President Biden’s Policy Priorities: The First 100 Days

During his inaugural address, President Joe Biden laid out a number of policy priorities. The clearest theme of his speech was a call for unity and the need to address political divisions in the United States, which came to a head with the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.1 However, President Biden also addressed several other priorities of his new administration, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the distribution of vaccines, climate change, systemic racism, and white supremacist terrorism.2

President Biden’s First 100 Days in Office

Ever since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the presidency and issued an immediate blitz of new policies and legislation to address the Great Depression, the first 100 days of any president’s term have taken on a special significance.3 President Biden, facing an unprecedented crisis of his own, is subject to similar expectations. He can implement some desired policy changes with the stroke of a pen through executive orders, but other actions will require the cooperation of Congress. Democrats have a slim majority in the House of Representatives, and they technically control the Senate (which is divided 50-50) through Vice President Kamala Harris’ power to cast tie-breaking votes. Still, the success of President Biden’s more ambitious legislative goals is by no means certain.

Executive Orders

During their terms, Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama frequently issued executive orders to accomplish their policy goals, in part due to partisan divides with Congress, or within Congress, that prevented legislation from passing.4 Executive orders are directives that are signed and issued by the president, unilaterally enabling him to take action on policies which fall under presidential authority, particularly law enforcement and federal agencies.5 Unlike legislation, however, executive orders are in place only as long as the sitting president permits. President Obama famously used an executive order to create Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation.6 President Trump also used an executive order to institute a travel ban on immigrants from several countries, many of them Muslim-majority. This order was among the first that President Biden rescinded following his inauguration.7

Beyond ending the travel ban, President Biden has already issued a number of executive orders targeting a wide range of issues. Included among them is a federal mask mandate that requires anyone on federal property, as well as anyone using mass transit such as city buses, subways, trains, and airplanes, to wear a mask.8 President Biden has also continued a freeze on evictions and on student loan repayments in an effort to provide economic relief to people impacted by COVID-19.9 Other immediate executive orders included the United States’ rejoining of the Paris Agreement and the ending of the withdrawal process from the World Health Organization.10 11

READ: “Biden’s 17 Executive Orders in Detail,” from the New York Times


The political divide in Congress presents a series of challenges for President Biden’s 100-day agenda. One issue of immediate concern is confirming the president’s chosen cabinet officials—the heads of the departments and agencies who implement many of the president’s directives and policies. Normally, the Senate would have already confirmed several nominees, for positions such as secretary of state. However, after the 2020 election, the Republican-led Senate was unusually slow-moving with regard to President-elect Biden’s cabinet; as a result, confirmations began in the days before the inauguration.12 With Democrats now in charge of the Senate, most of these confirmations are all but guaranteed, but any delay has the potential to impact President Biden’s agenda.

A much more difficult legislative goal is passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. Included in this proposal are an additional $1,400 stimulus payment for most American adults, a $400 per week bonus to unemployment insurance payments, and an expanded COVID-19 testing and vaccination plan that aims to administer 100 million doses of vaccine by May 1 and reopen schools.13 There may be a way to pass many of these measures through a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate. However, in order for a bill to pass without question and to remain fully intact, it would require 60 votes in the Senate (including the support of at least ten Republicans).14 Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has already announced his opposition to certain elements of the bill.15 And without Senator Manchin’s vote, there is no guaranteed tie for Vice President Harris to break.

Discussion Questions

1. Which of President Biden’s policy priorities do you agree with? Which do you disagree with? Are there any that you do not believe should be an immediate priority?
2. What is the top issue that you want the Biden administration to address (even if it doesn’t appear on the lists above)? Why do you think that issue should be a priority?
3. Do you think it is important for there to be bipartisan support for President Biden’s policy goals? Or should the Democrat-controlled Congress prioritize passing bills even without Republican support?
4. Executive orders are a powerful tool at the president’s disposal. Do you believe there should be greater restrictions on executive orders, such as making them temporary without congressional approval? Or do you think executive orders are an important tool that presidents should be able to use unilaterally?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!


Featured Image Credit: Twitter, via CNN



Fallout and Consequences, Part Two: Free Speech and Censorship

The fallout continues to mount from the January 6 attack on the Capitol. In previous blog posts, we offered a collection of resources and articles and explored the question of accountability for elected officials. In this post, we examine a thorny issue that is also emerging as institutions respond to riots: the power of private enterprise to limit individuals’ rights.

