City staff even had a motto: Do not try to boil the sea. “You can not try to do all the things,” explained Cecilia Muñoz, a senior transitional official overseeing domestic executive actions. “A transitional task is not to do everything. That’s the job of the administration. ”
But now that Biden has regretted the most easily reversible Trump policy, the hard part begins – especially after the indictment process hampered early action by the Senate. While liberals are pushing Biden to do more, goals such as expanding health care and strengthening gun control are likely to require new laws that are much harder to pass.
The coming months will tell how much Biden can erase his predecessor’s legacy, and how much of Trump’s imprint will endure despite his chaotic style.
Some Biden supporters say the public will be impatient if they do not quickly see broader results. “We have a very short time to get people to believe that the government is the big equalizer of opportunities,” the rep said. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Chair of the House Progressive Caucus and working on the Biden transition, noted that the Biden transition leaders internalized this urgent character.
Biden signaled early on that he was sensitive to accusations that he would try to do too much one-sidedly. When he signed a series of executive orders shortly after taking office, he took a defensive tone, saying that today’s actions were only intended to “undo the damage Trump has done” and that “there is nothing new we are doing here. “
But this modesty rejects a massive effort, occupying hundreds of volunteers and several months, to plan Biden’s early actions and keep them to a manageable extent. The team included many Obama administration veterans who had seen their work turned around and were eager to help put it back together.
“Many of us saw this as one of the happiest professional experiences of our lives,” Muñoz said.
The city team even set up a sort of shadow administration and recruited Democrats with expertise in specific agencies to ensure that the orders would meet legal challenges.
The effort was driven by a perception that Trump’s policies have been codified via an army of operators who found endless ways, public and hidden, to turn federal politics in skewed directions.
Even now, Democrats are digging layer-by-layer through federal orders and manuals – “bureaucratic archeology” in the sentence of Lucas Guttentag, a law professor who helped with immigration efforts – hoping to find excavated Trump initiatives.
Trump also opened his time with a bunch of executive orders and signed them with great ceremonial flourishing. But his approach was less disciplined, and Biden’s attacks frustrate conservatives who say he contradicts his own high-profile rhetoric about two-party hips.
“This is not the unit he promised,” said Heritage Foundation President Kay James. “He has signaled that he will take unilateral steps that take on the power of Congress and leave no room for debate or disagreement.”
Other Republicans complain that Biden’s movements are very harmful.
“It is clear that Joe Biden can pursue a wide range of policies [in ways] that we would argue would have very detrimental effects, ”said Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Trump who helped create some of the policies that Biden is now trying to pursue.
On immigration policy, where Miller was particularly influential, he acknowledged that Trump policy was fragile. “It does not take much to overthrow the border security infrastructure that was carefully put in place,” he said.
Miller argued that powerful forces oppose Trump’s policies and that large corporations, foreign governments and even organized crime support porous borders. “It actually takes a lot of vigilance to keep the border safe,” Miller said. “Even just suspending this vigilance will cause it to fall apart pretty quickly, let alone try to work in the other direction.”
On immigration, Biden signed executive orders order a review of Trump’s deterrent policies along the border and set up a task force to reunite families, calling their separation under the Trump administration a “moral and national disgrace.”
Despite the methodical early moves, the Biden team now faces the limits of what he can accomplish alone. Among other things, he has promised to create a new opportunity for public health care, fix the country’s roads and bridges, tackle the immigration system and adopt stricter climate rules. Everyone would demand pushing complex bills through a bitterly polarized Congress or adopting time-consuming rules.
The city’s allies support this next phase. “There is an inevitable limit to how much a president can do with his own pen alone,” Guttentag said.
Jayapal said Biden’s unilateral actions regarding health care in particular are not enough to meet the need. “I am still very afraid that there are many people who are uninsured all over this country [and] even with the subsidies will fall through the cracks, ”she said.
In December, Biden cited the danger of exploiting the executive privately and told black civil rights leaders that he intended to limit his unilateral actions. “I do not want to violate the Constitution,” Biden said according to a tape obtained by the point of intersection. “The executive that my progressive friends are talking about is far beyond bounds.”
Muñoz is also aware of the limits of relying on executive actions despite his role at the heart of town planning. A MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and daughter of Bolivian immigrants, she began her career as an advocate for immigration rights before spending eight years in Obama’s White House.
Muñoz disappointed some former allies at the time defender President Barack Obama’s deportation policy, which he had implemented in the absence of a comprehensive immigration restructuring law. When Biden invited her into her transition, immigration groups complained, and a petition was even launched to keep her out of the administration.
Untouched, last year Muñoz drew up plans for quick announcements on a range of topics and organized them into “buckets” for easy prioritization. The one that was termed “imminent harm” was for edicts to be issued quickly to avoid injuring people – such as extending a ban on deferral and extending the freeze on student loan repayments.
Another bucket contained things that Biden had explicitly promised to do on his first day, such as resuming the climate agreements in Paris and lifting the ban on travel from some Muslim majority countries.
Others reflected Biden’s proactive agenda, including a “Buy American” poem and an order of racial superiority that repealed Trump’s 1776 commission and aimed at eradicating racism throughout the federal government.
Many of the actions fell within the scope of what presidents typically do, including formulating ethical policies and proclaiming a national unity day. Biden also lifted a restriction on taxpayers’ money to nonprofit organizations that perform abortions abroad – a sensitive policy that is reversed every time a new party takes over the White House.
The process is underway, Guttentag said, adding that it “requires delving into innumerable details” and sorting “through these almost hidden and easily overlooked administrative actions that have incredibly long tentacles to regret, mess and branch, for even to start the process of reform. “
Guttentag, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, traces more than 1,000 Trump-era changes to the immigration system alone. Even some of Biden’s executive actions, which sound relatively modest – for example, leading agencies to review certain policies – are tantamount to debt proof that changes will be made, he said.
Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser, cited an experience that reflects the challenges Biden now faces. One day, she said, a major Obama immigration measure failed in Congress while a gay rights provision advanced.
Jarrett recalled that people on the domestic policy team had been working in both areas for years, so half the staff were cheering and the other half despairing. Jarrett told Obama about the high sentiment surrounding his political staff, and the president paid an unscheduled visit to Muñoz’s office.
He said to everyone, ‘For those of you who are so upset about the law of dreams, just remember that the people who have tried to repeal’ Do not ask, do not tell ‘have been at it for 20 years. This change takes time, ”Jarrett recalled.
Because Muñoz fought for policies that Trump reversed, Jarrett said “there is a certain poetic justice for her that has the potential to help the Biden administration shape policy going forward.”
But Miller, the former Trump aide, said that although Biden is able to rewrite federal rules, the broader legacy of his predecessor – a major shift in politics and a growing distrust of the establishment – will be much harder to assume.
“Nothing that Biden can do can possibly touch it,” Miller predicted.
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