There was so much about President Joe Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress (otherwise known as the State of the Union address) that was extraordinary, with the twin challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and domestic insurrection still hovering, but also the historic nature: Biden began by acknowledging the historic moment of “Madam Speaker” and “Madam Vice President” sitting on the podium behind him.
But there was a lot more to his review of his first 100 days in office that was historic: “Because of you, the American people, our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history has been one of the greatest logistical achievements this country has ever seen,” he declared. The economy created 1,300,000 new jobs in Biden’s first 100 days – more jobs in the first 100 days of any President, and the economy is on track to achieve 6% growth, the fastest growth rate in four decades.
“I come to talk about crisis and opportunity, about rebuilding the nation, revitalizing our democracy, and winning the future for America.”
His speech was long on specific proposals and praise for others, and very short on self-congratulations, even stepping on applause lines and speaking over and over about coming “together”. “Thanks to all the help of all of you, we’re marshalling — with your help, everyone’s help — we’re marshalling every federal resource.”
He laid out his plan – and rationale – for the biggest, most transformational investment in infrastructure in history, the American Jobs Plan: “These are the investments we made together as one country, and investments that only the government was in a position to make. Time and again, they propel us into the future.”
In a word, it represents “jobs” – a word he used 43 times.
He used jobs to justify investments in traditional infrastructure but also investments in climate action and research & development.
He proposed a new agency like DARPA, responsible for inventing the internet, for medicine, to ultimately eradicate cancer and deal with the epidemic of Alzheimer‘s. He is proposing expanding access to the Affordable Care Act, lowering premiums, and lowering the costof prescription drugs for everyone by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices.
“Independent experts estimate the American Jobs Plan will add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to economic growth in the years to come. It is an eight-year program. These are good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced…. The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”
His other big, trillion-dollar proposal is for the American Families Plan: in care – child care, parental and spousal care – paid family leave, and four more years of public education: two for pre-K and two more for community college.
He spoke of union rights and the need to raise the minimum wage to $15, pay equity.
These big, bold, transformational programs, he said, will be paid for by reforming tax code and collections. “Trickle-down economics has never worked and it’s time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out…What I’m proposing will help create millions of jobs and generate historic economic growth. These are among the highest-value investments we can make as a nation.”
He addressed immigration reform, justice reform, voting rights, gun reform, and for good measure, told the LGBTQ and specifically transgender young people, “I’ve got your back.” He called for Congress to pass the George Floyd Police Reform Act in time for the one-year anniversary of his death at the hands of a police officer. “We have to come together to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, to root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system, and to enact police reform in George Floyd’s name that passed the House already…
“We have a giant opportunity to bend to the arc of the moral universe towards justice — real justice. And with the plans outlined tonight, we have a real chance to root out systemic racism that plagues America and American lives in other ways; a chance to deliver real equity — good jobs, good schools, affordable housing, clean air, clean water, being able to generate wealth and pass it down two generations because you have an access to purchase a house. Real opportunities in the lives of more Americans — Black, white, Latino, Asian Americans, Native Americans.”
For the most part delivered in quiet, intimidate, personal tones, frequently speaking directly to the American people, and only in a few instances raising his voice rose in volume and intensity, especially in terms of the need for America to stand as a beacon of democracy, and ward off the looming vultures of autocracy licking their chops over a collapse.
Issues like fighting the pandemic, terrorism and the climate crisis cannot be done by any one nation alone.
“America will not back away from our commitments — our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms and to our alliances…. America is an idea — the most unique idea in history: We are created, all of us, equal. It’s who we are, and we cannot walk away from that principle and, in fact, say we’re dealing with the American idea.”
And while saying firmly he will stand up to China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, and pursue terrorists everywhere, even as the US ends its forever war in Afghanistan, he declared emphatically, “We won’t ignore what our intelligence agencies have determined to be the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today: White supremacy is terrorism. We’re not going to ignore that either.”
He did not shirk from raising intractable issues that have plagued America for decades, starting with gun reform saying, “I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence, but it’s time for Congress to act as well.
“Look, I don’t want to become confrontational but we need more Senate Republicans to join the overwhelming majority of Democrat colleagues and close the loopholes requiring a background check on purchases of guns. We need a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And don’t tell me it can’t be done. We did it before, and it worked.
“This shouldn’t be a red or blue issue. And no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. From the very beginning, there were certain guns, weapons,that could not be owned by Americans. Certain people could not own those weapons ever.
“We’re not changing the Constitution; we’re being reasonable. I think this is not a Democrat or Republican issue; I think it’s an American issue.”
So is immigration. “Immigration has always been essential to America. Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration. For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform, and we’ve done nothing about it. It’s time to fix it.”
On his first day in office, Biden sent a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress. “If you believe we need to secure the border, pass it, because it has a lot of money for high-tech border security. If you believe in a pathway to citizenship, pass it so over 11 million undocumented folks — the vast majority are here overstaying visas. Pass it. We can actually — if you actually want to solve a problem, I’ve sent a bill to take a close look at it.”
At least, he said, pass protection for DREAMers.
And finally, he told Congress, pass voting rights protections.
“Can our democracy overcome the lies, anger, hate, and fears that have pulled us apart?
“America’s adversaries –- the autocrats of the world –- are betting we can’t. And I promise you, they’re betting we can’t. They believe we’re too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted the Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. But they are wrong. You know it; I know it. But we have to prove them wrong.
“We have to prove democracy still works — that our government still works and we can deliver for our people…
“Our Constitution opens with the words — as trite as it sounds – ‘We the People’. Well, it’s time to remember that ‘We the People’ are the government — you and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force that we have no control over. It’s us. It’s ‘We the People.’
“In another era when our democracy was tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us, ‘In America, we do our part.’ We all do our part. That’s all I’m asking: that we do our part, all of us.
“If we do that, we will meet the center challenge of the age by proving that democracy is durable and strong. Autocrats will not win the future. We will. America will. And the future belongs to America.”
This afternoon, President Biden outlined his vision and new elements of his agenda for advancing racial equity for Americans who have been underserved and left behind, signing four executive actions to advance racial equity and take the first steps to root out systemic racism in housing and criminal justice.
“Equal opportunity is the fundamental promise of America. But systemic racism and discrimination in our economy, laws, and institutions have put the promise of America out of reach for too many families of color,” he stated.
President Biden renewed the federal government’s commitment to making the American Dream real for families across the nation by taking bold and ambitious steps to root out inequity from our economy and expand opportunities for communities of color and other underserved Americans.
His executive orders direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take steps necessary to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies that have contributed to wealth inequality for generations; end the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) use of private prisons; recommitted the federal government to respect Tribal sovereignty and strengthen the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations; and combat xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
These orders build on actions the President took during his first week in office to advance equity, which historians have described as one of the most robust efforts to advance racial justice in the first weeks of any new administration. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an unprecedented Executive Order establishing a whole-of-government initiative to address racial equity and support underserved communities, and redress systemic racism in federal policies, laws, and programs. He took immediate action to roll back harmful policies, such as President Trump’s 1776 Commission and ban on diversity and inclusion training for federal employees and contractors. In the days ahead, President Biden will reinvigorate the federal government’s role as a model employer by expanding and building on the efforts of the Obama-Biden Administration, by requiring all agencies to take affirmative steps to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as by requiring accessibility.
President Biden committed to embedding racial equity across his Administration’s response to COVID-19 and the economic crisis. In his first week in office, he signed executive actions to provide relief to American families that will aid families of color that are being disproportionately impacted by this economic crisis. He directed the Department of Agriculture to address the growing crisis of hunger facing more than one in five Black and Latino households by increasing access to nutritious food for millions of children missing meals due to school closures, issuing new guidance to help an additional 12 million Americans access nutrition assistance, and beginning the process to increase the value of supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits to better reflect today’s grocery costs.
