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Week In Politics: President Biden's First Days

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Joe Biden is now president of the United States. He's called for national unity and knows that will be a test.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep, and they are real. But I also know they are not new.

SIMON: And with the House sending at the Senate an article of impeachment against President Trump on Monday, it's one of the more immediate challenges.

With us now is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: So, Ron, how does President Biden pursue unity while Democratic senators are actively pursuing President Trump's impeachment over his role in causing the January 6 riot at the Capitol?

ELVING: We've got a couple of weeks before the actual impeachment trial begins in the Senate. And President Biden can do those things, but it's going to take extraordinary skill. The challenge is to move in more than one direction at once, not just multitasking, but multitracking. He's got to work with one side sometimes and sometimes with the other, keeping the necessary relationships open and operating, reaching out for compromise, but without selling out the people who got you elected. It's a tall order, to be sure, but it's what Biden asked for, and it's what the Democrats asked for. And it's what the country needs right now.

SIMON: And let me ask you about this extraordinary report from The New York Times last night that President Trump was plotting to get rid of the acting Justice Department attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and replace him with a loyalist who would pressure Georgia lawmakers into overturning the state's presidential election results, obviously with no proof. Tell us about this story.

ELVING: It's an amazing story, Scott. It shows how far Trump was willing to go. It tells us that in the final days of his presidency, he was not only pressing those state officials you mentioned to produce different results, and he was not only pressuring Vice President Pence to reject certified electoral votes from states, but he was trying to install a new attorney general who would contradict his own Justice Department findings and tell the states that there was evidence of fraud when there was not - all this before the day he incited the riot at the Capitol, and all this in an unlawful effort to overturn the results of the election and remain in office. And that matters, especially because in two weeks, the most important question before the Senate is whether to bar Trump from future office.

SIMON: But let's get to President Biden - a multitude of pens to sign executive orders almost as soon as he was sworn in. President Trump once called - disdained executive orders as the easy way. But, boy, he signed a lot. Are executive orders President Biden's best options to get things done to both undo what he wants to do that President Trump did - and President Trump, who was largely trying to undo what President Obama did?

ELVING: Yes, and that's not the best way to run a railroad, I think everyone would agree. But it may be the best that you can do right now, given how little you can expect Congress to do in the usual way, how difficult it is to get the contemporary Congress to do anything other than taxes and budgeting. And you can understand why a president who wants to make a difference or even to just make a mark feels he has to use these quickie policy measures in place of actual laws that are barred by the Senate's filibuster rules, among other things, especially in a moment of crisis.

And right now, everything has to begin with the pandemic response. That has to be ramped up to wartime levels of effort and focus. That's the key to restoring the economy, to restoring confidence. But during the campaign, Biden made many statements about what he would do on his first day in office - getting the U.S. back into the Paris climate accords to combat climate change, stopping the wall with Mexico, redefining our response to immigration, especially redefining our policies on asylum, talking about lifting restrictions on people from Muslim countries, ending the deportation threat against the DREAMers. All these were touchstones of Trumpism, and Biden went after them all on Day 1.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.