Biden must lead US out of ‘dark winter’
President-elect Joe Biden predicted he would take office amid a “dark winter”, and the outlook is only getting bleaker.
No matter his first acts in the White House, the raging coronavirus pandemic could take another 100,000 American lives in his first month as president, after crossing the grim marker of 400,000 deaths just minutes before Biden began his trip to Washington. He inherits a country weary from 10 months of lockdowns and business closures, divided by attacks on public health professionals and tantalised by the promise of widespread vaccination that will take months to have much effect.
Yet at noon today, the virus, and the nation’s response to it, will be Biden’s responsibility.
“We’re inheriting a huge mess here,” incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain bluntly told CNN Sunday. “The virus is going to get worse before it gets better,” he warned. “The virus is the virus. What we can do is act to control it.”
The effort to “control” the outbreak will likely be the defining test for the new administration: Biden has pledged to bring competence to a crisis that has made the US exceptional for the wrong reasons – the most confirmed infections and deaths in the world.
The president-elect has lined up an expansive team of scientific and supply chain experts to boost testing and vaccinations and aims to shake up how the federal government manages the pandemic. Incoming press secretary Jen Psaki announced last week that Biden would be “phasing out” the Trump administration’s structure and centralising all COVID-19 response at the White House under Biden counsellor and coordinator Jeff Zients.
Biden’s team has only grown more concerned about the scale of the challenges ahead as they’ve prepared to take over. But the biggest challenge, in their view, was years in the making by the Trump administration: declining confidence in government and institutions.
The new administration hopes to rebuild trust in government by setting clear goals – be it for vaccinations in arms or reopening schools – and asking the public to be invested in achieving them.
APPROACH TO COVID-19
Biden, aides say, is set to adopt a more top-down approach towards managing the crisis, expanding testing and administering vaccines. Where President Donald Trump emphasised a decentralised approach that left it up to individual states and cities to sort out complicated logistics, the new administration plans to directly engage with them to boost vaccinations and testing.
Similarly, Biden will use his inaugural address to try to bridge a patchwork of state and municipal guidelines and encourage all Americans to wear face coverings. Within hours of taking office, Biden will issue a mask mandate for those on federal property and during interstate travel. Such action was eschewed by Trump, who at times spread misinformation about the virus and what was needed to stop it.