Facebook and Twitter both shut down President Donald Trump’s accounts. Facebook says the ban is indefinite,1 while Twitter is calling its ban permanent.2 Amazon’s web services removed Parler, a conservative social media network, from its servers, effectively shutting down the site.3 Apple and Google have both removed Parler from their app stores.4 Twitter has also removed at least 70,000 accounts that promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory.5

WATCH: “Twitter Bans Trump’s Personal Account Permanently,” from CBS News

The tech companies that took these steps cite the role that social media played in spreading misinformation6 and hate.7 They also point to the ways in which people used social media to call for the gathering in Washington, D.C., to identify targets of their rage, and to coordinate and organize the attack on the Capitol.8

While some people have cheered these moves on the part of tech firms,9 including most Americans,10 many commentators are raising questions and concerns about the power of companies to infringe on individual rights. “We understand the desire to permanently suspend [President Trump] now,” said Kate Ruane of the American Civil Liberties Union. “But it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions.”11

Conservatives have also argued that they are being unjustly targeted by big tech firms, thus enduring selective censorship. “Amazon, Google, and Apple’s decisions to block the download or use of Parler by their consumers is dangerous,” said Representative Andy Barr, R-Ky. “This blatant monopolistic behavior is designed to shut down debate and silence conservatives.”12 John Matze, CEO of Parler, further stated, “We WON’T cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”13

WATCH: “These Trump Supporters Say Big Tech Is Biased. Here’s Why They’re on Parler,” from CNN Business

Danny Burgess, a Republican state legislator in Florida, argues that companies should be punished for what he views as selective censorship. “As publishers of third-party content, they should not be allowed to discriminate based on content and ban individuals just because they do not agree with their viewpoint,” he said. “These tech giants are monopolies that I think are very clearly coordinating efforts in a lot of ways on certain fronts and doing some selective censorship.”14

Some liberals, however, argue that conservatives are being hypocrites. They argue that Republican lawmakers have been more than happy to allow private businesses to discriminate against people for religious reasons. “The Trump administration didn’t hesitate to side with a Colorado baker who nearly a decade ago insisted that his religious beliefs allowed him to refuse service to a same-sex couple seeking a wedding cake,”15 wrote David Lazarus, a business columnist at the Los Angeles Times. However, concerns about the power of big tech have emerged on both the right and the left.16

There is a coalition of progressive and conservative legislators who are expressing interest in regulating large tech firms differently. One idea is to reform or repeal Section 230, the law that gives internet platforms immunity from being sued because of the content they carry.17 President Trump and many conservatives sought to repeal Section 230 at the end of 2020, but their attempts did not succeed. Changing Section 230 would make social media platforms more accountable for the content they carry, and it would heighten the responsibility of companies to moderate their platforms.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., supports reforming Section 230. After the attack on the Capitol, he highlighted “the need for Congress to reform Big Tech’s privileges and obligations. This begins with reforming Section 230, preventing infringements on fundamental rights, stopping the destructive use of Americans’ private data, and other clear harms.”18

It is likely that lawmakers will introduce legislation dealing with the powers and responsibilities of tech companies, particularly social media platforms, in this new Congress.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe Twitter and Facebook were right to ban President Trump? Why or why not?
  2. Do you believe that Twitter is right to remove accounts of QAnon conspiracy spreaders and others? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think big tech companies have too much power in our political discussions? Why or why not?
  4. Do you think Congress should take steps to change the way the government regulates big tech firms?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!


Featured Image Credit: Twitter, via CNN
[1] Washington Post:
[2] Associated Press:
[3] Reuters:
[4] New York Times:
[5] New York Times:
[6] NBC 41 Kansas City:
[7] The Verge:
[8] The Conversation:;
[9] The Conversation:
[10] USA Today:
[11] New York Times:
[12] Politico:
[13] Bloomberg:
[14] Miami Herald:
[15] Los Angeles Times:
[16] New York Magazine:
[17] CBS News:



Fallout and Consequences, Part One: Who is Accountable?

The events at the Capitol on January 6 are forcing voters and elected officials to face some challenging questions. In a previous blog post, we provided some resources to help you begin to address some of these questions; in an upcoming post, we will examine other questions related to free speech. In this post, we focus on two key questions for elected officials: Who should be held accountable? What should accountability look like?

Should the President Be Held Accountable?

Federal and state law enforcement officials have arrested well over 100 of the rioters who attacked the Capitol,1 the U.S. Capitol Police has suspended and is investigating a number of officers for their alleged roles in the assault,2 and the U.S. Capitol Police chief3 and the acting secretary of Homeland Security have resigned.4 One other person who many Americans argue should be held accountable is President Donald Trump. In addition to spreading misinformation about the election,5 President Trump called for supporters to descend upon Washington, D.C., on January 6,6 and addressed the gathered crowd shortly before the assault on the Capitol.7

During his remarks, President Trump said, “And after this, we’re going to walk … down to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”8 Some people point to these comments as evidence of President Trump’s culpability.9

READ: “Incitement Timeline: Year of Trump’s Actions Leading to the Attack on the Capitol,” from the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law

So, what options do elected officials have if they choose to hold President Trump accountable?

