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Thanks for your interest in Washington, and welcome back to the special inauguration issue of This Week in Washington.
I attended my first inaugural in 1985 and subsequently in 1989, 2001, and 2005. Inaugurals are celebrations for the winners. But for all of us, inaugurals celebrate the continued victory of American democracy.
2020 was quite a year and the first 21 days of January have been more of the same, so this inaugural was different. Washington, D.C. – from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial – was the most secure place in America. The pandemic meant that everything had to be changed. The official swearing-in ceremony was not open to the public. The parade was virtual, and the galas were cancelled.
There were changes Wednesday in the Senate too. Late Wednesday afternoon, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were sworn in as Georgia’s new U.S. Senators, which created a 50-50 tie. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is now the Majority Leader because Vice President Harris, who serves as President of the Senate, can break a tie vote. Senator Mitch McConnell is now the Minority Leader.
That is a great deal of change, and change changes everything. We will start looking at the Biden Administration’s legislative directions and new committee assignments in both the House and the Senate in upcoming editions of This Week. Today’s covers Inaugural Week 2021– the environment, the swearing in ceremony, and Day One of the Biden Administration.
Steve Gordon, Managing Partner
Heard on the Hill
By Steve Gordon, Total Spectrum Managing Partner
Inaugural Week 2021 – an Inaugural Like No Other. President Joe Biden was sworn in Wednesday as our 46th – and oldest – President. Vice President Kamala Harris became the 49th Vice President, the first female Vice President, the first Vice President of color, and the first Vice President of Indian descent. This was the 59th inaugural ceremony. It was held during a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans and under the tightest security precautions in Washington since 9/11.
Monday, January 18
I first came to Washington, D.C. in August 1978 with then candidate – soon to be U.S. Senator – Rudy Boschwitz. My clearest recollection of that trip 41 years later was seeing the Capitol bathed in bright light. I remember thinking that if looking at the Capitol at night did not make your pulse race, your heart had stopped.
I have seen Washington, D.C. change from a sleepy southern town to a major and important city. I remember great moments of past inaugurals, and I also remember 9/11 and the anthrax scare. But nothing prepared me for what I saw when I drove to my office earlier this week.
Security for the inaugural was under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service directed the effort. Security was always going to be tight for the inaugural, but the insufficient preparation for the January 6th assault on the Capitol meant that nothing would be left to chance. Twenty-five thousand (yes, 25,000) National Guard troops (most holding rifles), D.C. metropolitan police and Capitol Hill police, and 3,000 active-duty military personnel came together in a joint effort to button down Washington, D.C. from Capitol Hill to the Lincoln Memorial and throughout most of downtown.
A series of enclosures were constructed with 9-foot fences topped with razor wire. Streets were blocked with cement barricades, military equipment, and reservists who were armed. Checkpoints run by the Secret Service equipped with metal detectors were set up at key locations.
Vehicle traffic was down to a trickle. Pedestrians were few, and consisted mostly of press and a few individuals walking their dogs. Security – the military, D.C. and Capitol Hill police– had secured the area and were taking no chances.
Someone called it East Berlin on the Potomac – a militarized city – and it is sad that so much security was necessary. But we are where we are, and it is what it is.
Tuesday, January 19
The bridges from Virginia and Maryland to Washington were closed today. The Senate announced that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock would be sworn in as U.S. Senators on Wednesday afternoon by Vice President Harris.
Wednesday January 20
Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, set the tone. He said the theme for this inaugural was “to renew a commitment to our determined democracy forging a more perfect union.” This is the 59th inauguration, and Senator Blunt said it was both miraculous and common place that these events have happened every four years since 1789 – even in times of war and depression – and now in a pandemic. Senator Blunt called government both fragile and resilient. “This a moment of unification. Tomorrow we will continue our great national debate,” Senator Blunt said.
President Biden continued the theme of restoring unity in his inaugural address. He laid out the challenges he sees America facing, the continued, forecasting that “to restore the soul and secure the future of America, we will need more than words. We will need unity.” He spoke of wringing out some of the emotion and the rage in politics. “Politics need not be a raging fire burning everything in its place. Every dispute does not have to cause total war.” Then he said that he wanted to be the President of all Americans. “To those of you who supported me, I am humbled. To those who did not support me, let me say this – hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart.”
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were sworn in as the newest U.S. Senators from Georgia, officially flipping the Senate and made Senator Chuck Schumer the new Majority Leader. Senator McConnell will continue as the Republican Leader.
Executive Orders and Early Legislation Agendas
Ron Klain, the President’s long-time colleague and now his chief of staff, outlined the Administration’s agenda for the first few days in a staff memo dated January 16th. As Mr. Klain promised, they hit the floor running on Day 1 rolling out a series of executive orders. The Biden Administration provided a fact sheet on these executive orders grouped by the crisis or agenda. One order that received significant attention cancelled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, which is of interest because the President’s first foreign call is slated for Friday with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Administration wants – and needs – to get as many cabinet secretaries confirmed as soon as possible. They will be sending Congress a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and the Speaker will soon send the Senate the Article of Impeachment of former President Trump.
