The Daily 202: Susan Rice plans to put racial equity at the heart of Biden’s agenda


That’s all while handing a top adviser the responsibility of placing racial equity at the heart of his administration’s policymaking.

“I’ll be driving our efforts to ensure that matters of equity and justice are fully incorporated into all that we try to do,” said Susan E. Rice, chair of Biden’s Domestic Policy Council.

Rice’s comments came in an interview with The Daily 202, in which she described the Jan. 6 insurrection that shattered windows and democratic norms at the U.S. Capitol as “seismic” but said it would not disrupt Biden’s early agenda. And Rice promised “we’re going to be an administration that tells the truth” in the face of proliferating disinformation, much of it from Trump, fueling widespread Republican doubts that Biden won.

The decision to assign Rice the mission of ensuring policymaking reflects Biden’s beliefs about racial equity, rather than hand that job to a free-floating aide sometimes dubbed a “czar,” is significant. It puts the task in hands with considerably more power than it might have had in a new, stand-alone office, outside traditional decision-making channels.

The Domestic Policy Council has traditionally been one of the principal policy-steering bodies in the White House, along with its more famous cousin the National Security Council as well as the Economic Policy Council. There are now two newer bodies, the coronavirus task force and the Office of Domestic Climate Policy. And Rice, who served as President Barack Obama’s last national security adviser, is no stranger to West Wing politics.

The new president will be laying out a “whole-of-government approach to advancing equity for people of color and a wide range of other underserved communities across the federal government,” said Rice, who will “coordinate the formulation and the implementation of policy to address all range of matters related to racial justice and equity, broadly defined.”

Biden has listed “racial justice or the lack thereof” alongside the coronavirus pandemic, the economic devastation stemming from it, and climate as “four core crises” he must confront upon taking office, Rice said.

In addition to sending immigration overhaul legislation to Congress, Biden will sign “dozens” of executive orders, presidential memoranda, and directives to agencies as a “down payment on the promises” he made during the 2020 campaign, she said.

Among his first actions in office, Rice said, Biden will have the Department of Education extend a pause on student loan payments and interest; will rejoin the Paris agreement on fighting the climate crisis; will extend a national halt on evictions and foreclosures protecting an estimated 25 million Americans; will sign a “wide-ranging” climate executive order; and will end Trump’s restrictions on diversity training at federal agencies. He will, as he has repeatedly said since the election, challenge Americans to wear masks for 100 days while requiring face coverings on federal property and during some interstate travel.

Rice declined to say whom the administration considers to be its likely Republican partners when Biden sends immigration legislation to Capitol Hill. She also said she was not prepared “yet” to say whether the new president supports legislation expanding law enforcement’s already vast powers to target domestic extremism in the face of the Jan. 6 attacks, including members of right-wing extremist groups.

Likewise, she indicated it was too early to say which White House official would lead any efforts to counter that unsettling phenomenon. “Let us announce that in due course,” she said.

Asked whether the Jan. 6 violence meant to overturn the 2020 election had shaken up Biden’s priorities, Rice said it had not.

That was obviously, in many respects, a seismic event that should compel all Americans to take a close hard look at the nature the divisions and how leadership, failed leadership, has allowed extremists to thrive and resort to extreme forms of violence,” she said, but “it didn’t change what we were planning day one, week one, etc.”

The focus of Biden’s inaugural address will remain on his refrain of stitching up painful American divisions. But Rice emphasized the need “to hold accountable those who’ve broken the law and utilized violence in an insurrection.” 

Asked about policymaking in an era of unprecedented disinformation, Rice replied: “First of all, we’re going to be an administration that tells the truth, and that by itself will stand in stark contrast to what we’ve seen in the last four years.”

Biden will restore protections for so-called “Dreamers” who came to the United States as minor children and, in an early test of Republicans’ appetite to work with him, will push Congress to embrace another round of relief for millions of Americans.

As The Post’s Seung Min Kim notes in a roundup of the Democrat’s frenetic first day in office, including 17 executive actions on the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis, immigration, and the economy: “The fine print of each directive will not be released until Biden signs them later Wednesday.”

What’s happening now

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Biden will take the oath of office at noon 

After being sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Biden will deliver a 20- to 30-minute speech “built around the theme of unity,” Matt Viser and Annie Linskey report. He will then join Vice President Kamala D. Harris and their spouses to conduct a review of the military before visiting Arlington National Ceremony, where they will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Instead of the traditional inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, a virtual one featuring artists and speakers from across the nation will be held today at 3:15 p.m. Actor Tony Goldwyn will host and performers include Jon Stewart, Earth Wind & Fire, the Washington Chorus, and everyday Americans. You can follow The Post’s live coverage here. And you can see our live show here.

