President Biden's First Days In Office: Updates The 46th president comes into office with a long to-do list. The coronavirus pandemic tops the list, along with the economy, racial justice and climate change.

President Biden Takes Office

Tracking the first steps of the new administration

Neera Tanden, President Biden's nominee for director of the Office and Management and Budget, speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Tanden apologized for past insults to Republicans. Ting Shen/Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Neera Tanden, President Biden's nominee for director of the Office and Management and Budget, speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Tanden apologized for past insults to Republicans.

Ting Shen/Pool/Getty Images

It was an apology tour of sorts.

Neera Tanden instantly became one of President Biden's most polarizing Cabinet nominees when she was selected to head the Office of Management and Budget because of sharp-elbowed comments she had made about Republicans while running a left-leaning think tank.

So at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Tanden was contrite, apologizing for her remarks. She also promised to work in a bipartisan manner if she's confirmed.

"I do think the last several years have been very polarizing and I apologize for my language that has contributed to that," Tanden told members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. "I know it's on me to demonstrate to this committee and to Republican members and Democratic members I can work with anyone."

Tanden acknowledged that her partisan advocacy as CEO of the Center for American Progress had sometimes strayed into personal attacks on senators, especially on Twitter — a fact that Senate Republicans were quick to highlight.

"You wrote that Susan Collins is, quote, 'the worst.' That Tom Cotton is a fraud. That vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz. You called leader McConnell 'Moscow Mitch' and 'Voldemort,' " complained Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "How do you plan to mend fences and build relationships with members of Congress you have attacked through your public statements?"

Tanden said she regretted the tone of some of her tweets, and noted that she had deleted many of them.

"For those concerned about my rhetoric and my language, I'm sorry," Tanden said. "I'm sorry for any hurt that they've caused."

Republicans' complaints would carry more weight if they still held the majority in the Senate. But with Democrats now controlling the chamber, the GOP has little power to block Tanden's confirmation.

Tanden would be the first woman of color to lead the budget office, as Biden strives to create the most diverse Cabinet in history.

She would also play a large role in crafting administration budget proposals and in overseeing federal regulations.

During the hearing, Tanden pushed for the president's $1.9 trillion economic relief package.

"The economy is still deeply challenged," she said. "We have 10 million more people unemployed than we did a year ago. That is a lot of human suffering. We also are continuing to see increased small business failures."

In her opening remarks, Tanden recalled how her single mother relied on food stamps and federal housing vouchers before ultimately climbing into the middle class.

"I spend every day grateful for a nation and a government that had faith in my mother and in me, that invested in our humanity and gave me a fair shot to pursue my potential," Tanden said. "My path in life would never have been possible without budgetary choices that reflected our nation's values."

She noted that African Americans and Latinos have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus itself and by the economic problems it triggered.

"We have to carefully monitor that we don't see the same kinds of inequities in vaccine distribution which is a matter of life and death," she said. "It is vital that our government address the needs of all communities."

Tanden previously served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and was an adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008.

Republicans are not the only ones to have complained about Tanden.

She has also drawn some opposition from supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Sanders now chairs the Senate Budget Committee, which will hold its own hearing on Tanden's nomination on Wednesday.

President Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. economy on Friday. Stefani Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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President Biden delivers remarks on the U.S. economy on Friday.

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President Biden said on Friday that his plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour is unlikely to happen as part of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package.

"I don't think it's going to survive," Biden said in an excerpt of a CBS Evening News interview with Norah O'Donnell released ahead of the Super Bowl. The full interview is scheduled to air on Sunday.

Democrats in Congress are moving to advance the aid package using a procedure known as budget reconciliation. Biden said in the interview that "the rules of the United States Senate" probably mean that the minimum wage hike will have to be dropped.

"My guess is it will not be in it," Biden said. But he said he remains committed to trying to negotiate an increase to the minimum wage, even if it's a gradual rise from the current level of $7.25 per hour.

The Senate late Thursday approved a measure prohibiting an increase of the federal minimum wage during the global pandemic. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said a $15 minimum would be "devastating" for small businesses already hurt by the pandemic.

In the interview, Biden also said he is prepared to negotiate on who gets the $1,400 checks he has promised will be in the aid package. He said that the "phaseout" for the direct payments may be in the range of $75,000 for an individual or $150,000 for a couple. "But again, I'm wide open on what that is," Biden said.

Biden didn't comment on the upcoming impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, but did say that he doesn't think Trump should continue to receive intelligence briefings "because of his erratic behavior unrelated to the insurrection."

"I just think that there is no need for him to have the — the intelligence briefings. What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?" he said.

Former presidents are typically allowed intelligence briefings similar to those they received while in office, but a number of security experts have called for those privileges to be revoked from Trump.

Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is reviewing whether to allow Trump access to the briefings.

As promised, President Biden's Cabinet is historically diverse compared to former Presidents Donald Trump's and Barack Obama's. Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic; Aurelien Meunier; Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images hide caption

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Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic; Aurelien Meunier; Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images

As promised, President Biden's Cabinet is historically diverse compared to former Presidents Donald Trump's and Barack Obama's.

Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic; Aurelien Meunier; Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images

Updated on Feb. 6 at 8:40 a.m. ET

President Biden pledged to make his Cabinet the most diverse in U.S. history, better representing the makeup of the country.

An NPR analysis of the past three administrations' initial Cabinets shows that so far, he has kept his word, with an inner circle that outdoes his two most recent predecessors in matters of representation of race and gender.

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When broken down by race and gender, Biden's desired Cabinet is nearly 55% nonwhite and 45% female. (Confirmation hearings are still underway or have not yet started for a number of positions.)

Former President Donald Trump's initial confirmed Cabinet was 82% white and 82% male. Former President Barack Obama's first-term Cabinet, meanwhile, was 55% white and 64% male.

Biden's Cabinet also includes multiple historic nominations that aren't highlighted in these overall numbers, including in Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay secretary confirmed to the Cabinet; Janet Yellen, the first woman to lead the Treasury Department; and Deb Haaland, who, if confirmed, would be the first Native American in a president's Cabinet.

"Numbers don't tell you everything. And so in this small sample size, just looking at the scene, it looks like he's doing OK with [diversity]. But in fact ... there are some historic firsts," said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow with Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, who has compiled data on the diversity of presidents' Cabinets.

Tenpas noted that Biden's nominees included a number of breaks from past administrations, appointing women and racial minorities to positions that have historically been held exclusively by white men.

"I think he gets extra credit for putting them in positions that historically never happen," she said. "I would describe it as a determined commitment to diversity."

Even before his nominees were announced, Biden had been under pressure from activists and civil rights groups to not only have a diverse Cabinet but also to pursue concrete policies to address inequality in the U.S. He has also received criticism from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus for not nominating an Asian Cabinet secretary.

Trump, a longtime businessman, sought to run the country like a corporation and built a Cabinet more reflective of a typical C-suite than a traditional administration. Nominees like Rex Tillerson, the energy executive Trump tapped to lead the State Department; and Betsy DeVos, who led the Department of Education, faced criticism for their lack of prior government experience — which Trump saw as an asset.

Biden and Obama, however, turned to people with robust government experience to lead key departments. In fact, many of Biden's nominees played a role in Obama's administration, too.

Less than 5% of Biden's Cabinet nominees do not have prior government experience. Some 14% of Obama's Cabinet was new to government, compared to about 32% of Trump's team lacked government experience.

Explore more details in the chart below.

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(Note: What presidents consider part of their Cabinet varies across administrations. We have compared the same set of key positions for consistency.)

NPR Washington Desk intern Claire Oby contributed to this report.

Cedric Richmond, seen here in a file photo, says the White House sees bipartisan support for the sprawling COVID-19 relief package — despite what Republicans in Congress are saying. Andrew Harnik/AP hide caption

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Cedric Richmond, seen here in a file photo, says the White House sees bipartisan support for the sprawling COVID-19 relief package — despite what Republicans in Congress are saying.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Updated at 11:10 a.m ET

As Democrats in Congress take the initial steps to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package using a process that won't require any Republican votes, the White House is working to rack up endorsements from state and local elected officials and business groups — a strategy that it argues is making the bill bipartisan.

