With inauguration day just over a month away, all eyes are on the first moves of the new Biden administration. What will the new president do first – and how will he tackle it?
To try to answer these questions, Fortune Thursday, brought together a group of women who have held key roles in previous administrations. The virtual gathering, attended by members of FortuneSociety’s most powerful community of women has covered a variety of issues, from the fight against COVID-19 and the need to tackle systemic racism to the plight of American small businesses.
Below are four likely priorities for Biden, according to presidential veterans Barack Obama and George W. Bush:
Distribution of COVID-19 vaccine
The challenge most often raised during the hour-long conversation was that of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. The incoming administration of Biden will need to determine “where it needs to go … who is going to get it, making sure she receives not only a first dose, but also the appropriate second dose …. and really reaching out to everyone about this vaccine and why it is important, reassuring that it has been scientifically developed without the corners being cut, ”said Dr Margaret (Peggy) Hamburg, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration during the Obama years.
Another essential aspect of the distribution plan is to ensure that low income communities and communities of color are not left behind.
“This crisis has exposed the systemic inequalities embedded in our system,” said Dr. Laurie Zephyrin, vice president of health care delivery system reform at the Commonwealth Fund, who served at the Veterans Affairs Department from 2009. to 2018. COVID-19 has killed blacks and other people of color at rates much higher than whites, the result not of genetic differences, but of unequal access to care, inferior quality of care, disproportionately high representation in “essential” jobs and other systemic failures.
“The vaccine distribution is a chance… to really start focusing on equity,” Zephyrin said. It is critical that the Biden administration ensure it does not roll out the vaccine in a way that reinforces existing inequalities – or creates new ones, she said.
Dealing with skepticism about vaccines
While doubts about the safety of the vaccine are not confined to communities of color, it is essential that the administration be sensitive to the concerns of black communities and others with a history that gives them “reason to be skeptical.” with regard to medical authorities, Hamburg said. A few steps to build trust: Bring black scientists into communities to talk about vaccine safety, work with community leaders to share information, and partner with groups like Black Coalition Against COVID-19.
Providing help to small businesses and American workers
If the current Congress fails to pass a stimulus package, Biden must adopt a package “immediately” addressing people who have lost their unemployment benefits, extending the moratorium on evictions, helping small businesses and schools, and granting time off with pay, said Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Obama and distinguished fellow of the University of Chicago Law School. She added: “And that’s just to stabilize, it’s not even to grow the economy – which I know he intends to do, so it will take a second, more robust package.”
Echoing the need for support for small businesses, Maria Contreras-Sweet, former director of the US Small Business Administration and currently of Rockway Equity Partners and Contreras-Sweet Enterprises, told attendees: “Main Street is being wiped out. ” Small shops, restaurants and other retailers are necessary to “create economic vitality and tourism,” she said.
Repairing ties with the rest of the world
Beyond national priorities, panelists suggested that the Biden administration will act quickly to try to strengthen some of the ties between the United States and other countries that have frayed during the Trump era.
Expect President-elect Biden’s first overseas visit to be to Europe, said Frances Townsend, vice president, general counsel and director of administration at MacAndrews & Forbes – and former assistant to President George W Bush for internal security and the fight against terrorism. He is likely to prioritize re-establishing ties with NATO allies, after President Trump refused to say the United States would come to the aid of other NATO members, should they come under attack , she said.
“There is a tremendous amount of repair work to be done,” Townsend said.
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