Eugene Goodman, the Capitol Police officer who led rioters away from the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, escorted Harris up the stairs of the Capitol:

At 4:30 p.m., Harris will swear in Georgia’s first Black senator and first Jewish senator. Georgia’s new senators whose election gave Democrats control of the upper chamber. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff will be sworn in along with Harris’s successor, Alex Padilla, who will become California’s first Latino senator.  

Biden was joined by a bipartisan delegation for a pre-inauguration mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attended.

Trump left the White House at 8 a.m. this morning. He headed to Palm Beach:

President Trump left the White House for the final time in his presidency on Jan. 20, before traveling to West Palm Beach, Fla. (The Washington Post)

Before boarding, he shared some parting words:

The president left the stage of his goodbye party to the beat of “YMCA.” 

Lunchtime reads from The Post

… and beyond

  • “Obituary for a failed presidency,” by the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser. “On the eve of his Inauguration, exactly four years ago today, Trump attended a glittering fireworks display at the Lincoln Memorial. ‘We’re going to work together,’ he said. ‘We are going to make America great again—and, I’ll add, greater than ever before.’ History will be brutally clear on this: he did not.”
  • Raphael Warnock and the solitude of the Black senator,” by the Times’s Theodore Johnson: “The Georgia pastor will be just the 11th Black U.S. senator. His victory came amid an attempt to delegitimize election results — a pattern for more than 150 years.” 
  • Burlington Will Put Retail Cannabis Question on March Ballot,” by Courtney Lamdin of “If the ballot item passes, the city would also create a Local Cannabis Control Board that would provide technical assistance to Black business owners and help previously incarcerated people find employment in the cannabis sector.

At the table

Today we’re lunching with Amanda Gorman, the nation’s youth poet laureate, will read a bespoke poem “The Hill We Climb” during the swearing in ceremony.

Gorman will be the youngest poet to recite her work at a presidential inauguration. She has taken on social issues in the past, including in her 2015 book “The One For Whom Food Is Not Enough.” A native of Los Angeles, she graduated from Harvard University

I spoke to the 22-year-old on Saturday about the moment, and her message to America and the world. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Knox: You’ve had quite a journey to this point. When you were asked to be the youngest inauguration poet ever, was it an easy “yes”?

Gorman: Ha! I said yes immediately then danced around and screamed. But I can tell you with all that joy there was still a huge sensation of responsibility … it was a “heck yes” and then “let me get writing!”

Knox: I understand that you had a speech impediment growing up … that’s something you share with Biden. Have you had the opportunity to talk about that with him or those around him?

Gorman: You know what, I had the opportunity to talk to him. He called me this morning. … We did not talk about our speech impediments. Maybe it’ll come up at the inauguration … [Saturday’s call] was mostly him being gracious and congratulating me.

Knox: There aren’t many spotlights brighter than a presidential inauguration. I know that many of your poems have strong political content. What’s your first political memory?

Gorman: No one’s ever asked me that before! My first political memory? I would say it wouldn’t be anything like being at a protest or anything like that. It would be: When I was really young my mother would read me my Miranda Rights and make sure I knew them. My mom was not playing around.

When you are a black child growing up in America, our parents have to have what’s called ‘the talk’ with us. Except it’s not about the birds and the bees and our changing bodies, it’s about the potential destruction of our bodies.

My mom wanted to make sure I was prepared to grow up with black skin in America, and that was my first awakening to the political climate I was stepping into.

Knox: What sort of guidance did you get from Biden’s team about what to say?

Gorman: They’ve been really gracious in that they gave me complete freedom about what to write. Something we did agree on, something that I felt was really important, is we felt the necessity of having a poem that spoke to an America uniting together.

Knox: As a deadline-driven reporter, I feel this one in my bones, Amanda: Is the inauguration poem finished?

Gorman: It is. Though I often change one word or two. And I probably will when I speak. It’s just something I do.

Knox: The political speechwriters I know always think not only of the person giving the speech, trying to write in their voice, but also of the audiences, plural, that they want to reach. What audiences did you have in mind as you crafted the inauguration poem, and what audiences will you have in mind when you speak?

Gorman: That’s a really challenging aspect of an inaugural poem [because of the size and diversity of the audience]. When I started to write, I thought of the grandparents, the children, the fathers and the mothers. I want every single one of them to feel represented in my words. So, as I was writing, rather than keeping a specific person or prototype in my mind, I tried to imagine if I could gather a group of Americans in my living room, and I wanted to replicate that sensation of intimacy and closeness in my poem. How would I speak to someone at my dinner table who is grieving, and tired, and distraught?

The first 100 days

Biden will sign a blizzard of executive orders starting today at 5:15 p.m. 

  • Health: Requiring masks on all federal grounds and asking agencies to extend moratoriums on evictions and federal student loan payments, Seung Min Kim reports. Urging Americans to wear face coverings for 100 days; reviving a global health unit in the National Security Council; and rejoining the World Health Organization. 
  • Immigration: Repealing the ban on travel from several majority-Muslim nations; nullifying Trump’s directive attempting to exclude the counting of non-citizens from the census; protecting “Dreamers” from deportation and giving some of them work permits; and ending the national emergency at the southern border.
  • Environment: Rejoining the Paris climate accord; revoking the permit allowing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. 
  • Civil rights: Repealing a ban on transgender military service people put in place by Trump; restoring Obama-era guidance for transgender school students.