Congressional Republicans say the package is too large and payments should be targeted to people who really need it. In a letter to Biden on Thursday, 10 GOP senators who had met with him noted some of the money appropriated in previous relief packages hasn't yet been spent. It highlights a gulf that will make it difficult to pass a bill that is bipartisan by any traditional definition.

Biden has vowed to try to unite the country, and has said addressing the economic and health crises caused by the coronavirus is his top priority is a big part of that. But constrained by the pandemic, Biden hasn't yet been able to make the case for his plan by taking it on the road to rallies or even kitchen table photo ops, in the way that presidents typically have made large legislative pushes.

Instead, in Zoom meetings and conference calls, the Biden White House is making its pitch to governors and mayors, county executives and state treasurers and secretaries of state, agriculture associations and labor unions, progressive groups and faith leaders.

Some of that has paid off. The U.S. Conference of Mayors urged quick action on the president's plan in a letter to Congress that had so many signatories it ran 11 pages long. State and local governments stand to benefit from the Biden plan, which calls for an infusion of $350 billion to offset pandemic-related losses and expenses.

Local elected officials see up close how the pandemic has ravaged their communities, said Cedric Richmond, a former Democratic congressman who is now one of Biden's top aides at the White House, in charge of the Office of Public Engagement.

"They understand the hurt," Richmond told NPR.

"That's not going to stop us from trying to get Republican members of Congress, the House and the Senate. But we believe this plan is bipartisan already because it has such support from other Republican elected officials."

A Quinnipiac University poll this week found 37% of Republicans support Biden's $1.9 trillion package. But it has strong support from independents and overwhelming support from Democrats, meaning nearly 7 in 10 Americans support the proposal. Individual elements of the plan, particularly the $1,400 direct payments, enjoy strong support.

Biden's push to go big and go fast even yielded an endorsement from the Republican governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice. A vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, Justice told CNN this week that people in his state are "really, really hurting" and action is needed fast.

Administration officials are also hitting the airwaves, with a White House official putting the tally at more than 100 national television, radio and podcast interviews since Jan. 21. This week alone, they've done some 30 local TV interviews in Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana and Colorado. This is a reprisal of Biden's campaign strategy: he traveled less due to the coronavirus, but he did a lot of local TV interviews to bring his message into voters' homes.

Vice President Harris has been doing some of those interviews. And on Friday, she and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plan to hold a Zoom roundtable with members of Black Chambers of Commerce from across the country about the crisis and the aid needed by small businesses.

One area of stark disagreement between congressional Republicans and President Biden is relief for state and local governments. Republicans continue to argue it would reward states and cities that mismanaged their budgets. The White House has framed this part of the package as being about help for first responders. Richmond says cities that rely on the hospitality industry have been especially hard-hit, losing significant tax revenue.

"We have firefighters that were being furloughed," said Richmond. "We have frontline workers that we truly care about and want to support that are struggling and without giving aid to state and local governments, those frontline workers in those states won't receive help."

President Biden on Wednesday announced more of the team that will tackle the addiction crisis. Evan Vucci/AP hide caption

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President Biden on Wednesday announced more of the team that will tackle the addiction crisis.

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Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

President Biden named more of the team that will tackle the addiction crisis on Wednesday while promising a series of policy actions in the first 100 days.

The announcement comes as overdose deaths surge to record levels, topping 81,000 fatalities over the past 12 months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Regina LaBelle, a veteran drug policy expert who served in the Obama administration, was named deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

In a statement, LaBelle said "mounting rates of overdose deaths and untreated addiction are significant challenges" especially at a time when the Biden team faces other major crises.

LaBelle will lead the White House drug policy team until a permanent ONDCP director is named and confirmed by the Senate.

Biden also has yet to name a director of the Food and Drug Administration, but he has named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to head the Health and Human Services Department.

Becerra, who hasn't been confirmed by the Senate, has been active in the past on opioid issues.

"The president has tabbed the right people," says Reuben Guttman, an expert on drug policy who teaches at Emory Law, responding to the announcement. "But the problem is both ingrained and immense."

Some addiction experts have questioned whether the Biden team has the bandwidth to tackle the addiction crisis while coping with the pandemic and its economic fallout.

In an emailed statement to NPR last week, a White House spokesman said the "country is facing many simultaneous crises and President Biden understands that."

According to Wednesday's announcement, immediate efforts to curb overdose deaths will include a new focus on racial equity in drug policy and expanding access to medications used to treat opioid use disorder.

In its statement, the Biden administration noted two new members of the ONDCP team are themselves in recovery from addiction.

Kassandra Frederique, who heads the Drug Policy Alliance, says she welcomes the White House focus on public health and harm reduction rather than what she described as "failed interdiction efforts."

"Biden picking people with personal experience and public health backgrounds to lead them reflect much of what we have been urging," Frederique says in a statement emailed to NPR.

Alejandro Mayorkas, seen here at his introduction by then-President-elect Biden, has been confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Mark Makela/Getty Images hide caption

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Alejandro Mayorkas, seen here at his introduction by then-President-elect Biden, has been confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

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The Senate has voted to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He becomes the first Latino and first immigrant to lead DHS.

The vote was narrower than for some of President Biden's other Cabinet nominees. Mayorkas was confirmed by a 56-43 vote on Tuesday.

The approval came on the same day Biden is expected to sign a series of executive actions on immigration, including one to begin to reunite migrant children separated from their parents after crossing the United States border.

Biden has also sent Congress a sweeping immigration proposal.

Mayorkas, who previously worked for the department during the Obama administration, faces the task of bringing structure to the agency, which has not had a confirmed secretary since 2019.

In addition to dealing with immigration, the department also faces rising worries of domestic terror. Last week DHS issued a bulletin warning of a continued threat from domestic violent extremists.

During his confirmation hearing last month, several Republicans called on Mayorkas to explain his actions as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, after an inspector general's report found he intervened to help some prominent Democrats with a visa program.

In a tweet shortly after his nomination, Mayorkas wrote that it was an honor to be considered for the position.

"It is no small task to lead the Department of Homeland Security, but I will work to restore faith in our institutions, and protect our security here at home," he wrote.

He is the second Biden Cabinet nominees to be confirmed Tuesday. Earlier, senators voted in favor of Pete Buttigieg to head the Department of Transportation.

The Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg to be President Biden's transportation secretary on Tuesday. Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to win Senate confirmation to a Cabinet post. Ken Cedeno/AP hide caption

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The Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg to be President Biden's transportation secretary on Tuesday. Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to win Senate confirmation to a Cabinet post.

Ken Cedeno/AP

Updated at 3:33 p.m. ET

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg made history Tuesday, becoming the first openly gay man to win Senate confirmation to run a Cabinet department.

Buttigieg was easily confirmed as secretary of transportation by a vote of 86-13.

After the vote, Buttigieg tweeted that he was "honored and humbled by today's vote in the Senate-and ready to get to work."

A former rival of President Biden's for the Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg is at age 39 the youngest member of Biden's Cabinet. He will take the reins at a sprawling agency, with jurisdiction over everything from federal highways to pipelines, air traffic and railroads, employing some 55,000 people.

The Department is also poised to play a major role in the new administration's efforts to combat climate change. Biden has said his infrastructure improvement proposals would include the "second great railroad revolution," and that he would seek funding "to build more climate-resilient communities to deal with more extreme floods, droughts and super storms."

Buttigieg has become one of the most visible faces of the administration even before his confirmation, appearing on The Tonight Show, The View as well as other outlets.

When his nomination was announced, Buttigieg said he was "mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment," saying he recalled as a 17-year-old seeing the news that one of then-President Bill Clinton's intended nominees was denied a Senate vote because he was gay. During his confirmation hearing, Buttigieg's husband, Chasten, sat behind him in the hearing room.

