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First Lady Jill Biden: What’s next on her agenda?

From handing out chocolate chip cookies to National Guard soldiers, to making a number of public appearances to promote her husband’s plans for national unity — Dr Biden appears to have seamlessly settled into her role in the White House over the last few days.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
January 29, 2021 1:59:55 pm
First lady Jill Biden smiles as she tours Whitman-Walker Health, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

A little over a week has passed since US President Joe Biden was sworn in and his administration has already started rolling out key policy changes to reverse some of the “damage” they claim was done by the Trump administration over the last four years. Not far behind is First Lady Dr Jill Biden, who also got straight down to work carrying out her FLOTUS duties in a manner markedly different from her predecessor Melania Trump.

From handing out chocolate chip cookies to National Guard soldiers deployed near the Capitol, to making a number of public appearances to promote her husband’s plans for national unity — Dr Biden appears to have seamlessly settled into her role in the White House over the last few days.

But Jill Biden is by no means your typical First Lady. For starters, she has signalled that she will be returning to her job as a teacher at Northern Virginia Community College, where she taught full-time even when she was Second Lady. This would make her the first FLOTUS in history to balance her duties in the East Wing with her career, the New York Times reported.

Dr Biden is also poised to redefine the manner in which First Lady’s are perceived in the United States. Backed by a qualified team of staffers and her interest in shaping legislation, she promises to be a more active First Lady than the country has seen in the recent past.

The new East Wing staffers

Weeks before inauguration day, Dr Biden tapped a number of seasoned aides from the Obama-Biden administration for the East Wing. Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón, former US ambassador to Uruguay and key attorney under former President Barack Obama, was selected as her chief of staff.

President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden watch a military pass in review ceremony on the East Front of the Capitol at the conclusion of the inauguration ceremonies, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rory Brosius, a former Biden campaign adviser, is the director for the Joining Forces initiative, which was launched by Dr Biden and Michelle Obama in 2011 to support military families. Indian-American Garima Verma was named as her digital director. She previously served as an audience development and content strategist on the Biden-Harris campaign.

In a statement, Dr Biden said that her East Wing Staff would bring a “a shared commitment to building an administration that lifts up all Americans.”

“Together, we will work to open the White House in new, inclusive and innovative ways, reflecting more fully the distinct beauty of all our communities, cultures and traditions,” she added.

Melania and Jill: How they differ

Five days into her role, Dr Biden has already made her presence felt with several virtual appearances before young Latinos, governor’s spouses and liberal officials, AP reported. During these meetings, she spoke about the President’s plans for the country and even promoted his pandemic relief proposal, which has faced considerable backlash from Republican lawmakers.

In stark contrast, Melania Trump had not even moved into the White House during her first week as FLOTUS. Instead, she chose to live in a penthouse suite at the Trump Towers in New York until her son completed the school year. It was also not until days after Donald Trump’s swearing-in ceremony that Melania selected her chief of staff.

While Melania delivered a number of speeches and acted as a surrogate for her husband during his term, she was known to have served more of a background role than many of her contemporaries including Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Trumps repeatedly broke away from tradition, including when they chose not to attend the Biden-Harris inauguration or officially welcome the Bidens to the White House.

Saying, “The Biden’s are a National Guard family,” first lady Jill Biden greets members of the National Guard with chocolate chip cookies, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Dr Biden’s first week marks a return to the age-old traditions of the White House. Last week, the first lady even paid a surprise visit to a group of National Guard soldiers deployed near the US Capitol and offered them chocolate chip cookies.

“The National Guard will always hold a special place in the hearts of all the Bidens,” she said. President Biden’s late son Beau was a member of the Delaware National Guard. Supporting military families is thus a major part of Dr Biden’s agenda as first lady.

So what is Dr Biden’s agenda as First Lady?

Education policy: As a teacher herself, Dr Biden has promised to make education policy a priority during her time in the White House. Soon after Biden’s inauguration, Jill honoured two teachers union presidents. “I could not wait one more day to have this meeting, because I have never felt prouder of our profession,” she said at the virtual event. ““I’m ready to get to work with you and the unions that support you every day.”

Supporting military families: While on the campaign trail, Dr Biden said that she would revive the Joining Forces program for military families. “We’re going to build on what we learned during the Obama-Biden administration. We’ll continue to listen and work with you, making sure that your experiences and expertise are the North Star of this effort,” she said earlier this month during a video conference with military family support organisations.

Immigrant family reunification: While experts say that education and benefits for military families are likely to be the two causes she most vocally supports, a recent CNN report suggested that Jill and her staffers will also work closely with Biden’s task force to help reunite immigrant families that were separated at the border.

“As the first lady remarked on a ‘Charla’ with young Latinos earlier this week, her chief of staff, Ambassador Julissa Reynoso, will monitor the federal reunification effort given her background as a lawyer,” Biden spokesperson Michael LaRosa told CNN.

Notably, Melania Trump sparked controversy in 2018 when she visited a border facility for migrant children and families wearing a jacket that bore the words, “I really don’t care. Do U?” This was around the same time Trump was facing tremendous backlash for his “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant families. He eventually backed down, but the lasting impact of the policy is still being felt by hundreds of families.

According to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Melania’s former senior advisor, the first lady deliberately wore the jacket as a “publicity stunt” to “garner the attention of the press” and “make sure that everyone was aware that Melania was going to the border.” After the incident, she was widely criticised for being disinterested.

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