Essential California: Change at the Capitol

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office
President Joe Biden takes the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as his wife, First Lady Jill Biden, stands next to him.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Jan. 21, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On the first Wednesday in January, violent extremists laid siege to the U.S. Capitol. The attack, which was incited by the then-president of the United States, left five dead.

On the second Wednesday in January, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach the then-president for his role in the insurrection. The historic vote marked the first time in U.S. history that a president was impeached twice.


On the third Wednesday in January, a native daughter of the Bay Area fundamentally altered the American story as we know it when she became the first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president of the United States.

Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, with Kamala Harris, the country’s barrier-shattering vice president, by his side.

[Read the story: “Biden becomes the 46th president, vowing to heal and unite a nation in crisis” in the Los Angeles Times]

With a changing of the guard and a few strokes of the pen, Biden took immediate action as president on numerous fronts.

As part of Biden’s flurry of executive actions, the U.S. will rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord and reenter the World Health Organization, reversing the previous administration’s retreat from both. Biden’s expansive actions will also overhaul President Trump’s restrictionist immigration policy and cancel Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The orders will scrap a Trump plan to exclude people who are in the country illegally from being counted in the decennial U.S. census — the administration already had conceded defeat after losses in court — and rescind Trump policies that left marginalized communities more exposed to industrial pollution, among other things.

[Read more: “With executive orders, Biden to reverse Trump policies on environment, immigration” in the Los Angeles Times]

Biden also sent a sweeping legislative proposal on immigration reform to Congress on his first day in office.

As my colleagues Andrea Castillo and Cindy Carcamo report, the U.S. Citizenship Act offers an eight-year road map to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States without legal status. If approved, it would prioritize three categories of people to immediately receive green cards: farm workers, those with temporary protected status, and beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. as children. To qualify, immigrants must have entered the U.S. no later than Jan. 1, with some exceptions.

Signs of the new era in American politics went far beyond the reams of policy. A bronze bust of civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez is now prominently displayed in the Oval Office. The 22-inch sculpture — on loan to the administration from the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in California — had previously been displayed at the monument’s visitor center in the Tehachapi mountains of Kern County.

Just hours after the swearing-in, White House press secretary Jen Psaki held the administration’s first official news briefing and pledged to bring “truth and transparency back to the briefing room.” The New York Times described the back-and-forth with reporters as “extraordinarily normal.”

Back in the Capitol, Alex Padilla, California’s newest senator, was sworn in by his predecessor, Vice President Kamala Harris. Appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Padilla will be California’s first Latino senator.

“I’ve been telling folks I have big Chuck Taylors to fill,” Padilla said, giving a nod to Harris’ favorite footwear.

As my D.C. colleagues report, Biden takes office “facing multiple crises of a severity few presidents have encountered so early in their tenures and with only the narrowest of congressional majorities to back him.”

[See also: “Read Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration speech transcript” in the Los Angeles Times]

Hopefully, the fourth Wednesday in January will pass without note.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

“The end is not yet in sight.” Coronavirus danger remains even as some metrics improve in L.A. County. Despite some promising signs that the worst wave of the COVID-19 pandemic may finally be receding, a top Los Angeles County health official warned Wednesday that the situation remains precarious, with thousands more people becoming infected every day and an unsustainable number of patients requiring hospital treatment. Los Angeles Times

Vaccinating Californians 65 and over could take until June to complete, the state’s epidemiologist said Wednesday, raising new concerns about when other groups will be eligible for the vaccine and underscoring the rapidly dwindling COVID-19 vaccine stockpiles. The current priority list, in addition to older residents, includes healthcare industry workers and employees and residents of nursing homes. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. health officials apologized for tech issues on the county’s vaccination appointment site Tuesday. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer thanked residents for their patience and advised them to continually check the website for open appointment slots, saying that more might open due to cancellations. LAist

ICYMI: Meet Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old L.A. poet who became a national sensation during the inauguration. On Wednesday, she became the youngest poet to write and recite a piece at a presidential inauguration, following in the considerably more experienced footsteps of Maya Angelou and Robert Frost. Los Angeles Times

Poet Amanda Gorman reads her poem
Poet Amanda Gorman reads her poem “The Hill We Climb” during Wednesday’s presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

A final farewell for Tommy Lasorda: Friends and family of the former Dodgers manager gathered at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday to pay their respects to the Hall of Fame manager at a celebration of life ceremony. Los Angeles Times

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California Senate Republicans ousted vocal Trump supporter Shannon Grove as their leader. Grove previously stirred controversy for echoing conspiracy theories about the November election online and tweeting (and then deleting) a false claim about the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Her ouster as leader by the Senate Republican Caucus came after two of its 11 seats changed hands in the November election. (Californian Republicans gained a seat in the state Assembly and several in the U.S. House of Representatives during that same election.) Sacramento Bee

“Devin Nunes said goodbye to his BFF, Donald Trump. Will he finally focus on his district?” The Fresno Bee editorial board has some questions for the Central Valley representative. Fresno Bee


Nearly 700 dockworkers at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have contracted COVID-19 and hundreds more are taking virus-related leaves. Los Angeles Times


Inauguration Day protests remained small and peaceful in California despite fears of violence. Patrols in Los Angeles and Sacramento were beefed up amid concern that violence could erupt. Los Angeles Times

A new blow to the SAT empire shows California’s key role in diminishing college admissions tests: When the College Board announced Tuesday that it was scrapping the SAT subject tests and optional essays to “reduce and simplify demands on students,” amid the pandemic, testing experts nationwide pointed to California as a prime accelerator in crippling this mainstay of the college admissions process for millions of students over the last half century. Los Angeles Times

Hope is coming for San Francisco’s Chinatown: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a Chinatown relief plan aimed at bringing $1.9 million to restaurants to feed the neighborhood’s single-room occupancy hotel residents. San Francisco Chronicle

A poem to to start your Thursday: “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: sunny, 72. San Diego: sunny, 66. San Francisco: partly sunny, 57. San Jose: sunny, 66. Fresno: sunny, 66. Sacramento: partly sunny, 64.


Today’s California memory comes from Danny Becerra:

I arrived in Los Angeles the day before the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake. My parents and siblings would arrive the next day and I was to spend the day getting the rental ready. The place was on the first floor of a two-story house which was accessed through a sloping driveway. The only window in the place was at eye level with the base of the driveway. On October 1 at 7:42 a.m., I was awaken by what I thought was a moving truck coming down the driveway. The window rattled and the floor shook with an intensity I never experienced before. Half asleep I looked for the wheels of a truck that never materialized. Now, I wait in perpetual anxiety for the Big One. If Southern California wasn’t so magnificent, I’d have relocated long ago.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.