President Biden, pledging a “full-scale wartime effort” to combat the coronavirus pandemic, signed a string of executive orders and presidential directives on Thursday aimed at combating the worst public health crisis in a century, including new requirements for masks on interstate planes, trains and buses and for international travelers to quarantine after arriving in the United States.
“History is going to measure whether we are up to the task,” Mr. Biden declared in an appearance in the State Dining Room of the White House, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, his chief Covid-19 medical adviser, by his side.
With thousands of Americans dying every day from Covid-19, a national death toll that exceeds 400,000 and a new, more infectious variant of the virus spreading quickly, the pandemic poses the most pressing challenge of Mr. Biden’s early days in office. How he handles it will set the tone for how Americans view his administration going forward, as Mr. Biden himself acknowledged.
In a 200-page document released earlier Thursday called “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness,” the new administration outlines the kind of centralized federal response that Democrats have long demanded and that President Donald J. Trump refused.
Despite his repeated calls for unity, the new president took a shot at his predecessor, saying, “For the past year we couldn’t rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination that we needed, and we have seen the tragic cost of that failure.”
But the Biden plan is in some respects overly optimistic and in others not ambitious enough, some experts say. It is not clear how he would enforce the quarantine requirement. And his promise to inject 100 million vaccines in his first hundred days is aiming low, since those 100 days should see twice that number of doses available.
Mr. Biden bristled at a reporter’s question when he was asked if the goal should be for a higher number. “When I announced, you all said it’s not possible,” Mr. Biden said. “Come on, give me a break, man.”
Because the currently approved coronavirus vaccines require two doses, but some Americans have already had their first shots, Mr. Biden’s promise should cover 65 million to 70 million Americans, said Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Mr. Trump.
“I think we can reach that goal and probably reach higher, by focusing on how many people are being vaccinated for the first time each day,” Dr. Gottlieb said. With vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna already granted emergency approval and a third, by Johnson & Johnson, likely to be authorized soon, he said, “we can definitely reach many more patients.”
Beyond the 100-day mark is where the problem lies. Federal health officials and corporate executives agree that it will be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines before April at the earliest, because of lack of manufacturing capacity.
“The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said.
It makes political sense for Mr. Biden to lower expectations, and on Capitol Hill, the new president is not getting much of a honeymoon. The No. 2 House Republican, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said in a statement, “Comments made about vaccine supply and distribution by the White House’s coronavirus czar are old Washington spin.” He added, “The fact is the Biden administration inherited contracts for 300 million doses of vaccines for two approved vaccines and two in the final stage of clinical trials.”
But the Biden team has been quick to point fingers at what they see as the Trump administration’s failures.
“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” said Jeff Zients, the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator, adding, “The cooperation or lack of cooperation from the Trump administration has been an impediment. We don’t have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”
In a display of his oft-stated promise to put federal health experts front and center, Mr. Biden was accompanied in the State Dining Room by Dr. Fauci and Mr. Zients. Four other officials participated by video: Xavier Becerra, the nominee for health secretary; Vivek Murthy, the nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an adviser on racial equity in health.
Efforts to untangle and speed up the distribution of vaccines — perhaps the most pressing challenge for the Biden administration that is also the most promising path forward — will be a desperate race against time, as states across the country have warned that they could run out of doses as early as this weekend.
Though Mr. Biden has indicated his administration would release more doses as they became available and keep fewer in reserve, he said last week that he would not change the recommended timing for second doses: 21 days after the first dose for Pfizer’s vaccine, and 28 days for Moderna’s.
The administration is asking Congress for $1.9 trillion for pandemic relief, and White House officials said they would need much of that money to put their Covid-19 plan into place.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told senators on Thursday that he planned to ask Democrats to delay the start of former President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial until early February to allow Mr. Trump’s legal team time to prepare a defense, according to a person familiar with his remarks.
The proposal emerged as Mr. McConnell and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the incoming majority leader, haggled privately behind the scenes over the timing and structure of the proceeding and Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused again to say when she would transmit the impeachment charge to the Senate, thus prompting the start of the trial.
