Addressing the coronavirus pandemic is one of Joe Biden's top priorities when he officially becomes president. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Addressing the coronavirus pandemic is one of Joe Biden's top priorities when he officially becomes president. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Biden’s efforts to overhaul the nation’s response to the coronavirus, address climate change, and protect immigrants have broad support—and the vice president is now using that as a mandate to act.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign a host of executive orders after being sworn into office on Jan. 20, sending a clear signal that he intends to reverse many of President Donald Trump’s most controversial actions. 

Biden will cancel Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, rejoin the Paris climate agreement, reinstate the program allowing those who were brought to the United States as children and are undocumented to remain in the country, and repeal the so-called “Muslim Ban” that prohibits most travelers from several Muslim-majority countries, according to reports from several media outlets.

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The climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic—two issues the Trump administration have all but refused to act on—are also top priorities for the president-elect: Biden has said that he would immediately reverse Trump’s rollback of 100 environmental rules the Obama administration had implemented, and on Monday announced a coronavirus task force. 

While support for each of the issues underscoring those actions often split along partisan lines, Biden’s efforts to overhaul the nation’s response to the coronavirus, address climate change, and protect immigrants have broad support—and the president-elect is now using that as a mandate to act.

Managing the Coronavirus Pandemic

In a week that saw a record-breaking number of Americans cast their ballots and elect a new president, the US also set a grim new high for the number of coronavirus cases, with nearly 800,000 new cases recorded over the past seven days. The US has now documented more than 10 million cases of COVID-19 and is closing in on 240,000 deaths.

The worst, unfortunately, may be yet to come too. Dozens of states are setting records for hospitalizations, and the nation is on track to set an all-time high in the coming days, according to the COVID Tracking Project. President Trump continues to do little to nothing to address the pandemic, even as it spirals out of control. His much-maligned response has received intense scrutiny from COVID-19 victims, frontline medical workers, economists, and leaders across the country. 

Fifty-seven percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to FiveThirtyEight’s aggregate of polls. Tarik Khan, a Philadelphia nurse, is one of those Americans. 

“The federal government should have made sure that there was an ample supply [of personal protective equipment], that we followed the playbook, that we listened to the scientists, and that we prepared accordingly and that didn’t happen,” Khan told COURIER. “It’s still not happening.”

Khan still believes that the US can turn things around, but said it would require the government to change its tune and reverse course from the response thus far, which he described as “a failure of the most epic proportions.”

“Our federal government has a responsibility to protect Americans. That is the goal, whether it’s terrorism, whether it’s gun violence, whether it’s a pandemic,” Khan said. “That is the responsibility of the government.”

Biden released several plans to address the crisis during the presidential campaign, and in announcing his new coronavirus task force, the former vice president has already taken a key step in fulfilling the responsibility Khan talked about. His task force includes public health officials, doctors, academics, government officials, and other major figures in medicine. His decision to reverse Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization has also been well-received by experts who worried that a withdrawal could endanger American lives.

Tackling Climate Change

In 2020, the climate crisis went from something of an abstract concern to an in-your-face, five-alarm fire. Millions of acres on the West Coast have burned in recent months, a series of powerful inland wind storms decimated Iowa, and extreme heat, hurricanes, and other climate-driven disasters blanketed the country. 

The issue has gained such salience that nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans believe the federal government needs to do more to address the impacts of climate change, according to a recent Pew poll. 

While Trump spent his entire presidency casting doubt over the validity of climate science, Biden released an ambitious plan to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions—which are the key driver of climate change—and create millions of new jobs. He has also made clear he will undo many of Trump’s most devastating environmental rollbacks and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which seeks to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our federal government has a responsibility to protect Americans. That is the goal, whether it’s terrorism, whether it’s gun violence, whether it’s a pandemic.”

The climate crisis, and Biden’s plan to tackle it, is what earned him the vote of Sarita Sarvate, a Californian who is worried about what the future holds for her granddaughter, Belle.

“Recently, when I babysat for Belle, we were forced to stay inside and risk infecting each other with the coronavirus. The alternative was to go outside and inhale the smoke from nearby wildfires,” Sarvate wrote in a recent commentary. “I could not explain to her the devastation we were witnessing as a result of climate change.”

Sarvate cast her vote to “safeguard our planet” for Belle. 

Based on Biden’s early actions and his transition website, which lists climate change as one of four key priorities, it appears the president-elect aims to do just that.

Immigration and DACA

Perhaps no issue proved more important to Trump’s 2016 victory than immigration. Trump demonized immigrants and vowed to “build the wall,” a grim one-two punch that won over many voters across the country. 

During his time in office, Trump has overseen the separation of migrant children from their parents, dramatically reduced refugee resettlement programs, threatened so-called sanctuary cities, made it more difficult for immigrants to legally migrate to the US, all but shut down the nation’s asylum program during the pandemic, and even attempted to deport some international students amid the pandemic. 

Most notably, Trump has repeatedly tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, an Obama-era program that allows about 650,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children to live and work legally without the threat of immediate deportation. He also issued restrictions banning most travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, a measure that came to be known as the “Muslim ban.”

Trump’s draconian anti-immigrant agenda has drawn widespread criticism, especially as 83% of Americans support creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who grew up as Americans instead of deporting them. This backlash also spurred many immigrant advocacy groups and activists to organize and vote against Trump. 

While DACA recipients are ineligible to vote, some like Jose Patiño worked to ensure that others voted, and in Patiño’s case, helped flip Arizona blue for the first time in a generation. 

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“If it’s not for you, do it for your neighbor. Or if it’s not for you, do it for the clerk you met at the store,” the Phoenix-based Patiño told Copper Courier prior to the election. “If it’s not for you, just do it for others and for the people who are in need, and for the minorities that are fighting for their family, the minorities that are fighting for their rights, the minorities that are fighting for their lives.”

Many immigrants were able to vote, however, and made their vote count. Usman Sheikh, a Pakistani immigrant and Muslim American, cast his first-ever vote in 2020 after becoming a naturalized citizen last year. Trump’s immigration policies played a key role in the Virginia resident’s decision. 

“When President Trump was making a lot of noise about immigrants and Muslims, I could see that it was translating into something popular amongst people I was around,” Usman told COURIER. “I met a lot of people—even some who were Democrats or liberals—and told me they thought it was not a bad idea to ban Muslims or build a wall because there are problems.”

Sheikh said he was optimistic about a Biden presidency, and that optimism seems likely to be rewarded if and when Biden reverses Trump’s travel ban. Biden’s plan to reinstate DACA will also be an enormous relief to Patiño and others like him, who have lived in fear for years that they could be sent away from their home at any time.

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