President Biden signed three executive orders related to immigration on Tuesday. His aides said work to reverse his predecessor's immigration policies has only just begun. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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President Biden signed three executive orders related to immigration on Tuesday. His aides said work to reverse his predecessor's immigration policies has only just begun.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 6:18 p.m. ET

President Biden signed three executive orders on Tuesday that he said would lead to a more "fair, orderly, humane" immigration system, including one that would begin the difficult process of reuniting migrant children separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

"There's a lot of talk, with good reason, about the number of executive orders that I've signed. I'm not making new law — I'm eliminating bad policy," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office before signing three actions to begin to roll back former President Donald Trump's hard-line immigration measures.

One of the orders creates a task force to find ways to reunite children in the U.S. with their parents, who were deported without them — something Biden said was a "moral and national shame."

The job is made challenging by a lack of records. Details of how children will be reunited are still to be determined. The task force will make recommendations on how to do it, working with representatives of families and other stakeholders. The task force will issue a report on its progress in 120 days and every 60 days thereafter, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

But advocates said urgent action is needed. "What we need now is an immediate commitment to specific remedies, including reunification in the U.S., permanent legal status and restitution for all of the 5,500-plus families separated by the Trump administration," said the American Civil Liberties Union's Lee Gelernt, who fought the issue in court.

"Anything short of that will be extremely troubling given that the U.S. government engaged in deliberate child abuse," Gelernt said in a statement.

Officials who previewed the executive actions to reporters said change won't happen overnight. In fact, more actions are almost certain to follow. "It takes time to review everything, so we are starting with these right now, but that doesn't mean it's the end of it," one of the officials said.

Restoring asylum

A second order looks at how to address the surge of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. in recent years and will look at how to replace the Migrant Protection Protocols program — what Trump referred to as "Remain in Mexico."

Biden suspended that program on his first day in office. He has vowed to help countries in Central America address the underlying causes of migration. But the administration wants to restore the asylum system, officials said — and do something to help people stuck in camps at the border. The details of how that will happen are not yet clear.

"We want to put in place an immigration process here that is humane, that is moral, that considers applications for refugees, applications for people to come into this country at the border in a way that treats people as human beings. That's going to take some time. It's not going to happen overnight," Psaki told reporters.

The third order requires agencies to do a "top-to-bottom review of recent regulations, policies and guidance that have set up barriers to our legal immigration system." The first one to go: Trump's "public charge" rule, which prevented immigrants from getting permanent resident, or green card, status if they had or were likely to require public benefits such as housing subsidies.

Advocacy groups said ending the public charge rule would help immigrants struggling with health care and food insecurity amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The new administration is under pressure from immigration activists who are worried that reforms will stall as Biden rushes to deal with the response to the health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — as well as climate change and racial equity priorities.

Biden sent a sweeping immigration legislative proposal to Congress the day he was sworn into office, but it's unclear how quickly the plan may be considered.

Biden Won't Reverse All Of Trump's Foreign Policy. Here's What He'll Keep

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Jake Sullivan, President Biden's national security adviser, says there are some foreign policy initiatives the Trump administration started that the new White House will build on. Carolyn Kaster/AP hide caption

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Jake Sullivan, President Biden's national security adviser, says there are some foreign policy initiatives the Trump administration started that the new White House will build on.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

A constant theme of President Biden's campaign for the White House was his sharp criticism of the irreparable damage to U.S. alliances, reputation and security that he argued came from the policy and actions of the Trump administration.

So it was perhaps a bit surprising to hear Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, praise several aspects of former President Donald Trump's international agenda during a joint appearance with Robert O'Brien, Sullivan's predecessor at the helm of the White House National Security Council.

Fittingly, the panel was sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace: the latest in a 20-year tradition of a joint conversation between the outgoing and incoming national security advisers after a transfer of power.

One of the Trump initiatives Biden plans to build on is the series of Abraham Accords, economic agreements between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan brokered by the Trump administration. Biden views the agreements as "positive for security in the region, positive for economic development in the region and positive for America's national interests," Sullivan said.

"Then-candidate Biden made no bones about coming out and saying, 'I think this is a good thing, I think this is a positive thing,' " when the first wave of agreements were finalized during the 2020 campaign, Sullivan noted.

Sullivan said the Biden administration aims to "deepen the cooperation between the countries that have signed the accords, make real the normalization that has taken root" and add additional countries as well.

Sullivan, who has been on the job for a little more than a week, also said the new administration plans to build on the Trump administration's partnership with Japan, India and Australia under what's known as the "Quad" — the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

The informal talks on security and regional issues — particularly issues where China is involved — is "a foundation upon which to build substantial American policy in the Pacific region," Sullivan said.

For his part, O'Brien said he thought Biden and Sullivan were "off to a great start on China."

Even though he stuck to diplomatic language in his friendly conversation with O'Brien, Sullivan also noted clear differences with the previous administration, and warned that Trump-era policies had worsened what he called an "escalating nuclear crisis" with Iran.

"Iran's nuclear program has advanced dramatically over the course of the past couple years," he said. "They are significantly closer to a nuclear weapon than they were when the previous administration withdrew from the [Iran nuclear deal]. Their ballistic missile capability has also advanced dramatically."

Sullivan helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal for the Obama administration, where he was national security adviser for Biden, then the vice president. The Trump administration pulled the United States out of the multinational agreement under which Iran agreed to stop working toward developing nuclear weapons in exchange for eased sanctions and steps toward more normalized relations with the U.S. and Europe.

Throughout the campaign and transition, Biden and Sullivan have insisted that some sort of return to the landmark deal is possible despite four years of breakdowns in the U.S.-Iran relationship, and Iran's renewed progress toward acquiring nuclear weapons.

On Friday, Sullivan said the Biden team would work to "get back to diplomacy" to try to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions with allies and regional partners.

President Biden signed an executive action Thursday that revokes a Trump-era policy cutting funds to global organizations that offer abortion; he also signed a second executive action to expand access to health insurance. Eric Gay/AP hide caption

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President Biden signed an executive action Thursday that revokes a Trump-era policy cutting funds to global organizations that offer abortion; he also signed a second executive action to expand access to health insurance.

Eric Gay/AP

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

President Biden signed two executive actions Thursday that are designed to expand access to reproductive health care and health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

"There's nothing new that we're doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before [Donald] Trump became president. Because by fiat, he changed — made [it] more inaccessible, more expensive and more difficult for people to qualify for either of those two plans," Biden said in a brief Oval Office signing ceremony.

"I'm not initiating any new law, any new aspect of the law," Biden stated. "This is going back to what the situation was prior to Trump's executive order."

An executive order Biden signed instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to open a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act through HealthCare.gov, the federally run health insurance marketplace. The enrollment period will run from Feb. 15 to May 15, giving Americans who have lost their employer-based health insurance because of the coronavirus pandemic an opportunity to sign up for coverage.

"As we continue to battle COVID-19, it is even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to affordable care," a White House fact sheet reads.

The measure also orders federal agencies to reexamine current policies that may undermine the Affordable Care Act and the health insurance exchanges created under the law. Biden is also requesting a review of policies that could make it more difficult for Americans to enroll in Medicaid.

His second executive action aims "to protect and expand access to comprehensive reproductive health care" by rescinding the Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule. This policy, reinstated and expanded by the Trump administration, bars international nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion counseling or referrals from receiving U.S. funding.

Biden on Thursday called the gag rule an "attack on women's health access."

Affordable Care Act

Biden's executive actions will undo some of the Trump administration's efforts to undermine the ACA.

Last November, the Trump administration and several Republican-led states argued at the U.S. Supreme Court that the program should be voided, which would have eliminated popular elements of the law such as protections for those with preexisting conditions.

The Supreme Court will hear a case that could decide the legality of work requirements for Medicaid recipients. The Trump administration granted waivers to several states to allow work requirements for Medicaid, though some of those waivers have not been implemented and others have been blocked by courts.

Biden is reversing course and directing federal agencies to reconsider those work requirement rules. He is also asking agencies to review policies that undermined protections for people with preexisting conditions, including complications related to COVID-19.

The Trump White House also refused to advertise the ACA as an option for the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and health insurance during the pandemic. The administration faced pressure to open HealthCare.gov for anyone to enroll in the Affordable Care Act in response to the pandemic, but it never did.

