President Joseph Biden took power in Washington promising to bring the nation back together — to battle the coronavirus, take on the old ill of systemic racism and “make America once again the leading force for good in the world.”
“This is America’s Day,” Biden said on the steps of the Capitol, where just two weeks ago a mob riled up by former President Donald Trump tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
Where Trump made the presidency a cult of personality, Biden in his inaugural address took a much more traditional approach, sounding notes of unity and perseverance in the face of the overlapping crises facing the country — from the pandemic and attendant recession to the threat of white supremacy and the need for social justice. Biden promised to have the most diverse cabinet in history and has already made history with Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female, Black and Asian American in the number-two spot.
“America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge,” Biden said. “Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy….The American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us. We the people who seek a more perfect union. This is a great nation. We’re a good people and over the centuries through storm and strife, though peace and through war, we’ve come so far, but we still have far to go.
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“Let’s start afresh, all of us,” he said “Let’s begin to listen to one another again, hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another. Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everyone in its path.”
The soaring rhetoric around unity — which stood in stark contrast with Trump’s “America First” inaugural address four years ago — is expected to be accompanied by a much more stable and routine policy making process in Washington.
Biden plans to hit the ground running with a series of executive orders intended to combat COVID-19, help households hit hard by the turmoil of the pandemic, address climate change and roll back parts of Trump’s Washington.
On almost every front — whether it be policy, politics or presidential decorum — Biden represents a return to the norm after four years of disruption, when Trump’s Twitter account held the world in thrall as he created policy on the fly and reversed course easily and often.
And while retail and fashion companies did get something out of the Trump years, with many applauding the tax overhaul that cut the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, the industry is looking forward to a calmer decision-making process with hope and relief.
“For retail, stability and certainty in policy making is a good thing,” said David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation. “For the economy, stability and certainty is a good thing. What we value most is an economy and society that is strong, stable and growing.
“There is no question that our country is politically divided and that our country has been challenged in the past year by some extraordinary events that have played out in the pandemic, in a series of protests and calls for social justice,” French said. “Those are all important and I think we are hopeful that during the Biden era we will see less disruption, we will put some of those challenges behind us and come together as a country.”
The NRF is supportive of Biden’s efforts approach to trade, immigration and masks — all areas where Biden is bringing in a much different approach than Trump.
“The Trump trade agenda was deeply protectionist and disruptive and costly for retail businesses in the form of higher tariffs and ultimately costly for American consumers,” French said.
On immigration, he said, “The Trump administration was trying to…make even legal immigration less common and we work in an economy that does depend on some flow of not just capital, but also labor and so stability and certainty in [immigration] programs is good for our businesses,” French said.
And when there are issues where the NRF differs from Biden — such as the potential return to overtime for management level employees — French said, “We’ll engage in the rulemaking process.”
Retailers and fashion firms are also looking forward to clearer rules around wearing masks to fight COVID-19.
Stephen Lamar, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said he expects Biden “will urge Americans to commit to wearing masks, and will soon issue an executive order to require face masks when on federal property and during travel from state-to-state. We are strongly in favor of this approach, and of state governments setting forth mask mandates, as we seek to get the health and economic crises from COVID-19 in check.”
On Wednesday, Biden’s transition team outlined a series of executive actions the administration would prioritize, including an executive order to appoint a COVID-19 response coordinator who would oversee the national response on the availability and distributions of tests, vaccines and medical supplies.
The team also said it will take certain specific actions to contain the spread of COVID-19, which so far has killed some 401,800 people in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. The U.S. will work with the World Health Organization again, reversing course from the Trump administration’s move to pull away from the United Nations’ public health agency during an uncontrolled pandemic that has killed more than two million people globally.
The Biden administration will also issue orders for federal employees and contractors to wear masks, another reversal from the Trump administration, whose own White House suffered a widespread outbreak in September that infected Trump and the former first lady.
The Biden administration’s initial steps for economic relief would include pushing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies including the Departments of Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development to extend foreclosure moratoriums until the end of March.
On the immigration front, the Biden administration will issue a memorandum to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which former President Barack Obama signed into action in 2012. The program, meant to exempt from deportation some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children, has withstood challenges at the Supreme Court by the Trump administration.
The Biden administration will also take action to end the so-called “Muslim Ban,” marking a shift from Trump administration policies to restrict travelers from certain countries. The Biden executive action would direct “the State Department to restart visa processing for affected countries and to swiftly develop a proposal to restore fairness and remedy the harms caused by the bans, especially for individuals stuck in the waiver process and those who had immigrant visas denied.”
To start addressing systemic racism, Biden plans on an executive order requiring federal agencies to assess inequalities within their offices and to work with communities that have historically been “harmed by federal policies.”
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