WASHINGTON — The card tucked in President Joe Biden’s right jacket pocket must weigh a ton. You can see the weight of it on his face when he digs it out, squints and ever-so-slowly reads aloud the latest tally of COVID-19 dead.
Sometimes he’ll stumble on a digit — after all, flubs come with the man. But the message is always clear: The toll of the virus weighs on him constantly, a millstone that helps explain why the typically garrulous politician with the megawatt smile has often seemed downright dour.
For any new leader, a lingering pandemic that has killed more than a half million citizens would be plenty for a first 100 days. But it has been far from the sole preoccupation for the now 78-year-old Biden.
The oldest person ever elected president is tugging the United States in many new directions at once, right down to its literal foundations — the concrete of its neglected bridges — as well as the racial inequities and partisan poisons tearing at the civil society. Add to that list: a call for dramatic action to combat climate change.
He’s doing it without the abrasive noise of the last president or the charisma of the last two. Biden’s spontaneity, once a hallmark and sometimes a headache, is rarely seen. Americans are seeing more action, less talk and something for the history books.
“This has been a really terrible year,” said Matt Delmont, who teaches civil rights history at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “There’s so much. We want a new president to be a light forward. From that perspective, it makes sense that you want to get out of the box fast.”
Biden “sees the virtue of going bigger and bolder,” Delmont said. “It so strongly echoes FDR.”
Few would have bet Joe Biden would ever be uttered in the same breath as Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s too soon to know whether he deserves to be.
But the scope of what Biden wants to do would — if he succeeds — put him in the company of that New Deal president, whose burst of consequential actions set the 100-day marker by which all successors have been informally measured since.
It’s not all been smooth. Biden has struggled to change course on immigration practices he railed against in the campaign, drawing accusations from within his party that he’s “caved to the politics of fear.”
Yet in 100 days he has achieved a pandemic relief package of historic breadth and taken executive actions to counter the legacy and agitations of Donald Trump.
The U.S. has pivoted on the environment and established payments that could halve child poverty in a year. It has embraced international alliances Trump shunned. It has elevated the health insurance program Republicans tried for years to kill.
“He ran as the antithesis of Trump — empathetic, decent and experienced, and he is delivering,” said former Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod. “He’s restored a sense of calm and equilibrium to a capital that lived on the jagged edge for four years of Trump.”
Gone are the out-of-control news conferences, the sudden firings, the impulsive policy declarations, the Twitter drama. Instead Americans are getting something more methodical. Like the index card in his pocket. It shows his schedule, the key virus statistics and war casualties.
Biden has appeared in public far less than his predecessors. That’s partly because of the pandemic but also because he wanted to occupy less of the American consciousness than did Trump, who spoke loudly but achieved almost nothing legislatively in his 100-day debut.
If there is a consistent through line to Biden’s term so far, it’s his attempt to respond to age-old racial inequalities, even in unexpected corners of public policy.
His massive infrastructure plan, for example, contains measures to address harms inflicted generations ago when governments built urban highways through Black neighborhoods.
“That’s something most Americans don’t think about if they don’t have a direct experience of it,” Delmont said. “People hear infrastructure and think it’s a race-neutral set of policies.”
But without understanding the fracturing of Black neighborhoods from the bulldozer or the heavy pandemic toll on minority communities, he said, “It’s hard to know what systemic racism looks like. These are civil rights issues. That’s where people want to see actions and resources.”
For the most part, Biden is actually doing more than he promised in his campaign. The election dealt him a hand that makes bigger things possible, thanks to majorities so thin in Congress that he needs Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tiebreaking votes in a 50-50 Senate.
But that power might not last. First-term presidents historically see their party lose big in the midterms and Republicans have shown no inclination to support his policies.
Even within his party, cohesion is not a given, with constant tension between centrists and the left. So far, Biden has managed to avoid a revolt from either faction. But liberals were from pleased when Biden balked at reversing Trump’s cuts in refugee admissions, as promised.
Biden was deprived of an orderly transition by Trump’s false claims of election fraud, which meant delays through the federal bureaucracy. It meant the Trump administration had done little to facilitate vaccine distribution before Biden took office, prompting his complaint about “the mess we inherited.”
Still, the Trump administration and Congress had made a massive investment in vaccine development. Trump also locked in early supplies for the U.S. while many other developed countries still face crucial shortages.
Biden’s success in surging vaccine distribution since then was a significant early achievement, helped by the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill signed into law within two months. No Republican lawmakers supported it.
To this point, Biden enjoys healthy poll numbers. Pew Research found an approval rating of 59% this month, in league with Obama and President George W. Bush and far better than Trump, 39% in April 2017.