President Biden campaigned on the theme of being a calm, steady, experienced, and determined leader who will do bold and big things. He has identified and laid out initial plans to address four crises – the pandemic, the economy, racial equality, and climate change. Additionally, the President wants to make government work better and wants to unify the country.
Joe Biden spent 36 years in the Senate before becoming Vice President. He knows that handling COVID is job one, and that how he handles COVID will determine the success of other aspects of his legislative agenda.
Speaker Pelosi has a razor thin majority and a determined group of progressives. House Republicans will be waiting for – and working toward – an off-year victory in November 2022 that would make Kevin McCarthy the next Republican Speaker.
Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell are working on an agreement that would organize the 50-50 Senate. Senator McConnell proposed that the agreement include protections for the filibuster, but it is hard to see Senator Schumer and the Democratic caucus accepting those terms.
One thing is certain: there are a few moderates and a few very conservative members in Senator McConnell’s caucus, and there are a few conservatives and a few very progressive members in Senator Schumer’s caucus. A 50-50 Senate with factions in each caucus means that most legislation will move very slowly and that every man is a king, and every lady is a queen.
Biden Administration Priorities – An Off-the-Record Interview
By Congressman Erik Paulsen, Total Spectrum Strategic Consultant
I was on a call this past Tuesday with an individual who is now a senior staff member in the Biden White House. The call was to be off-the-record, so I took notes but cannot identify the senior staff member.
The top goal for the new Administration is to make sure America makes progress and represents the changing nature of our people. Another goal is to rebuild government and restore public service by recruiting high quality people.
- First: tackling COVID – getting it under control, combatting the virus and creating an aggressive plan for the distribution of the vaccines. They will soon rollout proposals for safely reopening schools and childcare facilities. There will be funding for states and localities that need to address how the vaccinations get into arms while ensuring equality of opportunity. There will be an emphasis on racial equity, and they will incorporate black churches and senior housing projects as sites for distribution.
- Second: an economic rescue package that will focus on direct aid to families and individuals. This package will include additional stimulus and infrastructure funding, with a focus on renewable energy and workforce issues. They will roll these plans out in the next few weeks.
- Third: addressing racial inequity that has been highlighted by COVID. The focus will be on health care, housing, employment – all longstanding issues, but brought to greater focus by the pandemic.
- Fourth: the climate crisis and working toward environmental justice as part of a broader climate agenda.
The Administration’s immediate focus will be to get key cabinet nominees confirmed as well as signing new executive orders. For example, there will be executive orders regarding the use of masks on federal property, getting the U.S. back in the World Health Organization, and reentering the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Administration will send to Congress on day one a new immigration bill which will include “smart and effective” border security and a pathway to citizenship over eight years.
The conversation returned to the need to get the vaccines out to all Americans who want them. They indicated that it has been hard to get information from the former Administration on vaccine distribution. But once the new administration can “look under the hood,” they will get to work on the vaccine supply. They will continue to keep the 65 years or older guidelines for receiving the vaccine. Vials usually have enough vaccine to get six injections, rather than the five assumed by the previous administration. Maximizing supply and using all the vaccine in a vial will be their goal. They will be working with the states to set up community vaccination clinics in partnership with the states, similar to a FEMA model, mobilizing and maximizing resources, and utilizing mobile units for rural areas.
On the issue of housing, they want to provide additional assistance to protect renters impacted by the pandemic. The Biden Administration will look to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide more funding for housing for low- and moderate-income Americans. They plan to also provide more financial support for first-time home buyers, especially those who have been impacted by what some refer to as redlining. In addition, they would like to use transportation dollars for a more holistic approach to housing by connecting transit to housing.
What you need to know about Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution
What you need to know about The Jobless Benefits Cliff
What you need to know about The Next Steps on Tax Reform
2021 tax-filing season for taxpayers during the Covid-19 pandemic
Tuesday, January 19
- 10:00 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee nomination hearing – Hon. Alejandro Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security.
- 10:00 a.m. Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing – Hon. Janet Yellen to be Secretary of Treasury.
- 10:00 a.m. Senate Select Intelligence Committee nomination hearing – Avril D. Haines to be Director of National Intelligence.
- 3:00 p.m. Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing – Lloyd J. Austin, III to be Secretary of Defense.
Thursday, January 21
- 10:00 a.m. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee nomination hearing – Peter Buttigieg to be Secretary of Transportation.
This e-newsletter is produced by Total Spectrum/Steve Gordon and Associates and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The views expressed herein may include subjective commentary and analysis that are the views of the editors and authors alone. Information in this e-newsletter is obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but that cannot be guaranteed as independently investigated or verified. Information in this e-newsletter is not an endorsement, advertisement, recommendation, or any type of advice; political, legal, financial or otherwise. For questions about the content of this e-newsletter, please contact the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.