What to Expect Over a Frantic Few Days
Biden prepares a stack of executive orders, while Trump prepares to throw his last curveballs as commander in chief. It’s Tuesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.
Where things stand
Tomorrow is shaping up to be the day of a thousand signatures. President Trump and President-elect Joe Biden each have their pens poised to sign a lot of papers at once. For Trump, it’s pardons; for Biden, it’s executive orders.
Trump is considering a wide array of people to receive pardons or commutations on his final full day in office — including Sheldon Silver, the disgraced former speaker of the New York Assembly, and the rapper Lil Wayne — and could grant clemency to over 100 people, according to insiders. We may not know until noon tomorrow whether Trump has decided to give himself a blanket pardon; doing so might deprive him of his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Biden has assembled a long list of orders he intends to sign on his first day as president, including one to rejoin the Paris climate accord and another to reunite migrant children separated from their families at the border, according to a memo circulated by his chief of staff, Ron Klain.
Biden also plans to rescind Trump’s travel ban on a number of predominantly Muslim countries, extend pandemic-era limits on evictions and student loan payments, and enact a mask mandate on federal land.
But progressive groups have their eyes on more than executive orders. They want big legislation, and they are pressuring Biden to clear the path for it by persuading Senate Democrats to do away with the filibuster.
Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement and New Deal Strategies published an open letter yesterday warning that Biden and his allies must be prepared for Republicans to flatly reject their proposals on job creation, environmental protection and other big issues.
With only the narrowest of majorities in both the House and the Senate, the organizations wrote, Democrats would be best suited by abolishing the filibuster, which would allow them to pass laws without any Republican support in the Senate. “Biden has chosen to reject austerity politics,” the letter said. “We hope that he will continue to stick to that approach, and go big always.”
Biden announced two major nominations yesterday that indicate his administration’s desire to significantly step up its regulation of financial institutions after four years of rollback under Trump. Biden will tap Gary Gensler to serve as the commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and he will choose Rohit Chopra to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the transition team announced.
Gensler was an executive at Goldman Sachs before becoming a fierce advocate of tighter regulation of large banks — the primary responsibility of the S.E.C. And Chopra, if confirmed, will return to a consumer protection agency he helped Senator Elizabeth Warren set up a decade ago.
Biden’s choice for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, is expected to work to re-establish some of the major regulations that have been unraveled by the Trump administration.
Under Steven Mnuchin’s direction, Treasury’s Financial Stability Oversight Council stopped designating large, nonbank financial institutions (like insurers and asset managers) as possible threats to the financial system, undercutting a key component of Obama-era financial regulations.
Yellen, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled for today, expressed opposition to that oversight decision when Mnuchin made it two years ago.
She’s expected to reverse it — although, as with many such plans, undoing the impact of the Trump administration will take much more than simply signing a document or flipping a switch.
As our economics correspondent Jeanna Smialek writes in a new article, by placing Yellen in charge at Treasury and a coterie of other relatively progressive thinkers in key financial and economic posts, the Biden administration appears willing to pursue the goal of full employment with more commitment than previous administrations have typically shown.
Steven Dillingham, the director of the Census Bureau, announced yesterday that he would leave his post when the Trump administration ends, almost a full year before his term is up.
Dillingham had become ensnared in the administration’s efforts to restrict unauthorized immigrants from the census tally, and to use the bureau’s population counts to change the rules for reapportioning House districts nationwide.
Advocacy groups and congressional Democrats began calling for Dillingham’s resignation last week after reports emerged that the inspector general at the Commerce Department had opened an inquiry into his management of the bureau.
Biden will be sworn in tomorrow as the 46th president of the United States at a minimal outdoor ceremony on the Capitol steps, where his calls for unity will have a particularly urgent ring after all that has transpired there in the past two weeks.
All of downtown Washington is on lockdown, and roughly 25,000 members of the National Guard have been deployed across the city. A number of streets and bridges have been shut down, as well as 13 Metro rail stations.
Aside from whatever pardons are on the way, Trump has thrown at least one last curveball to the White House’s foreign policy team. Michael Ellis, a Trump loyalist, is expected to be confirmed today as general counsel for the National Security Agency, despite the objections of Democrats.
Critics have called Ellis unqualified and raised alarms about the political nature of his appointment by the acting defense secretary, which is expected just a day before Trump leaves office. Because of internal policies, it would be difficult for Biden to immediately fire Ellis, though he could more easily move him to a less important position.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office announced yesterday that she had sent a letter to Christopher Miller, the acting defense secretary, requesting an investigation by the Pentagon inspector general into Ellis’s appointment.
“The circumstances and timing — immediately after President Trump’s defeat in the election — of the selection of Mr. Ellis and this 11th-hour effort to push this placement in the last three days of this administration are highly suspect,” Pelosi wrote.
Photo of the day
Inauguration rehearsal outside the Capitol yesterday.
A dive into Inauguration Day firsts.
The 35-word oath that Biden will take on Wednesday is prescribed by the Constitution, but many aspects of inaugural tradition have come into existence more recently, over the life span of an evolving ritual.
Our reporter Christine Hauser has taken a fascinating dive into Inauguration Day firsts. She writes that Franklin Pierce was the first president to tweak the language of the oath, using the word “affirm” rather than “swear” and breaking precedent by not kissing the Bible.
Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to be sworn in on Jan. 20. The date had previously been in March, but the 20th Amendment changed the protocol.
Harry Truman’s second inauguration was the first to be televised. Jimmy Carter began an informal custom when he unexpectedly got out of his limousine and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue. In 2009, Barack Obama became the first president to take his oath of office twice, after he and Chief Justice John Roberts were tongue-tied during the official event.
Though it’s certainly customary for departing presidents to attend the inauguration of their successors, Trump will not be the first to skip the ceremony, as he has said he will do. That distinction belongs to John Adams, who stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony of Thomas Jefferson in 1801.
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