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Biden's Early Days Are About Action, Rep. Blunt Rochester Says


In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden called for an end to, quote, "this uncivil war."


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation, one nation.

KING: He asked for unity and he described the challenges that face his administration and this country.


BIDEN: We face an attack on our democracy and on truth - a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America's role in the world. Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once, presenting this nation with one of the gravest responsibilities we've had. Now we're going to be tested. Are we going to step up, all of us?

KING: After that speech, he took immediate action to reverse some of President Trump's policies. He signed 15 executive actions. The U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization. And we expect 10 more executive actions today focused on the pandemic.

Democratic Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester is on the line with me. She's from the president's home state of Delaware, and she worked closely with Joe Biden as he prepared to take office. Good morning, Congresswoman.

LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER: Good morning. Good morning.

KING: Good morning to you. These 10 executive actions on the pandemic we're expecting today, what are the specifics?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Well, I - first of all, I want to share with everyone what an incredible day yesterday was for our country and for the world. You know, this week - and I was able to serve as one of the co-chairs of the presidential inaugural committee. And so one of the goals was to honor and mourn those 400,000 individuals that we lost to COVID and to really let their families, their friends and everyone know that they mattered and that we care. And so President Biden was able to speak specifically to the pandemic. And I think that is order No. 1. That is business No. 1 - for all of us to crush this virus and, you know, really deal with the issues that are affecting everyone.

The second goal that we had was to celebrate. Despite all that is happening, despite the things that I even witnessed in the balcony of the House chambers two weeks ago with, you know, those individuals that stormed our Capitol, that yesterday our Capitol shined bright and that we still are strong. And so there was this - from the president, this - the note of optimism and the note that we are stronger. Our democracy is stronger. And he wanted to send that message, and we could feel that.

But today is about action and activity. And he actually started that, as you said in the setup, with signing executive orders to really say that we're going to focus on those things that will bring us back even stronger. And so the focus on the pandemic is order No. 1. We know it is affecting people's - not just their lives, but their livelihoods and businesses. And so...

KING: And so are these...

BLUNT ROCHESTER: ...You will see proposals.

KING: Yeah, the proposals are what I want to talk to you about. So 10 executive actions we're expecting today. What are the specifics there? What can our listeners expect?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Well, and as members of Congress, there are things that we have already started to have conversations with the administration about, including his rescue package that will be introduced. And in that rescue package, we're looking at everything from ensuring that we have testing and that it's coordinated and that it really does deal with the pandemic across the country so that it is not an uneven, you know, process.

Secondly, we're looking at vaccine distribution. That is going to be very key. As we know, it's one thing to have the vaccine; it's another thing to get it into the arms of individuals. And so that requires both a coordinated plan, but it also requires the use of the Defense Production Act. And so you will hear him talking about those things.

And then one of the other major things that has been part of his focus and agenda is to make sure that individuals, families have the resources they need. And so while Congress was able to pass a $600 stimulus check before the new year, he wants to finish that by adding addition - adding on to that funding to help support families as we crush this virus. So today, we will also be getting actually the language in the text.

And then the last thing I would share in terms of that - the virus and the pandemic itself is the emphasis on masks and making sure that, you know, that we have - we lead by example, that the federal government needs to also say that we're going to wear masks to make sure that we can crush this virus. And so this is really a part of the agenda. But you'll be seeing a lot more activity as we go through the day.

KING: OK. The president signed an executive order yesterday to combat racial inequity, to advance equity in federal policymaking, to root out systemic racism in programs and institutions. In his inaugural address, he mentioned systemic racism, which may, I think, be the first time for a U.S. president in that type of speech. What are the specifics of this executive order?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Well, you know, actually, the focus of this entire campaign, as well as his focus, will be to look at the structural and systemic challenges that we face. And so, you know, one of the things that even COVID-19 has done is shown us that within agencies, within policies, we have institutional and structural racism. And so doing that deeper dive into the structures, the policies, the things that - for example, the collection of data...

KING: But again, if I - yeah, I'd love to ask about specifics. Yes, exactly. It sounds as though President Biden admits that systemic racism is a problem. So that's a step forward. But this executive order is saying, I want to do something about it. How does he want to do something about it?

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Well, you will - and I have to be, you know, clear, we as the - and I'm in the Congress, not in his office.

KING: Sure.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: But we're still actually getting a lot of the language for both the executive orders. And we will be working with him on the legislative side as members of Congress. But I can tell you, his intentions are based on, again, the things that he has seen, the things that he has experienced and his desire to move this country forward and recognizes that when we look at everything from how people are trained, you know, to how we collect data, if we don't know the information, then we're - and we're not measuring - then we won't be able to really make the changes that we want to see. And so it is his intention that we look at it through a lens. We're doing the same thing in Congress today.

KING: Democratic Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, thanks so much for your time.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Thank you. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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