Global gag rule

For decades, Democratic and Republican presidents have alternately rescinded or reinstated the global gag rule, with Democrats, such as Biden, opposing the policy. Republicans have argued that the rule would reduce the number of abortions.

However, a study released in 2019 suggested the policy failed to reduce the rate of abortions and ultimately had the opposite effect. The study said the rate of abortions increased by about 40% in the countries studied — most likely because the funding ban caused a reduction in access to contraception and a consequent rise in unwanted pregnancies.

Under the actions announced on Thursday, the president is telling federal agencies to review a Trump-era rule that limited the use of Title X federal funds meant for family planning and reproductive health services for low-income patients. Under this program, organizations that provided abortions or abortion counseling could not have access to those federal funds.

The White House said, "Across the country and around the world, people — particularly women, Black, Indigenous and other people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and those with low incomes — have been denied access to reproductive health care."

Alana Wise contributed to this report.

A Wyoming County Predicts 'Total Economic Devastation' From Biden Leasing Ban

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A sign in the Jonah Field advertises cheap rates at a deserted motel built for oil and gas workers. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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A sign in the Jonah Field advertises cheap rates at a deserted motel built for oil and gas workers.

Kirk Siegler/NPR

After 15 years working in western oil patches, Antonio Magana finally struck out on his own, starting a small oil and gas well servicing company.

Then the pandemic hit.

Demand tanked and production ground nearly to a halt here in Wyoming's Jonah Field. Magana and his skeleton staff are down to working just three days a week.

"Right now, not much going on, you know, we've been working little hours," Magana says. "A lot of people lost their jobs a month ago, a lot of people."

The Jonah was once one of the country's most prolific public lands gas fields. Locals boast proudly that this is where modern day fracking was born. A few years ago this local truck stop would have been humming.

Today, a lone semi is gassing up. The cafe is deserted. A frozen sign in the snow advertises a move-in special at the vacant motel. Even before the pandemic, there was a glut in natural gas on the market so companies were scaling back.

After Wednesday's announcement that the Biden administration is putting an indefinite pause on new leases on federal ground like this, Magana is worried that companies won't need contractors like him.

"I hope they continue producing gas, you know, because we need gas for heating," he says. "And people need work, especially here in Wyoming."

In a typical year, oil and gas pumped off of federal land sends hundreds of millions of dollars to state and local governments in the rural West, where the federal government often owns most of the land. And while largely expected here, Wednesday's news is stirring plenty of anxiety over the future.

Sublette County, Wyo., Commissioner Joel Bousman says the economic fallout from a ban on new oil and gas leases on federal land will be devastating to local services. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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Sublette County, Wyo., Commissioner Joel Bousman says the economic fallout from a ban on new oil and gas leases on federal land will be devastating to local services.

Kirk Siegler/NPR

While only 10% of the nation's oil and gas comes off federal land, in Wyoming, it's hugely flip-flopped. Ninety percent of all the natural gas here is mined with leases from underneath public land. The state has already shed an estimated 6,000 mining jobs in the past year. A recent University of Wyoming study forecasted that a federal leasing moratorium could cost local governments $300 million a year.

"We're looking at schools with no kids in them, teachers that don't have jobs because you can't hire teachers if you don't have kids to teach," says Joel Bousman, a commissioner in Sublette County. About 90% of his county's budget comes from production and other taxes off the Jonah Field.

Bousman contends President Biden's climate plan ignores communities like his.

"We're worried about total devastation of our economy in this county if this is truly an indication of the direction he wants to go," he says. "Which he has said it is."

But some here will tell you Wyoming has had years to prepare for the eventuality of fossil fuels going away and little has been done. Linda Baker is a teacher and longtime environmental activist in Pinedale, a town of 2,000 once infamous for its brown cloud from drilling obscuring the Wind River mountains. Baker says blame toward the feds is misguided; it's the companies, she says, that overproduced.

"It's uneconomical to drill right now," Baker says. "Oil and gas will cry bloody murder, but right now, they're not drilling, because they can't afford to."

Conservationists are also quick to point out that most of the Jonah Field is already leased anyway. Some companies in Western states are also holding on to existing leases and not even developing them. There were 21 drilling rigs statewide in Wyoming a year ago, now there are only six.

Even before the abrupt change in federal policy, local trucker Jake Dennis says he started trying to move his business away from the oil patch.

"There ain't nothin' to do, I mean, we could go over the road, but all you're doing is paying for fuel and a driver," Dennis says. "You can't even keep enough to keep the trucks going."

Down to only three truckers, from a high of 10 a year ago, Dennis Trucking is switching gears to logging. He says there's still some hauling work because of thinning and wildfire prevention going on on local U.S. Forest Service and private lands around Sublette County.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin warning of a continued threat from domestic violent extremists "with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition." Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin warning of a continued threat from domestic violent extremists "with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition."

Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin on Wednesday warning of a continued threat from domestic violent extremists.

The bulletin did not cite any specific threat but described "a heightened threat environment across the United States, which DHS believes will persist in the weeks following the successful Presidential Inauguration."

"Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence," the bulletin said.

DHS typically issues one or two security bulletins a year. The bulletins describe current developments or general trends regarding threats of terrorism. Its last such notice was about a year ago when DHS warned of potential cyberattacks from Iran.

Homeland Security and the FBI issued no such bulletin in advance of the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., despite chatter online that suggested violence could occur that day. The bulletin posted on Wednesday said some extremists may be "emboldened" by the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The new bulletin noted that those it calls domestic violent extremists are motivated by a range of issues, "including anger over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results, and police use of force."

It also said that some violent extremists are driven by "long-standing racial and ethnic tension," including opposition to immigration, citing the 2019 shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman killed 23 people.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, commended DHS for issuing the bulletin.

"The domestic terrorism attack on our Capitol earlier this month shined a light on a threat that has been right in front of our faces for years. I am glad to see that DHS fully recognizes the threat posed by violent, right-wing extremists, and is taking efforts to communicate that threat to the American people," he said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Thompson also urged that the Senate move swiftly to confirm President Biden's nominee for DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske issued the bulletin.

Steven D'Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said Tuesday that the bureau has identified more than 400 suspects in the breach of the Capitol and assault on law enforcement officers. Of those, the FBI said it had arrested approximately 135.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Wednesday. Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Linda Thomas-Greenfield appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Wednesday.

Pool/Getty Images

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Biden's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pledged to take a tougher line against China and its push to exert influence over the multinational organization during her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.

"We know that China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the values of the institution," Thomas-Greenfield told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

"Their success depends on our continued withdrawal," she added. "That will not happen on my watch."

It was an effort to show she would be tough on China, while also expressing remorse for giving a speech at a Chinese-funded foundation based on a university campus in Savannah, Ga., in 2019.

In the speech, Thomas-Greenfield offered qualified optimism that the U.S. and China could both be positive influences in Africa. Her remarks became a contentious issue for some members of the committee.

That speech, said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the committee, "has become quite the buzz in these hallways in recent days."

"I personally am not going to hold one speech against somebody, but you are going to have to speak to that," he added.

"I truly regret having accepted that invitation and having had my name associated with the Confucius Institute," Thomas-Greenfield said, referring to remarks she gave at Savannah State University, an historically black university.

In an exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., she said she accepted the speaking invitation not as a favor to the institute, which has since closed at the university, but because of her long-standing relationship with Savannah State.

"I work very, very committedly to get out the message about foreign service careers across historically Black colleges and universities as well as Hispanic universities, because I strongly believe that our foreign service should be representative of America," she said.

"And Savannah gave me the opportunity to do that."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, holds a copy of a 2019 speech by Linda Thomas-Greenfield that she delivered at the Chinese-government sponsored Confucius Institute at Savannah State University. Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, holds a copy of a 2019 speech by Linda Thomas-Greenfield that she delivered at the Chinese-government sponsored Confucius Institute at Savannah State University.

Pool/Getty Images

Greenfield-Thomas also noted she was not paid by the Confucius Institute, but by the university.

"This speech is cheerleading for the Chinese Communist Party," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said during the hearing.