In the next 99 days, Biden plans on launching other initiatives, including: 

  • Implementing a “Build Back Better” economic recovery plan, set to kick off next month if it receives congressional support. The plan calls for spending trillions on American-made products. 
  • Enacting universal background checks on gun sales.
  • Pushing the Equality Act, a bill that would add more protections to LGBTQ Americans. 
  • Convening a climate summit of world leaders.

The No. 2 Senate Republican in the closely divided chamber signaled how hard it will be get things done on the Hill:

Tracking Biden’s nominations

The first Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s Cabinet picks were held yesterday. 

  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is attempting to block Homeland Security Secretary-designate Alejandro Mayorkas’s nomination, pointing to dissatisfaction with his answers on Biden’s immigration agenda, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report. . A spokesman for Mayorkas said Hawley’s move is “dangerous,” while Democrats on argue Hawley’s “games are, AGAIN, putting our national security at risk,” presumably referring to the Missouri Republican’s objection to Biden’s win before and after the Capitol riot. Mayorkas is expected to win confirmation, but things could move slowly.
  • Lloyd J. Austin III, Biden’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, also faces some hurdles, this time from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Cotton opposes granting the waiver needed to get around the requirement that defense secretaries be out of the military for seven years, Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne report. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) have also said they oppose granting Austin the waiver. Ultimately, Austin is expected to be confirmed.
  • Avril Haines, Biden’s pick for national intelligence director, said that, if confirmed, there will be a public threat assessment of the QAnon conspiracy. Haines said the intelligence community will have an “important role” in uncovering domestic terrorists’ connections to foreign groups and promised to provide Congress with an assessment. She is likely one of Biden’s least controversial picks, Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima report
  • Antony Blinken will likely garner confirmation as secretary of state. In his confirmation hearings, Blinken sidestepped Democratic invitations to sharply criticize the Trump administration, as well as Republican efforts to lure him into controversy, Karen DeYoung reports. Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he would vote to confirm Blinken, calling him “an outstanding choice.” Graham opposed Blinken’s confirmation as deputy secretary of state in 2014.
  • Janet Yellen, Biden’s pick for the Treasury, said it is “critically important to act now” to pass more economic relief for the pandemic while confronting scathing GOP criticism of Biden’s $1.9 trillion recovery plan. Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called the plan a “laundry list of liberal structural economic reforms,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. Yellen’s confirmation is likely, perhaps even by Thursday.
At a Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 19, treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen said “more must be done” to reboot the economy after the pandemic. (The Washington Post)

Quote of the day

“We’ve got three things we got to do, do quickly: Impeachment, nominations, Covid. Got to move them all fast,” incoming Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said

Previous nomination timelines, visualized

Today in history

Trump is not the first president to snub the incoming administration by refusing to participate in the inauguration ceremonies. Andrew Johnson was the last president to do so when, 152 years ago, he would not welcome Ulysses S. Grant to the White House. Johnson, like Trump, was impeached and resented that Grant, a Union general, led his troops to victory in the Civil War. 

Johnson, thus, did not participate in the inaugural fête and instead spent his last hours locked in the White House with members of his Cabinet, signing bills. A New York Times story from March 5, 1869 the day after Grant’s inauguration describes Johnson’s last minutes in office: “The hour of 12 arrived, and shaking the dust of his administration from his feet, Andrew Johnson, President, issued forth Andrew Johnson, citizen and plebeian.” 

Hot on the left

Trump has discussed starting a new political party, dubbed the “Patriot Party,” the Wall Street Journal reports. It’s unclear how seriously he means it, however, and any attempts to launch another party would presumably receive strong backlash from the GOP. Still, a large portion of Trump’s base was not deeply involved in Republican politics prior to Trump’s 2016 campaign.  

Hot on the right

More than half of House Republicans support an effort to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her position as House GOP conference chair after she voted to impeach Trump, The Hill reports. The 115 Republicans have signed on to a petition circulated by GOP Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.) and Matt Rosendale (Mont.), which calls for a vote on a resolution urging Cheney to resign. 

This week in Washington

  • New White House press secretary Jen Psaki will offer her first press briefing tonight at 7 p.m.
  • Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s nominee for secretary of Transportation, will sit before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Thursday at 10 a.m.
  •  Pelosi is expected to send the article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate later this week, ABC News reports. A spokesman for the House speaker declined to comment on the exact day. The Constitution dictates that the impeachment trial must begin at 1 p.m. the day after the article is sent. 

In closing

What was Stephen Colbert’s takeaway from the Trump presidency? “Take him away”:

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