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Biden inauguration heralds labor and employment reset

By Joy Waltemath, J.D., and Pamela Wolf, J.D.

President Biden has made clear that his top priority will be to grapple with the COVID-19 emergency and resulting economic crisis.

A new beginning. This tense, unprecedented, and highly militarized Inauguration Day signaled a new beginning like no other. This time, what’s new is familiar and reassuring territory: a return to more traditional policies, process, and personalities. Joe Biden’s swearing-in as president is sure to usher in a revival of many Obama-era priorities—affordable health care, environmental protections, worker rights, international trade alliances, anticorruption measures, disaster preparedness, corporate accountability, immigration reform, etc.—all familiar Democratic themes in the pre-Trump White House. In short, what’s old may well be new again.

Of course, much of what Obama achieved has since been weakened, if not reversed outright, by the Trump Administration. The Biden team’s initial efforts will in many ways have to be remedial; a reversal of the reversal. Picking up where Obama left off, much less expanding on it, will take time and tenacity simply to restore the status quo ante. Building on those Obama-era achievements will be harder still, even with slim Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Unique challenges. Then there are the new, all-consuming challenges unique to this moment. President Biden has made clear that his top priority will be to grapple with the COVID-19 emergency and resulting economic crisis.

What, then, to make of the regulatory priorities and realities of the new administration? This report examines the statements and proposals from Biden’s campaign and his transition team, the people in key positions—many of them familiar faces with known track records—to discern what’s expected in terms of policy goals, priorities, appointments, and regulatory approaches. This analysis also takes sober account of the current, tenuous political environment to temper its assessment of what’s possible vs. what’s likely from the new White House.

Still, there is much that Biden can accomplish, even in the near term. Using an array of available tools such as executive orders, agency appointments, targeted bipartisan legislation, rulemaking, enforcement, and agency guidance, among others, the incoming administration has many pathways to achieving its policy ends.

This special Strategic Perspective: Biden inauguration heralds labor and employment reset lays out those likely scenarios and outcomes for the labor and employment practice area.