Biden plans swift action vs COVID-19, but Trump impeachment trial threatens unity

Published January 19, 2021, 7:36 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has promised quick action to address the coronavirus pandemic and boost the ailing US economy once he takes office on Wednesday, but his goal of uniting the divided country could be undermined by the Senate impeachment trial of outgoing President Donald Trump.

Biden has promised to immediately reverse some of Trump’s more controversial moves, and he can do so by executive action.

US President-elect Joe Biden
(Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

He has vowed to return “on Day One” to the Paris climate agreement. Trump in 2017 announced plans to withdraw from the international accord, prompting global recriminations.

And Biden has said he will also immediately end Trump’s controversial ban on travel from several Muslim majority countries, an early action widely decried as Islamophobic.

The start of the Biden era promises to be busy: An official statement Saturday promised a burst of action in his first 10 days, with “dozens” of executive actions and directives to follow.

But while Biden can make the consequential changes on the Paris accord and the travel ban with the stroke of a pen, the Senate impeachment trial seems sure to slow his efforts to galvanize the response to COVID-19 and to revive the nation’s stumbling economy.

The lower House of Representatives impeached Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection after he encouraged the January 6 protest that led to the violent storming of the US Capitol.

Trump’s first impeachment trial, in January 2020 over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to help him discredit Biden, lasted 21 days.

A trial of similar length now would crimp Biden’s ambitious plans for his first 100 days, but he has expressed confidence, based on his 36 years in the Senate, that the chamber can do two things at once.

“I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” he said after the House voted for impeachment.

Biden suggested that the Senate, under Democratic control beginning Wednesday, might spend half-days on the trial and devote the rest of its time to hearings to confirm Biden’s cabinet, a pressing priority.

Those hearings begin Tuesday, in a Capitol that has taken on an almost wartime aspect after the chaos of January 6, as thousands of police and National Guardsmen block streets and provide protection.

First up for confirmation hearings are four key cabinet members: Alejandro Mayorkas (Biden’s nominee for homeland security secretary), Janet Yellen (Treasury), Lloyd Austin (Defense), and Tony Blinken (State).

Economic aid plan

On Thursday, Biden detailed a mammoth, $1.9 trillion stimulus plan to address what he called “the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy.”

The plan envisages $1,400 stimulus payments to individuals under certain income levels, a minimum wage raised to $15 an hour, an extension of jobless benefits and new assistance to badly strained cities and states.

The proposal – which would provide Americans with the third set of stimulus checks since the pandemic began – also would extend a ban on residential evictions through the end of September, and would provide funds to boost the food-stamp program.

Massive investments

The initial phase of income assistance would be followed in succeeding weeks by a new investment plan aimed at reviving the economy.

Biden has said it would create millions of “well-paid” jobs, respond to the climate crisis and address racial inequality.

It would achieve these goals, Biden has said, through massive new investments in the nation’s infrastructure and a plan to reduce the country’s carbon emissions to the point of carbon neutrality by 2050.

To finance his plan, Biden wants to increase corporate tax rates and taxes paid by individuals earning more than $400,000 a year.

A coronavirus plan

The president-elect also wants to accelerate the campaign to vaccinate millions of Americans, in a country that has continued to set grim global records for COVID-19 case numbers and deaths, possibly even reaching 400,000 deaths by the time he takes office.

His plan is ambitious: 100 million doses to be injected in his first 100 days in office.

It calls for neighborhood vaccination centers, improved federal-state cooperation and the mobilization of 100,000 healthcare workers.

Biden wants to move quickly, to help the country’s restaurants, bars, hotels, airlines and other businesses return more quickly to something like normal.