The uncertainty has left Democrats puzzling over how to push forward in trying the former president for his role in egging on the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 without overshadowing President Biden’s first days in office. Ms. Pelosi insisted the trial would not detract from Mr. Biden’s call for unity and implied the prosecution’s case could be speedy, but would not pinpoint a precise date for pressing the charge, beyond saying the House would do so “soon.”
“I don’t think it’s very unifying to say ‘Let’s just forget it and move on,’” the speaker told reporters in the Capitol. “Just because he is now gone — thank God — you don’t say to a president, ‘Do whatever you want in the last months of your administration, you are going to get a get-out-of-jail-free card’ because people think we should make nice-nice, and forget that people died here on Jan. 6, that he attempted to undermine our election, to undermine our democracy, to dishonor our Constitution.”
Once a trial gets underway, lawmakers in both chambers agree it should move quickly. Still bitter over the length and repetition of last year’s trial of Mr. Trump, senators were closing in on rules that would compress the meat of the trial into just three days of oral presentations, with the prosecution and defense each getting up to 12 hours to make their case, people involved in planning said. When the Senate tried Mr. Trump a year ago, each side had up to 24 hours.
Ceremonial requirements, deliberations and votes would add several additional days, but the trial could be the speediest presidential impeachment trial in history.
Still, the timeline could balloon if either the House managers or Mr. Trump’s defense team asked to call witnesses. On Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on a conference call with Republican senators that Mr. Trump had hired a lawyer, Butch Bowers, according to a person on the call.
Mr. Bowers, whose practice is based in South Carolina, did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.
Whether Democrats would be able to secure enough Republican votes to convict the former president remained unclear. Mr. McConnell has said he has not made up his mind yet.
His counterpart in the House, Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, said on Thursday that he did not believe that Mr. Trump incited the attack at the Capitol.
“I don’t believe he provoked it, if you listen to what he said at the rally,” Mr. McCarthy said on.
The remarks struck a different tone than Mr. McCarthy did last week on the House floor, when he argued during the impeachment debate that Mr. Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack.
“He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” Mr. McCarthy said then.
President Biden signed a raft of measures late Wednesday to dismantle some of the Trump administration’s most contentious policies, moving hours after taking office to sweep aside his predecessor’s pandemic response to and reverse his environmental policies and anti-immigration orders.
Here are some of the most notable issues President Biden addressed with the 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations:
Mr. Biden signed an executive order appointing Jeffrey D. Zients as the Covid-19 response coordinator, an effort to “aggressively” gear up the nation’s response to the pandemic. Mr. Biden is requiring social distancing and the wearing of masks on all federal property and by all federal employees, and starting a “100 days masking challenge” urging all Americans to wear masks.
Mr. Biden is also reinstating ties with the World Health Organization after the Trump administration chose to withdraw the nation’s membership and funding last year.
With an executive order, Mr. Biden has bolstered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation. Mr. Trump sought for years to end the program. The order also calls on Congress to enact legislation providing permanent status and a path to citizenship for those immigrants.
Three other orders revoke the Trump administration’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count, overturn a Trump order that pushed aggressive efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants, and block the deportation of Liberians living in the United States.
Mr. Biden has also ended travel restrictions for people from several predominantly Muslim and African countries and halted construction of the border wall with Mexico.
Chief among executive orders that begin to tackle the issue of climate change, Mr. Biden has signed a letter to re-enter the United States in the Paris climate accords, which it will officially rejoin 30 days from now. Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, under which nearly 200 nations have pledged to cut greenhouse emissions, in 2019.
In additional executive orders, Mr. Biden began the reversal of many environmental policies, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline; reversing the rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards; undoing decisions to slash the size of several national monuments; enforcing a temporary moratorium on oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and re-establishing a working group on the social costs of greenhouse gasses.
Racial and L.G.B.T. Equality
Mr. Biden will end the Trump administration’s 1776 Commission, which released a report on Monday that historians said distorted the role of slavery in the United States. The president also revoked Mr. Trump’s executive order limiting the ability of federal agencies, contractors and other institutions to hold diversity and inclusion training.
