President-elect Joe Biden announced on Tuesday his plan to fight the coronavirus pandemic during his first 100 days in office, saying that his administration would vaccinate 100 million Americans, push for the re-opening of schools and reinforce mask mandates.
Biden, who formally launched his public health team on Tuesday, also announced that he would nominate retired Army General Lloyd Austin as the country’s first Black Defense Secretary.
He also selected US Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Tom Vilsack, former Secretary of Agriculture, to play the same role again according to news reports on Tuesday.
At a briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said he needed Congress to fully fund the delivery of vaccines to all corners of the United States. Getting children back to school will be a national priority for the first 100 days, Biden said.
“In 100 days, we can change the course of the disease and change America’s life for the better,” said Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20. “Whatever your policy or point of view, you’ve been masking for 100 days.”
The first few months of Biden are likely to be dominated by a pandemic that is straining hospitals in the midst of a nationwide resurgence.
The coronavirus killed more than 283,000 Americans and caused millions to lose their jobs.
Effective vaccines would help the administration of Biden turn its focus on healing the sick US economy. On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration released documents that did not raise any new issues regarding the safety or efficacy of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine, which could be granted emergency authorisation this month.
Biden has introduced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Latino former congressman, as his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Becerra has a long record of supporting the Affordable Care Act, better known as the Obamacare Act.
Biden chose Austin as the nominee of defence secretary, despite the push of some Democrats in Congress unhappy with the idea of a former military man running the Pentagon.
“The fact is that Austin’s many strengths and intimate knowledge of the Department of Defense and our Government are uniquely suited to the challenges and crises we face,” Biden wrote in The Atlantic Magazine. “In this moment, he is the person we need.”
Confirming that Austin, 67, who oversaw US forces in the Middle East under former President Barack Obama, would require Congress to approve a waiver because he was less than seven years out of the army mandated by a law designed to ensure civilian oversight of the armed forces.
The first Secretary of Defense of outgoing President Donald Trump, former Marine General Jim Mattis, also needed a waiver.
At least two Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal, and Jon Tester objected to the repeal of the law, casting doubts as to whether Austin’s appointment would pass through a closely divided Senate.
Fudge will be Biden’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Politico and Bloomberg News, citing unnamed sources. If confirmed, Fudge would face a housing crisis stemming from a pandemic that has resulted in millions of people losing rent and mortgage payments due to business shutdowns.
Biden asked Vilsack, who was Secretary of Agriculture during the Obama administration, to return to the position, Axios said. Vilsack campaigned for Biden in Iowa, where he served as governor for two terms, and as an adviser to agricultural policy.
The transition team did not comment immediately on the Fudge and Vilsack reports. Earlier on Tuesday, Fudge told reporters that she would be honoured, but did not confirm that she would be nominated.
The appointments of Austin and Fudge, who are also Black, add to Biden’s effort to bring together a Cabinet and administration that reflect the country’s diversity. Earlier on Tuesday, Biden met for almost two hours with the leaders of seven leading civil rights organisations who urged Biden to select more people of colour as their top advisers.
Biden won the White House in large part because of the support of the Black nation, and the President-elect has made addressing civil rights one of the main pillars of his administration, promising to expand support for Black-owned businesses and reform the justice system.