An Update on President Joe Biden’s Promise to “Have our Backs”

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Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC), House Majority Whip

By Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC), House Majority Whip

July 20, 2021, marked six months that Joseph R. Biden has been President. When I endorsed Joe Biden for President in January 2020, I said, “we know Joe, but most importantly, Joe knows us.”

In his remarks following the endorsement, Joe Biden pledged that, if given the opportunity, he would nominate a Black woman to the United States Supreme Court, something that is long overdue. In his first official act as Presidential nominee he picked a woman of color to be his running mate. And when he was declared winner of the Presidential contest, Joe Biden acknowledged the pivotal role Blacks played in his success, declaring that he would “have our backs.”

Joe Biden has accomplished a lot, and a lot remains to be done. I maintain that the best predictor of future performance is past behavior. I also maintain that this country does not need to be made great. It already is. Our challenge is to make the country’s greatness accessible and affordable for all its citizens. To meet this challenge, President Joe Biden has put together the most diverse Cabinet the country has ever seen, and many of his appointments are history making. Consider the following:

Lloyd Austin, III, the first African American to head the Defense Department;

Cecilia Rouse, the first African American to chair the Council of Economic Advisers;

Janet Yellen, the first woman to head the Treasury Department;

Xavier Becerra and Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Latinos to head Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, respectively;

Isabel Guzman, the first Latina to lead the Small Business Administration;

Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead the Interior Department;

Katherine Tai, the first Asian Pacific Islander to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative; and

Pete Buttigieg, the first openly LGBTQ member of a Presidential Cabinet;

And, while not the first African Americans to hold these positions, Biden named Marcia Fudge to head Housing and Urban Development, Michael Regan to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as Ambassador to the United Nations.

Executive Orders

On his first day in office Joe Biden signed 17 of his 52 executive orders, and since then, he has taken other significant executive actions. Many of these actions have reversed “45’s” policies that discriminated against Blacks and other minorities, such as lifting the ban on immigration from African and Muslim countries; and repealing the ban restricting federal entities and contractors from holding diversity and inclusion training. He issued a directive to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to shore up the implementation of the Fair Housing Act. And he instructed federal agencies to report later this year on improving equity in their offices, their policies, and their programming.
The Biden Administration has launched an all-of-government effort to expand federal contracts with small and disadvantaged businesses (SDB). Today, just 10 percent of federal contracts are with SDBs, and President Biden has set a goal to increase that by 50 percent by 2026, translating to an additional $10 billion investment over the next five-year period.
To further fulfill his promise to “Build Back Better,” President Biden has launched some unprecedented legislative initiatives: three of which are the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the American Jobs Plan, and the American Families Plan. The American Rescue Plan has been signed into law and the benefits of its centerpiece, the Child Tax Credit, began reaching the American people on July 15th.

Child Tax Credit (CTC)

Experts say that expansion of the CTC will decrease the children living in poverty by half, with an even greater decrease among Black children. It is putting up to $3600 per child under 6 and $3000 per child ages 6 through 17 into parents’ pockets, starting with monthly payments over the next 6 months, to help families get back on their feet after COVID 19’s devastation.
Black Farmers

The ARP contains $5 billion to right the wrongs visited upon Black farmers by the Department of Agriculture for nearly a century, wrongs that resulted in huge losses of land and wealth. Now, Stephen Miller, a former White House Senior Advisor to “45,” has formed the “American First Legal Foundation,” and they are suing to deny relief to Black farmers.
The Judiciary

While the opportunity to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court has yet to present itself, we can look at Biden’s appointments to lower courts to know that he is keeping his word to “have our backs.” Biden has gotten eight judges confirmed, the most at this point in a presidency since Nixon. There is a sense of urgency considering that “45” stacked the court with 230 new judges, several of them declared unqualified by the American Bar Association. To date, Biden has nominated a total of 32 federal judges including several of whom are Black, Hispanic, and Native American; and the first Muslim American nominated to the Federal District Court.
HBCUs

The ARP invests in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority serving institutions (MSIs). This legislation includes a record $3 billion in funding for these institutions, which can be used to support vulnerable students, monitor and suppress the coronavirus, and reengage students whose education was disrupted by the pandemic. There is also a temporary student loan debt relief provision included in the ARP, which dropped student loan interest to 0% and extends a pause on payments through September 30 of this year. The legislation also makes any debt forgiveness non-taxable.

Going Forward

I just completed six town halls where I heard from some who feel that much more needs to be done; and I agree. I also heard that reparations need to be made a priority. I agree with that as well but will not wait for legislation to pass before making some much-needed repairs.

Ours is not an autocratic system. The legislative process is very deliberative with a significant number of checks and balances. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s programs seeking equity and fairness for Black Americans were not accomplished all at once. The 1964 Civil Rights Act did not apply to the public sector until it was amended in 1972. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court eight years ago. The Fair Housing Act became law in 1968, and we are still beseeched by “redlining” in home sales and lending. Yes, much more needs to be done.

I can assure you that work on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and H.R.40 (Reparations Study) are just a few priorities of mine and the Congressional Black Caucus. And, for the remainder of this Congress, I will use this publication to keep you informed of our progress.

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