The President extended the pause on federal student loan payments and collections, protecting borrowers burdened by educational debt, who are disproportionately Americans of color. He extended the federal government’s foreclosure and eviction moratoriums until February 28, 2021, helping families who are more likely to be rent burdened to stay safely housed. President Biden directed the Department of Treasury to take steps to make the delivery of stimulus benefits more equitable to help the 8 million households, many of whom are families of color, who never received the first stimulus checks they were entitled to. And, the President began the process of requiring federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage and provide emergency paid leave to workers bringing financial relief to low wage workers.
These actions are just the start. The President is committed to working with Congress to pass bold legislation that advances racial equity, including increasing funding for small businesses, investing in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions, and tripling funding for Title I schools, which serve a majority of low-income students. As the President has said, he is focused on ensuring that small businesses owned by people of color and others who have been historically disadvantaged – many of whom were shut out of previous relief packages – receive support.
And President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will provide immediate, direct relief to communities and families bearing the brunt of the crisis – including communities and families of color. Economists estimate that the investments in the American Rescue Plan will lift over eight million Black, Latino, and Asian Americans out of poverty and will provide relief across sectors where families of color are most disproportionately impacted in this crisis: in food and financial security, healthcare access, and education and child care. The President’s rescue plan will expand protections for frontline workers, 40 percent of whom are people of color. It will increase and extend Unemployment Insurance benefits, supporting the one in ten Black workers and one in eleven Latino workers who are unemployed. And, the plan will provide critical relief to Native American communities and Tribes.
Before signing the additional executive orders, President Biden remarked, “In my campaign for President, I made it very clear that the moment had arrived as a nation where we face deep racial inequities in America and system- — systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far, far too long.
“I said it over the course of the past year that the blinders had been taken come off the nation of the American people. What many Americans didn’t see, or had simply refused to see, couldn’t be ignored any longer.
“Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd’s life opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people around — all over the world. It was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn’t be forgotten. It stirred the conscience of tens of millions of Americans, and, in my view, it marked a turning point in this country’s attitude toward racial justice…
“COVID-19 has further ripped a path of destruction through every community in America, but no one has been spared, but the devastation in communities of color has been nothing short of stunning. Just look at the numbers: 40 percent of frontline workers — nurses, first responders, grocery store workers — are Americans of color, and many are still living on the edge. One in ten black Americans is out of work today. One in eleven Latino Americans is out of work today. One in seven households in America — about one in four black, one in five Latino households in America — report that they don’t have enough food to eat in the United States of America.
“Black and Latino Americans are dying of COVID-19 at rates nearly three times that of white Americans. And it’s not white Americans’ fault, but it’s just a fact. And the Americans now know it, especially younger Americans.
“One of the reasons I’m so optimistic about this nation is that today’s generation of young Americans is the most progressive, thoughtful, inclusive generation that America has ever seen. And they are pulling us toward justice in so many ways, forcing us to confront the huge gap in economic inequity between those at the top and everyone else, forcing us to confront the existential crisis of climate; and, yes, forcing us to confront systemic racism and white supremacy.
“It’s just been weeks since all of America witnessed a group of thugs, insurrectionists, political extremists, and white supremacists violently attack the Capitol of our democracy. And so now — now is the time to act. It’s time to act because that’s what the faith and morality calls us to do…
“We have never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation, to state the obvious, that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives. And it’s time to act now, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because if we do, we’ll all be better off for it.
“For too long, we’ve allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester. You know, we’ve — we’ve bought the view that America is a zero-sum game in many cases: ‘If you succeed, I fail.’ ‘If you get ahead, I fall behind.’ ‘If you get the job, I lose mine.’ Maybe worst of all, ‘If I hold you down, I lift myself up.’
“We’ve lost sight of what President Kennedy told us when he said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” And when we lift each other up, we’re all lifted up. You know, and the corollary is true as well: When any one of us is held down, we’re all held back. More and more economic studies in recent years have proven this, but I don’t think you need economic studies to see the truth.
“Just imagine if instead of consigning millions of American children to under-resourced schools, we gave each and every three- and four-year-old child a chance to learn, to go to school — not daycare, school — and grow and thrive in school and throughout. When they’ve done that — the places it’s been done, it shows they have an exponentially greater chance of going all the way through 12 years of school and doing it well.
But, you know, does anyone — does anyone in this whole nation think we’re not all better off if that were to happen?
“Just imagine if instead of denying millions of Americans the ability to own a home and build generational wealth — who made it possible for them buy a home, their first home — and begin to build equity to provide for their families and send their children off to school, does anyone doubt that the whole nation will be better off?
“Just imagine: Instead of denying millions of young entrepreneurs the ability to access capital, we made it possible to take their dream to market, create jobs, reinvest in their own communities. Does anyone doubt this whole nation wouldn’t be better off?
“Just imagine if more incredibly creative and innovative — how much more creative and innovative we’d be if this nation held — held the historic black colleges and universities to the same opportunities — and minority-serving institutions — that had the same funding and resources of public universities to compete for jobs and industries of the future. You know, just ask the first HBCU graduate elected as Vice President if that’s not true.
“But to do this, I believe this nation and this government need to change their whole approach to the issue of racial equal- — equity. Yes, we need criminal justice reform, but that isn’t nearly enough. We need to open the promise of America to every American. And that means we need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government; it has to be the business of the whole of government.
“That’s why I issued, among the first days, my whole-of-government executive order that will, for the first time, advance equity for all throughout our federal policies and institutions. It focuses on the full range of communities who have been long underserved and overlooked: people of color; Americans with disabilities; LGBTQ Americans; religious minorities; rural, urban, suburban communities facing persistent poverty.
“And I’ve asked Ambassador Susan Rice to lead the administration’s charge through the White House and Domestic Policy Council because I know she’ll see it through. Every White House, every White House component, and every agency will be involved in this work because advancing equity has to be everyone’s job….
“In the weeks ahead, I’ll be reaffirming the federal government’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and accessibility, building on the work we started in the Obama-Biden administration. That’s why I rescinded the previous administration’s harmful ban on diversity and sensitivity training, and abolished the offensive, counter-factual 1776 Commission. Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth, not ignorance and lies….
“I ran for President because I believe we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation. And the simple truth is, our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist. We can’t eliminate it if — it’s not going to be overnight. We can’t eliminate everything.
“But it’s corrosive, it’s destructive, and it’s costly. It costs every American, not just who have felt the sting of racial injustice. We aren’t just less of a — we are not just a nation of morally deprived because of systemic racism; we’re also less prosperous, we’re less successful, we’re less secure.
“So, we must change, and I know it’s going to take time. But I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the nation is ready to change, but government has to change as well. We need to make equity and justice part of what we do every day — today, tomorrow, and every day.
Here’s a summary of the additional executive actions fostering racial equity that President Biden signed:
Advance Fair Housing. President Biden will sign a Presidential Memorandum “Redressing Our Nation’s and the Federal Government’s History of Discriminatory Housing Practices and Policies.” This memorandum recognizes the central role the federal government has played implementing housing policies across the United States, from redlining to mortgage discrimination to destructive federal highway construction, that have had racially discriminatory impacts. The Fair Housing Act requires the federal government to advance fair housing and combat housing discrimination, including disparate impact discrimination that appears neutral but has an unjustified discriminatory effect in practice. This Presidential Memorandum directs HUD to examine the effects of the previous Administration’s regulatory actions that undermined fair housing policies and laws. And, it directs HUD to take steps necessary based on that analysis to fully implement the Fair Housing Act’s requirements.
Reform our Incarceration System to End the Use of Private Prisons. More than two million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, and a disproportionate number of these individuals are people of color. Mass incarceration imposes significant costs on our society and communities, while private prisons profiteer off of federal prisoners in less safe conditions for prisoners and correctional officers alike. President Biden is committed to reducing mass incarceration while making our communities safer. That starts with ending DOJ’s reliance on private prisons. The Order directs the Attorney General not to renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities.
