Biden-Harris Admin. Begins Work on Day 1

On January 20, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, and Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, the first Black American, and the first person of South Asian descent to serve as Vice President. During President Biden’s early hours in office, he issued over a dozen executive orders and announced the continued freeze on student loan payments through September 30, 2021.

As anticipated, immigration was at the forefront of the presidential actions. President Biden signed a proclamation rescinding the Trump administration’s travel restrictions for citizens of Muslim-majority nations and from countries in Africa and Central and Southeast Asia. The order instructs the Department of State to restart visa processing and, in 45 days, to submit a report updating President Biden on the individuals seeking waivers from the restrictions. CGS has previously voiced concerns over the travel restrictions’ possible consequences for graduate education and research and welcomes this reversal by the Biden Administration.

Also, on January 20, Biden signed an order to “preserve and fortify” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides deportation relief and permits for work and education to certain unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The proclamation directs the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to uphold DACA and calls for Congress to enact legislation that provides a path to citizenship for those with DACA status.

Dept. of Ed. Makes Latest COVID-19 Relief Available to IHEs

On January 14, the Department of Education released an additional $21.2 billion for institutions of higher education (IHEs) to allocate to student and institutional costs to ensure learning continues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is allocated through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II  (see CGS summary of HEERF), as instructed in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260), which President Trump signed into law on December 27, 2020.


Public and non-profit colleges and universities are set to receive $20.5 billion, and for-profit institutions will be awarded $681 million. Public and non-profit schools can use their awards for financial aid grants to students; student support activities; and institutional costs. The Department’s press release explains that “allocations to institutions are based on a formula that includes the relative shares of Federal Pell Grant recipients, the relative shares of non-Pell Grant recipients, and the relative shares of Federal Pell and non-Pell Grant recipients exclusively enrolled in distance education prior to the coronavirus emergency.” Colleges that received CARES Act dollars from the Department will not need to apply for the new round of funding, though institutions that have not previously received awards must apply. The Department has prepared fact sheets and frequently asked questions about the aid distribution available here.

What’s on the Senate’s Packed Schedule

The now Democrat-controlled Senate faces a full schedule of business, including confirmation proceedings for Biden’s cabinet; the ongoing impeachment trial; and legislative work to pass additional coronavirus relief. On January 20, Vice President Harris swore in Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) as the newest members of the U.S. Senate, formalizing the chamber’s 50/50 party split. Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote tips chamber control to Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to direct the upper chamber’s agenda to prioritize hearings for Biden’s cabinet nominees, which began last week.


During the week of January 18-22, the Senate held confirmation hearings for five of Biden’s nominees: Alejandro Mayorkas for Secretary of Homeland Security; Antony Blinken for Secretary of State; Pete Buttigieg for Secretary of Transportation; Janet Yellen for Secretary of the Treasury; Lloyd Austin III for Secretary of Defense, who has since been confirmed; and Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence, who has since been confirmed. The schedule of the House and Senate committee meetings and hearings for the week of January 25-29 is available here.


During the hearing on the nomination of Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned how Mayorkas would uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Mayorkas affirmed that he would reinstate DACA and work alongside President Biden to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Confirming Mayorkas to the Secretary position is a top priority for national security as DHS has not had a Senate-confirmed leader in nearly two years.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is also expected to bring the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate in the coming days, which could elongate the timeline for confirming Biden’s cabinet. Senate rules stipulate that the chamber must begin the impeachment trial at 1 p.m. the day after receiving the articles. Adding to the already packed agenda, Democratic leaders in both chambers have signaled additional coronavirus relief legislation as another top priority, and rumors of a bipartisan bill to provide funds for vaccine distribution and $1,400 stimulus checks have surfaced. A smaller bill is likely to attract more support and move more quickly than President Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan, which he unveiled last week.

Biden’s Nominees Offer A Bright Future for Science and Education

On January 15, Biden nominated Eric Lander to serve as the Office of Science and Technology Policy director and his science adviser, a role which Biden elevated to cabinet-level rank. Lander worked in the Obama-Biden administration as the external co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Currently, Lander is the president and founding director of the Broad Institute at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Also, on January 15, Biden announced that Dr. Francis Collins will continue in his role as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The 16th director of NIH, Collins, was first appointed by President Barack Obama and selected to continue as director by President Trump.


On January 18, President Biden nominated San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten as his deputy secretary of education. Marten, who has led California’s second-largest school district, would serve under Secretary of Education nominee Miguel Cardona. Marten and Cardona’s nominations must both be confirmed by the Senate.