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Texas This Week: The inauguration of President Joe Biden and the road ahead

Don Kettl, Ph.D., a public policy professor at UT Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs, joined Ashley Goudeau to discuss the road ahead for the nation's new leader.

AUSTIN, Texas — All eyes were on Washington, D.C., this week for the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Don Kettl, Ph.D., a public policy professor at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs, joined Ashley Goudeau to discuss the road ahead for the nation's new leader.

And while history was made Wednesday, there were still big headlines this week in Texas politics.

Three things to know in Texas politics

Gov. Greg Abbott is making public safety a top priority for the 2021 Legislative Session. He held a roundtable discussion with law enforcement leaders from across the state on Thursday. The governor is backing a bill to reform the bail system by giving judges more information on defendants to try and keep dangerous criminals in jail. He also wants lawmakers to cut off tax revenue for cities that cut funding for their police departments – namely the City of Austin.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott says Texas will make it 'fiscally impossible' for Austin to continue defunding police

On Monday, the nation recognized the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the MLK holiday – and the very next day was Confederate Heroes Day in Texas. The dichotomy of these holidays was not lost on Texas lawmakers. 

On Tuesday, Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) filed a bill to remove Confederate monuments, memorials and statues from the Capitol grounds, and Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) drew attention to his bill to abolish Confederate Heroes Day in Texas.

Most people who follow Texas politics knew it was only a matter of time before the Lone Star State's attorney general filed the first – of what will be many – lawsuits against a Democratic president's administration. Turns out a matter of time was two days. On Friday, Ken Paxton filed a complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order to immediately halt the temporary freeze on deportations ordered by President Joe Biden.

RELATED: On President Biden's first day in office, Texas AG Ken Paxton vows to sue

Don Kettl, Ph.D., on President Biden

American history was made Wednesday with the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Now the work of a new administration begins. 

Don Kettl, Ph.D., a public policy professor at UT Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs, talked with KVUE Political Anchor Ashley Goudeau about the road ahead for the nation's new leader.

Ashley Goudeau: I want to start by asking you to share some of your overall thoughts on the inauguration of President Joe Biden. 

Don Kettl, Ph.D.: "You know, it's just been an amazing, incredible week. The contrast between what happened on January the 6th, with insurrectionists taking over the Capitol, and then finding the peaceful transfer of power from that very same spot just two weeks later. It was just something that is just stunning, and it's something that has caught the attention of the world as well, at the same time. 

But the other thing about President Biden's inauguration and what's happened since is his effort not only to demonstrate competence in taking over the government but also to try to communicate to Americans a sense of genuineness. A sense that 'I'm on your side, I hear you and I'm working for you.' And that's going to be a major theme, both in terms of the way he really is and the way he plans to govern. That's just such a terribly important theme that I think he's been working so hard on Inauguration Day and coming forward to try to emphasize."

Goudeau: Uniting the American people is going to be such a monumental point for the Biden presidency. He spoke so much about how "we can," using that phrase several times. Talk to us about the road ahead, though, for him in trying to do that.  

Kettl: "Well, the road is tough because it's one thing to have the soaring rhetoric, one thing to celebrate with what was just a monumental fireworks display, one of the best I think anybody had ever seen. But, at the same time, immediately we're turning to the questions of how are we going to deal with issues of COVID? What's going to happen with impeachment? How are we going to try to deal with the infrastructure question? Should there be another stimulus bill? What about foreign policy, and how are we going to deal with the Russians and the massive break in internet security that we've seen in the last couple of months? And the problems just keep cascading out. And the more that we get into the details, in some ways, the harder it's going to be to keep that message of hope together. 

But the really hopeful thing about Biden's message of hope and his question for unity is that, in many ways, dealing with the issues that really deal with every single American is the best way to try to continue that, to continue his message of unity. Because the one thing on which we're all united is that we all want this vaccine out because we all want this virus to stop. And so, the best way that the president has at building trust is to ensure that we all have access to the vaccine as soon as possible and that we sense that this process is fair. And so, rolling from that sense of genuineness in terms of his message to all of us to ensuring that government actually works is, in many ways, going to have to be the underpinnings for the Biden administration in these first days and weeks and months."

Goudeau: Obviously, COVID is priority No. 1, but there are several other priorities that President Biden would like to get some work on, get some movement on. And in fact, he signed executive orders related to climate change, related to racial equity. Talk to us about your thoughts on some of these executive orders that he's already starting to put into place on day one.

Kettl: "The thing that was unmistakable: the image of him sitting at the desk with this enormous stack of binders that each contained a separate executive order. His goal was to try to move out, move out fast, in part because he doesn't count on Congress moving fast. So, he's trying to move through executive action in the meantime. That's one very important thing. 

But in addition to that, he's reversed the Trump administration's stance on climate change. We've rejoined the Paris Climate Accords. There are important foreign policy issues having to do with the Russians, he's reversed the Trump administration's policies there. He is working hard to try to put together another round of stimulus payments, more direct payments to individual citizens and also the possibility of a very large infrastructure bill too on top of that, which would make a lot of money to state and local governments. This is a very ambitious agenda. So, he's rolling out first the things that he can do with the stroke of a pen, through executive order, in part to strike out some of the things that the Trump administration did, in part to try to emphasize new things he wants to try to accomplish. 

The hard stuff comes next, which is those things that require legislative action, requires finding a way to work with the Republicans. Because, yes, the Democrats have control of the Congress, but not by much. And Republicans, if they decide to obstruct, could make life very difficult for the new president."

Goudeau: You know, there are a lot of things that President Biden would like to get done, and some of that is going to have to be put on the back burner because the Senate is, at some point, going to have to deal with this impeachment of President Donald Trump. How is that potentially going to throw a wrench in President Biden's plans? 

Kettl: "Because one of the things that Biden said in his inaugural address is the importance of unity and bringing the country together. And then the first realities he has to confront are holdovers from the Trump administration – the problems of COVID but especially the problem of impeachment. And so, Trump is this enormous shadow cast across the first days and weeks of the Biden administration. 

And there is talk right now about trying to, yes, have an impeachment trial, but try to do it as quickly as possible so it doesn't become this large overhang. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want that to be the thing that preoccupies their time in the coming weeks. The real challenge is how many Republicans may join the Democrats in voting to impeach the president at this point. Now, of course, impeachment has to do with removing a president from office, but part of it has to do with the symbolic statement that, in the judgment of the Senate, that the president did commit impeachable offenses. That's the first issue. And then the second is something that is a special point for both Democrats and some Republicans, which is banning the president from ever running for office again. And so, that's a kind of a nail in the coffin that they would like to try to push through as well. 

But the problem is that there's just no escaping the fact that this is going to be a major preoccupying fact at the very time that the Biden administration is going to be trying to get its cabinet appointments confirmed, when he gets his legislative agenda going. They're going to be wildly preoccupied by the grand debate on Capitol Hill. And it's by no means clear how that's going to turn out."

The Last Word

Ashley Goudeau discusses the historical and cultural significance of Vice President Kamala Harris taking her oath of office.


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