Reaffirm the Federal Government’s Commitment to Tribal Sovereignty and Consultation. The Biden Administration is committed to re-establishing federal respect for Tribal sovereignty, strengthening the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the federal government and American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, empowering self-determination, and advancing racial justice for Native communities. This Executive Order reinvigorates the commitment of all federal agencies to engage in regular, robust, and meaningful consultation with Tribal governments.
Combat Xenophobia Against Asian American and Pacific Islanders. While bullying and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) is a long-standing and unacceptable problem in our country, rates of harassment and violence against AAPIs have risen dramatically in the past year. President Biden will sign a Presidential Memorandum acknowledging the harm that these actions have caused, and establishing that the policy of his Administration is to condemn and denounce anti-Asian bias and discrimination. This Memorandum directs the Department of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, to consider issuing guidance describing best practices to advance cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity towards AAPIs in the federal government’s COVID-19 response. It also directs the Department of Justice to partner with AAPI communities to prevent hate crimes and harassment against AAPIs.
Just a day after the unprecedented attempted insurrection at the Capitol and four years of tearing down the Rule of Law in Donald Trump’s quest to emulate the dictators he so admires, President-Elect Joe Biden’s introduction of his “Justice League” – the Attorney General, Deputy and Assistants – brought a welcome, calming reassurance. As with his other teams – health and human services, national security, climate and environment – Biden’s Justice nominees “have the experience, judgment, and moral compass that these roles demand, as well as an abiding commitment to supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States,” Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris said.
Biden set aside discussing the calls to remove Trump using the 25th Amendment or impeaching him for a second time before the term ends at 12:01 pm on January 20, but used yesterday’s “unprecedented assault on our democracy,” the mob attack on the Capitol while both chambers of Congress were in the process of certifying Biden-Harris election incited by Trump, to reaffirm his commitment to restoring an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and equal justice for all – all of which were subverted by a dictator wannabe demanding loyalty.
Indeed, it was the reason Biden sought the presidency, after seeing the White Supremacists march in Charlottesville. He evoked that image – as well as the differences in how Black Lives Matter protesters were treated compared to the mob that invaded the Capitol Building, rampaging and ransacking it. “Not only did we see a failure to protect one of the three branches of our government, we also saw a clear failure to carry out equal justice.”
Biden declared, “I made it clear from the moment I entered this race what I believed was at stake nothing less than who we are as a nation, what we stand for, and what we believe, what we will be. And at the center of that belief is one of the oldest principles this nation has long held — we are a government of laws — not people….
“The judiciary doesn’t serve the will of the president, or exist to protect him or her….Our president is not above the law. Justice serves the people — it doesn’t protect the powerful. And it is blind….
“I want it to be clear to those who lead the department and those who serve there. You don’t work for me. Your loyalty isn’t to me. It is to the law. To the Constitution. To the people of this nation. To guarantee justice.”
Here are Biden’s remarks, highlighted, and highlights from the nominees: –Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Yesterday was one of the darkest days in the history of our nation.
An unprecedented assault on our democracy.
An assault on the citadel of liberty, the United States Capitol itself.
An assault on the rule of law.
An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: ratifying the will of the people
in choosing the leadership of their government.
We grieve the loss of life. We grieve the desecration of the people’s house.
But what we witnessed yesterday was not dissent. It was disorder.
It was not protest. It was chaos.
They weren’t protestors. Don’t dare call them protestors.
They were rioters, a mob.
It’s that basic and that simple.
And I wish we could say we couldn’t see it coming.
But that isn’t true. We could.
For the past four years we’ve had a president who has made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, and the rule of law clear in everything he has done.
He has unleashed an all-out assault on the institutions of our democracy.
And yesterday was but the culmination of that unrelenting attack.
He has attacked the free press who dared to question his power, repeatedly calling the free press the enemy of the people.
Language that has long been used by autocrats and dictators all over the world to hold on to power.
Language that is being used now by autocrats and dictators across the world, only this time with the imprimatur of the outgoing President of the United States.
He has attacked our intelligence services who dared to tell the American people the truth about the efforts of a foreign power to elect him four years ago, choosing instead to believe the word of Vladimir Putin over the word of those who had sworn their allegiance to this nation — many of whom had risked their lives in service in this nation.
He deployed the United States military, tear-gassing peaceful protestors in the pursuit of a photo opportunity in service of his reelection. Even holding the Bible upside down.
An action that led to an apology from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the outspoken denunciation of the use of the military for domestic political purposes from scores of former military leaders and Secretaries of Defense.
He thought he could stack the courts with friendly judges who would support him no matter what.
He went so far as to say he needed nine justices on the Supreme Court because he thought the election would end up in the Supreme Court and they would hand him the election.
And he was stunned, truly stunned, when the judges he appointed didn’t do his bidding, but instead acted with integrity, followed the Constitution, and upheld the rule of law.
Not just once or twice, or three times — but over 60 times.
In more than 60 cases, in state after state after state, and then at the Supreme Court judges, including people he considered quote “his” judges, “Trump judges” — the courts looked at the allegations Trump was making and determined they were without merit.
Nothing was judged to put the election in question or doubt.
You want to understand the importance of democratic institutions in this country?
Take a look at the judiciary in this nation.
Take a look at the pressure it was just subjected to by the sitting president of the United States.
At every level, it rose to the moment during this election.
Did its job.
Acted with complete fairness and impartiality.
With complete honor and integrity.
When history looks back at the moment we just passed through, it will say our democracy survived in no small part because of the men and women who represent the independent judiciary in this nation.
We owe them a deep, deep debt of gratitude.
And then there is his attack on the Department of Justice.
Treating the Attorney General as his personal lawyer and the department as his personal law firm.
Through it all, we would hear the same thing from this president — my generals, my judges, my Attorney General.
And then yesterday.
The culmination of the attack on our institutions of democracy.
This time the Congress itself.
Inciting a mob to attack the Capitol, to threaten the elected Representatives of the people of this nation and even the Vice President, to stop the United States Congress from ratifying the will of the people in a just-completed free and fair election.
Trying to use a mob to silence the voices of nearly 160 million Americans who summoned the courage in the face of a pandemic that threatened their health and their lives to cast their sacred ballot.
I made it clear from the moment I entered this race what I believed was at stake nothing less than who we are as a nation, what we stand for, and what we believe, what we will be.
And at the center of that belief is one of the oldest principles this nation has long held — we are a government of laws — not people.
I said it many times in the campaign.
Our democratic institutions are not relics of another age.
They are what set this nation apart.
They are the guardrails of our democracy.
They are why no president is a king.
No Congress is the House of Lords.
The judiciary doesn’t serve the will of the president, or exist to protect him or her.
We have three co-equal branches of government.
Our president is not above the law.
Justice serves the people — it doesn’t protect the powerful.
And it is blind.
What we saw yesterday in plain view was another violation of a fundamental tenet of this nation.
Not only did we see a failure to protect one of the three branches of our government, we also saw a clear failure to carry out equal justice.
No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protestors yesterday that they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the mob that stormed the Capitol.
We all know that’s true. And that is totally unacceptable. And the American people saw it in plain view and I hope it sensitized them to what we have to do.
Not many people know it, but the reason the Department of Justice was formed in 1870 was to enforce the Civil Rights Amendments that grew out of the Civil War — the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.
To stand up to the Klan.
To take on domestic terrorism.
This original spirit must once again guide and animate its work.
So as we stand here today, we do so in the wake of yesterday’s events.
Events that could not more vividly demonstrate some of the most important work we have to do in this nation.
Committing ourselves to the rule of law in this nation.
Invigorating our democratic institutions.
Carrying out equal justice under the law in America.
There is no more important place for us to do this work than at the Department of Justice.
And there are no more important people to carry out this work than the people I am announcing today.
More than anything, we need to restore the honor, the integrity, and the independence of the Department of Justice in this nation.
