal workers and contractors to get a $15 minimum wage. The actions are an effort to rush financial relief to millions of Americans hurt by the fallout from the pandemic, while Congress begins to consider and debate the stimulus package proposed by Biden. You can follow all developments on that later here.
White House: The clearest sign that there’s a new boss at the White House is the deference being paid to coronavirus public health guidelines. Testing wristbands are in. Mask-wearing is mandatory. Desks are socially distanced. While the Trump administration was known for ignoring public safety guidelines, the Biden team has made a point of adhering to the same strict guidelines they’re counseling Americans to follow to help stem the spread of the virus. It’s part of an overall effort by Biden to lead by example on the pandemic, an ethos that carries over from his campaign and transition. Alexandra Jaffe and Zeke Miller report.
Dr. Fauci: After surviving nearly a year of darts and undermining comments from Donald Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci is back and unleashed. He now speaks with the authority of the White House again. The doctor called it “liberating” to be backed by a science-friendly administration that has embraced his recommendations to battle COVID-19. And Fauci made clear that he believes the new administration will not trade in the mixed messages that so often came from the Trump White House, where scientific fact was often obscured by the president’s political agenda, Jonathan Lemire reports.
Border Wall: Biden has ordered a “pause” on all border wall construction, one of 17 executive orders issued his first day in office. The move leaves billions of dollars in unfinished work under contract after his predecessor worked feverishly to successfully to build 450 miles. A Senate aide tells the AP that the government has spent $6.1 billion of $10.8 billion under contract. The full amount under contract would have extended Trump’s wall to 664 miles. The Biden administration will negotiate cancellation fees and and look into whether what’s left can be spent elsewhere, Elliot Spagat reports from San Diego.
Impeachment: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants to postpone Trump’s impeachment trial until February to give the former president time to prepare and review his case. The idea could appeal to some Senate Democrats, who are eager to spend time confirming Biden’s Cabinet nominees. The House impeached Trump on a single charge of incitement of insurrection for the deadly attack on the Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the trial has to happen even though Trump has left office so that there is accountability, Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro report.