Today, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States — and he already faces a confluence of crises starting on his first day in office.
In his inaugural address, the president emphasized unity following a turbulent four years marred by a protracted trade war between the world’s two largest economies; increasing political divisions and heightened civil unrest; and a global pandemic that has led to the deaths of more than 400,000 Americans. Now, as the country looks to the next four years, industry leaders are hopeful for the economic and social recovery ahead.
“Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos,” Biden said. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge — and unity is the path forward, and we must meet this moment as the United States of America.”
Here, some of the biggest takeaways from his speech.
Fighting the COVID-19 outbreak
Just last week, Biden unveiled his American Rescue Plan, which would offer a boost to the $2 trillion CARES Act enacted in March and the more recent $900 billion measure put in place in December. Today, within his first 24 hours as president, he pledged a government response extending from COVID-19 testing to vaccine delivery and is expected to implement a national mask mandate on federal grounds.
The plan comes as the pandemic enters its harshest phase in the country, with record hospitalizations that have overwhelmed the American healthcare system. “In the work ahead of us, we’re going to need each other. We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus. Let’s set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”
The president’s speech was praised by some executives, including Nate Herman, SVP of policy at the American Apparel and Footwear Association, who told FN, “To quote Biden’s remarks today, ‘With unity we can do great things, important things.’ During the next 100-plus days, President Biden’s priority will be the COVID-19 crisis, [and] AAFA will do everything we can to support and propose measures that improve the health and livelihood of all Americans.”
Beyond support for the coronavirus response, the stimulus package promised another $1,400 in direct payments to eligible individuals; a $400 per week unemployment insurance supplement extended through September; and billions in aid for businesses, states and localities. Biden has also called for Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“I understand that many of my fellow Americans view the future with fear and trepidation,” Biden said. “I understand they worry about their jobs. I understand, like my dad, they lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, ‘Can I keep my health care?’ ‘Can I pay my mortgage?’ Thinking about their families, about what comes next. I promise you, I get it.”
He added, “But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you or worship the way you do or don’t get their news from the same source as you do. We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts; if we show a little tolerance and humility; and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes, as my mom would say, just for a moment. Stand in their shoes.”
Tackling the economic and social crises
On his first day in office, Biden intends to sign more than a dozen executive orders to combat the economic and social crises of today. He plans to extend the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums; lengthen the pause on student loan payments; and launch an initiative aimed at advancing racial equity. He also vowed to fortify protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients — a move applauded by retail executives who employ hundreds of thousands of Dreamers in their workforces.
“Dreamers’ contributions are particularly evident as we fight COVID-19, as Dreamers are among those helping to keep stores open, stocked and safe,” Retail Industry Leaders Association president Brian Dodge said in a statement. “These hardworking individuals are part of the social fabric of America and part of the retail family; they are our friends and neighbors. Today’s executive order gives these workers some hope that the program they depend upon to work legally in the country that is their home is preserved.”
Biden also addressed the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the country’s legislative center in its most violent day in more than 200 years. “Here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground,” he said. “It did not happen. It will never happen — not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
The riots were condemned by designers Chloe Gosselin and Kenneth Cole, as well as companies like Patagonia, which even highlighted the “double standard” in the way that law enforcement responded to the rampage, compared with the Black Lives Matter protests last year in Washington, D.C.
Restoring relationships with other countries
Beyond his inaugural proclamations and cabinet nominations, Biden’s agenda for the next four years involves reversing some of Trump’s key orders in an attempt to restore the U.S.’s relationships with foreign countries. Over the past several weeks, the new president has pledged to reengage with the World Health Organization, halt the border wall construction and rejoin the Paris climate accord.
“America has been tested, and we’ve come out stronger for it,” Biden reinforced today. “We will recover our alliances and engage with the world once again — not to beat yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we’ll lead not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. We’ll be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security.”
Industry executives are also seeking less uncertainty in America’s trade relationships with key partners. As the coronavirus pandemic drives price-conscious consumers to seek deep discounts, tariffs continue to push supply chains costs higher for brands. Dozens of business leaders have expressed that they have tighter margins than ever before, and experts forecast that the surge in import costs could lead to fewer companies selling footwear and apparel as well as less innovation in the marketplace.
“From an industry perspective, we’re hopeful for a more predictable approach to trade policy that will allow our companies to better plan and prepare for changes that impact our bottom lines,” Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America president and CEO Matt Priest said. “We don’t expect a dramatic rollback of additional duties in the near term but welcome the opportunity to engage the new administration and Congress on our current challenges and the potential to create innovative solutions.”