Mr. Biden designated Susan E. Rice, the head of his Domestic Policy Council, as the leader of a “robust, interagency” effort requiring all federal agencies to make “rooting out systemic racism” central to their work.
Another executive order reinforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to require that the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a policy that reverses Trump administration actions.
Mr. Biden is moving to extend a federal moratorium on evictions and has asked agencies, including the Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development Departments, to prolong a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages that was enacted in response to the pandemic. The extensions run through at least the end of March.
The president is also moving to continue a pause on federal student loan interest and principal payments through the end of September.
President Biden began his first full day in the White House on Thursday with only one member of his cabinet approved by Congress — Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence — in a break from recent precedent that could delay the administration’s efforts to implement its broad policy agenda.
The Senate confirmation on Wednesday, after Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office, came after a last-ditch deal to avoid breaking the long tradition of confirming a new president’s top national security officials on Inauguration Day.
An 84-10 vote elevated Ms. Haines, signaling broad bipartisan support that Senator Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat and likely new chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said was welcome.
Former President Donald J. Trump consistently maligned the nation’s intelligence officials throughout his time in the White House, politicizing intelligence in a way his predecessors sought to avoid. Mr. Trump’s first director of national intelligence, former Senator Dan Coats, won confirmation easily in 2017, but he was not confirmed until mid-March that year.
The confirmation process has been delayed this year because of the unusual nature of the White House transition, in which the outgoing president never conceded, and Republicans declined for weeks to recognize Mr. Biden’s victory. The late resolution of two Georgia races also left the balance of power in the Senate up in the air until two weeks ago.
The Senate, where Democrats are in charge only by virtue of the vice president’s tiebreaking power, held confirmation hearings on Tuesday for four more cabinet nominees: the Treasury, state, homeland security and defense secretaries.
On Thursday, hearings are set to continue as lawmakers consider the nomination of Pete Buttigieg to be secretary of transportation. If confirmed, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., would be a key player in advancing Mr. Biden’s ambitious agenda on both rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and on climate change.
On Friday, the finance committee is expected to hold a meeting on the nomination of Janet L. Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve whom Mr. Biden nominated to be Treasury secretary.
As Mr. Biden pressed for his slate of nominees to be confirmed, his administration on Wednesday afternoon announced the appointment of acting leaders for more than 30 federal agencies.
The White House press secretary, Jennifer Psaki, said in her first briefing on Wednesday that Mr. Biden had been in communication with members of Congress, underscoring the urgency to have a team in place to tackle key issues.
Ms. Psaki said the desire to get a cabinet in position was “front and center for the president.”
“We have prioritized getting our national security team in place, given the crisis we’re facing, given the importance of keeping the American people safe at this time,” she said. “But we are eager for those to move forward quickly in the coming days.”
When asked by a reporter about whether Mr. Biden had confidence in the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, Ms. Psaki did not answer directly. On Thursday, she clarified the issue on Twitter, saying that the president “intends to keep FBI Director Wray on in his role and he has confidence in the job he is doing.”
I caused an unintentional ripple yesterday so wanted to state very clearly President Biden intends to keep FBI Director Wray on in his role and he has confidence in the job he is doing.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) January 21, 2021
The House and Senate on Thursday approved a special waiver to allow Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired four-star Army general, to serve as secretary of defense, eliminating a hurdle to confirmation of a crucial member of President Biden’s national security team as congressional leaders rushed to quickly install him at the Pentagon.
The back-to-back votes came as Senate leaders pushed to set a time as early as Thursday evening to confirm General Austin, who would be the first Black American in the nation’s history to hold the post. Earlier in the day, the Armed Services Committee approved both the nomination and the special dispensation, which is required for any Pentagon chief who has been retired from active-duty military service for fewer than seven years.
The waiver passed both the House and the Senate in overwhelming bipartisan votes. The House took the unusual step of bypassing its own Armed Services Committee and sending the waiver directly to the floor, and in the Senate, lawmakers refrained from debating the measure on the floor, putting the measure to a vote just minutes after it was passed in the House. Congress approved a similar measure four years ago for President Donald J. Trump’s first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Marine officer.
