Biden Victory Certified; Other Updates from Washington

On January 7, the House and Senate certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory, paving the way for a transition of power on January 20, Inauguration Day. Vice President Mike Pence presided over a joint session of Congress that began the morning of January 6 that was interrupted by insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to prevent the certification. After hours of disruption, Congress resumed their work and concluded the certification process in the early hours of January 7.

On January 6, Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock were announced victorious in their respective Georgia Senate run-off races, securing a slim Democratic majority of the Senate. Rev. Warnock defeated incumbent Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Ossoff defeated incumbent David Perdue (R-GA). With the Senate now comprised of 50 members of each party, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will issue any tie-breaking votes. Despite the narrow margins, Democratic control of both chambers of Congress will be helpful to President-elect Biden as he works to advance specific issues, such as additional coronavirus relief legislation, immigration reform, and Pell Grant and student debt policies. CGS has updated the 2020 Election Map tracker to include the recent Democratic wins and the new makeup of the incoming Congress.

Also, on January 3, the 117th Congress was officially gaveled into session, and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was re-elected Speaker of the House for the fourth time. Speaker Pelosi swore in the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including 59 freshman members. She will preside over the lower chamber for at least the next two years. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was elected Majority Leader, and Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected Minority Leader.  The 117th Congress is the most gender-diverse Congress yet with 122 women and is made up of 222 Democrat and 211 Republican Members.

Federal Judge Blocks EO on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping

On December 22, a federal judge blocked the federal government from enforcing the Trump Administration’s September 22 Executive Order (EO) on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping. The decision affirms the plaintiff’s claims that the EO is void for vagueness under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and suppresses the constitutional right to free speech. The Order sought to ban all federal contractors and grant recipients, including colleges and universities, from holding implicit bias training. On October 9, 2020, the Department of Labor released guidance on the EO that, in effect, would have disrupted institutions’ ongoing planning and delivery of diversity trainings; required an expansive review of internal training materials at both public and private institutions; and pressured institutions to cease employee diversity trainings to ensure that students’ federal financial aid and instructor grants would remain available. On October 8, CGS signed a higher education community letter requesting the White House withdraw the Order as it would affect institutions’ diversity, equity, and inclusion programming.

Miguel Cardona Poised to Become Biden’s Secretary of Education

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona to lead his administration’s Department of Education. A prominent advocate for low-income students’ success, Cardona led a well-respected coronavirus response for Connecticut’s public school system, encouraging the implementation of face coverings and testing to allow schools to reopen to minimize the disparities in online learning. The higher education community welcomes his focus on lower-income students of color and his prioritizing the pipeline of K-12 to higher education, which is vital to the continued success of graduate programs and research.


Cardona began and has maintained his career as an elementary school teacher, principal, district administrator and assistant superintendent, and adjunct professor before being named Connecticut’s state education commissioner in 2019 by Governor Ned Lamont. The Senate must confirm Cardona for the Secretary position, a vote that is expected to pass with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris set to cast the deciding vote if there is a 50-50 tie.


CGS looks forward to working with the Biden administration and nominee Cardona on policies that will bolster graduate education and research. On November 18, CGS joined the higher education community on a letter to the Biden administration’s transition team detailing regulatory priorities for higher education, including Title IX reform, preservation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, protections for international students, and more.

Legal Battles on DACA Continue

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) advocates are encouraging U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen to postpone issuing a decision on a lawsuit that could invalidate the program. The legal challenges, reported by Reuters, are brought by a Texas-led coalition of states seeking to undermine the legality of the original program created back in 2012. The defendants encourage Judge Hanen to wait and see what the Biden administration produces before issuing a ruling. Biden has voiced support for an immigration policy overhaul when his administration takes office, including a permanent DACA solution.


A court decision to invalidate the program would impact roughly 650,000 DREAMers who are granted the right to live, work, and study at institutions of higher education in the U.S. through the program. In December 2020, a federal court ruled that the program be maintained and returned to its original scope. However, the outcome of the ongoing case could block DACA during the transition of the incoming administration or force the federal government to terminate the program entirely. Both the plaintiffs and the defendants have requested a summary judgement in their respective favors rather than a full trial. Judge Hanen has not yet indicated a timeline for his decision.

NSF ADVANCE Program Deadline Announced

On January 5, the National Science Foundation (NSF) published additional information for the NSF ADVANCE: Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions program, which seeks to diversify and promote equity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community. NSF ADVANCE provides grants to institutions of higher education (IHE) and non-profit, non-academic organizations that encourage equity and inclusion and offer proposals to mitigate the systemic factors that create inequities in the academic profession and workplaces. The program includes four funding tracks: Institutional Transformation, Adaptation, Partnership, and Catalyst, all of which further the NSF’s goal of a more diverse and capable science and engineering workforce. IHEs and non-profit organizations are encouraged to apply. The first deadline for full proposals is February 4, 2021, followed by a second deadline of November 3, 2021.