Misc 21/01/2021

The team that will have to put out Trump's fires

Biden has a support of 57%, lower than other presidents but higher than his predecessor

Sònia Sánchez
3 min
Joe Biden, amb Antony Blinken, a la seva esquerra, i al fons John Kerry.

BarcelonaJoe Biden's team landed at the White House yesterday and, as they settled into the west wing offices, began working knowing that they would find some surprises in the drawers; something they didn't know and will have to deal with before they can fully dedicate themselves to the priorities the new government has set for itself: covid-19, the economy, racial justice, immigration and climate change. There has been a part of Donald Trump's political team - not everyone - that has dedicated itself to delaying or even blocking the information that, as is customary in a period of transition, the incoming government should have received. It was not until November 23 that the transition officially began (most commonly the day after the election), but Trump's last-minute appointments with the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, have not allowed for a full and transparent transfer of powers in these areas. Biden's team arrives in Washington without even being fully briefed on the government's handling of such critical issues as the covid virus.

Even so, when he took office yesterday, Biden had already appointed 200 people to political and technical positions in the White House, and had also chosen 44 of the most important senior officials (those requiring Senate confirmation), a figure twice as high as is usual on the first day of previous administrations. The new secretaries of State, Anthony Blinken; Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas; Defense, Lloyd Austin; and Treasury, Janet Yellen, had already passed through the Senate the day before so that they could be confirmed in office and get to work as soon as possible.

Regarding those not requiring Senate confirmation, Biden's right-hand man and most important post in the new White House, Chief of Staff Ron Klain, also got to work from the first minute. Klain was already Biden's chief of staff when he was Obama's vice president, and he was also Al Gore's vice-president chief of staff. It is a political experience that also characterizes many of the other members of the Biden administration and has allowed his team to overcome the obstacle course that the transition period has become, due to a president who to this day does not concede the victory to the new president. This means experience in the government and in the legislative chambers, which have set to work right away, with meetings with members of both parties in Congress to gain support for the new president's pandemic stimulus plan.

"Surprises [which the new government can find in the White House drawers] include the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, or information they don't have about the virus, such as what was known a few days ago: that the government has provided all the doses purchased to be used without saving enough for the second batch that has to be administered at a certain time", Martha Kumar, a specialist in presidential transitions at Towson University, explains.

Kumar points out that Biden can now use the congressional review bill that allows an incoming government to repeal rules that the previous administration passed in recent days in the Senate, which would now be possible due to a majority in this chamber. Trump used this power to repeal 18 rules before him, even though until then this prerogative of the new president had been used only once.

More women in government

Biden starts his presidency with a support level of 57%, according to the latest Gallup poll, which also says 68% of Americans approve of the way he has handled the transition. His level of support exceeds that of Trump when he arrived at the White House (40%) but is below that of other presidents when they were inaugurated. Obama had the highest support, standing at 78%.

Biden's will be the most diverse government: the first black Defense Secretary, the first Hispanic Homeland Security Secretary (responsible for immigration affairs), the first indigenous Interior Secretary (responsible for native american affairs) or the first Secretary of the Treasury. In general, it is a government with more female presence. Proof of this is that the entire communications team in the new White House is made up of women. At the same time, there are some newly created positions that clarify the priorities of the new government, such as his special advisor for covid-19, who will be Anthony Fauci, and the new coordinator of the pandemic task-force, Jeffrey Zients, as well as his advisor on climate, Gina McCarthy, and the special envoy or climate czar, John Kerry, focused on the fight against the climate crisis.

The White House website was also completely revamped yesterday and even recovered the cloned Spanish version, which had disappeared four years ago when Donald Trump was inaugurated. And after a whole mandate to talk about interference in US policy by Russian, Iranian or Chinese hackers, the new website of the presidential headquarters hides a message addressed to technology experts who are able to find and read it: "We need you to rebuild us better".