President Biden’s new administration continues to enact legislation at a breakneck pace.
As the administration of 46th President Joe Biden starts its first full week in control of the White House, legislation setting a new course for the country continues to be approved at a record rate. Among the actions carried out in just the last few days:
- Ramping up efforts to fight domestic terrorism. Bloomberg has reported that President Biden ordered the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines to work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the threat from domestic violent extremism, especially examining its connection to the attempted insurrection at the Capitol.
- Extending an existing nuclear treaty with Russia that was set to expire, which would continue efforts for disarmament within the country. The New York Times has reported that the Kremlin “welcomed the Biden administration’s offer to extend a nuclear disarmament treaty that is set to expire next month,” signaling an intention to cooperate with the United States on nuclear security. The Trump administration had resisted approving the five-year extension, the Times reported.
- Renewing a focus on American industry and production. According to NPR, “Biden will create a new position in the White House’s budget office that will oversee the implementation of ‘Buy American’ provisions, and the president will direct a review of waivers granted for these rules.” The agency will also update criteria on how much of a product must be produced within the U.S. in order to be considered an “American” good.
- Reversing the Trump administration’s ban on transgender individuals in the military. USA Today has reported that President Biden has implemented a policy that prohibits discrimination against all troops based on their gender identity. In a statement, the White House said: “Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
- Replacing top leaders at the U.S.-run international news service, Voice of America. A number of controversial top officials within the organization who were considered by critics to be mouthpieces for Trump’s views and policies, including agency head Michael Pack, have been fired. Most were replaced with career employees who in some instances had spent decades working for the entity.
- Restoring efforts to maintain government accountability. According to The New York Times, President Biden has “established ethics rules for those who serve in his administration that aim ‘to restore and maintain trust in the government.’” He has also ordered all of his appointees in the executive branch to sign an ethics pledge, the paper said.
- Reinstating daily White House press briefings. Although the prior administration had largely abandoned regular talks with reporters, and famously went more than 90 days without an official briefing when former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was in place, NowThis has reported that the media is “gobsmacked” by the return of a working, functional White House press team. “Biden’s new press secretary is Jen Psaki, an Obama administration veteran, and she’s shocking and soothing some reporters and onlookers with her extreme … normalcy,” wrote reporter Ashleigh Carter.
The SAT — which for decades has disadvantaged Black and Brown students — may be headed for demise.
In a “Think” opinion column for NBC News, retired Temple University professor Peshe Kuriloff has predicted the upcoming downfall of the SAT. Although the test, which was previously a prerequisite for acceptance at most institutions, had already been losing influence in recent years (e.g., the University of California school system for one no longer requiring students to submit scores when they applied for admission), Kuriloff sees a future where the tests could become even less influential and important. In addition to more and more schools considering the tests optional, Kuriloff reported that the vast majority of schools have even gone one step further in the past year, setting aside the testing requirement entirely due to the pandemic, which had impeded students to gather and take the exams.
Originally designed to help increase the diversity of students attending a university, Kuriloff said she now believes the SAT and its competitor the ACT have finally outlived their usefulness. “Though premised on a noble concept — leveling the playing field for college applicants — most admissions officers believe the test is unhelpful to institutions seeking to diversify their student bodies,” she wrote. “Both the content of the test and the industry that surrounds it have become barriers for students from less privileged backgrounds.”
Whether it’s the added costs of the exams, the inconvenience they pose for students who aren’t able to take them because of their work schedule after school, the culturally elite material they cover (which is more “easily accessible to those from more elite backgrounds with broader life experience”), or the cost of classes needed to prepare for the exam (which can run into the thousands), Kuriloff said, “many students and educators have increasingly come to view the test as a way to exclude diverse students rather than foster access.” She added that “High scores on the SAT are strongly correlated with socioeconomic status and tend to disadvantage Black and brown students, who score significantly lower than their white peers.”
In place of looking at ACT and SAT scores, Kuriloff believes schools will once again start to focus exclusively on grades and other screening processes that are unique to their individual institution, rather than focusing so heavily on standardized tests which are inherently biased and flawed.
“The removal of the SAT as a gatekeeper would open higher education to a student population more varied not only by race and socioeconomic level but also by interests and abilities,” she wrote. “For many students and educators, the weakening of the power of the SAT is welcome news.”
Lloyd Austin becomes country’s first Black defense secretary
In a vote of 93-to-2, the Senate voted on Friday, Jan. 22., to confirm retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin as the nation’s defense secretary. Austin will be the 28th individual to hold the position in our history and the first Black man.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position,” Austin said via Twitter following his confirmation. “Let’s get to work.”
According to CNN, Austin, who retired in 2016, “had to be granted a waiver from a law requiring a defense secretary to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job.” Both the House and the Senate approved the waiver. Austin is only the third person in U.S. history to receive permission to take the position without meeting the retirement requirement.
Prior to becoming Secretary of Defense, Austin was the first African American to command an infantry division in combat and the first African American to lead U.S. Central Command, which is the unit of the U.S. military that is responsible for operations in the Middle East. While Austin will be the nation’s top civilian military leader, it’s been 31 years since another Black man held such a high-ranking military position. In 1989, Colin Powell became the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was the first Black man to occupy that role.
D.I. Fast Facts
Final estimated number of false or misleading claims former President Trump made while in office. Nearly half came in his final year.
— The Washington Post
Number of new business applications filed in the U.S. last year, up 82% over one year ago. This, as more than a quarter of all small businesses in the country closed in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, proves people are hungry to work for themselves, despite the risk of owning and running their own business.
— The Washington Post
State the most people moved to in 2020, making it the most desirable state in the nation to now call home according to current migration trends.
Number of licensed Western vaccine doses administered on the continent of Africa. In contrast, roughly 60 million doses have been given around the entire globe.
Amount the average shopper over the age of 65 spent online in the first 10 months of 2020 — a 49% increase over 2019. This makes seniors the fastest-growing segment of online retail in the country.
— The Washington Post
Attendance cap for the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa. That number will include 14,500 ticket buyers and about 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers who will be invited as guests of the league. All spectators will be required to wear masks.
— Tampa Bay Times