On day one, by the end of his first half day in office, President Joe Biden split the time between inaugural pomp and circumstance with getting to work undoing some of the Trump administration's most divisive policies.
Shortly after being sworn in, Biden signed three executive orders relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. One requires Americans to wear masks and keep safe distances on federal property and under other limited circumstances. Another halts the Trump administration's withdrawal from the World Health Organization. The third re-creates a White House unit on global health security and biodefense disbanded by the Trump administration a few years ago.
He also — as he said he would —made one of his first orders one to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate, and he halted construction on the Southern border wall.
In all, he signed 17 executive orders before he and First Lady Jill Biden watched fireworks from the White House balcony.
On day two, with his sobering announcement that experts expect the COVID-19 death toll, already at more than 408,000, to top half a million next month, he issued 10 more executive orders — including one creating a new national strategy to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. There also were orders in his "full-scale wartime effort" intended to make tests and vaccines more abundant, schools and travel safer, and states better able to afford their role in the road back to normal life.
These coronavirus-related orders are not things that couldn't have been done months ago by the previous president. Nor are they or other measures things the Congress couldn't have at least tried to initiate.
But that's the point.
The previous occupant of the Oval Office was more focused on golf and divisiveness than on America's health. And Congress — well, who knows what House and Senate members, especially GOP members, have been focused on, other than staying out of the previous president's Twitter feed.
Some of them seem still to focus on that, even though that now twice-impeached president is not only out of office but no longer able to bully-tweet anyone. But now they say their "constituents" — meaning their Trump-supporting constituents — are who they listen to. Are we to believe those folks don't want Congress to take COVID-19 seriously?
On Wednesday, Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga said in a statement, "It is my sincere hope that President Joe Biden will make good on his promise of unity. However, Biden's actions on his first day in office are worrying — signing 17 executive orders within the first hours of his presidency, with more to come — not the sign of someone who is eager to reach across the aisle We must be able to see each other as Americans, united in a shared love for our nation. We must be able to reach across the aisle, even when it's hard, to give all Americans a brighter future."
Apparently "unity" means the Republican way or the highway.
Another Tennessee Republican, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg, said the new administration's executive orders "will repeal policies that created the largest pro-growth economy in 50 years, made us the most secure nation, enabled our ability to become energy independent and put America first ... I hope [Biden] will not forget or make those who did not vote for him feel disenfranchised."
Apparently DesJarlais slept through the past months of economic downturn from COVID-19. And was he absent on Jan. 6 when a mob of thousands ransacked of the nation's Capitol?
We understand (though we disagree) how they may differ with the president's aims toward climate and the border wall, but how can they not support the amped-up COVID efforts? And Fleischmann was recently diagnosed with COVID-19.
But be reminded that these two and five other Tennessee representatives were among the 147 GOP members of the House and Senate who, even after the Capitol attack, voted against certifying Biden's electoral victory. Did they see their constituents in that mob?
Biden has pledged that in his first 100 days his administration will oversee at least 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations, pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan and further reform the immigration system.
His flurry of executive actions on Wednesday and Thursday were largely aimed at the COVID goal, and on Thursday Biden laid out a new national strategy to respond to the pandemic, including the creation of a Pandemic Testing Board that can spur a "surge" in the capacity for coronavirus tests. Other orders will foster research into new treatments for the virus; strengthen the collection and analysis of data to shape the government's response to the crisis; and direct the federal occupational safety agency to release and enforce guidelines to protect workers from getting infected.
Other parts of the plan are intended to steer more money to states, which have complained they need more funding to carry out the work placed on them for testing, vaccinating residents and other functions.
The 200-page plan is far from a federal takeover of the nation's efforts to cope with the worst health calamity in a century.
But it is a distinct shift away from the Trump administration's buck-passing deference to each state to design its own plan for coronavirus testing and response.