Thomas-Greenfield pushed back on that characterization, saying she has a long record in her career as a foreign service officer of calling out China for predatory lending practices in Africa and human rights abuses, topics she said came up in questions with students after the speech.

Democrats on the committee highlighted her life story, growing up in Louisiana, attending segregated schools, then going on to graduate from Louisiana State University prior to becoming one of the few Black women diplomats as why colleagues should confirm her for the U.N. ambassador post.

"Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has lived the ideals of our nation, even at a time when it was falling short of our founding ideals and has spent her career blazing trails," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said during the hearing.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., defended the now controversial speech, not for its content, but for Thomas-Greenfield's willingness to address a historically Black institution.

"The fact that you accepted an invitation from a Black college to give a speech, to me, shows you have the right priority list," Booker said, praising her as part of a generation of women breaking down barriers.

"Our State Department ranks are woefully lacking in African Americans," he added.

If confirmed, Thomas-Greenfield will represent the Biden administration at the U.N. during a period of renewed racial tensions in the United States. It would also mark her return to the foreign service after being pushed out during the Trump administration.

Prior to leaving diplomatic service in 2017, she oversaw the Bureau of African Affairs during the Obama administration. She previously served as director general of the foreign service as well as ambassador to Liberia.

President Biden has elevated the position of U.N. ambassador to cabinet level, giving another Black woman a prominent post within his administration.

In March, the U.S. will assume the presidency of the 15-member United Nations Security Council.

During her opening remarks before the committee, Thomas-Greenfield nodded to the four women who previously held the U.N. ambassador post, known as the U.S. permanent representative: Susan Rice, Nikki Haley, Kelly Craft and Samantha Power, Biden's pick to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development.

But it was the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech by Ralph Bunche, the legendary African American diplomat, that she quoted from during the hearing, calling the United Nations "the greatest peace organization ever dedicated to the salvation of mankind's future on earth."

Thomas-Greenfield took it a step further, adding to Bunche's remarks.

"But that's only true if America is leading the way," she said.

"When America shows up, when we are consistent and persistent, when we exert our influence in accordance to our values, the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security and our collective well-being," she continued.

"If instead we walk away from the table and allow others to fill the void, the global community suffers and so do American interests."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and then-Vice President Joe Biden talk during the 51st Munich Security Conference in February 2015. Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and then-Vice President Joe Biden talk during the 51st Munich Security Conference in February 2015.

Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images

When the president speaks to a world leader, the contents of the call are typically released in a short statement known as a readout. But when President Biden spoke Tuesday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the White House instead released a video.

Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the video — the first one of its kind for the team — reflects the importance of the White House's support for NATO and for revitalizing trans-Atlantic relationships, which were frayed during the Trump years.

YouTube

The edited video conversation is part of a new effort to bring the public closer and share more of Biden's work with foreign leaders. Indeed, Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, has tied U.S. foreign policy to the American middle class.

"What Joe Biden is proposing, and what I am reinforcing as the national security adviser, is that every element of what we do in our foreign policy and national security ultimately has to be measured by the impact it has on working families, middle-class people, ordinary Americans here in the United States," he told NPR.

In Tuesday's call, Biden pledged U.S. commitment to collective defense — a key facet of NATO membership.

"We've got a mountain of work ahead of us from COVID to climate to tackling the security challenges," Biden told Stoltenberg in the call. "And I intend to rebuild and reestablish our alliances, starting with NATO."

Stoltenberg responded in similar fashion: "It's great to talk to you again," and added that he looked forward to working with Biden.

While the conversation may seem — and is — pretty standard positive fare for two world leaders, it's also a clear shift from Biden's predecessor, President Trump, who repeatedly lambasted NATO members for, in his view, taking advantage of the United States by not meeting their financial obligations to the bloc. Trump also appeared to condition collective defense to NATO members' own defense spending and threatened to pull out of the alliance, the cornerstone of Western security after World War II.

Robert Flaherty, who leads digital strategy at the White House, said seeing and hearing the president affirm NATO's Article 5 mutual-defense commitment in his own voice was powerful.

The White House digital team worked with the NATO communications team on all the details for the video — from camera angles for the recording, editing and posting. That included making sure Biden was shot from the left and Stoltenberg from the right so the exchanged looked more natural.

The White House did the edit, but both sides agreed to the final content, Flaherty said.

He said the team may return to the format again for meetings with small-business owners, front-line workers and other foreign leaders.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, President Biden's nominee for energy secretary, speaks last month in Wilmington, Del. Carolyn Kaster/AP hide caption

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Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, President Biden's nominee for energy secretary, speaks last month in Wilmington, Del.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to refocus the Department of Energy on climate change if she's confirmed as the next secretary of energy.

In a confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Granholm echoed President Biden's emphasis on new jobs created through achieving his goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

"I am obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America," Granholm said in her opening statement.

She cited her time as Michigan's governor when two of the largest automakers had declared bankruptcy amid the Great Recession. She worked with the Obama administration on a bailout package that encouraged them to turn to cleaner technologies such as electric vehicles.

Several times during the hearing, Granholm mentioned she drives a Chevrolet Bolt EV and praised the car's acceleration.

Environmental groups generally support Granholm's nomination and look forward to the agency improving energy efficiency standards for everything from light bulbs to stoves and furnaces. Former President Donald Trump made it a personal crusade to weaken such standards, even targeting showerheads in his last days in office.

"She'll also be inheriting a backlog of work and a shortage of career staff resulting from the Trump administration's efforts to erode the department's clean energy activities," said Arjun Krishnaswami, policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

If confirmed, Granholm could have a big effect quickly at the department. Krishnaswami said there's about $40 billion available for loans and loan guarantees to promote clean energy technologies. That's money the Trump administration, for the most part, chose not to spend.

Some conservatives seek to sow doubt about those programs.

"What we're mostly likely to get are more green bankruptcies like Solyndra and Fisker Automotive," said Steve Milloy, who was a member of Trump's 2016 Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

But that Obama-era program also has big successes that critics don't mention. Tesla received a $465 million loan in 2010 and repaid it in 2013. The EV manufacturer has become the most valuable U.S. carmaker in history.

The Department of Energy is sometimes called "the department of everything" because of its wide mandate. The energy secretary oversees 17 national labs and is responsible for managing the country's nuclear weapons stockpile. Granholm did not face questions about her lack of experience in this area. Past nominees, such as Rick Perry, have been confirmed without such expertise.

During the confirmation hearing, Senate Republicans focused on fossil fuel jobs that likely will be lost because of Biden's sweeping $2 trillion climate plan.

"I find some of Gov. Granholm's past statements and past executive actions troubling," said Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, which has big coal, oil and gas industries.

He pointed to a 2016 statement by Granholm in which she expressed support for opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline and for keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Barrasso asked if she stands by that comment.

"I think it is important that as we develop fossil fuels that we also develop the technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Granholm responded.

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana asked about the lag time between when some fossil fuel workers might lose their jobs and when the Biden administration's promise of green jobs becomes reality.

"If you've lost a job that's putting food on the table now, it's cold comfort to know that years from now — perhaps in a different state with a different training within which you have — there'll be another job available," Cassidy said.

Granholm committed to ensuring there will be a focus on creating jobs in states with a history of producing fossil fuels.

From her experience in Michigan, she said, that "when we focused on providing incentives for job providers to locate in Michigan in clean energy, they came."

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the incoming chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he expected Granholm to be confirmed.

If that happens, Granholm has told federal ethics officials she will divest millions of dollars in energy-related investments and step down from the board of Proterra, a company that makes electric buses.

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, N.M., in September. The state stands to lose royalties and revenue from a Biden administration pause on new oil and gas leases. Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, N.M., in September. The state stands to lose royalties and revenue from a Biden administration pause on new oil and gas leases.

Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET

In an effort to slow the nation's contribution to climate change, President Biden has signed an executive order to begin halting oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.

The much-anticipated move is one of several executive actions the president took on Wednesday to address the worsening climate crisis and the broader decline of the natural world, but it won't come without pushback.

