WASHINGTON – As President Joe Biden sat behind the Resolute Desk for the first time as president, some physical differences – from the symbolic choices in decor to simply wearing a mask – were stark compared with that of his predecessor.
Biden, donning a black face mask, sat to sign some executive orders Wednesday night. One order requires masks and social distancing on federal property.
Former President Donald Trump rarely wore a face covering, especially while at the White House, in the Oval Office and behind the Resolute Desk.
He even infamously and – pointedly – removed his mask as soon as he returned from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after he was treated for COVID-19 in October.
A bronze bust of Mexican-American civil rights activist and labor leader César Chávez stood out from behind the Resolute Desk as Biden signed the executive orders.
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Chávez founded what would later become the United Farmworkers Union in the 1960s and led several strikes and marches over the next several decades to improve conditions for farmworkers in the country, emphasizing nonviolent protests.
He is well-known for organizing in the fields, his hunger strikes, the grape boycott and eventual victory in getting growers to negotiate with farmworkers for better wages and working conditions.
“Si se puede,” a chant that became popular during his movement, has been used for many other progressive causes. Most notably, former President Barack Obama, for whom Biden served as vice president, borrowed the phrase and used the English-language equivalent, “Yes, we can,” as his slogan for his 2008 presidential campaign.
Biden selected Julie Chávez Rodriguez, Chávez’s granddaughter who worked in the Obama administration and in Biden’s campaign, as his director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
The Chávez bust is just one of several American leaders and icons that now fill the Oval Office. There are also busts of civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Looks like a Cesar Chavez and Harry Truman bust in the Oval. https://t.co/xpXGx07MmN
— Kenneth Baer (@KennethBaer) January 20, 2021
A massive portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt also hangs across from the Resolute Desk.
Gone is the controversial painting of President Andrew Jackson that Trump had hung in the Oval Office. Biden replaced it with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin "to represent Biden’s interest in following science," according to The Washington Post.
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andrew jackson has been replaced with ben franklin pic.twitter.com/nJaVzgnAqe
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) January 20, 2021
Additionally, there are paintings of President Thomas Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton hanging near each other. Jefferson and Hamilton famously disagreed. Biden's main message of his campaign, and inauguration, was unity in a time of deep partisanship and tension.
According to The Post, the paintings were placed together to show "how differences of opinion, expressed within the guardrails of the Republic, are essential to democracy.”
Contributing: Rafael Carranza, The Arizona Republic
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden Oval Office: Cesar Chavez bust, FDR painting are among changes