I want it to be clear to those who lead the department and those who serve there.
You don’t work for me. Your loyalty isn’t to me.
It is to the law.
To the Constitution. To the people of this nation. To guarantee justice.
For Attorney General of the United States, I nominate Judge Merrick Garland.
One of the most respected jurists of our time.
Brilliant yet humble.
Distinguished yet modest.
Full of character and decency.
Supreme Court clerk.
Served in the Justice Department during the Carter, Bush 41, and Clinton Administrations,
where he embraced the Department’s core values of independence and integrity.
As federal prosecutor he took on terrorism and corruption and violent crime always with utmost professionalism and duty to the oath he swore.
Nominated by President Clinton to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the second most powerful court in America.
Throughout such a long and distinguished career, he has earned the praise and admiration of members of the bar and bench, and politicians of both parties.
And despite his busy schedule and prestigious position, he still makes time to volunteer
regularly tutoring students in Northeast D.C. as he has for more than 20 years.
This is about character.
It is no surprise why President Obama nominated Judge Garland to the Supreme Court.
He embodies honor, decency, integrity — fidelity to the rule of law and judicial independence.
It’s those same traits he will now bring as the Attorney General of the United States, not as the personal attorney to the President.
He will restore trust in the rule of law and equal justice under law.
I fully expect that he will receive a fair hearing and swift confirmation.
And once he is confirmed, I will move promptly to nominate his replacement on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and I expect that the distinguished nominee will receive a prompt and fair hearing as well.
“As everyone who watched yesterday’s events in Washington now understands — if they did not before — the Rule of Law is not just some lawyer’s turn-of-phrase. It is the very foundation of our democracy,” Garland said.
“The essence of the Rule of Law is that like cases are treated alike: That there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends and another for foes; one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless; one rule for the rich and another for the poor — or different rules depending on one’s race or ethnicity.
“And the essence of its great corollary, Equal Justice Under Law, is that all citizens are protected in the exercise of their civil rights. …
“These principles — ensuring the Rule of Law and making real the promise of Equal Justice Under Law — are the great principles upon which the Department of Justice was founded and for which it must always stand.
“They echo today in the priorities that lie before us — from ensuring racial equity in our justice system to meeting the evolving threat of violent extremism.
“If confirmed, those are the principles to which I will be devoted as Attorney General.”
For Deputy Attorney General I nominate Lisa Monaco.
A fifteen-year veteran of the Department of Justice, Lisa knows the department inside and out.
She is a definition of what a public servant should be — decent, trusted, and honorable.
A top-flight prosecutor who took on public corruption, corporate fraud, and violent crime.
Chief of Staff to the Director of the FBI.
The first woman ever to be confirmed as Assistant Attorney General for National Security,
where she elevated cybersecurity to a top priority — which is even more consequential today.
And at the White House, she was the top homeland security and counterterrorism advisor to President Obama and me.
She coordinated our fight against Al-Qaeda and ISIL. She helped lead our response to the Ebola crisis.
And when the bombs went off at the finish line on Patriot’s Day in Boston, her hometown , she coordinated the federal government’s response with local and state law enforcement to get to the bottom of this horrible tragedy.
I know she will help restore the integrity and independence of the Department of Justice that she reveres.
“The soul of the Justice Department lives in the integrity of its career professionals, in the independence of its investigations and prosecutions, and in the principles it brings to bear as it stewards the ideal of justice in America,” Monaco said.
“Today, we are at another inflection point. Some of the challenges we face are familiar — racial inequality; the need for criminal justice reform; domestic terrorism and threats to public safety.
“Some of the tasks are enduring — like the importance of working closely with law enforcement to ensure public safety and build trust in our communities.
“Some of the challenges are evolving — like mounting cyber threats.
“I’m confident that the Department of Justice is up to all these challenges, but what is most critical in the days ahead is not a challenge at all — but an opportunity.
“A chance for this team and the career professionals who make up the Justice Department to reaffirm its norms and traditions, to do justice without fear or favor, to keep the American people safe and to do so always consistent with the rule of law.”
For Associate Attorney General, the number 3 job at the Department — I nominate Vanita Gupta.
One of the most respected civil rights lawyers in America.
Started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Then on to the ACLU.
And then to the Justice Department during the Obama-Biden Administration where she led the Civil Rights Division.
At every step, with every case, she has fought for greater equity and to right the wrongs in our justice system where they existed.
And she has done so by bringing people together, earning praise from across the ideological spectrum for her approach to solving some of the thorniest problems we face.
During the Obama-Biden Administration, Vanita was put in charge of investigating abuse of power in police departments in Ferguson, Missouri, and other communities torn apart by acts of violence and racial injustice.
She helped institute common-sense police reforms to build greater equity, safety, and trust.
She was commended for her work both by law enforcement and by those advocating for changes in the criminal justice system.
That is a rare achievement — and it speaks volumes about her capacity to unite people in common purpose, which this is all about.
Born in Philadelphia and a proud daughter of immigrants from India, if confirmed, Vanita will be the first woman of color to serve as Associate Attorney General.
I am grateful that Vanita is leaving her current job leading one of the premier civil rights organizations in the world to answer the call to serve once again and ensure our justice system is even more fair and equitable.
There are many agencies in our federal government — but only one which bears the name of a value,” Gupta said.
By virtue of that name — that value of justice — we know the Department carries a unique charge and North Star.
At its best, it is the keeper of a sacred promise — the promise of equal justice for all.
That no one is above the law.
When this promise is pursued with vigor, it brings light to our nation and serves as a beacon to the world.
But when abandoned, we degrade our democracy and sow the division we’ve come to know all too well…
This moment demands bold leadership
The Department of Justice, as it has done throughout history, will have to uncover and reckon with hard truths; hold people, companies, and institutions accountable to our Constitution and laws;
drive change where there is injustice; and heal a nation starving for decency and hope.
Now is the time to ensure our economic system works for everyone, to protect the health and safety of the American people, and to harness all DOJ levers for civil rights, justice reform, and climate justice.
For Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, I nominate Kristen Clarke, who has also spent her career advocating for greater equity in the justice system.
A daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Kristen is also one of the most distinguished civil rights attorneys in America.
A proud native of Brooklyn, New York she began her legal career in the very same office she is now nominated to lead.
Her previous tenure with the Justice Department saw her take on some of the most complex civil rights cases — from voting rights and redistricting challenges to prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking.
She has earned accolades throughout her career — including as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for her home state of New York, where she led the charge to end the school-to-prison pipeline and root out discrimination in housing and law enforcement.
She currently leads one of the nation’s top civil rights organizations, where she promotes greater equity in voting rights, in our education system, our housing system, our justice system, and so much more.
Now, she will return full circle to pursue that vital work where her career began.
The Civil Rights Division represents the moral center of the Department of Justice, and the heart of that fundamental American ideal, that we are created equal and deserve to be treated equally.
I am honored she accepted the call to return to make real that promise for all Americans.
“Not everyone is blessed with the opportunities I enjoyed,” Clarke said. “That awareness has animated my life’s work — it’s what brought me to the Department of Justice where I started my career — and it’s what brings me back for this homecoming today. ..The clarion call of equal justice under law is what binds us together as a nation.”
Biden said, “To each of you, thank you for your service and that of your families.
And to the American people, this is the team that will restore your trust and faith in our institutions of democracy.
One of the reasons I ran for president was when I saw those people coming out of the fields in Charlottesville, shouting hate, a young woman killed, and when asked, the President of the United States said there are good people on both sides.
That’s why I ran. There is no more important or heartfeld effort on my part than restoring the independence and integrity of our Justice Department.
May God bless you all.
May God protect our troops and those who have sworn to protect the American people.