"Today is Climate Day at the White House, which means it's Jobs Day at the White House," Biden said at the top of his remarks, also citing the health and national security impact of climate change, which Biden called a "maximum threat."

The president said there is increased bipartisan concern about climate change, though many Republicans have criticized Biden's actions, claiming they will eliminate jobs. Biden emphasized work in agriculture and manufacturing to advance energy conservation. He also promised 1 million new jobs in the auto industry as federal agencies aim to lead on a transition to electric vehicles.

"We're not going to lose jobs in these areas; we're going to create jobs," he said.

On fossil fuel extraction, Biden addressed the pause in oil and gas leasing on federal lands. He also said, "We're not going to ban fracking," which was a charge leveled at Biden by President Trump during the 2020 campaign.

Biden pledged that the plan will focus on disproportionate health, environmental and economic impact on communities of color and that 40% of federal benefits for clean air and water infrastructure will go to communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

"These aren't pie-in-the-sky dreams. These are concrete, actionable solutions," Biden said at a signing ceremony for the executive orders.

"It's not time for small measures. We need to be bold."

According to White House officials, Biden is ordering the Department of the Interior to "pause" new oil and gas leasing on public land and offshore water "to the extent possible" and to review existing leasing and permitting practices "related to fossil fuel development" on the properties.

Oil and gas drilling on tribal land would not be barred by Biden's order.

National climate adviser Gina McCarthy and special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry addressed reporters to discuss the executive actions earlier in the afternoon, describing the threat of climate change as an "existential" threat to the globe.

McCarthy reiterated Biden's commitment to address climate change as one of four major interrelated crises that include COVID-19, the economic downturn and racial inequity.

"It is the policy of this administration that climate considerations shall be an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security," McCarthy said, quoting text Biden signed later, noting that Kerry will take the lead on climate in foreign policy and that she will lead domestic efforts with a new office established in the White House.

She and Kerry also addressed the economic impact at length, saying the administration is focused on creating jobs as part of the plan. McCarthy also said environmental justice and scientific integrity are priorities for the administration in these efforts.

Kerry spoke to the threats from climate change, noting that Biden rejoined the Paris climate agreement to address the issue as a global crisis, but also said that agreement is not enough. Kerry said the administration is pursuing a more aggressive target than was set in Paris ahead of a follow-up summit planned for Glasgow, Scotland, in November. This will be in addition to an April summit the United States is hosting.

The oil and gas industry, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to challenge the move, as are fossil-fuel rich Western states whose economies are closely linked to extractive industry on public lands.

Anticipating the move, Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas companies in many Western states, said: "We'll be in court shortly thereafter."

Fossil fuel extraction on federal lands generates billions of dollars in royalties and revenues for local and state economies. But it's also responsible for nearly a quarter of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions, and the Biden administration appears to be serious about cutting the country's outsized contribution to global warming.

During his first day in office, Biden recommitted the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement and revoked a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would move crude oil from Canada to the U.S. He also ordered reviews of more than 100 of the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks.

"The climate and wildlife extinction crises demand this kind of bold, urgent action," said Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.

The halt on new federal leasing is one of several executive actions Biden took Wednesday. The orders formally begin the process of implementing steps that Biden promised throughout his campaign for the White House.

In addition to the leasing order, Biden directed the Department of the Interior to conserve 30% of the nation's land and waters by the 2030 and to identify ways to double offshore wind production by that same deadline.

Biden has repeatedly framed climate change as one of the top threats facing the U.S. An order that the director of national intelligence produce reports on the security risks of changing weather patterns and temperatures will further formalize that view.

Biden also ordered federal agencies to examine how they can purchase zero-emission vehicles and electricity, and announced the date of a long-promised global summit meant to underscore that the United States has returned to the fold of nations working together to lower carbon emissions: April 22, which is Earth Day.

And Biden is also beginning the process of launching another major campaign promise: a Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after the New Deal's iconic national conservation project, that would work to sequester carbon emissions in the agricultural sector and create more green spaces across the country.

The shift in attitude toward climate change and its causes is among the starkest differences between the Biden administration and its predecessor. Over the last four years, the Trump administration minimized the role of climate change, shrinking protections for undeveloped landscapes and endangered species, while rolling back regulations on fossil fuel extraction. The administration opened up broad swaths of the country's roughly 640 million acres of public lands to development as part of its "energy dominance" agenda. The moves could cast a long shadow on Biden's climate goals.

An analysis by The Associated Press found that oil companies stockpiled leases and pushed through drilling permit applications on public lands in the waning months of the Trump administration, giving the industry a large inventory to work with.

Biden's halt on new oil and gas leasing also does nothing to affect activities on private or state lands, where roughly 90% of the country's oil and gas development occurs.

"The industry has a lot of leases in production, a lot of leases that have been issued, so it won't have an immediate impact. But it will give an immediate opportunity for the administration to think about how we move forward," said Nada Culver, the vice president of public lands at the National Audubon Society.

The law governing fossil fuel and mineral development on public lands is the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, Culver added. "It's definitely time for more than a few tweaks," she said.

Last month, more than 500 environmental groups sent a letter to Biden's transition team with a draft executive order, asking the then president-elect to make good on his campaign promises and permanently ban new oil and gas leasing and permitting on federal lands and waters.

Last week, acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed an order to temporarily do just that for the next 60 days. Legal experts question whether a permanent ban would hold up in court.

"Ending permitting would be extremely difficult," said Rebecca Watson, who served as assistant secretary for lands and minerals management at the Department of the Interior under President George W. Bush. "You have sold a property right, a lease, so you've paid for a lease and then you can't develop it. I think there would be lawsuits and, rightly so, over a move like that."

A permanent leasing ban would also be subject to lawsuits, she said. Under the Mineral Leasing Act, the government is required to hold quarterly lease sales. The Biden administration could make fewer or all lands unavailable for leasing, but Watson thinks a court might find that illegal.

Mark Squillace, a law professor at the University of Colorado who worked at Interior under the Clinton and Carter administrations, agrees that a permanent ban would run into more problems than a temporary pause. But he thinks the administration can make a big statement with its immediate actions.

What the Biden administration does on public lands could be an example for states that have a lot of oil and gas development on private lands and depend on that development, he said.

"I'd really like to see an orderly ramping down of oil and gas development on public lands, recognizing that in 20 or 30 years we want to be in a really different place," he said.

Squillace points to the quick decline of the coal industry over the past decade as an example of what not to do. As energy companies moved more toward cheaper renewable energy sources and natural gas, coal-dependent communities in Appalachia and some Western towns saw their economic base deteriorate almost overnight.

Careful planning, he said, could avoid the same fate for places like Wyoming and New Mexico that have a similar dependence on oil and gas.

That approach would also mean a more gradual decline in climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, but the science is clear that sharp reductions need to happen immediately to avoid the most catastrophic climate change scenarios.

'Time For Us To See Action': A Call To Carry Out Biden's Order On Trans Troops

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Army Capt. Jennifer Peace, Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King (center) and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Akira Wyatt attend a hearing on Transgender Service Policy on Capitol Hill in 2019. King and other trans troops have long fought for the right to serve openly prior to Trump's ban, and she hopes there is more legislation to follow Biden's repeal to ensure something like that does not happen again. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images hide caption

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Army Capt. Jennifer Peace, Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King (center) and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Akira Wyatt attend a hearing on Transgender Service Policy on Capitol Hill in 2019. King and other trans troops have long fought for the right to serve openly prior to Trump's ban, and she hopes there is more legislation to follow Biden's repeal to ensure something like that does not happen again.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Monday reversed a Trump-era ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military on Monday.

Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King, who has served in the military for more than two decades and has been out as a trans woman for the past few years, tells NPR's Sarah McCammon that she and other trans troops have long fought for the right to serve openly and that she hopes to see more legislation from Biden to protect against yet another reversal through executive order.

"The National Defense Authorization Act must have a provision that makes it so that executive orders can't continue to bounce this issue back and forth," King says.

Biden's executive order would also ban discharges and denials of reenlistment on the basis of gender identity, correct the records of those denied from service because of their gender identity and order the secretary of defense and the secretary of homeland security to reallow transgender troops.