The flurry of activity on Capitol Hill reflected a sense of urgency among Democrats to rapidly install General Austin at the Pentagon, a step normally taken on a new president’s first day in office to signal the continuity of American power as the presidency changes hands.
For weeks, General Austin’s chances for getting the waiver seemed tenuous, with members of both parties saying they were reluctant to circumvent the statutory requirement twice in a row. Some Republicans clearly saw rejecting the waiver as a way to take a poke at one of Mr. Biden’s nominees without having to oppose his confirmation outright.
But over the last two weeks, officials from Mr. Biden’s transition team put intense pressure on Democrats to approve General Austin. Their effort was ultimately aided by Democratic leaders who emphasized the historic nature of the nomination and warned their members not to send a message of obstruction on the first full day of Mr. Biden’s presidency.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California leaned on her members on Thursday to grant General Austin the waiver, according to multiple Democrats familiar with the remarks, asking them on a private conference call: “Can you give the president of the United States the benefit of the doubt?”
The siege by Trump supporters at the Capitol earlier this month, and the participation of some veterans and active-duty members of the military, underscored the military’s continued failure to root out white supremacy and right-wing extremism from its ranks. General Austin said at his confirmation hearing that this would be one of his top priorities.
“We cannot overlook the historical significance of Secretary-designate Austin being the first African-American selected to be secretary of defense in our history,” Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers this week.
“Our country is facing a violent insurrection from right-wing extremists, driven primarily by white supremacist organizations,” he wrote. “In the face of these realities, it would be a grave mistake for the United States House of Representatives to block Secretary-designate Austin from being confirmed as our secretary of defense.”
Unlike General Mattis, who did not meet with lawmakers before they voted to approve his waiver, General Austin met with lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee privately on Thursday. He testified before the Senate panel last week.
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., pledged on Thursday that if he is confirmed as the secretary of transportation that he would align the department with President Biden’s goals on nationwide infrastructure reform.
In his confirmation hearing, held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Mr. Buttigieg said there was a “generational opportunity” to transform the country’s infrastructure in a way that also advances Mr. Biden’s goals on climate change, racial justice and job creation.
While shying away from specific policy proposals for most of the hearing, Mr. Buttigieg, who ran for president in the 2020 election, said he would tighten transit safety regulations, most notably in the aviation industry. He also pledged to work with the nation’s state, local and tribal leaders on transit concerns and said he would try to mitigate the effect transportation policies have had on poor and minority communities.
“I believe good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American dream,” he said. “But I also recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality.”
Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi who chaired the committee for the last time as the Senate finalized its transfer of power, said he was concerned with how the nation would pay for the ambitious transportation program proposed by the Biden administration but that he was “quite certain” Mr. Buttigieg would be confirmed and looked forward to working with him.
Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, said Mr. Buttigieg’s experience as a mayor would be beneficial, and praised his initiative, called Smart Streets, which sought to revitalize South Bend’s downtown through road and sidewalk changes.
“As a mayor,” she said, “I know you’re no stranger to the challenges a region faces on transportation infrastructure issues.”
If confirmed, Mr. Buttigieg would take over the department — with 55,000 employees and a budget of $87 billion — at a time when the nation’s transportation systems are reeling from the pandemic.
Some of Mr. Buttigieg’s critics have said his record on policing and race relations — including his firing of a Black police chief and his inability to diversify South Bend’s overwhelmingly white police force — and his relatively thin experience working on large transportation projects demonstrate he has much to prove.
Susan Bro recognized the palpable anger and open bigotry on display in the mob that attacked the United States Capitol earlier this month. It reminded her of the outpouring of hate that killed her daughter, Heather Heyer.
That was in 2017, when white supremacists, self-avowed neo-Nazis and right-wing militias marched on Charlottesville in the name of intolerance — and former President Donald J. Trump — and one of them drove a car into a crowd, fatally injuring Ms. Heyer.
