January 6, 2021

A new Congress and a new administration: what to expect in 2021

Posted by Caitlin Bergstrom

The year 2020 was monumental for U.S. elections: more than 159 million people voted, the highest number ever recorded in an election. President Joseph R. Biden’s win was certified on 6 January by Congress. Already, President Biden has shared his priorities for his time in office: COVID-19, economic recovery, addressing racial equity and climate change. Democrats maintained control of the House of Representatives and flipped the Senate, giving President-elect Biden a better chance to work with Congress to pass his policy agenda. AGU will be following the priorities of the new Congress and new administration and what they mean for Earth and space sciences.


Biden-Harris administration priorities (see full policy details at BuildBackBetter.gov)


  • During the campaign, President-elect Biden underscored the need for the federal government to take a large role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the need to listen to scientists and ensure policy directives are informed by science and promote transparency.

Economic recovery

  • In addition to public health and safety resources, the Biden-Harris administration is prioritizing economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic. They will focus on giving state, local and tribal governments direct aid, as well as rebuilding the national economy. Scientists are hopeful green energy jobs will be included in recovery packages and the new administration plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Racial justice

  • The energy of the racial justice protests over the summer carried beyond just the streets. Tackling systemic racism will take time and sustained effort, but President-elect Biden has laid out several priority areas to tackle racial equity, including ensuring equity in infrastructure and clean energy investments and promoting diversity and accountability in leadership across federal agencies.

Climate change

  • Climate change is one of the greatest threats of our time, with the potential to impact our health, economy and national security. Recognizing the scale at which climate action needs to be taken, the Biden-Harris administration will invest in several key sectors that will help create a more sustainable future, including the green energy sector to create jobs, and new technologies to help reduce emissions. The administration will also work to ensure that the most vulnerable communities don’t continue to bear the brunt of pollution and climate change impacts.


New Congress

The 117th Congress was sworn in on 3 January, although with a few elections still pending and control of the Senate hanging in the balance, some of the exact numbers described below are subject to change. Several members of Congress have also been nominated to serve in the Biden-Harris cabinet, with more special elections to come after their confirmations.

By the numbers:

The 117th Congress so far includes 67 new members (59 in the House and 8 in the Senate). This Congress is the most diverse ever. It also includes a record number of women elected to office; at least 141 women will serve in the 117th Congress. There are also 19 members with PhDs.

Goals of the new Congress:

House Democrats maintained a majority, though several districts flipped, leaving a slimmer majority for Democrats to pass their agenda. They plan to expand the Affordable Care Act and pass climate change mitigation measures. They are also likely to pass another ambitious COVID-19 stimulus and relief package, which has a far better chance of passing in the narrowly-Democratic controlled Senate.

In a surprise upset in the Georgia special elections, Democrats take a narrow majority in the Senate. This is will make it much easier for President-elect Biden to pass his policy priorities, but will require more bipartisanship than ever.

Regardless of the outcome, AGU will be promoting our policy priorities for both Congress and the Administration.