Studies, like the one from the National LGBTQ Task Force, suggest that trans people are likely to serve in the military at about double the rate of the overall U.S. population. There is an estimated 15,000 transgender troops serving in the U.S. military, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Trump first ordered the ban on transgender troops in July 2017, via Twitter.

In his tweet he wrote: "After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military." A month later he signed a directive that made the order official. But it was blocked by numerous federal courts until 2019, when the Supreme Court weighed in.

Although Trump was the one who signed the ban, it was up to then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to implement it. King says it is now up to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was confirmed into the position last Friday, to work with his staff to carry out Biden's reversal.

King says she's concerned with how long that will take. "We've already had two studies on this," she says. "It's time for us to see action. And that's my hope – is that we will see action quickly on this."

The process to implement Biden's order should take around 60 days, according to a statement from Austin on Monday. After the initial two month period, Biden will ask for a progress report from both the secretary of defense and secretary of homeland security.

When Trump first spoke of the ban, he cited financial reasons — despite a Rand Corporation study commissioned by the Department of Defense that showed otherwise.

Biden cited that one from 2016 in his executive order: "the Department of Defense found that enabling transgender individuals to serve openly in the United States military would have only a minimal impact on military readiness and healthcare costs."

Hear the full conversation with Staff Sgt. King at the audio link above. You can also hear her on Morning Edition in 2019 when the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to enforce its ban on transgender military personnel.

Ziad Buchh and Dalia Mortada produced and edited the audio story.

Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are seen this week at the Covenant Place facility in Sumter, S.C. Micah Green/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Micah Green/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are seen this week at the Covenant Place facility in Sumter, S.C.

Micah Green/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Updated at 5:46 p.m. ET

President Biden announced Tuesday that his administration is working to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the two COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use, with the goal, the White House says, of having enough vaccine supply for the entire adult U.S. population by the end of the summer.

He also announced steps to increase vaccine doses going to state and local governments over the next three weeks, and to provide them more clarity going forward about how much supply they should expect.

Longer term, Biden said his administration plans to buy an additional 100 million doses each from both Moderna and Pfizer, which has a vaccine with its German counterpart, BioNTech.

"This increases the total vaccine order for the U.S. by 50%, from 400 million to 600 million with these additional doses expected to deliver this summer," the White House said in a fact sheet. The Trump administration had secured contracts with the two companies for the already-pledged 400 million doses.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require a two-dose regimen per person. The Moderna vaccine is currently authorized for people 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine right now is recommended for people 16 and up.

An NPR analysis last week found that the two drugmakers needed to increase their pace of production to meet their original promises of 100 million doses apiece delivered to the United States by the end of March. Moderna said it was on track to hit its mark, while Pfizer didn't respond to NPR's request for comment.

Biden's announcement about the expected additional supply comes nearly a week into his presidency, and as he has repeated that the vaccine rollout — to help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic and to put unemployed Americans back to work — is his top priority. More than 420,000 Americans are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 — a figure that's likely a severe undercount.

Biden has said his goal is to get 100 million shots into arms in the first 100 days of his administration, a figure that was in line with earlier trends and has been called too low by many experts. Speaking Monday, Biden threw out a higher figure he'd like to see: 150 million shots.

The allocation and delivery of vaccines — now crossing two administrations — has been troubled. Some 20 million more doses have been distributed by the federal government than have been administered to people, according to the latest tally from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a call with senior administration officials before Biden's remarks, one official noted two constraining factors on the inoculation effort: supply of vaccines and an ability by states and localities to administer vaccines quickly.

Over the next three weeks, the Biden administration said it will boost supply to states, tribes and territories from a current 8.6 million doses a week to a minimum of 10 million doses per week.

And responding to complaints from state and local officials about how much supply they were due to receive, the administration is also pledging more transparency.

"The Department of Health and Human Services will provide allocation estimates for the upcoming three weeks as opposed to the one week look-ahead that they previously received," the White House said in its fact sheet. "This increased transparency will give state and local leaders greater certainty around supply so that they can plan their vaccination efforts and administer vaccines effectively and efficiently."

In his remarks, Biden repeated a phrase that the struggle to quell the pandemic is akin to "a wartime effort." He cautioned Americans that there are more months ahead of sacrifice, and he urged them to continue wearing masks and maintain social distancing. And he called on Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion rescue package to help struggling Americans and to provide billions in funding to aid in the vaccine distribution effort.

Antony Blinken listens last week during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Alex Edelman/AFP/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Alex Edelman/AFP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Antony Blinken listens last week during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Alex Edelman/AFP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With bipartisan support, the Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as the new secretary of state on Tuesday. The final vote was 78-22.

Blinken, 58, was earlier approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As the top U.S. diplomat, Blinken will face a number of national security challenges, including how to deal with China, Russia and Iran. Blinken has vowed to restore American leadership to the global stage. One of the first acts of the Biden administration was to start the process to rejoin the Paris climate accord.

"The world is on fire right now, with pressing crises in every region and hemisphere," said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He told senators on the eve of the confirmation vote that Blinken is well-suited for the job.

Blinken has a long history with President Biden, previously serving as his adviser both in the White House and the Senate before becoming deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. Out of government during the Trump era, he co-founded WestExec Advisors, a consulting group.

The Revolving Door Project, a watchdog that studies corporate influence in government, has raised concerns about various Biden nominees, including Blinken, whose financial disclosures "provide limited information on the real nature of Blinken's corporate-sector work," researcher Timi Iwayemi told NPR.

However, senators did not raise those questions in his confirmation hearing, which focused on policies.

On China, Blinken gave the Trump administration some credit for taking a tough approach and said he agreed with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's move to accuse China of genocide against Uighurs.

He also said he would keep the U.S. Embassy in Israel in Jerusalem and would build on recent agreements by several Arab states to normalize ties with Israel.

Blinken defended the Iran nuclear deal, from which the U.S. withdrew under Trump, and assured senators he would consult with them on Iran, making clear that Tehran would have to come back into compliance with the deal for Washington to ease sanctions.

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. James Risch of Idaho, said Tuesday he disagreed with Blinken on Iran but found "tremendous areas of agreement" on other subjects and cited Blinken's "long and distinguished history when it comes to statecraft in foreign relations matters."

The new secretary of state is steeped in the world of diplomacy. He's a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School who speaks fluent French. His father and uncle were both ambassadors. He told senators he sees public service as a "sacred duty — payment on the debt our family owes to the nation that gave us refuge and extraordinary opportunities across the generations."

Susan Rice, President Biden's domestic policy adviser, discusses his racial equity agenda Tuesday at the White House. Drew Angerer/Getty Images hide caption

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Susan Rice, President Biden's domestic policy adviser, discusses his racial equity agenda Tuesday at the White House.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Updated at 3:33 p.m. ET

Saying it's time to act "because that's what faith and morality require us to do," President Biden on Tuesday signed four executive actions aimed at advancing racial equity for Americans the White House says have been underserved and left behind.

Biden said Tuesday that the measures follow one of his core campaign promises: to restore "the soul of the nation," as he often said during the presidential race.

"Our soul will be troubled," he said, "as long as systemic racism is allowed to exist."

In announcing the actions, Biden cited the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer last May, which touched off demonstrations in cities across the United States. Biden called the killing "the knee on the neck of justice," and said that because of it, "the ground has shifted. It changed minds and mindsets."

The four executive actions Biden signed:

  • direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development "to take steps necessary to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies";
  • direct the Department of Justice to end its use of private prisons;
  • reaffirm the federal government's "commitment to tribal sovereignty and consultation":
  • and combat xenophobia against Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

Before the signing ceremony, Biden also called for restoring and extending the Voting Rights Act, but announced no new initiatives regarding ballot access. Some state legislatures are seeking to restrict access in the aftermath of November's elections.

Earlier, domestic policy adviser Susan Rice told reporters that "advancing equity is a critical part of healing and of restoring unity in our nation."

