Moments after he entered the Oval Office, which had been sanitized for germs and hate after the departure of its previous occupant, Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations erasing or reversing his predecessor’s policies and fixations on a range of issues, from immigration to environment to economy.
They included Washington rejoining the Paris climate accord, measures to contain the pandemic including a mask mandate on federal property, and a pause on border wall construction and anti-immigration policies, among other steps.
A return to normalcy and a tonal change was all-pervasive within hours of the change in administration. Administering digitally the oath of office to scores of political appointees, Biden warned, “If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treated another colleague with disrespect — talk down to someone — I promise I will fire you on the spot. On the spot…Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency.”
In what was the only swipe at the previous administration, he added, “That’s been missing in a big way the last four years.”
But in a sign that he would try and rise above past pathology, Biden confirmed that outgoing President had left a very “generous” letter for him on the Resolute Desk, but “because it was private, I won’t talk about it until I talk to him” — implicitly suggesting he would reach out the former President.
Nothing illustrated the return of civil political engagement in a city that was awash with insults and name-calling for four years than three former Presidents cutting across party lines — Barack Obama, George Bush, and Bill Clinton — coming together to attend the inauguration and cutting a video to greet the new administration.
“Mr. President, I’m pulling for your success. Your success is our country’s success, God bless you,” Bush, the Republican among the troika, said, echoing the words his father had greeted Bill Clinton with after he (Bush sr) lost a hard fought election in 1992. “The fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country,” he added.
Meanwhile, having inflamed political passions in Washington, boycotted Biden’s inauguration, and fleeing the White House without the traditional welcome to the new President, Trump, ensconced in his home in Florida, was unseen and unheard — in part he had been denied the social media megaphone he used to blast out his message.
However, Trump minions on extreme right wing media began their attacks on the new president on day one, with Fox News’ Sean Hannity referring to “the weak, the frail, the cognitively struggling Biden” going through the motions. Biden associates pointed out that after a 6 a.m to midnight day packed with engagements relating to inauguration, administration, and entertainment (a virtual party that stretched into the night), the 78 year old President looked fine. He also has a packed schedule on Thursday with four listed public engagements, a far cry from Trump, who typically spent many hours watching television, tweeting, and playing golf.
Elsewhere, Biden’s new press secretary Jen Psaki pledged to bring truth and transparency back to the White House in her first briefing which again involved a tonal change from the previous dispensation, which regarded the media as “enemy of the people,” and relentlessly plied lies and falsehoods in erratic briefings replete with confrontation with journalists.
“There will be times when we see things differently in this room, I mean among all of us, that’s OK. That’s part of our democracy and rebuilding trust with the American people will be central to our focus in the press office and the White House, every single day,” Psaki said shortly after Biden took over.
Earlier, the Bidens, trailed by their family, their entourage, and the media, literally had to let themselves into the White House after the Trumps scrammed without the courtesy of welcoming their successors, as has been done for decades. The Oval Office itself underwent a literal and metaphorical scrubbing after Trump left, with the removal of portraits and paintings of the former President’s heroes, including that of Andrew Jackson, the country’s 7th President who supported slavery and robbed Native Americans of their lands.