Vice President Mike Pence has the authority to invoke the 25th Amendment with a majority vote of the cabinet. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment states, “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

The House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, but thus far, he has dismissed the idea.10 Only one Republican member of the House, Representative Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., supported the resolution.11 The resolution only expresses the will of the House; it does not compel the vice president to take action.

Another possible action that is already underway in the House is impeachment. More Republicans in the House and the Senate are open to this approach than they are to the use of the 25th Amendment.12 Representative Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said of President Trump’s behavior that there has “never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States.”13

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that he will not recall senators to act as a jury for impeachment proceedings, meaning that a trial could not happen until after President Trump leaves office.14 However, an impeachment in the House and a conviction in the Senate would bar President Trump from seeking federal office in the future. Some Republicans, including McConnell, reportedly support this move because it would help the Republican Party move past President Trump.15

Another option, the use of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, applies to President Trump and possibly other elected officials as well.

Holding Members of Congress Accountable

Some political leaders and commentators argue that there are members of Congress who deserve to be held accountable as well. One idea that’s being explored is the use of a clause in the 14th Amendment to bar people who have been found to have supported the assault on the Capitol from holding office in the future.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment reads, “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Many analysts agree that the 14th Amendment could be used to bar President Trump from ever holding office again, and that it could be invoked at any time before or after he leaves office.16 However, it is not clear if the 14th Amendment could be used against members of Congress.

Newly elected Representative Cori Bush, D-Mo., has put forward legislation—H.R. 25—that calls for an investigation into, and the potential expulsion from Congress of, all members who supported President Trump’s efforts to contest the results of the election.17 But some observers dispute that Congress even has the authority to do this.18 “My view is the members who voted against the certification didn’t do anything unlawful or unconstitutional,” said Gerard Magliocca, a law professor at Indiana University. “People might not like it, and they can be criticized for doing that, but I don’t see it as grounds for an exclusion or an expulsion.”19

As lawmakers and others continue to explore options for holding elected officials accountable, the assault on the Capitol will likely stay on the minds of voters in future elections.

Discussion Questions

  1. How did you react to the scenes at the Capitol last week?
  2. Who do you hold responsible for what happened?
  3. Should elected officials be held accountable if their words or actions inspire violence?
  4. Of the ideas being explored so far (the 25th Amendment, impeachment, the 14th Amendment), is there one that you support? Why or why not?
  5. How will the events of the last few days impact your political decision-making in the future? Will it impact how you vote?


Featured Image Credit: James Quigg/Daily Press
[1] The Hill:
[2] CNN:
[3] Washington Post:
[4] New York Times:
[5] NBC News:
[6] Orlando Weekly: New York Times:
[7] CNN:
[8] Washington Post:
[9] Just Security:
[10] CBS News:
[11] New York Times:
[12] New York Times:
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] CNN:
[16] Charlotte Observer:
[17] The Hill:
[18] ABC News:
[19] Roll Call:


Insurrection at the Capitol

On January 6, 2021, Congress convened to certify the Electoral College results of the 2020 presidential election and to affirm the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. Although there has been no evidence of voter fraud, a group of Republican legislators planned to object to the certification process, saying they wanted Congress first to create an electoral commission to investigate the results in certain states. This objection would not stop the certification, only delay it.1

Leah Millis/Reuters

As the Senate and the House of Representatives deliberated about the objection to certifying Arizona’s election results, a group of rioting supporters of President Donald Trump breached the Capitol, easily getting past the small U.S. Capitol Police presence.2 Members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence evacuated to an undisclosed location while rioters walked the halls of Congress, vandalized Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office, and damaged personal and public property.3 One rioter was shot by a police officer and later died; three other rioters died from medical issues during the riot.4 One police officer, Brian Sicknick, died Thursday from injuries sustained during the assault.5

The stunning scenes on our televisions, computers, and phones left us with many questions and few answers. Congress was able to resume its business and certify the election results hours later, but the four-hour period in which rioters stormed the Capitol will leave an indelible mark on our nation.6 Here, we share some of the questions we are asking, as well as links to news coverage and analysis that might help teachers and students grapple with the same questions.

How Did We Get Here?

What Happened?

Different media outlets, commentators, and political figures are using different language to label the actions that took place.

What Might Come Next?

The inauguration of President-elect Biden will take place on January 20. Some are worried about what might happen between now and then.

  • Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have called on Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office (Fox News).
  • Some of President Trump’s cabinet members are reportedly considering using the 25th Amendment as well (ABC News).
  • Bret Stephens of the New York Times has called on Congress to “Impeach and Convict Trump. Right Now.
  • Officials in Washington, D.C., are making preparations to respond to any possible violence in the days ahead of the inauguration (Fox 5 DC).

Why Was Security So Light? 