The hypocrisy and shamelessness of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans to now move forward to fill the seat vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with someone who would completely undo all the progress she made toward equality and social justice in the midst of actual voting to replace the president and Congress is only matched by the hypocrisy and shamelessness of the self-professed conservative “originalist” Supreme Court justices who have the audacity to suggest they can fathom what the Founding Fathers meant and disregard all the changes since then, to actually make law. Five justices contradicting the 435 elected members of the House and 100 elected members of the Senate and the president, going further, reaching back into settled law and precedent to overturn women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, workers rights, environmental protection, to re-form this nation as a Catholic theocracy, not much different than Islamic theocracy.
Just a reminder: McConnell invented this “rule” of not confirming – not even giving President Obama’s nominee a hearing – even though the election was 10 months away (and Scalia’s seat was vacant for 400 days) because it was an election year, and that Obama purposely looked for a moderate, not a progressive, and not someone who could conceivably serve for 50 years on the bench, in choosing Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia. It really was a further demonstration of the disrespect he had for Obama, America’s first Black president, and, when Obama took office in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, McConnell said his first priority was not to help Americans seeing their lives come apart but to make Obama a “one-term president.” He stalled hundreds of judicial appointments so that he could fill them all – and hand Trump his only achievement Trump can crow about. B
McConnell’s does not necessarily see the swift filling of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat as energizing Republican turnout but because he expects to lose the White House and very possibly the Senate. Also, he wants a Supreme Court in Trump’s pocket to decide the dozens of outrageous court suits designed to suppress voting (the only way Trump can eke out a win in the Electoral College).
Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke out in Philadelphia, paying homage to Justice Ginsburg’s life and legacy and outrage over yet another theft of a Supreme Court seat that, despite the conservative minority in the country and majority’s rejection of their positions, will control the lives of every American for generations. Presidents may come and go, but these justices serve for life.
”This appointment isn’t about the past. It’s about the future. And the people of this nation are choosing the future right now,” Biden declared. “To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power.”
Here are Vice President’s remarks, highlighted, as prepared for delivery on September 20, 2020 in Philadelphia:
I attended mass earlier today and prayed for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her family.
The nation lost an icon, but they lost a mother, a grandmother, and a matriarch.
We know how hard that is to watch a piece of your soul absorb the cruelty and pain of that dreadful disease of cancer.
But as I spoke with her daughter and granddaughter last night, they made clear that until the very end she displayed the character and courage we would expect of her. She held their hand and gave them strength and purpose to carry on.
It’s been noted that she passed away on Rosh Hashanah.
By tradition, a person who dies during the Jewish New Year is considered a soul of great righteousness.
That was Ruth Bader Ginsgburg. A righteous soul.
It was my honor to preside over her confirmation hearings, and to strongly support her accession to the Supreme Court.
Justice Ginsburg achieved a standing few justices do. She became a presence in the lives of so many Americans, a part of the culture.
Yes there was humor in the mentions of the “Notorious RBG” and her impressive exercise routines. But it was so much more. She was a trailblazer, a role model, a source of hope, and a powerful voice for justice.
She was proof that courage and conviction and moral clarity can change not just the law, but also the world.
And I believe in the days and months and years to follow, she will continue to inspire millions of Americans all across this country. And together, we can — and we will — continue to be voices for justice in her name.
Her granddaughter said her dying words were “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
As a nation, we should heed her final call to us — not as a personal service to her, but as a service to the country at a crossroads.
There is so much at stake — the right to health care, clean air and water, and equal pay for equal work. The rights of voters, immigrants, women, and workers.
And right now, our country faces a choice. A choice about whether we can come back from the brink.
That’s what I’d like to talk about today.
Within an hour of news of her passing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg will receive a vote in the Senate.
The exact opposite of what he said when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia in 2016.
At that time, Majority Leader McConnell made up a rule based on the fiction that I somehow believed that there should be no nomination to the Court in an election year.
It’s ridiculous. The only rule I ever followed related to Supreme Court nominations was the Constitution’s obligation for Senators to provide advice and consent to the president on judicial nominees.
But he created a new one — the McConnell Rule: absolutely no hearing and no vote for a nominee in an election year.
Period. No caveats.
And many Republican Senators agreed. Including then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Including the current Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Who at the time said, and I quote verbatim:
“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsay Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination. And you could use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right.”
That is what Republicans said when Justice Scalia passed away — about nine months before Election Day that year. Now, having lost Justice Ginsburg less than seven weeks before Election Day this year — after Americans have already begun to cast their votes — they cannot unring the bell.
Having made this their standard when it served their interest, they cannot, just four years later, change course when it doesn’t serve their ends. And I’m not being naive.
I’m not speaking to President Trump, who will do whatever he wants.
I’m not speaking to Mitch McConnell, who will do what he does.
I’m speaking to those Senate Republicans out there who know deep down what is right for the country — not just for their party.
I’m speaking for the millions of Americans out there, who are already voting in this election. Millions of Americans who are voting because they know their health care hangs in the balance.
In the middle of the worst global health crisis in living memory, Donald Trump is at the Supreme Court trying to strip health coverage away from tens of millions of families and to strip away the peace of mind from more than 100 million people with pre-existing conditions.
If he succeeds, insurers could once again discriminate or drop coverage completely for people living with preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer.
And perhaps, most cruelly of all, if Donald Trump has his way, complications from COVID-19, like lung scarring and heart damage, could become the next deniable pre-existing condition.
Millions of Americans who are also voting because they don’t want nearly a half century of legal precedent to be overturned and lose their right to choose.
Millions of Americans who are at risk of losing their right to vote.
Millions of Dreamers who are at risk of being expelled from the only country they have ever known.
Millions of workers who are at risk of losing their collective bargaining rights.
Millions of Americans who are demanding that their voices be heard and that equal justice be guaranteed for all.
They know — we all know — what should happen now.
The voters of this country should be heard. Voting has already begun in some states.
And in just a few weeks, all the voters of this nation will be heard. They are the ones who should decide who has the power to make this appointment.
This appointment isn’t about the past. It’s about the future. And the people of this nation are choosing the future right now.
To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power.
I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it.
President Trump has already made it clear this is about power. Pure and simple.
Well, the voters should make it clear on this issue and so many others: the power in this nation resides with them — the people.
And even if President Trump wants to put forward a name now, the Senate should not act on it until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress.
If Donald Trump wins the election — then the Senate should move on his selection — and weigh that nominee fairly.
But if I win the election, President Trump’s nomination should be withdrawn.
As the new President, I should be the one who nominates Justice Ginsburg’s successor, a nominee who should get a fair hearing in the Senate before a confirmation vote.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re passing 200,000 American deaths lost to this virus. Tens of millions of Americans are on unemployment.
Health care in this country hangs in the balance before the Court.
And now, in a raw political move – this president and the Republican leader have decided to jam a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court through the United States Senate.
It’s the last thing we need in this moment.
Voters have already begun casting ballots in this country.
In just a few weeks, we are going to know who the voters of this nation have chosen to be their next president.
The United States Constitution was designed to give the voters one chance – to have their voice heard on who serves on the Court.
That moment is now — and their voice should be heard. And I believe voters are going to make it clear – they will not stand for this abuse of power.
There’s also discussion about what happens if the Senate confirms — on election eve – or in a lame duck after Donald Trump loses — a successor to Justice Ginsburg.
But that discussion assumes that we lose this effort to prevent the grave wrong that Trump and McConnell are pursuing here.
And I’m not going to assume failure at this point. I believe the voices of the American people should be heard.
This fight won’t be over until the Senate votes, if it does vote.
Winning that vote — if it happens — is everything.
Action and reaction. Anger and more anger. Sorrow and frustration at the way things are.
That’s the cycle that Republican Senators will continue to perpetuate if they go down this dangerous path they have put us on.
We need to de-escalate — not escalate.
So I appeal to those few Senate Republicans — the handful who will really decide what happens.
Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created.
Don’t go there.
Uphold your Constitutional duty — your conscience.
Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country.
We can’t keep rewriting history, scrambling norms, and ignoring our cherished system of checks and balances.
