Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States this week, pledging to unite the country.
“This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. Unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail,” he said. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility.”
Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice president, becoming the first female vice president as well as the first black and first with Indian heritage.
Many of the festivities were canceled or scaled back because of the heightened security threats and the pandemic. The level of security in Washington, D.C. was at the highest levels because of threats from extremist groups. The FBI warned of plans for armed protests in all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C. leading up to and after the inauguration. There were over 25,000 National Guard troops stationed in D.C.
President Trump left before the ceremony, becoming the first president to not attend an inauguration since Andrew Johnson in 1869. Vice President Mike Pence did attend.
Biden’s first 100 days
Biden will use legislation, executive orders, memoranda, and presidential messages in his first 100 days to put forth his priorities on the pandemic, economy, climate change and immigration.
Last week, Biden unveiled his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid rescue package, “American Rescue Plan,” to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and provide support for the economy. The goal is for Congress to pass the package by the end of February or early March.
Biden released this week his comprehensive immigration plan that will provide an eight-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants, including farm workers, without legal status. Immigrants must have been in the U.S. as of January 1, 2021 to qualify. The Department of Homeland Security is to develop a proposal that uses technology and other similar infrastructure to implement new border security measures.
A number of executive orders were signed by Biden this week that will reverse many of Trump’s polices.
Biden took a number of actions dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. They include increasing production of the coronavirus vaccine, establishing a Pandemic Testing Board to increase the capacity for coronavirus tests and establishing a mask mandate on federal property and interstate travel. The goal is to give 100 million vaccine doses by the end of April.
The “Protecting Worker Health and Safety” executive order focuses on businesses and the pandemic, which could have an impact on the food and meat industries. It directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to provide clear guidance on COVID-19 and enforce worker health and safety requirements. Items for OSHA include:
- Issue revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic within two weeks.
- Consider whether emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 should be established by mid-March. This could include mandating mask wearing, social distancing and communicating with employees during on outbreak.
- Review OSHA’s enforcement efforts to date and identify changes to better protect workers.
Biden said, “Ensuring the health and safety of worker’s is a national priority and moral imperative.”
Other executive orders included:
- The U.S. rejoining the 2015 Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization.
- Extending nationwide restrictions on home evictions and foreclosures do to the pandemic. This includes an extension of eviction and foreclosure moratoriums on USDA Single Family Housing Direct and Guaranteed loans.
- Extending moratorium on student loan interest and payments.
- Organizing a “climate world summit.”
- Revoking the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline.
- Placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- Ordering federal agencies are to review over 100 environmental regulations implemented during the Trump administration.
- Halting construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Bronaugh to be deputy secretary of agriculture
Biden announced he plans to nominate Jewel Bronaugh to be deputy secretary of agriculture. Branaugh currently serves as the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She served as the Virginia state director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency in the Obama administration beginning in 2015. Previously, Bronaugh was the dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University. If confirmed, she will be the first woman of color to serve as deputy secretary.
USDA deputy undersecretaries
The Biden administration announced the appointments of three deputy undersecretaries. They are:
- Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. Previously, Dean was serving as vice president for food assistance policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
- Justin Maxson, deputy undersecretary for Rural Development. Maxson had been serving as CEO of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.
- Mae Wu, deputy undersecretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs. Wue worked at the Natural Resources Defense Council as a senior director working on health and food issues.
The three can begin working immediately at USDA since they do not have to go through confirmation.
Senior USDA appointments
The Biden administration announced a number of appointments to senior USDA positions. They include:
- Katharine Ferguson, chief of staff to the agriculture secretary.
- Robert Bonnie, deputy chief of staff for Policy and Senior Adviser, Climate, in the Office of the Secretary.
- Sara Bleich, PhD, senior adviser, COVID-19, in the Office of the Secretary.
- Kumar Chandran was named senior adviser, Nutrition, in the Office of the Secretary.
- Justo Robles, USDA White House liaison.
- David Grahn, Principal Deputy General Counsel.
- Gregory Parham, D.V.M., interim deputy assistant secretary for administration.
Kevin Shea, administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is serving as the acting secretary until Tom Vilsack is confirmed. Shea was appointed administrator in 2013.
Confirmation hearings begin
Senate committees this week held nomination hearings on President Biden’s cabinet nominations. They were Janet L. Yellen, secretary of the treasury; Lloyd J. Austin III, secretary of defense; Antony J. Blinken, secretary of state; Alejandro N. Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security; and Avril Haines, director of national security. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to schedule in the near future a confirmation hearing for Vilsack.
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