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President Joe Biden's Oval Office: A bust of Cesar Chavez, painting of Roosevelt and more

Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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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 labor leader César Chávez overlooks photographs on a table behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office while President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders just hours after his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
A bronze bust of Mexican-American labor leader César Chávez overlooks photographs on a table behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office while President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders just hours after his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

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.

Day 1 executive orders: Joe Biden rejoins Paris Agreement, requires masks on federal property

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.

More: With plain language and open emotion, Biden urges shaken nation to regain its footing in wake of divisive president

“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.

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.

Plain language and open emotion: Biden urges shaken nation to regain its footing

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