Thursday News: Torchlight shines again

PRESIDENT BIDEN IMMEDIATELY ACTS ON IMMIGRATION REFORM: Biden’s proposed bill would let many undocumented immigrants become citizens after eight years, if they were present in the country at the beginning of this year. The immigrants could apply for a green card after five years if they pass background checks and pay their taxes, according to the proposal, and three years later could apply for citizenship. Biden’s executive orders, meanwhile, halted the so-called “Muslim ban,” which restricted travel from several primarily Muslim countries, paused construction of Trump’s border wall, and formally reinstated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. “We need a complete overhaul that protects the American people but is also consistent with our values,” a White House official said.

SMALL BATCH OF VACCINES SENT TO NC PRISONS FOR STAFF, ELDERLY INMATES: North Carolina's Department of Public Safety announced on Wednesday it has received about 1,000 doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for inmates and prison staff. “The staff have worked so hard for so long with hope and prayer for a better day down the road,” said a statement from Todd Ishee, the state's commissioner of prisons. “Now the vaccine is arriving at our prisons, and we can see a way to a future without this awful virus controlling so much of our lives. This is an important step.” An additional 300 doses allocated for the prison system are expected to arrive this week. Some staff members have already been vaccinated through local health departments. The limited supply of 1,000 doses will go to prison healthcare staff administering the vaccine, staff working with infected inmates or in housing units where offenders have tested positive for the virus and inmates 75 years or older.

TAKE IT SLOW? JOE SAYS "HELL NO!": President Biden signed a ­blizzard of executive orders Wednesday on the coronavirus, immigration and climate change — launching a 10-day cascade of directives reversing policies of his GOP predecessor as Democrats pushed for even more-sweeping and prompt legislative action. The most pressing of his priorities are measures to combat the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Biden signed executive actions to require masks on all federal grounds and asked agencies to extend moratoriums on evictions and on federal student loan payments. He urged Americans to don face coverings for 100 days, while reviving a global health unit in the National Security Council — allowed to go dormant during the Trump administration — to oversee pandemic preparedness and response. Biden also began to reverse several steps taken by President Donald Trump by embracing the World Health Organization, revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and rejoining the Paris climate agreement. “I think some of the things we’re going to be doing are going to be bold and vital,” he said in brief remarks. “And there’s no time to start like today.” The newly inaugurated president’s rush to roll back some of Trump’s most controversial policies reflected the years of pent-up frustration among Democrats that they had been largely powerless to stop an administration that espoused policies they vehemently opposed.

KAMALA HARRIS SWORN IN AS VICE PRESIDENT, SURROUNDED BY SYMBOLS OF STRENGTH: From the moment Harris stepped out of her motorcade, she and her husband, Doug Emhoff, were escorted by Eugene Goodman, the Black Capitol Police officer who held off a mostly White mob of rioters during the attempted siege of the complex earlier this month. Goodman also escorted her to the balcony where she took the oath. She passed women wearing pearls like her, including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who wore pearls that used to belong to late congresswoman Shirley Chisholm — a nod to the first Black woman to seek a major party’s presidential nomination. The pearls were also a nod to Harris’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. When Harris ran for president last year, she chose her logo and colors based on the ones Chisholm used a half-century ago. Harris, clad in an outfit of purple by Black designer Christopher John Rogers, took the oath of office with her hand on two Bibles. One belonged to civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice and a fellow Howard University graduate whom Harris, a former prosecutor, saw as a hero. The second belonged to Regina Shelton, a neighbor who was a second mother to Harris and her sister. Harris took her Senate oath on Shelton’s Bible in January 2017. Biden administered that oath. Harris’s term was historic from the moment she finished the oath, but she has the potential to be one of the most consequential vice presidents in American history. Democrats and Republicans each hold 50 seats in the U.S. Senate and, as the president of the Senate, Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.

BIDEN BRINGS AMERICA BACK TO THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT: President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday recommitted the United States to the Paris climate agreement, the international accord designed to avert catastrophic global warming, and ordered federal agencies to start reviewing and reinstating more than 100 environmental regulations that were weakened or rolled back by former President Donald J. Trump. “We’re going to combat climate change in a way we have not before,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office on Wednesday evening, just before signing the executive orders. Even so, he cautioned: “They are just executive actions. They are important but we’re going to need legislation for a lot of the things we’re going to do.” Foreign leaders hailed Mr. Biden’s first moves as a powerful signal that the United States, the largest contributor to global warming in history, intends to restart its efforts to lower pollution levels and to restore the international order upended by Mr. Trump. “Welcome back to the Paris Agreement!” Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, said in a Twitter message. Under the Paris Agreement, nearly 200 nations have vowed to reduce planet warming emissions to avert the most disastrous consequences of climate change. A letter to the United Nations signed by Mr. Biden on Wednesday formally starts the 30-day process of bringing the United States back into the accord. Mr. Biden has set an ambitious target for the United States to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector by 2035 and from the entire economy by 2050. However, it is far from certain that the United States could reach those goals absent new legislation from Congress — a difficult prospect, given the Democrats’ razor-thin one-vote majority in the Senate.