Joe Biden has now been president for one month.
So far, he has signed a record number of executive orders, brought the United States back into the Paris climate accord, introduced a comprehensive immigration bill and begun the groundwork for his major COVID-19 relief legislation. He has also taken his lumps when it comes to messaging about reopening schools.
The Trump impeachment trial took up much of the political oxygen in Washington, D.C., but with that in the rearview mirror, this week may mark a real turning point to the Biden agenda — although Donald Trump will reemerge with his first post-presidency speech Sunday.
Biden’s Cabinet is also still being filled out, while outside Washington, the big thaw in Texas begins after a dangerous — and revealing — several days of a rare deep freeze.
Here are six things we’re watching this week:
1. COVID-19 relief bill movement
The country is surpassing 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.
“It’s stunning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a Biden medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. He called it “horrible,” “devastating” and “historic.” “People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now,” he noted somberly.
Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan, which would send another round of direct payments to qualifying Americans and disburse billions of dollars to state and local governments, could see a vote in the House by the end of the week. Also remember: The bill still has to go through hurdles in the Senate to see if its provisions qualify under budget reconciliation, since Republicans are not on board and think it’s too costly.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vows that the bill is “on track” to be on Biden’s desk by March 14, the date that enhanced unemployment insurance benefits expire. “We will meet this deadline,” he said in a letter to colleagues Friday.
2. Schools — to reopen or not to reopen isn’t really the question
Americans have sharply different views about reopening schools. About two-thirds of U.S. students are already offered some in-person options, but the Biden administration has struggled to lay out clearly and consistently when and how all schools should open.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines say schools can reopen without all teachers being vaccinated. Biden’s White House has said teachers should be a priority for vaccines, as it tries to walk a tightrope between science and teachers unions, a key Democratic constituency. But this is a bit of a false debate.
The heads of the largest teachers unions say they are on board with the CDC’s guidelines. And while vaccinations are important to teachers, they actually rate access to personal protective equipment, limited class sizes and regular cleanings as more necessary.
But those things cost money. And the same Republicans criticizing Biden for not advocating more strongly for reopening schools full time are not on board with his COVID-19 relief plan — which allocates $130 billion for schools — because, they say, it’s too expensive and because there’s money left over from past relief measures.
3. Texas thaws out as political spotlight heats up
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic and school reopening, the biggest story outside Washington has been the Texas deep freeze. Texans will finally have more seasonable weather this week, but the fallout is far from over, in both the short and the long term.