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Biden Takes Executive Actions 01/20 16:58

   New President Looks to Unify Country, But Also Dial Back Actions by Trump

   President Joe Biden entered the White House with a list of 17 immediate 
executive actions and plans to introduce a new immigration bill for Congress. 
Some of his actions are likely to draw conservative criticism.

Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

   OMAHA (DTN) -- In his inauguration speech Wednesday, President Joe Biden 
placed a heavy emphasis on unity. But in his early work after the celebratory 
transfer of power, he began by reversing several agenda items from his 
predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

   Initial executive actions are often like that, as presidents take immediate 
action that rewards supporters and their policy agendas. Biden entered the 
White House with a list of 17 immediate executive actions and plans to 
introduce a new immigration bill in Congress. In some actions likely to draw 
conservative criticism, Biden signed an order stopping border wall construction 
and reversing the ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries.

   The new president also signed an order to rejoin the Paris climate 
agreement, took action to end the Keystone XL pipeline and revoked permits on 
oil and gas extraction at national monuments. At least some Republicans quickly 
saw those moves as attacks on energy development in their states.

   The conservative group Heritage Action for America said Biden's first 
actions "immediately reveal his true priority is the agenda of the far left: to 
remake America. These actions are divisive and destructive -- and there's more 
to come."

   Biden, 78, took over as president as the country has seen 24 million cases 
of COVID-19 and 402,000 deaths in the past year. He also faces a country so 
divided that supporters of his predecessor stormed the U.S. Capitol just two 
weeks ago in a bid to prevent Biden from taking office. Pointing out, 
"Democracy is fragile" Biden's speech after his swearing-in put a heavy 
emphasis on words such as "unity," "together" and "healing" as he highlighted 
some of the economic and social struggles in the country over the past year. 
Pointing to hard times in the nation's history, "our better angels have always 
prevailed," Biden said.

   "We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus 
urban, conservative versus liberal," he said. "We can do this if we open our 
souls instead of hardening our hearts."

   FARM ORGANIZATIONS RESPOND

   Farm organizations on Wednesday largely issued statements extending their 
congratulations to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and declaring they 
are looking forward to working with the new Biden administration.

   Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted Harris 
"as she makes history as the first woman to serve as America's vice president."

   Duvall added his perspective that the last several weeks have been difficult 
for all Americans, but the country is moving forward.

   "We were saddened by the violence that threatened a peaceful transfer of 
power, but what we witnessed today is a hallmark of what has made this country 
an example for the rest of the world," Duvall said. "We have peacefully ushered 
in new leaders and with them new appreciation for the resilience of our 
democracy. Today, we turn the page, learn the lessons, and look to the future 
with the hope and optimism that are core to who we are as Americans."

   Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, pointed to the multiple 
crises of the lives claimed by the pandemic and economic struggles it has 
caused, as well as the country "wrestling with deep political and social 
divisions, high levels of economic equality and a rapidly changing climate."

   Larew added, "Tackling just one of these problems -- let alone all of them 
-- will be no easy feat. However, we are confident that President Biden and 
Vice President Harris are up to the task; already, they have surrounded 
themselves with highly qualified and diverse advisers and staff who will help 
guide them through these thorny issues."

   AGRICULTURAL CHALLENGES

   Both Larew and Duvall also stressed some major agricultural challenges that 
need to be addressed. Larew, in his comments, said, "In addition to these 
broader issues, the agriculture industry is also coping with its own internal 
battles: corporate control of the food system, chronic overproduction, an 
overdependence on exports, crumbling rural infrastructure, and an aging farm 
population, just to name a handful."

   Duvall said some of the needs include "strengthening the farm bill, 
expanding trade and finding a fair solution to the farm labor shortage. We must 
extend broad back coverage to ensure rural families, businesses, schools and 
health-care facilities can compete in today's digital reality."

   Turning to the job, Biden came into office with none of his cabinet 
secretaries ready for confirmation votes. While a few of Biden's nominees 
received Senate confirmation hearings on Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture 
Committee has not scheduled a hearing yet for Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom 
Vilsack. The Senate on Wednesday moved from Republican control to Democratic 
control even though the Senate is split 50-50, but the change of the vice 
presidency shifted control.

   TACKLING CORONAVIRUS

   Among Biden's first actions was to launch a "100 days masking challenge," a 
call to action that will draw resistance from conservatives, Republican-led 
states and rural communities. Still, Biden said he would be "asking the 
American people to do their part -- their patriotic duty -- and mask up for 100 
days."

   Other coronavirus-related actions included reestablishing the U.S. 
delegation to the World Trade Organization and better unifying the federal 
response to the coronavirus. USDA also was among the federal agencies that 
immediately extended eviction and foreclosure moratoriums for home loans backed 
by federal guarantees. Student loan payments were also paused until next 
September.

   TRUMP ACTIONS ROLLED BACK

   Biden also began rolling back some of the Trump administration's actions on 
the environment. Biden signed the order to rejoin the Paris agreement, and also 
signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to begin reviewing 
policies during the past four years that affect public health and the 
environment, including EPA actions making it harder to present beneficial 
health science when writing regulations.

   In a move that could eventually help renewable-fuel policies, Biden's order 
also directs agencies to revisit vehicle fuel-economy standards that were 
rolled back in recent years, as well as other fossil-fuel emission standards 
and methane emission standards.

   Biden also reestablished policies from former President Barack Obama on 
children brought into the country illegally, known as Deferred Action for 
Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Biden also ended the "Muslim ban" that barred 
people from primarily Muslim and African countries. Biden's order also halted 
further construction on the wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

   The new administration also released a list of more than 100 regulatory 
actions over the past four years that the Biden administration will freeze and 
reexamine. That included several actions at EPA over everything from emissions 
to Clean Water Act discharge permits to regulations for pesticides and 
farmworkers.

   IMMIGRATION BILL SENT

   The new president's team also sent an immigration bill to Congress that 
would legalize potentially millions of people now living in the U.S. illegally. 
Biden's bill would allow undocumented people to apply for temporary status with 
the ability to receive permanent green-card status after five years if they 
pass criminal and national security checks and pay their taxes. After another 
three years, they could apply for citizenship, according to the bill.

   Among those who would be able to apply for legal status are hundreds of 
thousands of people who work on farms. They would gain legal status if they can 
show they worked in agriculture at least 100 days in four of the last five 
years.

   "Under the Biden bill, farm workers with work histories would immediately 
get legal status, along with Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status 
recipients," said Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers. "This 
bill is fundamentally different than what any other president has ever done in 
emancipating farm workers so they can escape pervasive fear and behave like 
free women and men. Not only is its content remarkable, but never before has a 
U.S. president presented his own comprehensive immigration reform measure on 
Day One in office. Now we must work to turn this vision into reality."

   The bill has special language for visas going to high-skilled workers. The 
bill does not address some of the major challenges facing U.S. agriculture and 
the current H-2A visa program. Farm groups have sought for years to make it 
easier to bring in guest workers and allow them to stay year-round to address 
labor shortages on livestock farms such as dairy operations.

   Allison Crittenden, director of congressional relations for the American 
Farm Bureau Federation, said it's important that an immigration bill address 
the legal status of current farmworkers who may be in the country illegally, 
but the bill also needs to reform the guest-worker program, especially to 
replace workers who could leave the farms.

   "We're still waiting on all of the details as well, and looking forward to 
see the bill text, but his isn't a complete reform like we would like to see to 
address the guest-worker piece for agriculture," Crittenden said.

   Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

   Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN




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