On January 20th, 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. His entry into office was widely welcomed by international allies, and particularly the European Union. Despite the European expectation of a return to normalcy in transatlantic relations, the US-EU relations may not thaw as quickly as expected, and Biden may remain isolationist until the covid crisis is overcome.
Lobbyit, our American partners based in Washington, give us an on-the-ground perspective of the Biden Presidency and its priorities in the coming weeks.
President Joseph Robinette Biden has been the 46th President of the United States for less than a week, yet the difference between his administration and his predecessor is undeniable. In a sign of how urgent a crisis the nation is facing, the new administration got to work right away. President Biden signed a flurry of Executive Orders within a few hours of taking office. His Press Secretary held a briefing that very evening – devoid of the gaslighting we have grown used to over the last four years. Those Orders have targeted the COVID crisis and multiple key policies that Former-President Trump instituted, including rejoining the Paris Agreement.
In another departure from the last four years, the administration has rolled out a daily messaging plan. The President’s team released a schedule for each day’s theme and the executive actions that will be signed each workday from the Inauguration until the end of the month. The sad fact is that after four years of policymaking via tweet, merely having and executing a plan that extends beyond the next twelve hours is a breath of fresh air in Washington.
Since the election, the Biden team has projected confidence and planning. They were unphased by the former President’s unwillingness to concede and start an orderly transition – team Biden started planning and self-funded their transition teams. Though Democrats faced long odds in Georgia to win both runoff election races and take control of the Senate, Biden held off announcing key cabinet positions that would face strong opposition in a Republican Senate. His patience paid off. He will now get the cabinet he wants without having to negotiate with Republicans. The attempted insurrection and subsequent impeachment of Former-President Trump was the latest bump in the road. If the spectacle of impeachment ties up the Senate for weeks, the President’s cabinet’s confirmation could stretch for longer. But this weekend, Democrats reached a deal with the Republicans that will allow for speedy confirmations and trial. So far, the Biden agenda is running on schedule.
However, there is a crucial policy area where there are currently more questions than answers: what is the Biden plan for America’s allies and international partners? The 2020 presidential election was unique in many ways. In a typical year, foreign policy is not discussed at length but in a year with Donald Trump on the ticket, COVID raging out of control, and historic levels of protests for Black lives; unsurprisingly, foreign policy was not a focus of either campaign. As a result, we know a lot more about what President Biden plans to do on domestic issues than international.
The Democrats control Washington for the first time in a decade. Most believe that the crisis is worse with more significant potential for long-term disaster than the Great Recession when they were last time they were in power. President Biden and his team are sprinting to try to take control of the COVID epidemic, develop a national vaccination plan, and stabilize an economy with millions who are hurting, hungry, and homeless. As a result, foreign affairs have taken a back seat on the messaging front. We do not anticipate the administration will highlight foreign policy priorities until February. Even then, domestic issues are likely to feature prominently in the conversation. We do not expect President Biden to speak extensively regarding foreign policy until unemployment is under control, and normalcy has returned.
International matters like trade and our alliances are still crucial to millions of Americans. Trade policy is especially critical to the prosperity of labor unions, the manufacturing sector, and farmers. The President and the Democratic Party have historically enjoyed labor unions’ support and will want to ensure that the relationship remains intact. President Biden’s nomination of Katherine Tai to serve as the next U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) acknowledges that fact and places a particular emphasis on the Canadian and Mexican relationships. Tai served as the lead lawyer in Congress and drafted the labor provisions in the U.S. Mexico Trade Agreement (USMCA). Those labor protections were crucial for Democrats to approve the USMCA, and they were afraid the Trump Administration would not fully enforce them.
While the President has not made a strong statement about how he will approach trading partners like China or the E.U., it does seem that the Trump Administration’s tariffs are unlikely to be undone quickly by the President. It appears that some advisors would like to leverage the existing tariffs as they normalize those relationships for the future.
There is a global crisis that the President has been clear about – climate change. Addressing climate change was a consistent priority for the President throughout his campaign, and his initial actions post-inauguration have reinforced its importance. He rejoined the Paris Agreement and directed every agency to examine what steps it can take to tackle climate change, making this endeavor a whole-of-government project.
President Biden has an advantage over his predecessor because he is intimately acquainted with how the federal government operates and has staffed his administration with individuals who also have extensive government experience. He has made it clear that he wants every facet of the government to consider what impact they can have on climate change with their policies and contracts. Agencies will coordinate with the White House to promote policies and make spending decisions that address the crisis. For example, the incoming Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, has pledged to create a team to focus on climate change, positioning the powerful agency to take a proactive role in combatting this “existential threat.”
Additionally, for the first time, there will be a dedicated appointee in Cabinet-level meetings whose sole focus is climate change, former Secretary of State John Kerry. As Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, he will ensure that climate change is part of major foreign policy and national security discussions. Kerry is well-known on the international stage and is likely to focus on pushing for aggressive international climate policies, engaging U.S. agencies with international-facing portfolios to work cooperatively with global partners on climate policies and multilateral agreements.
For American allies who have committed to tackling climate change, this is good news. Clean energy stock is already surging in the U.S. in anticipation of Biden policies driving innovation and growth. However, it will be important that President Biden secure legislative actions that enshrine his actions in law to ensure they are not easily undone in the future. But at least for the next four years, companies in the clean energy space can expect that the American market will likely grow at a historic rate, which will help drive growth and development globally.
There are still many unknowns. How will Congress function for the next two years as Republicans deal with the still-popular Donald Trump, and does that lead to a lack of the bipartisanship necessary to pass legislation? When will the U.S. gain control of COVID? The answer to these questions will determine how consequential the Biden presidency will ultimately be. But in the short-term, there is cause for optimism. What happens in the next several months will be critical. By this summer, we should know whether this optimism was warranted or if partisanship and inaction will continue to be the norm in Washington.
VICE PRESIDENT OF LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS
Jason Ortega, a licensed attorney and MBA, began his career as an Intern at Lobbyit in 2014. One year later, he re-joined the firm in a full-time capacity as Manager of Legislative & Regulatory Analysis. During his time away from Lobbyit, Jason worked as a policy assistant at Monument Advocacy, a government relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. In addition to his advocacy experience, Jason practiced law with a real estate due diligence law firm in Columbia, Maryland and served as a senior aide to a D.C.-city council campaign.