That includes this whole business of releasing a list of potential nominees that I would put forward.
It’s no wonder the Trump campaign asked that I release a list only hours after Justice Ginsburg passed away.
It’s a game to them, a play to gin up emotions and anger.
There’s a reason why no Presidential candidate other than Donald Trump has ever done such a thing.
First, putting a judge’s name on a list like that -could influence that person’s decision-making as a judge — and that’s wrong.
Second, anyone put on a list like that under these circumstances – will be the subject of unrelenting political attacks.
And because any nominee I would select would not get a hearing until 2021 at the earliest – she would endure those attacks for months on end without being able to defend herself.
Third, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, if I win, I will make my choice for the Supreme Court — not as part of a partisan election campaign — but as prior Presidents did.
Only after consulting Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate – and seeking their advice before I ask for their consent.
As everyone knows – I have made it clear that my first choice for the Supreme Court will make history as the first African American woman Justice.
I will consult with Senators in both parties about that pick, as well as with legal and civic leaders. In the end, the choice will be mine and mine alone.
But it will be the product of a process that restores our finest traditions – not the extension of one that has torn this country apart.
I’ll conclude with this.
As I’ve said in this campaign, we are in the battle for the soul of this country.
We face four historic crises. A once-in-a-generation pandemic. A devastating economic recession. The rise of white supremacy unseen since the 1960’s, and a reckoning on race long overdue. And a changing climate that is ravaging our nation as we speak.
Supreme Court decisions touch every part of these crises — every part of our lives and our future.
The last thing we need is to add a constitutional crisis that plunges us deeper into the abyss – deeper into the darkness.
If we go down this path, it would cause irreversible damage.
The infection this president has unleashed on our democracy can be fatal. Enough.
We must come together as a nation. Democrat, Republican, Independent, liberal, conservative. Everybody.
I’m not saying that we have to agree on everything. But we have to reason our way through to what ails us – as citizens, voters, and public servants. We have to act in good faith and mutual good will. In a spirit of conciliation, not confrontation.
This nation will continue to be inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but we should be guided by her as well.
By her willingness to listen, to hear those she disagreed with, to respect other points of view.
Famously, Justice Ginsburg got along well with some of the most conservative justices on the Court.
And she did it without compromising her principles – or clouding her moral clarity – or losing her core principles.
If she could do this, so can we.
How we talk to one another matters. How we treat one another matters. Respecting others matters.
Justice Ginsburg proved it’s important to have a spine of steel, but it’s also important to offer an open hand — and not a closed fist — to those you disagree with.
This nation needs to come together.
I have said it many times in this election. We are the United States of America.
There’s nothing we cannot do if we do it together. Maybe Donald Trump wants to divide this nation between Red States and Blue States.
Between representing those states that vote for him and ignoring those that don’t.
I do not.
I cannot — and I will not — be that president.
I will be a president for the whole country.
For those who vote for me and those who don’t.
We need to rise to this moment, for the sake of our country we love.
Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke out against violence that has erupted out of peaceful protests against racial injustice and police brutality, which Donald Trump has stoked, inflamed, ignited seeing violence as the deflection to rising angst over his failure to contain COVID-19, which is killing 1,000 people a day, or improve the economic hardship most Americans are experiencing because of the public health crisis.
“Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” Biden said.
“I want a safe America – safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops.
“And let’s be crystal clear: Safe from four more years of Donald Trump.
“I look at this violence and I see lives and communities and the dreams of small businesses being destroyed and the opportunity for real progress on the issues of race and police reform and justice being put to the test.
“Donald Trump looks at this violence and sees a political lifeline.”
These are Biden’s remarks, highlighted, delivered in Pittsburgh on Monday, August 31:
In the early days of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt told the country, “The news is going to get worse and worse before it gets better and better, and the American people deserve to have it straight from the shoulder.”
Straight from the shoulder: The job of a President is to tell the truth. To be candid. To face facts. To lead, not to incite. That’s why I am speaking to you today. The incumbent President is incapable of telling us the truth. Incapable of facing facts. Incapable of healing.
He doesn’t want to shed light. He wants to generate heat. He’s stoking violence in our cities. That is the tragic fact of the matter about this perilous hour in our nation. And now – we must stand against violence – in every form it takes. The violence we’ve seen again and again and again of unwarranted police shootings and excessive force.
Seven bullets in the back of Jacob Blake. A knee on the neck of George Floyd. The killing of Breonna Taylor – in her own apartment.
The violence of extremists and opportunists – right-wing militias, white supremacists, vigilantes – who infiltrate protests carrying weapons of war, hoping to wreak havoc, and to derail any hope and support for progress.
The senseless violence of looting and burning and destruction of property.
I want to be clear about this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting.
None of this is protesting – it’s lawlessness – plain and simple.
And those who do it should be prosecuted. Violence will not bring change, only destruction. It’s wrong in every way. It divides instead of unites.
Destroying businesses only hurts hard working families that serve the community. It makes things worse, not better.
It is not what Dr. King or John Lewis taught. It must end.
The fires are burning – and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting them.
But we must not burn. We must build.
This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can’t stop the violence – because for years he has fomented it.
He may believe mouthing the words law and order makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is.
Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?
We need justice in America. And we need safety in America.
We are facing multiple crises – crises that, under Donald Trump, keep multiplying.
Unwarranted police violence.
Emboldened white nationalists.
A reckoning on race.
Declining faith in a bright American future.
The common thread?
An incumbent president who makes things worse, not better.
An incumbent president who sows chaos rather than providing order.
An incumbent president who fails in the basic duty of the job: to advance the truths that all of us are born with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That’s right: all of us.
The moms and dads in Scranton where I grew up – who have worked and scrapped for everything they’ve ever gotten in life.
The auto worker in Michigan – who still makes the best car in the world.
The single mom in Ohio working three jobs just to stay afloat – who will do anything for her child.
The retired veteran in Florida who gave everything he had to this country – and now just wants us to honor the promises we made to him.
The Lord and Taylor salesperson who just lost their job – the store closing after 194 years in business.
The nurses and doctors in Wisconsin who have seen so much sickness and so much death the past six months they wonder how much more they can take, but still they muster up the courage to take care of their patients in this pandemic and risk their lives.
The researcher in Minnesota who woke up this morning determined to find a breakthrough in treating cancer – who will do the same thing tomorrow and the day after and the day after – because she will never give up.
I’m in this campaign for you, no matter your color, no matter your Zip Code. No matter your politics.
When I think about the presidency, I don’t think about myself.
This isn’t about my brand.
This is about you.
We can do better.
We must do better.
And I promise this: We will do better.
The road back begins now, in this campaign. You know me. You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story.
Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?
I want a safe America – safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops.
And let’s be crystal clear: Safe from four more years of Donald Trump.
I look at this violence and I see lives and communities and the dreams of small businesses being destroyed and the opportunity for real progress on the issues of race and police reform and justice being put to the test.
Donald Trump looks at this violence and sees a political lifeline.
Having failed to protect this nation from a virus that has killed more than 180,000 Americans, Trump posts all cap tweets screaming Law and Order to save his campaign.
One of his closest political advisors in the White House doesn’t even bother to speak in code. She just comes out and says it: “The more chaos…and violence…the better it is” for Trump’s reelection.
Think about that.
This is a sitting President of the United States. He’s supposed to be protecting this country. But instead he’s rooting for chaos and violence.
The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now, he’s trying to scare America.
Since Donald Trump and Mike Pence can’t run on their record that has seen more American deaths to a virus than this nation suffered in every war since Korea combined…
Since they can’t run on their economy that has seen more people lose their jobs than at any time since the Great Depression…
Since they can’t run on the simple proposition of sending our children safely back to school…
And since they have no agenda or vision for a second term Trump and Pence are running on this:
“You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America”.
And what’s their proof? The violence you’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America.
These are not images from some imagined “Joe Biden’s America” in the future.
