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Biden’s first day: ‘Cascading crises of our era’

Joe Biden was sworn in as president just before noon Eastern yesterday.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The Biden administration begins to address the six crises that the new president described in his inaugural address.

Near the end of his inaugural address yesterday, President Biden named six crises that the U.S. faces: the virus, climate change, growing inequality, racism, America’s global standing and an attack on truth and democracy.

“Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once. We will be judged — you and I — by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.”

Biden said.

To get started, Biden announced a longer list of Day 1 executive actions — 17, in all — than any previous modern president, as The Times’s Michael Shear points out. The Biden administration is also asking for legislation by Congress. But here’s our explanation of how the new president is trying to make immediate progress:

A field of flags represented the thousands of Americans who could not attend the inauguration. Jason Andrew for The New York Times

The virus

Biden signed an executive order yesterday requiring masks where he has the authority to do so — in federal buildings, for example — as well as a separate order creating a White House position to improve the government’s response to the virus.

He also made clear that he was ending the Trump administration’s hostility to global cooperation by halting the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization. Biden is sending Dr. Anthony Fauci to the group’s meeting today as the head of the U.S. delegation.

“It’s an interconnected world. We have to coordinate with other countries.”

To succeed in combating the virus, my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli says.

Biden is also asking Americans to wear masks for the next 100 days. One question he hasn’t yet answered: How will he persuade more Republican voters — many of whom are skeptical of masks — to wear them?

President Biden delivering his inaugural address.Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Climate change

Biden signed two executive orders on climate — one that recommits the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement and another that reverses Donald Trump’s hostility to environmental regulations.

“No president has brought in this many people at the start of an administration to work on climate change,”

Lisa Friedman, who covers climate policy, said.

Still, these actions are only first steps, Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund told me. Reversing Trump’s actions is significant, he added — but the world needs more ambitious steps to curb the use of greenhouse gases that are causing so much damage.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during a ceremonial review of the miiltary. Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Inequality and racism

Biden’s biggest attempts to reduce economic and racial inequality will require congressional legislation. But he took some early steps yesterday.

He has extended moratoriums on evictions and student-loan payments that the Trump administration had put in place. He also ordered federal agencies to root out racially unequal policies.

“We have great evidence from economists that tearing down barriers to advancement for men of color and women of all races fueled huge amounts of growth in the United States in decades past,”

The Times’s Jim Tankersley said.

Biden also sought to undo several of Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Among the moves: refocusing deportation efforts on those undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes in the U.S.

“Trump, on the other hand, decided that anyone in the country illegally should be arrested and deported,”

Miriam Jordan, who covers immigration for The Times, said.

Biden signing the executive orders.Doug Mills/The New York Times

Democracy, truth and America’s role in the world

In his address, Biden repeatedly stressed the importance of truth and included a veiled but obvious reference to Trump by criticizing “lies told for power and for profit.”

“There will be moments when we disagree … but we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people.”

And at her first White House briefing last night, Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, said:

Biden signaled his emphasis on diplomacy by embracing the Paris climate accord and World Health Organization. Another big move to improve the U.S. image around the world was his immediate repeal of a signature Trump policy: the so-called Muslim travel ban. It had restricted nearly all passport holders from several Muslim-majority countries — including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — from entering the U.S.

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