Biden to tackle coronavirus pandemic on first full day in White House

0
23
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks after being sworn-in as the 46th President of the United States during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/PoolREUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will launch an array of initiatives on Thursday to rein in the raging coronavirus pandemic, tackling his top priority on his first full day in the White House as he tries to turn the page on Donald Trump’s tumultuous leadership. Biden will sign 10 executive orders to fight the pandemic, including ordering the use of disaster funds to help re-open schools and mandating the wearing of protective masks on planes and buses, officials said.

The new Democratic president, who took the oath of office on Wednesday, has put the pandemic at the top of a daunting list of challenges he faces in his administration’s early days, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice.

Opening a blitz of policy rollouts and executive actions designed to meet some of those challenges, Biden signed 15 executive actions on Wednesday that are designed to turn the page and sweep away some of Trump’s policies.

Those included mandating masks on federal property and halting the withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as issues such as rejoining the Paris climate accord and ending a travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries.

On Thursday, he will sign another round of executive orders related to the pandemic, including requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes, and intercity buses, officials said.

He also plans to sign orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travelers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities. Coronavirus has killed more than 400,000 people in the United States.

Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during the first 100 days of his administration. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.

Additionally, Biden will issue a directive on Thursday including the intent to join the COVAX vaccine facility that aims to deliver vaccines to poor countries, his chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, told the WHO.

Other issues to be addressed by the new administration over the next 10 days include healthcare, the economy, immigration and climate change.

PLEA FOR UNITY

Biden made a plea for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday, saying overcoming the challenges facing the country would require a return to civility.

“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this – if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” Biden said on the steps of the Capitol, where a mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the building on Jan 6.

Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package last week that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from coronavirus.

On Thursday, Biden plans to direct the Federal Emergency Management Administration to reimburse states and tribes fully for the costs associated with National Guard-related efforts to combat the virus, officials said.

The measure restores “full reimbursement” from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund for costs related to re-opening schools. FEMA funds are typically dispersed after hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters.

Officials said the administration was ready to invoke the Defense Production Act for speedy vaccine distribution and will thoroughly review the inventory of essential items needed to fight the pandemic.

Biden’s early initiatives could become bogged down in Congress, where the U.S. Senate is considering how to proceed with the impeachment trial of Trump. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump last week for inciting an insurrection in the deadly rampage at the Capitol.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to send the article of impeachment to the Senate. According to Senate rules, the Republican former president’s trial would start the day after the charge is sent over.

Biden has urged lawmakers not to let Trump’s trial interfere with his legislative priorities and confirming his Cabinet. But White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday Biden would leave the mechanics of how to proceed up to the Senate.

The administration was confident the Senate could “do their constitutional duty while continuing to conduct the business of the American people,” she said.