More than three years later, Ms. Bro and other Charlottesville residents say they have a message for the nation after the latest episode of white violence in Washington, and for President Biden, who is emphasizing themes of healing and unity in the face of right-wing extremism.
Healing requires holding perpetrators accountable, Ms. Bro said. Unity follows justice.
“Look at the lessons learned from Charlottesville,” she said. “The rush to hug each other and sing ‘Kumbaya’ is not an effective strategy.”
Mr. Biden regularly invoked Charlottesville during a campaign in which he reclaimed five states that Mr. Trump had won in 2016. And though Mr. Biden nodded to the violence here and at the Capitol during his inaugural address on Wednesday, he framed the solutions in the sort of terms that Ms. Bro questioned, demonstrating a belief that kindness and compassion could overcome systemic discrimination.
In interviews this week, Charlottesville activists, religious leaders and civil rights groups who endured the events of 2017 urged Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party to go beyond seeing unity as the ultimate political goal and prioritize a sense of justice that uplifts the historically marginalized.
When Mr. Biden called Ms. Bro on the day he entered the presidential race in 2019, she pressed him on his policy commitments to correcting racial inequities. She declined to endorse him, she said, focused more on supporting the antiracism movement than any individual candidate.
Local leaders say this is the legacy of the “Summer of Hate,” as the white supremacist actions and violence of 2017 are known in Charlottesville. When the election of Mr. Trump and the violence that followed punctured the myth of a post-racial America, particularly among white liberals, these leaders committed themselves to the long arc of insulating democracy from white supremacy and misinformation.
“We were the canary in the coal mine,” said Jalane Schmidt, an activist and professor who teaches at the University of Virginia and was involved in the 2017 activism. She compared the current political moment to the aftermath of the Civil War, framing the choice for Mr. Biden’s administration as either committing to sweeping change akin to Reconstruction or going along with the type of compromise that brought its end.
“We have a whole major political party that, too large of a section of it, supports undemocratic practices, voter suppression and the coddling of these conspiracy theories,” Dr. Schmidt said, referring to Republicans. “So healing? Unity? You can’t do that with people who don’t adhere to basic democratic principles.”
Federal authorities in Michigan have arrested a man suspected of using a hockey stick to repeatedly hit police officers during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — including beating one who had already fallen to the ground.
Like other suspects, the man, Michael Joseph Foy, has been charged with obstruction of a congressional proceeding and unlawful entry into a restricted building. But he also faces additional serious charges, including forcibly assaulting a federal officer.
Mr. Foy is one of several suspects in the riot charged with attacking police officers in assaults caught on video. Prosecutors this week also charged a Connecticut man, Patrick E. McCaughey, with trapping a police officer, Daniel Hodges, behind a riot shield as a crowd pressed against him. In a widely-seen video of the encounter, Officer Hodges cried for help until eventually being pulled to safety.
According to an F.B.I. affidavit made public after Mr. Foy’s arrest, investigators identified him in numerous videos and photographs on social media from the riot, including a compendium of footage of violence against police published by The New York Times.
Another video, posted on YouTube, appears to show Mr. Foy “lifting the stick above his head and swinging it down rapidly, striking an individual on the ground several times. At no point does it appear that the individual on the ground is acting aggressively, nor does it appear that the attack in justified,” the affidavit said.
The officer was not identified in the court filing.
The F.B.I. identified Mr. Foy using postings on his father’s Facebook page; among other things, his father wrote, in discussing a picture of his son in the riot, “he was raised better.” Other postings about Mr. Foy cited in the complaint indicate that he is a former member of the Marine Corps.
As one of his last acts as president, Donald J. Trump extended Secret Service protection for his adult children for six months, as well as for two cabinet secretaries and the White House chief of staff, an administration official said on Wednesday.
The protections are for each of Mr. Trump’s adult children and their spouses, as well as the former Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, the former national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and the former chief of staff Mark Meadows, the official said.
The Washington Post reported earlier on the extensions.
The moves mean that the federal government will continue to pay for expensive security arrangements for the wealthy former first family, unless President Biden decides to undo them. But that could be a delicate move for Mr. Biden that might depend on threat assessments by security agencies.