Joe Biden took additional steps Friday to ease economic hardship inflicted by the coronavirus, but three days into his presidency, he has yet to appeal to Republicans who are balking at his sweeping plan for more pandemic relief.
Biden on Friday signed orders that beef up worker rights, expand food-stamp benefits, roll back a series of measures imposed by Donald Trump. He took similar moves over his first two days in office, making a point of singlehandedly acting where he can to wipe away Trump measures.
The president continued his call for national unity on Friday, saying the country needs to pull together to confront the challenge of the coronavirus. Republicans, though, say his policy moves and proposals so far haven’t reflected a bipartisan approach. Biden floated an immigration plan that had virtually no support from Republicans, who also blasted his moves on climate change saying he was killing jobs.
Biden’s economic adviser, Brian Deese, is poised to pitch a new coronavirus aid package to a bipartisan group of senators this weekend, but the bill has yet to draw Republican support and appears increasingly likely to be done through budget reconciliation, a process that would allow Democrats to push ahead on some measures without Republican votes.
“This is one of the cases where business, labor, Wall Street, main street, liberal, conservative economists know: we have to act now,” Biden said Friday at the White House, making another pitch for a new aid package. “I look forward to working with members of Congress in both parties to move quickly.”
Biden has signed a stack of executive orders each day since taking office. They included several to address the pandemic — a themed focus of his events Thursday — and some measures aimed at abandoning Trump-era foreign policy, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement and reversing the U.S. exit from the World Health Organization.
Friday’s moves expand eligibility for enhanced food stamp programs, assist veterans who are behind on their bills and create new tools to help Americans who have not received their stimulus checks get paid. He will also move to allow unemployment insurance to cover workers refusing positions with unsafe working conditions, and will direct agencies to examine how they can ensure a $15 minimum wage for federal workers and contractors.
“These actions are not a substitute for comprehensive legislative relief but they will provide a critical lifeline to millions of families,” Deese said. “What I can tell you is if we don’t act now we will be in a much worse place and we will find ourselves needing to do much more to dig out of a much deeper hole.”
Biden is also rescinding a trio of Trump executive orders that made it easier to fire federal workers and imposed time limits on collective bargaining negotiations. He’s also eliminating Trump’s move to create a “Schedule F” classification for federal employees, which would have made it easier to hire and fire high-level civil servants.
Call for Unity
While Biden has appealed to Republicans for a new era of unity, Republicans have largely rejected his proposals so far and bristled at some of his policy measures.
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said Friday that Biden’s actions are putting oil and gas workers out of work and slammed Biden’s team for not discussing “crazy” policies beforehand.
“The president is killing blue collar jobs, right now, by the thousands, and a lot of them are in my state,” Sullivan said. “I hope he realizes what he’s doing.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy criticized Biden for rejoining the Paris accord and the WHO rather than focusing on domestic policy.
“These are the wrong priorities at the wrong time,” McCarthy said Thursday. “Americans need our help at home, and that’s where our focus must remain.”
Governing From ‘Far Left’
Biden’s actions on immigration and the environment led Republicans to accuse him of being captive to the party’s left wing.
“President Biden is talking like a centrist, he is using the words of the center, talking about unity but he is governing like someone from the far left,” GOP Senator Marco Rubio said in a video statement.
Two of the Republican senators set to meet Deese — Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, each among Biden’s best hopes for a bipartisan coronavirus bill — have publicly questioned why it’s needed so soon, and objected to measures sure to draw opposition from Republicans in Congress, such as a $15 minimum wage.
“I think it’s a mistake to put extraneous issues in there like the minimum wage increase,” Collins said Friday.
Meanwhile, Biden has ratcheted up his warnings about the pandemic. Daily new cases and current hospitalizations have eased off record highs over the past week, but deaths remain high, including another 4,100 on Thursday, the third-highest ever.
“The bottom line is this: we’re in a national emergency we need to act like we’re in a national emergency,” he said.
Later in the day Friday, Biden was scheduled to hold his first calls as president with foreign leaders.
He was set to speak with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at 5 p.m. Washington time, followed by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
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