President Joe Biden would not be where he is without Black voters. Fittingly, he’s made some pretty weighty promises in his plan for Black America. We’re keeping track of them all in a biweekly series.
Biden has taken more steps to advance upward mobility in Black communities his first 100 days in office than former President Donald Trump did his entire presidency, but how much the president will be able to accomplish moving forward will largely depend on his ability to get his nominations and spending plans passed in Congress. And let’s just say it’s not looking good after Republicans made tax cuts their hard “red line” at a meeting on Wednesday between Biden, Democrats, and GOP leaders.
Keeping promises amid Republican dissent on taxes
Legislators seemed to be balancing the president’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan with his $1.8 trillion school and child care plan, which includes $800 billion in tax credits for child care and higher education threatening what Republicans deem their “red line.” “We’re not interested in re-opening the 2017 tax bill. We both made that clear with the president. That’s our red line,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Wednesday. “This discussion (…) will not include revisiting the 2017 tax bill.”
Well, taxes on the wealthiest Americans is how the president proposed funding the infrastructure changes House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he could get behind. “We first have to start with the definition of what is infrastructure,” he told reporters. “That’s not home health. That’s roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband. Those are the places we could find common ground and work together.”
That would, by the way, leave out elements of Biden’s infrastructure plan intended to expand access to long-term care services under Medicaid and improve access to child care. The president, who somehow walked away with an optimistic take on the meeting, promised he would hold firm on elements of his plans that serve underserved and working people. “I want to get a bipartisan deal on as much as we can get a bipartisan deal on. And that means roads, bridges, broadband, infrastructure. But I am not giving up on the fact that we have 2 million women not able to go back to work because all the day care centers are closed or out of business,” Biden said in an interview with MSNBC. “I want to know what can we agree on, and let’s see if we can get an agreement to kick-start this, and then fight over what’s left, and see if I can get it done without Republicans if need be.”
The next day, he announced that $7.4 billion from his COVID-19 relief package, which Congress passed in March, would be used “to recruit and hire public health workers to respond to the pandemic and prepare for future public health challenges.”
”The Biden-Harris Administration will invest $4.4 billion to allow states and localities to expand their over-stretched public health departments with additional staff to support COVID-19 response efforts,” the White House said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will get $3 billion from the plan to create a grant program “to expand, train, and modernize the public health workforce for the future.”
The funding aligns with a report from the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health that estimated $4.5 billion needed to fully support state, local, and tribal public health. The figure was a result of the Public Health Leadership Forum, which brings public health leaders and practitioners together to respond to evolving health needs.
Trust for America’s Health echoed the forum’s recommendation and supported “substantially increasing” funding to strengthen the public health infrastructure and workforce. “Unfortunately, a pattern has emerged: the country temporarily pays attention to public health investment when there is a crisis and then moves on when the emergency passes,” authors of the report wrote. “This boom-bust cycle has left the nation’s public health infrastructure on weak footing.” The populations most likely to feel the impact of that weak footing are communities of color. “Communities disadvantaged by systemic discrimination, including those with health disparities as a result, must be a priority for funding and investment,” public health experts wrote in the report.
Nominating Black judges in federal courts
While Democrats were able to get the president’s COVID-19 relief spending passed, Republicans are doing everything in their power to stall Biden’s progress with respect to his judicial and Department of Justice appointments. Biden announced on Wednesday that he would be nominating three Black women among a slate of six new court nominees.
If all goes as plan: Karen Williams would serve as the first Black district court judge to sit in the Camden courthouse of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey; Eunice Lee would become the second Black woman to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the only judge with experience as a federal defender serving on that circuit; and Angel Kelley would become the second Black female judge and the second Asian American judge to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
That’s in addition to three Black women the president nominated last month as part of a crop of potential circuit, district, and superior court judges. Tiffany Cunningham is up for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The president has repeatedly maintained that his administration and cabinet will look as diverse as the country, and so far he’s holding to that promise. Biden nominated Kristen Clarke—the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, the mother of a Black son, and a product of Brooklyn public housing—to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division earlier this year. The position would make her both the first woman and the first woman of color to lead the Civil Rights Division since it was created in 1957. “As I look to my own son, (… )” she started her opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee, ”I remain committed to the promise of working every day to build a world of equal opportunity for all.
“A world where no 16-year-old is the target of hateful language. A world where no young man is racially profiled. I dream of a world that values his mind, his heart … and does not push him aside because of the color of his skin. I dream of that for every child in America.”
Still, Senate Republicans made complete comedy acts of themselves trying to pick apart her impressive credentials and experiences. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas asked Clarke last month during her confirmation hearing if while a student at Harvard University she “argued that African Americans were genetically superior to ah [sic] Caucasians.”
Clarke responded: “No senator, I believe you’re referring to an op-ed that I wrote at the age of 19 about the Bell Curve Theory, a racist book that equated DNA with genetics and race. As a Black student at Harvard that time we took grave offense to this book. It was co-authored by a Harvard professor. (…) And this op-ed opened with a satirical reference to the statement that you just noted.” Cornyn’s little-researched gotcha question doesn’t exactly inspire faith in his assessment abilities, but luckily only a simple majority is required to confirm presidential nominations in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Tapping Black women to fill civil rights roles
The president announced his intent to nominate Catherine Lhamon, who’s spent close to two decades as a civil rights litigator, to the position of assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education on Thursday.
No newbie to what the job entails, Lhamon is deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity, “where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio,” the White House said in its news release. She also led the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as chairwoman, a position former President Barack Obama appointed her to in 2016 after she earlier served as his assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education.
Under Lhamon watch complaints to the Office for Civil Rights doubled, hitting a record high of 16,720 in 2016. She helped enforce the Obama administration’s policy requiring universities to find students guilty of sexual misconduct according to a lower standard of proof and advocated for more equitable approaches to school discipline. She told The New York Times in 2018 about a Black student being suspended for poking a peer with a pencil but a white student in the same grade only having to help the teacher clean when she hit another child with a rock and broke the teacher’s sunglasses in the process. “The logic that people try to manufacture is that the effort to end exclusionary school discipline renders schools unsafe places,” Lhamon told the newspaper. “It doesn’t even bear scrutiny, really.”
Lhamon, whose Black mom wasn’t allowed to legally marry her white dad in her mother’s home state of Virginia, told PBS in 2017 that “we have not yet reached the mountaintop” but she is “deeply grateful” it’s her job “to help us get there.”
Stay tuned for more as we continue tracking how Biden delivers on his promises to Black America.