Few people have tried longer to be president than Biden, who had formed a clear vision of the job after decades in Washington.
He talks more quietly now, moves a little slower and has lost weight. Mindful of his age, and his own life touched by immense tragedy, Biden knows tomorrow is never a given.
He speaks of all he wants to do, “God willing.”
“I’m just going to move forward and take these things as they come,” he said at his only formal news conference. “I’m a great respecter of fate.”
The schedule on his card is full. The virus death tally inches up, more slowly now. He’s played golf once.
HUNTINGTON — The audience followed the Yellow Brick Road all the way to Cabell Midland High School this weekend. The school’s music and theater departments performed “The Wizard of Oz” Saturday and Sunday in the CMHS auditorium.
WAYNE — Wayne County Schools is planning to launch a new program when the 2021-22 school year begins that will help students who may be struggling in various areas.
The new K-12 intervention program would target students who are not only struggling academically but may be struggling with social skills and mental health issues.
The program is set to begin when students return to classes for the 2021-22 school year.
Wayne County Board of Education members recently discussed how, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are various reasons students may be struggling in school.
Superintendent Todd Alexander said the program is expected to pull students from elective courses as needed to give extra time to practice the skills and subjects they are struggling with.
“What interventionists do is they look at data from students who are behind particularly in math and language arts, and they pull them so they can have extra minutes and extra time working on those subjects,” Alexander said.
“But we also want to make sure that the kids have the skills in place that are necessary for them to be successful in the long term.”
The intervention program is one of a few upcoming projects focused on giving students who need it some extra assistance so they do not fall behind.
Some money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund will likely go toward the intervention program, but nothing has been finalized yet.
The next regularly scheduled BOE meeting is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 27.
HUNTINGTON — A man convicted of murder in a fatal 2016 bar beating is out on probation following a hearing that has left some questioning West Virginia’s penalties for causing death.
Hayden Damien Drakes, of Huntington, on Tuesday entered a Kennedy plea — which allows him to take the punishment for a crime without admitting his guilt — to malicious wounding in the 2016 beating death of Brett Powell at a bar along 7th Avenue in Huntington.
The sentencing calls for a two- to 10-year prison sentence, a sentence for which he was credited for time already served incarcerated and on home confinement. As part of the agreement reached between the parties, the rest of the prison sentence will be suspended and Drakes was sentenced to serve two years’ probation instead.
Drakes punched Powell several times around 12:30 a.m. March 31, 2016, at the former Club Deception, at 1037 7th Ave. in Huntington, causing severe head trauma that ultimately led to Powell’s death.
Drakes previously testified that Powell would not leave his group of friends alone, particularly a pregnant friend, and Drakes lost his temper.
The defense said Powell was a drug dealer who was at the club working, though no drugs were found on his body at the time of his death. Powell did not strike Drakes.
After entering his plea Tuesday, Drakes said he hoped one day the victim’s family could forgive him.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this, and I am truly sorry to the family,” he said. “I wish I could take it all back.”
Sherry Powell, Brett Powell’s mother, said Drakes stole the joy of her life and her family’s happiness. She said she felt forgiving him was necessary to move forward with her healing, but still held anger. She told Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson that “if we wanted to be forgiven, then we must forgive.”
Drakes had choices, and he chose anger and violence to take a Christian’s life, she said.
“You deserved so much more,” she said. “As you go on the rest of your life enjoying your freedom and are happy and raise your own children, I hope that you’re reminded daily of what you’ve done and the lives you’ve destroyed.”
She said her son’s life was worth more than the sentence Drakes received.
Drakes had previously been sentenced to serve the maximum of 40 years after he was found guilty of second-degree murder by a jury in December 2017. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals later threw out the conviction, stating the circuit court had erred in the instructions it gave describing second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Defense attorney Gerald Henderson argued that confusing jury instructions, evidence of Drakes leaving the scene, the introduction of the bar’s surveillance video, the conduct of the victim’s family in the courtroom and the medical examiner’s testimony had affected the jury’s ability to reach a proper verdict.
Assistant prosecutor Lauren Plymale said the entire process after the Supreme Court ruling was disappointing.
West Virginia currently has four penalties for deaths: first- or second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter and misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter. Plymale said there needs to be a better flow of penalties among those four statutes and malicious wounding.
“I don’t believe the punishment fits the crime whatsoever in this case, and that’s because we need change,” she said. “I talked to the family, and I personally am going to request the Legislature fix the discrepancies.”
Ferguson said he does not believe the involuntary manslaughter penalty, up to a year in jail, was stiff enough. Henderson said he agreed.
“To kill someone, even if it’s unintentionally, should be more than up to two years in jail,” he said. “Different states have more severe penalties than what West Virginia has.”