Washington Wednesday – Biden’s first 100 days

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 20th day of January, 2021. 

You’re listening to World Radio and we’re so glad that you’ve joined us today. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up on The World and Everything in It, the first 100 days.

Depending on what hour of the day you’re hearing this, President-elect Joe Biden may already be President Joe Biden. And he has pledged to waste no time getting to work on his agenda. 

Incoming White House Communications Director Kate Beddingfield told reporters this week…

BEDDINGFIELD: President Biden is going to come into office and take decisive steps to roll back some of the most egregious moves of the Trump administration, and he’s going to take steps to move us forward.

REICHARD: He will sign a series of executive orders immediately, addressing a range of issues. So what should we expect in the opening days of the Biden administration? 

Here to answer that question is Henry Olsen. He’s a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a columnist for the Washington Post.

Henry, good morning!

HENRY OLSEN, GUEST: Good morning. 

REICHARD: Let’s start with the pandemic. Some have asked if Biden will issue a nationwide mask mandate. Does he have authority to do that? What’s left for the states? 

OLSEN: Yeah, I do not believe he will do that, in part because he realizes he doesn’t have the authority and with the 6-3 Republican majority on the Supreme Court, he would be unlikely to win court endorsement for trying to establish the authority. He has said he will do a mask wearing mandate on federal property, which clearly would be within his purview. But other than that, I think he’ll try and rely on the bully pulpit and not press an unfriendly court to constrict rather than expand his presidential powers.  

REICHARD: He has also talked about speeding up vaccine distribution. What should we expect there? 

OLSEN: Well, it’ll be interesting to see how much of this is reality and how much of it is rhetoric. There’s apparently not a whole lot of vaccine left in the stockpiles, that basically there is a problem in different states with getting vaccine from state storage into people’s arms, but there’s not apparently a whole lot of problem of getting it out to the states. So I can imagine that there will be a lot of rhetoric and Biden trying to work with governors to speed up their own systems, maybe putting some federal resources behind the ability to jab people with the vaccine or maybe federal personnel to help do that. But, again, I think this is going to be more messaging than substance because there’s only so much vaccine that the manufacturers can turn out and it seems to be getting to the states pretty quickly. 

REICHARD: Moving on now to climate and environmental policies. President Biden plans to rejoin the Paris climate change accord and do so immediately. What will that mean in practical terms? 

OLSEN: Well, it depends, again. The Climate Accord itself does not have enforceable provisions. It’s more of a wishlist of goals. If the president is serious about implementing legislation to move us towards those goals, the only way to do this in the short term is to discourage the use of fossil fuels, either by driving up their price or subsidizing their alternatives or limiting their use. That’s pretty much the only way in the five or 10 year period that you can seriously deal with that and that will have impacts on virtually everybody because fossil fuels are the lifeblood of the American economy, whether it’s their production, their extraction, or their use. So, if he’s serious about this, expect to see higher prices and more subsidies going to non-fossil fuel energy sources, which will increase government spending and/or the debt. 

REICHARD: And he will reportedly also pull the plug on the Keystone pipeline. What does that signal about his energy policies going forward? 

OLSEN: Well, it signals that his energy policies will be following in line with his climate policies, that the discouragement of fossil fuels is going to be a — he has said that in the debates and he cannot meet climate goals without discouraging fossil fuels. That means that he’s probably going to limit exploration on federal lands for alternative fossil fuel. It means he’s probably going to be looking at using federal power to limit or regulate fracking, and it means across the whole panoply of policies, you’re going to see an attempt to make fossil fuels cost more and be less convenient for manufacturers, for individuals, and for anybody else who is using them. So, I think this is just the tip of the spear when it comes to the Democratic Party policy with respect to our energy lifeblood. 

REICHARD: What executive actions should we expect from President Biden on immigration and border security? 

OLSEN: Well, I think the different — there will be a difference between executive action and legislation. Executive action he can control INS and border security. I expect that he will issue a symbolic order to stop separating parents from children. I expect that he will have less severe INS sweeps to identify and deport people who are in the country illegally. More important is he has signaled he will submit legislation on day one or close to it that will pretty much implement the Democratic priorities with respect to immigration, which is a path to citizenship, no e-verify, that will ensure that people will be legally in the country to be able to work, and that is not something that will go down well with Republicans and, I suspect, with a good number of moderates as well. 

REICHARD: Of everything that the president is planning to do in his opening days in office, what do you think will affect people the most, for good or for ill? 

OLSEN: Well, whether for good or for ill partly depends on what you think of the country. For conservatives, I think most of the Biden initiatives will be viewed as being things for ill. I think the main results will be seen, though, in legislation, which is to say that there’s only so much he can do with executive orders. That it’s still the case that to seriously change the country you need the consent of Congress. And we will see whether or not the legislative ideas that he has talked about, which are not things that Republicans could get behind, are opening shots towards a serious deal, which is to say I can imagine a Republican deal on immigration if it included mandatory e-verify because that would give them something that would be serious. Or whether or not it’s the opening shot for the attempt to ram through a partisan agenda through a 50-50 Senate. Time will tell, but if it’s the latter then I think we’ll be seeing an intensification of the divisions in our country. And, if they’re successful, a significant move leftward.

REICHARD: Henry Olsen is senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Henry, thanks so much!

OLSEN: Thank you.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President-elect Joe Biden speaks at the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in New Castle, Del. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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