It was relatively easy for rioters to breach the Capitol building, and security remained light even as protests around the city grew.

Some Other Resources That May Be Helpful



Featured Image Credit: Jason Andrews/New York Times
[1] NBC News:
[2] USA Today:; CNN:
[3] The Hill:; Business Insider:
[4] CBS News:
[5] NBC News:
[6] USA Today:


New Congress, New Ideas?

The 117th Congress was sworn in on January 3, 2021.1 This is the most diverse Congress ever,2 with a record number of women and LGBTQ members, a slim Democratic majority in the House, and a Senate that is still up for grabs due to runoff elections taking place this week in Georgia.3

READ MORE: “Here’s A Look at Congress’ Incoming Freshman Class,” from NPR

CClearly, the new 2021 Congress members will be busy. The Senate will hold confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees for the first portion of the year,4 and both chambers will be consumed by legislation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic harm it is causing.5

In a new Congress, no old business from the previous Congress is carried over. So, any bills that were introduced in the 116th Congress but did not pass must be introduced again if they are to be considered. It is not always clear which issues a new Congress will prioritize, but there are some signs that the 2021 Congress members will take up legislation to create jobs and to address environmental issues.

Lawmakers introduced several bills in the second half of 2020 to do just that. One bill, the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act, aims to help rural areas by employing people to plant trees, engage in forest and rangeland management, and clean up waterways.6 A second bill, the RENEW Conservation Corps Act, is similar but more all-encompassing, focusing on urban and suburban greenspaces as well as rural communities.7

Both bills draw on ideas from the New Deal, specifically the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which began in 1933, ran until 1943, and employed over three million people in that ten-year span.8 On his campaign website, President-elect Biden endorses this approach, calling for a Civilian Climate Corps to “put a new, diverse generation of patriotic Americans to work conserving our public lands, bolstering community resilience, and addressing the changing climate, while putting good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans, including women and people of color.”9

“This bill is a straightforward approach to creating one million jobs that can address maintenance and restoration of our greatest natural resources and recreation areas,” said Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on behalf of his bill, the RENEW Conservation Corps Act. “This is an investment to protect the beauty of America’s natural treasures. If we are to leave these natural gifts to the next generation, we have to take responsibility in protecting them.”10

Representative Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said of a similar bill, “Members of the 21st Century CCC will engage in the prevention of forest fires, floods, and soil erosion; reforestation and eradication of invasive species and flora disease control; and modernize, redesign, and construct trails and facilities throughout our nation’s natural spaces. This is a commonsense proposal that will not only improve the lives of Ohioans, but also countless communities across the country.”11

“Rural communities are increasingly being impacted by COVID and many already have been devastated economically by the pandemic,” said Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., a cosponsor of the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act. “Our bill will make urgent investments in rural communities at a time when they are needed most by creating new jobs and training programs, planting billions of trees, and investing in our farmers and ranchers as part of the solution to climate change.”12

While it is not clear exactly what form these Congress bill ideas will take, it does seem likely that legislation modeled on the CCC will be introduced and will have the support of Democratic leadership and the newly inaugurated president.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you support programs such as these that would put Americans directly to work on large-scale government projects? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think the government has a role to play in combating unemployment? What about conserving natural landscapes? Why or why not?
  3. How highly would you rank each of the following priorities?
    1. Reducing unemployment
    2. Stimulating the economy
    3. Conserving nature
    4. Economic development in rural communities
    5. Combating climate change 

Further Reading:

  • Yes! Magazine: “Biden Needs to Go Big to Rebuild America”
  • Washington Post: “Young People Want to Do Something About Climate Change. Biden May Have an Answer”
  • Bloomberg News: “Biden Shows He Gets it On Clean Energy”

Extension Activities:

  • Students could call the Capitol switchboard phone number – (202) 224-3121 – or write their members of Congress to voice support or opposition to these ideas.
  • Students could research how the various bills would impact their communities. Questions to begin inquiry include:
    • How is my community contributing to climate change?
    • How is climate change impacting my community?
    • In what ways are environmental features of my community threatened? (i.e., deforestation, agricultural runoff, industrial pollution)
    • How has the pandemic impacted my community’s economy?
  • Students could conduct historical research about the CCC. Questions to begin inquiry include:
    • How did the CCC impact economic issues during the Great Depression?
    • How did the CCC impact the nation’s environment?
    • How did the CCC impact my part of the country?



Featured Image Credit:  Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
[1] Politico:
[2] USA Today:
[3] Los Angeles Times:
[4] CNN:
[5] Washington Post:
[6] Senator Ron Wyden’s Official Website:
[8] Congressional Research Service:
[10] WTTW News (PBS Affiliate):
[11] Representative Marcy Kaptur’s Official Website:
[12] Senator Ron Wyden’s Official Website: