GW Experts Offer Predictions for Biden Administration

University faculty specialists discuss how policies ranging from battling COVID-19 to foreign affairs are likely to change with Joe Biden in the White House.

November 9, 2020

Joe Biden

GW Today asked university faculty members about a variety of issues that likely will change under a Biden administration, everything from international affairs, immigration and press relations to public health and COVID-19, higher education and women’s roles in politics.

Here are their thoughts:

International Relations

David Shambaugh, Elliott School of International Affairs Gaston Sigur professor of Asian studies and professor of political science and international affairs:

While Mr. Trump's defeat may be a blow to “other autocratic leaders,” Joe Biden’s victory has bought a general sigh of relief from most foreign leaders, he said.

“Trump produced an enormous amount of chaos and uncertainty for other countries,” Dr. Shambaugh said. “He significantly undermined core American alliances in Europe and compromised the traditional commitment to human rights and the power of the American democratic and civic example.”

He said Mr. Trump’s withdrawals from several major international institutions have also damaged U.S. credibility in times of crises.

“Rebuilding trust among American allies, along with restoring predictability in U.S. diplomacy and commitment to multilateralism, will need immediate attention,” Dr. Shambaugh said.

First, he said, Mr. Biden will need to manage the “fraught and competitive” relationship with China and that will likely be high on the president-elect’s agenda.

“He will have to push back against Beijing in a number of realms but at the same time build in guardrails so that the Sino-American relationship does not become fully adversarial,” said Dr. Shambaugh, who is also director of GW’s China Policy Program.  

In addition to China, he said, Mr. Biden will have to push back against Russia following “Trump’s years of indulging the Kremlin” and will need to pay  greater attention to Latin America and Africa.

Public Health/COVID-19

One of the most significant and pressing public health issues the Biden administration will have to tackle is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 238,000 Americans this year. The new administration needs to immediately provide clear, consistent public health-based communications to the public about how to protect themselves and their families from this virus, said Lynn R. Goldman, the Michael and Lori Milken Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

"Most places in the country need to pause reopening efforts and/or tighten restrictions until this overwhelming increase in rates has been brought down to a manageable level," Dr. Goldman said. "At the same time we pause, we need to intensify efforts across state and local public communities to find, test, trace, isolate and support people with COVID-19 so that the epidemic does not go out of control again."

White House press relations

Ethan Porter, assistant professor of media and public affairs at the School of Media and Public Affairs with an appointment in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ Political Science Department:

“For the first time in four years, the occupant of the White House will not be interested in publicizing or disseminating misinformation. For that reason alone, the issue of ‘fake news’ is likely to be less prominent than it has been and also less polarizing. In the Trump years, Democrats have been more concerned about fake news than Republicans. Those differences will probably fade, with neither side measurably more concerned about it than the other.

“The Biden administration will almost certainly have a much less adversarial relationship with the press than the Trump administration has had. I also wouldn't be surprised if the press grants the Biden administration a longer-than-usual honeymoon. Editors and journalists are only human, after all, and they're likely to appreciate the enormous change in attitudes toward the press that a Biden administration will bring. Eventually, however, the relationship between the press and the administration will return to a semblance of normalcy—normalcy as defined by recent presidents, with Trump as the anomaly.”  


According to Alberto Benitez, a GW Law professor of clinical law and director of the immigration clinic, Mr. Biden’s win is likely to result in a dramatic progressive shift in immigration policy.

“I would expect that the Biden administration will reverse every immigration action done by the current administration,” Mr. Benitez said. “All of them were dreadful.”

Mr. Biden already has proposed to end family separations at the U.S. southern border, halt construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall, restore the naturalization process, end the travel ban on Muslim countries and reinstate DACA.

He also has pledged to increase the number of refugees admitted to the country, a number that had reached historic lows under Mr. Trump.

“Stopping and reversing every immigration action done by the Trump administration could start on Inauguration Day,” Mr. Benitez said. “None of the actions done by the current administration have been legislative. Instead, everything has been through executive action. So favorable executive action by the Biden administration could undo the dreadful executive actions of the current administration.”

The economy

Robert Van Order, a professor of finance and economics in the School of Business, said that improvements in the country’s economy, which have been happening slowly, will largely depend on policy as well as who controls the Senate.

“There is a need for more fiscal stimulus like the CARES Act—especially unemployment insurance and aid to state and local governments,” Dr. Van Order said. “I do think there will be a lot of undoing of executive orders, and things that are at the president's discretion, but major legislation is not likely.”

Joann M. Weiner, associate professor of economics in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences:

“President-elect Biden may quickly take action in the following areas.

“First, he will work on getting the economy back to health, which means, as he emphasized during the campaign, that we must get the pandemic under control. He has already set up a coronavirus task force that is likely to set out conditions needed to keep people safe and healthy while also restoring the health of the economy.

“For the economy to turn the corner, economic activity must grow. This growth could take the form of reinstating the economic impact payments that were first provided under last spring's CARES Act. A final economic measure might focus on implementing his Build Back Better promise. Our country's infrastructure is long over-due for needed repairs and spending on infrastructure seems to have the bipartisan appeal needed to get the building back underway."

Women in politics

Danny Hayes, professor of political science in CCAS:

“Kamala Harris' election as the country's first female vice president is obviously one of the things that makes 2020 historic. But it's also the culmination of a 13-year period of rising prominence for women in American politics.

“Since 2007, we've had women become Speaker of the House, the Republican vice presidential nominee and the Democratic presidential nominee. In 2018, Democrats elected a record number of women to Congress, and, come January, Republicans will have the most female House members in the party's history. Meanwhile, over the last four years, the Women's March movement helped lead opposition to the Trump presidency, and Joe Biden's victory was due in large part to support from female voters.

“There's a popular saying that 'the future is female,' but in a lot of ways that's actually true about the present of American politics.”

Criminal justice

Although Mr. Biden has rejected demands to “defund” police departments, his campaign put forth a plan to reduce the prison population and end private prisons, cash bail, mandatory minimum sentencing and the death penalty.

According to Roger A. Fairfax Jr., GW Law’s Patricia Roberts Harris research professor of law and founding director of GW’s Criminal Law and Policy Initiative, Georgia’s upcoming Senate runoff election in January could be critical to Mr. Biden's criminal justice plan.

“While there has been some bipartisan interest in addressing mandatory minimums, as most recently seen in the 2018 FIRST STEP Act, a Democratic majority certainly would help make federal sentencing reform legislation much more likely,” Mr. Fairfax said.

However, he said Mr. Biden’s attorney general will have the power to direct federal prosecutors to use their charging discretion to minimize the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, regardless of Senate control.  

Likewise, Mr. Fairfax said the Biden administration could continue efforts to seek legislative change to end cash bonds, which Ms. Harris worked in part to introduce, by using the power of the federal purse to encourage states to reform their bail practices.

“With a Democratic Senate majority, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which passed the House on a bipartisan vote but has been bottled up in the Senate, has a chance at passage,” he said. “But even without legislation, there will be opportunities for President-elect Biden and Vice president-elect Harris, who co-sponsored the policing reform legislation in the Senate, to use their executive power and bully pulpit to urge various reforms and highlight new and bold approaches to age-old problems, working with reform-minded constituencies that helped drive the outcome of the presidential election.”

Higher education

Michael Feuer, dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and professor of education policy, said that the Biden administration will likely spend the early days of his presidency focusing on issues of higher education access, opportunity and student debt while reversing Mr. Trump’s executive orders.

For example, he said, there is a good chance there will be reduced—if not free—tuition for community colleges, an expansion of the Pell Grant program, an extension of student loan repayment terms, new partnerships with the business community to foster college-to-work programs and expanded programs to cap tuition, especially in public institutions.

In tackling the student loan debt crisis, Dr. Feuer said, a “carte-blanche” approach to reducing debt may not have the intended progressive impact because much of the increase in debt is generated by affluent families.

“I would hope the new administration quickly convenes an expert group to review the data on student debt and to lay out some sensible options that will be feasible in the short term and will not necessarily require full-blown legislative approval, especially given the lingering uncertainty about which party will be in the majority in the Senate,” Dr. Feuer said.

Climate change

Peter Linquiti, associate professor of environmental resource policy:

"President-Elect Biden, as well as advocates for strong climate policy, will have to pull off a delicate political balancing act in the next couple of years. There's no doubt that climate change poses profound risks to all regions and economic sectors in the United States. And, unfortunately, the adverse effects of climate change—like those of COVID—will likely fall unequally across socioeconomic lines.

"The challenge for the president-elect is to thread the needle, simultaneously enacting meaningful climate policy and immediately channeling significant resources to workers and communities to ease the transition away from fossil fuels. Trust matters immensely on this issue.

“Both sides—climate activists and fossil fuel workers—will have to genuinely believe we're on a path that includes not just shared sacrifice, but shared prosperity as well."