These are images from Donald Trump’s America today.
He keeps telling you if only he was president it wouldn’t happen.
He keeps telling us if he was president you would feel safe.
Well – he is president. And it is happening. And you don’t.
And it’s getting worse. And we know why. Because Donald Trump adds fuel to every fire.
Because he refuses to even acknowledge there is a racial justice problem in America.
Because he won’t stand up to any form of violence.
He’s got no problem with the right-wing militias and white supremacists and vigilantes with assault weapons – often better armed than the police, often in the middle of the violence – at these protests.
And because tens of millions of Americans simply don’t trust this president to respect their rights, to hear their concerns, or to protect them.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
When President Obama and I were in the White House, and had to defend federal property, you didn’t see us whipping up fears around the deployment of secret federal troops.
We just did our job. And the federal property was protected.
When President Obama and I were in office, we didn’t look at cities as Democratic- or Republican-run. These are American cities.
But Trump doesn’t see himself as a president for all of America.
Frankly, I believe if I were president today, the country would be safer and we would be seeing less violence. And here’s why.
I have said we must address the issue of racial injustice. I have personally spoken to George Floyd’s family and Jacob Blake’s family. I know their pain, I know the justice they seek. They have told us none of this violence respects or honors George or Jacob.
I believe I can bring those fighting for racial justice to the table. I have worked with the police in this country for over forty years. I know most cops are good and decent people. I know the risk they take every day with their lives. And I am confident I can bring the police to the table.
I would make sure every mayor and governor had the support they needed from the federal government – but I wouldn’t be looking to use the United States military against our own people.
If I were president, my language would be less divisive. I would be looking to lower the temperature in the country – not raise it. And I would be looking to unite the nation.
But, look, if Donald Trump wants to ask the question: Who will keep you safer as President? Let’s answer it.
First, some simple facts.
When I was Vice President, violent crime fell 15% in this country. We did it without chaos and disorder. And yes we did it with Democrats as mayors of most big cities in this country.
The murder rate is up 26% in cities across the nation this year under Donald Trump.
Do you feel really safer under Trump?
COVID has taken more lives this year than any outbreak in more than 100 years. More than 180,000 lives in just six months. An average of 1,000 people dying every day in the month of August.
Do you feel really safer under Trump?
Mr. Trump – you want to talk about fear? Do you know what people are afraid of in America?
They’re afraid they’re going to get COVID. They’re afraid they’re going to get sick and die. And that in no small part is because of you.
We are now on track for more than 200,000 deaths in this country due to COVID.
More than 100,000 seniors have lost their life to the virus. More cops have died from COVID this year than have been killed on patrol. Nearly one in six small businesses is closed in this country today.
Do you really feel safer under Trump?
What about Trump’s plan to destroy the Affordable Care Act – and with it the protections for pre-existing conditions. That impacts more than 100 million Americans.
Does that make you feel safer?
Or how about Trump’s plan to defund Social Security.
The Social Security Administration’s chief actuary just released a report saying if a plan like the one Trump is proposing goes into effect, the Social Security Trust Fund would be, quote, “permanently depleted by the middle of calendar year 2023, with no ability to pay benefits thereafter.” To put it plainly, Social Security would be wiped out.
Feel safer now?
And the fear that reigns under this president doesn’t stop at our shores.
The Kremlin has put bounties on the heads of American soldiers.
And instead of telling Vladimir Putin that there will be a heavy price to pay if they dare touch an American soldier – this president doesn’t even bring up the subject in a phone call.
Russian forces just attacked American troops in Syria, injuring our service members. The president didn’t say a word. He didn’t lift a finger.
Never before has an American president played such a subservient role to a Russian leader.
It’s not only dangerous – it’s an embarrassment.
Not even America’s troops can feel safer under Trump.
Donald Trump’s role as a bystander in his own presidency extends to the economic pain being felt by millions of Americans.
He said this weekend, “You better vote for me or you are going to have the greatest depression you’ve ever seen.”
Does he not see the tens of millions who had to file for unemployment this year? The folks who won’t be able to make next month’s rent? The folks who lost wages while the cost of food staples rose dramatically?
Barack Obama and I stopped a depression in 2009. We took a bad economy and turned it around.
Donald Trump took a good economy and drove it into the ditch. Through his failure to get COVID under control, his failure to pull together the leaders in Congress, his failure to deliver real relief for working people — has made our country’s economic situation so much worse than it had to be.
When we talk about safety, and security, we should also talk about the basic security of being able to look your kid in the eye and tell them everything is going to be okay. We won’t lose our home. We’ll be able to put food on the table.
I’ve laid out an agenda for economic recovery that will restore a sense of security for working families. And we won’t just build things back the way they were before. We’re going to build back better.
With good-paying jobs building our nation’s roads, bridges, solar arrays and windmills. With investments in our health care and child care workers so they get the pay and dignity they deserve, while easing the financial burdens for millions of families. With a clean energy strategy that has a place for the energy workers right here in western Pennsylvania. I’m not for banning fracking. Let’s say that again. I’m not for banning fracking – no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.
The future. That’s what this is all about.
We all hear Donald Trump’s self-centered rants and riffs, but the voice America should hear is Julia Jackson’s – the mother of Jacob Blake.
Hers is a voice of courage and character and wisdom.
In looking at the damage that had been done in her city she said, “the violence and destruction” didn’t “reflect my son or my family.”
These are the words of a mother whose son had just been shot seven times in front of his children. Badly injured. Paralyzed, perhaps permanently.
And even as she seeks justice for her son – she is pleading for an end to the violence – and for this nation to heal.
She said she was praying for her son. She said she was praying for all police officers. She said she had already been praying for America, even before her son was shot.
She asked us all to examine our hearts – citizens, elected officials, the police – all of us.
And then she said this, “We need healing.”
More than anything, that is what we need to do as a nation: We need to heal.
The current president wants you to live in fear. He advertises himself as a figure of order.
He isn’t. He is not part of the solution. He is part of the problem. The biggest part.
A problem that I, as President, will give my all to resolve.
I will deal with the virus. I will deal with the economic crisis. I will work to bring equity and opportunity to all.
We have arrived at the moment in this campaign that we all knew we would get to. The moment when Donald Trump would be so desperate, he would do anything to hold on to power.
Donald Trump has been a toxic presence in our nation for four years.
Poisoning how we talk to one another. Poisoning how we treat one another. Poisoning the values this nation has always held dear. Poisoning to our democracy.
Now – in just a little over 60 days – we have a decision to make:
Will we rid ourselves of this toxin? Or will we make it a permanent part of our national character?
As Americans we believe in Honesty and Decency. Treating everyone with dignity and respect. Giving everyone a fair shot. Leaving no one behind. Giving hate no safe harbor. Demonizing no one. Being part of something bigger than ourselves.
Donald Trump doesn’t believe in any of that.
America is an idea.
It is the most powerful idea in the history of the world – and it beats in the hearts of the people of this country:
All men and women are created equal – and they deserve to be treated equally.
Trump has sought to remake this nation in his image – selfish, angry, dark, divisive.
That is not who we are.
At her best, America has always been – and if I have anything to do with it – always will be a generous, confident, optimistic nation.
Donald Trump is determined to instill fear in America – that is what his entire campaign for presidency has come down to.
But I believe Americans are stronger than that.
I believe we will be guided by the words of Pope John Paul II. Words drawn from Scripture: “Be not afraid”.
Fear never builds the future. Hope does. And building the future is what America does.
In fact, it’s what we do best.
This is the United States of America. And there is nothing we haven’t been able to do, when we’ve done it together.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God protect our troops.
In the 2016 campaign, Trump, whose real estate business was sanctioned by the Department of Justice for discriminating against Blacks, absurdly told Black Americans, “What have you got to lose?” Well, in 2020, it is clear: your lives and your livelihoods. Blacks are disproportionately sickened and dying of COVID-19 and climate crises and are the victims of police brutality, killed by police and self-appointed vigilantes, in accelerated numbers.