Rice cited a 2016 Department of Justice inspector general's report that she said found private prisons are "less safe, less secure and arguably less humane." She said Biden is committed to reducing incarceration levels "while making communities safer," which she said starts with not issuing any new federal contracts for private prisons. But Rice said the order does not apply to private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The ACLU called Biden's action on private prisons "an important first step," but that he "has an obligation to do more, especially given his history and promises."

According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, a little over 14,000 federal inmates are currently in privately managed facilities. That's 9% of total federal inmates.

In a statement, the Day 1 Alliance, a trade association representing private detention facilities, said Biden's action "is a misguided attempt to blame longtime government contractors for a 'mass incarceration' problem they actually play zero role in driving."

The White House said the presidential memorandum on housing directs HUD to "examine the effects of the Trump administration's regulatory actions that undermined fair housing policies and laws," and the measure also "recognizes the central role the federal government has played implementing housing policies across the United States, from redlining to mortgage discrimination to destructive federal highway construction, that have had racially discriminatory impacts."

The Biden administration says the executive action on tribal sovereignty shows its commitment "to re-establishing federal respect for Tribal sovereignty, strengthening the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the federal government and American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, empowering self-determination, and advancing racial justice for Native communities." The order, the White House says, "reinvigorates the commitment of all federal agencies to engage in regular, robust, and meaningful consultation with Tribal governments."

Biden's presidential memorandum on Asian American and Pacific Islanders establishes that the policy of the administration "is to condemn and denounce anti-Asian bias and discrimination," which Biden called "unacceptable and un-American."

Hate crimes against Asian Americans rose along with the spread of the coronavirus, which emerged from China. Former President Donald Trump routinely referred to it as "the China virus."

The memorandum directs the Department of Health and Human Services "to consider issuing guidance describing best practices to advance cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity towards AAPIs in the federal government's COVID-19 response." It also directs the Department of Justice to work with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities "to prevent hate crimes and harassment against AAPIs."

Tuesday's measures continue Biden's rollout of more than 20 executive actions in his administration's first days.

One executive action signed last week requires all federal departments and agencies to look for ways to address racial equity.

And a senior government official, who spoke to reporters Tuesday on the condition of not being identified, said, "This is not the end of our work on racial equity," adding that "we'll have a lot more work to do in the coming weeks and months."

Miguel Cardona, President Biden's nominee for U.S. education secretary, speaks during a December event announcing his nomination. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Miguel Cardona, President Biden's nominee for U.S. education secretary, speaks during a December event announcing his nomination.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

With many U.S. schools still shuttered or operating on a limited basis, and millions of children learning remotely (or trying to), the stakes are high for Miguel Cardona. He is President Biden's pick to run the U.S. Department of Education, and if confirmed, he'll be charged with making good on Biden's promise to re-open most K-12 schools during the new administration's first 100 days.

When asked Monday if that goal was "too optimistic," Cardona pushed back: "No, I think it's strong leadership."

That answer came in an interview with Lucy Nalpathanchil, host of Connecticut Public Radio's Where We Live, in which Cardona reflected on what it would take to meet Biden's goal.

"Ultimately, we can only safely reopen our schools while we are able to reduce spread and contain the virus," he said, an acknowledgement that, at the moment, the virus' spread remains unchecked in many communities.

Unlike former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Cardona has a long public school resume. He began as an elementary school teacher in his hometown, Meriden, Conn., then spent a decade as a principal in the same district, winning Connecticut principal of the year in 2012. Cardona eventually helped run the district as assistant superintendent, until he was tapped in August 2019 to be Connecticut's state commissioner of education. Cardona's tenure overseeing Connecticut's schools was relatively brief and dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a speech accepting his nomination to be the next U.S. secretary of education, Cardona said the pandemic has "taken painful disparities and wrenched them open even wider. ... It has stolen time from our children." In the years to come, he said, "we will carry its impacts."

During Monday's interview, when Nalpathanchil asked what the U.S. Department of Education, under his leadership, could do to help schools re-open, Cardona began by promising state and school leaders clear, science-driven guidance around how to safely reopen and manage schools during a pandemic, something they did not get from the Trump administration.

With Biden's COVID-19 plan, Cardona said, school leaders can expect "consistency in messaging," and a national strategy that can inform and drive local efforts. He said one of the most important lessons he had learned guiding Connecticut's schools is that decisions around closing and reopening should be made in "very close partnership" with local health officials.

"At the national level, that's critically important that we work with CDC, that we work with Health and Human Services to make sure that the decisions that are being made around schools are in line with what we know [can] protect people," Cardona said.

But Cardona also made clear he does not see it as the education secretary's job — or even within the secretary's authority — to force school districts to adopt these science-based strategies, including requiring teachers and students to wear masks.

The department's role "is really to support states who are working to develop policies... to safely reopen schools," Cardona said.

"What we do know is, in Connecticut, students and staff members wearing masks helped prevent spread in schools... And for many students in Connecticut, they have been learning in the schoolhouse since August."

According to state data, as of December 2020, roughly 22% of Connecticut's students were fully or mostly in-person, 42% were hybrid while 36% were still fully or mostly remote.

The Biden Education Department's primary role in this pandemic, as envisioned by Cardona, would be as a communicator of best practices — not as a top-down enforcer.

Another example: Would Cardona consider a national summer school, to help students make up some of the ground they've lost having to learn remotely?

"The federal role is to support our states, and to make sure that we're providing guidance and support where they need it," Cardona answered. If districts want to move to a year-round school model — or offer a more intensive version of summer school — they're welcome to. He said his department would back them up not only with guidance but, hopefully, with federal resources.

Biden has pitched a relief package that would provide K-12 schools with $130 billion to cover the high cost of reopening during a pandemic.

On the subject of learning loss during the pandemic, Cardona said, "We know that, for far too long, our Black and brown students haven't achieved at the same level as their white counterparts. And this is prior to the pandemic."

Of the equity and opportunity gaps that have driven those long-standing differences in student achievement, Cardona said, "It's really our responsibility to identify what those gaps are, how they've been exacerbated [by the pandemic], and how we can better utilize the resources to target them and help support our learners in greatest need."

Beyond talk of the pandemic, Cardona also weighed in on the movement, among many Democrats, to push for student loan forgiveness. While he said it "would be a priority for me," he made no mention of trying to forgive debts unilaterally and instead emphasized his intentions to work with Congress, "to make sure that we're targeting the support for those students that need it the most." That includes students who may have dropped college plans because of the pandemic as well efforts to make community college more accessible.

"Those are the students that we want to re-engage and provide support for, to make sure that they have access to the American dream," Cardona said.

Cardona's first challenge, though, is preparing for his Senate confirmation hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Eda Uzunlar is an intern on NPR's Education Desk.

Supporters rally outside the U.S. Treasury Department in 2019 to demand that American abolitionist Harriet Tubman's image be put on the $20 bill. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Supporters rally outside the U.S. Treasury Department in 2019 to demand that American abolitionist Harriet Tubman's image be put on the $20 bill.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Biden administration will resume efforts to redesign the $20 bill to feature abolitionist Harriet Tubman, the White House said Monday.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said it's important that "our money ... reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman's image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that. So we're exploring ways to speed up that effort."

In April 2016, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced that Tubman's portrait would be on a redesigned $20 note, to be unveiled in 2020. The image of President Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder, would be moved to the bill's reverse side.

But that Obama-era initiative made little progress under the Trump administration. In May 2019, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the redesigned currency would not come out until 2028 – well after the end of the Trump administration.

Before his election, Donald Trump, a fan of Andrew Jackson, disparaged the change in the currency as "pure political correctness" and suggested Tubman be put on the $2 bill instead.

In June 2019, the Treasury said it would conduct an investigation into the circumstances leading to a delay in the production of a new $20 note.

Tubman escaped slavery and helped lead more than 300 others to freedom.

In an April 2016 interview with NPR, Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, described the significance of putting a legendary conductor of the Underground Railroad on the country's currency.

"For me, having Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill really says, first of all, that America realizes that it's not the same country that it once was — that it's a place where diversity matters," Bunch told All Things Considered. "And it allows us to make a hero out of someone like Harriet Tubman, who deserves to be a hero."

President Biden Takes Office

Tracking the first steps of the new administration