It was a remarkably calm, orderly and productive first week for the Biden administration. Coming off the neverending turmoil of the Trump administration, the nation (despite partisan leanings) seemed to take a collective breath in appreciation that we now had a President unlikely to spark a war via twitter at 3am.
Biden set to work early with a number of Executive orders undoing many of the Trump era’s most controversial policies, including: Ending the ban on trans people in the military, ending the Muslim immigration ban, stopping construction on the wall, rejoining the WHO and Paris agreements, and more. In total, Biden signed 42 Executive Orders, signifying a willingness to work swiftly in attempting to undo the injustices of the previous administration.
COVID-19 relief seems next on the docket, although will face some issues as Trumps impeachment trial looms next month. Biden’s $1.9 Trillion dollar plan centers around offering $1400 direct payments (to bring the $600 of the last round up to $2000), extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage to $15/hr and massive funding for vaccine distribution. Republicans have responded late this week with a counter-proposal rumored to run somewhere in the $600 Billion range aimed at targeting just the COVID related parts of Biden’s proposal, primarily the unemployment benefits and direct payments to “those most affected and in an need”.
The vagueness of that language is intentional, as it’s a precursor to the coming argument over who should qualify for direct stimulus payments. GOP members have been arguing since the last round that the income levels for qualifying should be lowered, believing too many people are receiving payments that “don’t need them”. This will be a difficult position to sell to the American public, especially after 2 rounds of stimulus with identical qualifying conditions. Changing the rules now represents a dangerous roll of the dice for Republican elected officials, especially those looking towards reelection.
Democrats meanwhile, have been preparing for and are in the beginning stages of moving forward on passing the bill through a parliamentary procedure known as “Reconcilliation”, which will allow the bill to be passed with only 51 votes, rather than the usual 60. Reconciliation was used by Republicans in attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and as a way to pass their tax cuts for the rich during the last administration. Reconciliation involves a complicated procedure wherein first a budget is passed, and then the legislation is tied to it. Ultimately, it will likely mean a paring down of the bill’s scope, but will make it passable with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking 51st vote.
That is of course, assuming Democrats can rally full support for the bill. Perennial progressive spoiler Joe Manchin has voiced some opposition to the idea, although walked back some of his more strident commentary pretty quickly, signalling he’s likely amenable to coming around given incentive.
All of this is made more interesting and complicated by the looming Trump impeachment trial. Republican Senators are unlikely to want to convict the former President, however news today broke that Trumps entire legal defense team has quit after the former President instructed them to move forward on the theory that he did nothing wrong because the Election was stolen from him. This is a staggering approach to defense, essentially stating that the siege of the capitol, in which 5 people died, was completely justified due to his wholly unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Should Trump manage to find a lawyer to present this case in the open Senate, it would be seemingly difficult for any self-respecting Senator to give it credence, and in doing so Trump may manage to pull a conviction out of an almost certain acquittal.
Eclipsing all of these stories briefly however, was the GameStop stock madness that erupted as a group of Redditors pumped GameStop stock up by orders of magnitude in order to beat short-sellng hedge funds at their own game. At last count, estimates place the losses for Wall Street hedge funds somewhere around $20 Billion, with at least 1 hedge fund (Melvin Capital) likely declaring bankruptcy. In the midst of all of this, trades on the stock and some related stocks also being pumped by the Reddit group were suspended by the popular stock trading app RobinHood. Worse, it appears that RobinHood also automatically sold off some users positions in GameStop when the stock was around $120, down from nearly $400 the day before, and before it rose again to over $300 the next day. This sparked outrage from all corners, including drawing the attention of Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib calling for investigations.
An Impeachment Trial for his predecessor, a massive nearly $2 Trillion dollar spending bill, a Wall Street controversy, re-instating trans-gender people to the military, blocking an unconstitutional Muslim ban on imigration and ending construction on the border wall and deportations temporarily is a pretty substantial start to a Presidency. Through it all, Biden’s calm demeanor and simple focus has been a welcome respite from the constant vitriol of Trump.
Seen less during these 10 days has been Biden’s VP, Kamala Harris, which makes sense as focus should be on the new President during this time, however many progressive activists are eagerly awaiting the unveiling of her plans to make good on a promise to make combatting White Supremacists and domestic terrorism a major priority. Many are still reeling as the reality of the January 6th Capitol siege settles in and more information about the true violence and planning intended are revealed. This week saw images released of the suspect responsible for planting Pipe Bombs outside both the RNC and DNC offices the night before the siege, illustrating a pre-meditated agenda the seemingly spontaneous eruption on the 6th previously masked.
In the coming days, the Biden administration will face many difficult challenges, including contending with the heavily Trump appointed courts as some of their decisions are brought before them. Trump’s continued influence will also be a factor going forward as the GOP tries to decide his place in the party. Ultimately, if the Democrats can keep their caucus in line as a voting block, they should be in a good position to pass any legislation they wish for now.