President Joe Biden picked up the pace this week toward reversing the symbols and substance of his defeated predecessor Donald Trump. None of the changes are surprising, but some could prove significant.
For one, the Justice Department is canceling one of Trump's red-meat offensives in the perpetual American culture clashes. DOJ lawyers on Wednesday notified a federal judge of a "voluntary dismissal" of the government's action challenging Yale University's affirmative-action policies.
Hailing the move, Yale asserted that its admissions process "complies fully with Supreme Court precedent, and we are confident that the Justice Department will agree." The Trump administration had argued that the Ivy League university illegally discriminated against whites and Asian Americans in its admissions policy.
And forget the fight for Trump's bogged-down border-wall vision. The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to indefinitely put off oral arguments in a case involving funding for the barrier on the Mexican border as well as a case involving Trump's asylum policy. In his first week, Biden signed orders rolling back Trump's on both fronts.
Ordering a review of policies to deter illegal border crossings, Biden on Tuesday called Trump's actions on the topic "very counterproductive to our security." Trump almost obsessively condemned the initiatives of his predecessor, Barack Obama. But Biden has more carefully acknowledged the distinction between what he can do by executive order and what requires legislation approved in Congress.
"There’s a lot of talk, with good reason, about the number of executive orders I’ve signed," Biden said from the Oval Office. But "I’m not making new law. I’m eliminating bad policy."
Biden has taken these actions without the personal spite that laced Trump's tweets and remarks about those who preceded him.
By comparison: Four years ago this week, Trump found himself in the midst of a barbed legal fight over immigration policies that a GOP-run Congress had not approved. He had his Justice Department appeal a federal judge's ruling that forced the suspension of his ban on admitting people from seven majority-Muslim countries.
In the process, Trump attacked the lower court judge in the case, James Robard, as a "so-called judge" and made a false assertion on Facebook that Kuwait had issued a similar visa ban.
During his term, Trump got to appoint 177 federal district judges, 54 Appeals Court judges and three Supreme Court justices. Now Biden, with Democrats in slim control of the Senate, is moving to fill judicial vacancies. Advisers have spent months scoping out potential picks. The administration already has at least five Appeals Court openings to fill, with more expected soon, The Washington Post reports.
Further word came Wednesday that Biden is purging labor and defense boards of political appointees loyal to Trump.
Choices for Biden's Cabinet also are showing an indisputable shift of style and substance. One high-profile example: the Transportation Department. Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Indiana mayor and presidential candidate, succeeds Elaine Chao, wife of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as transportation secretary.
Chao avoided the news media; Buttigieg made multiple TV appearances even before the Senate confirmed him 86-13 on Tuesday. Chao drew grumbles for the Trump administration's less-than-complete infrastructure efforts; Buttigieg brings a specialized base of fans and advisers among public officials and union leaders, as described by Politico.
But as widely noted by now, Biden soon faces a period during which significant agenda items, including climate change and immigration reform, will be up for debate. Progress reports will then shift to Capitol Hill and its dealings with the White House.