While the Trump campaign parade Black Americans and people of color at the Republican National Convention and thousands assemble for a new March o n Washington in person and virtually, the Biden Campaign issued an indictment of how Trump has failed Black Americans and what a Biden administration would do to empower Black Americans.
Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris issued a statement on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom:
“The murder and violence toward Black Americans of the 1960s is happening today in broad daylight for the world to witness,” . A pandemic and economic crisis lays bare the systemic racism that still plagues our way of life. And instead of seeking to heal and unite, too many in our nation seek to inflame and divide.
“We’re in an ongoing battle for the soul of our nation. We condemn the violence. We cannot afford our cities and the bonds between us to be burned, broken, and scarred any further. We have to root out the racism, hate, and the vengeance.
“As our late friend John Lewis said with his final words, we must lay ‘down the heavy burdens of hate at last.’ We need to treat one another with the respect and dignity that each one of us deserves.
“And we must channel the spirit of this day 57 years ago as we’ve seen so many people of every age, race, and station do across the country over the last few months, and again this morning on the National Mall.
“With wisdom, courage, and faith, we must not turn away.
“We must choose the light and overcome.”
FACT SHEET: Trump Has Failed Black Americans
Trump has failed to deliver results for Black communities since Day One of his Administration. His failure to control COVID-19 has hurt Black Americans even more, leaving the community bearing the disproportionate brunt of COVID infections, deaths, and job loss. And, Trump’s failure to get the virus under control has worsened the economic crisis. It didn’t have to be this bad, and Black families are paying the price with their lives and livelihoods. Trump has:
Failed to address the racial disparities in the coronavirus pandemic and overseen a corrupt recovery that passed over Black small business owners. Trump didn’t have a plan to address COVID-19 and still doesn’t today. It didn’t have to be this bad — particularly for Black Americans and other people of color, who are disproportionately getting sick. Black unemployment hit 14.6%, and the unemployment gap between Black and White Americans widened further last month. And, Trump botched the delivery of assistance to small businesses, cutting out Black-and other minority-owned businesses in particular.
Sabotage Black Americans’ health care. Obamacare has saved the lives of countless Black Americans, increasing the number of insured by millions and prohibiting insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions like asthma, cancer, and diabetes. Now, Trump is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down that landmark law, leaving millions without coverage in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Put the wealthy and well-connected ahead of Black workers and communities. Trump has watered down key wage and workplace protections. He promised to veto a $15 minimum wage, and proposed a tip-pooling rule that would’ve let employers pay many non-tipped workers even less than today. He let federal contractors break laws requiring them to give workers of color a fair shot, and tried to let companies hide the truth when they don’t pay Black workers equal wages. And, Trump has done just as badly by Black entrepreneurs: he tried to slash funding for and even eliminate the federal agency that’s wholly dedicated to developing minority-owned businesses. Wealthy investors and Trump associates have reaped the benefits of Trump’s Opportunity Zones, while communities of color they’re supposed to help have been left behind.
Undercut the path to homeownership and affordable housing for Black Americans. Trump is trying to make it harder to fight housing discrimination and easier for lenders to exclude communities of color. He rolled back the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which fought racial bias in housing. He repeatedly called for cuts to affordable housing programs, slamming Black families, which have lower homeownership rates and are more likely to be low-income renters. And, Trump called for drasticcuts to subsidized housing and voucher programs, and for changes that would raise rents for low-income families.
Reversed work for racial equity in education. Trump and Betsy DeVos revoked rules designed to protect students of color from racial bias in school discipline. They did away with measures meant to help schools to diversify or implement inclusive affirmative action plans. And, Trump abandoned his promise to help students manage crippling college loans, leaving Black Americans three times more likely to default on that debt.
Highlights: How Joe Will Empower Black Americans
For too long, Black Americans have lived with a knee on their neck. Joe Biden knows they’ll never have a fair shot at the American Dream, so long as entrenched disparities are allowed to quietly chip away at opportunity. With Senator Kamala Harris, he will rebuild our economy in a way that finally brings everyone along—and that starts by rooting out systemic racism from our laws, policies, institutions, and hearts. Highlights of Joe’s plans include:
Create wealth in the Black community. The typical white family holds approximately ten times more wealth than the typical Black family. Joe’s plan to Build Back Better will close the racial wealth gap, opportunity gap, and jobs gap. He will create millions of good-paying jobs, increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, end paycheck discrimination, provide affordable child care for families, and leverage more than $150 billion in new capital and opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas, especially for Black owned small businesses and other small businesses that have been structurally excluded for generations. Because homeownership is key to building wealth, he’ll create a $15,000 down-payment tax credit for first-time home buyers. And Joe will set a goal that disadvantaged communities – including many Black communities – receive 40% of the overall benefits of his spending on infrastructure and clean energy.
Tackle health inequities. Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than whites, shedding light on the long-standing, pervasive disparities across our health care system. Joe will protect and build on Obamacare to ensure access to high-quality, affordable care beyond the crisis, including by providing Black Americans with a new health insurance option – a public option. He’ll also ensure Black communities have clean air to breathe and water to drink, and healthy foods to eat.
Address racial inequity in our education system. Joe will eliminate the funding gap between white and non-white districts, improve teacher diversity, and provide high-quality, universal preschool for all three and four-year-olds. He will invest over $70 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions to lower students’ costs, establish research centers, build high-tech labs, and more. Joe will also ensure Black Americans can attend community college without debt and make public colleges and universities tuition-free for families earning under $125,000 (including 90% of Black families). And he’ll relieve student debt, especially key for Black students who hold more debt and are three times more likely to default on loans than white borrowers. He’ll forgive undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from public colleges and private HBCUs and MSIs for Americans earning up to $125,000.
Root out systemic racism in our police departments and justice system. Joe will outlaw choke holds, create a model use of force standard and a national police oversight commission, and push police departments to review their hiring, training, and de-escalation practices. He’ll expand and use the authority of the Justice Department, created by legislation he authored, to address systemic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors’ offices. He’ll also invest in public defenders’ offices, eliminate the death penalty and mandatory minimums, and end cash bail and private prisons. He’ll decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all cannabis use convictions, and end incarceration for drug use alone.
In the midst of economic, unemployment, and climate crises, Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, rolled out the second plank of his Build Back Better economic recovery plan for working families: building a modern, sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future. In a sharp contrast to Donald Trump’s disregard for working Americans and the consequential climate emergency at hand, Vice President Biden’s plan will create millions of good paying, union jobs for Americans while building sustainable infrastructure and creating an equitable clean energy future.
Here’s what leaders from across the country are saying about Vice President Biden’s plans:
“The plan put forward today by former Vice President Biden will create and sustain the kinds of good-paying, union jobs that provide a ladder to the middle class and make America a leader in manufacturing clean technology, put our nation on a path to doing our part to tackle the climate crisis, rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, and lift up all workers and communities by prioritizing investments in communities of color that have borne the brunt of environmental injustice,” Jason Walsh, the Executive Director BlueGreen Alliance, said in a statement.
“As president of the IBEW, the largest union of electrical workers in the nation, I’m pleased that it will create so many jobs in nearly every sector of the workforce we represent, including construction, utility, telecommunications, manufacturing, and railroad. Joe Biden has made it clear that any new federal investments must support American jobs and American made products,” Lonnie R. Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), said in a statement. “These are vital jobs that our nation needs more than ever… The men and women of the IBEW have been part of American’s clean-energy revolution for years now. We look forward to working with a Biden administration in building a clean and sustainable economy that can both save our planet and help rebuild the American middle class.”
“This ambitious plan is a win-win for American manufacturing, auto industry jobs, new technology and a cleaner environment. By focusing on investments in new technology, increasing demand for American-made and sourced clean vehicles; investing in our plants and our auto manufacturing facilities and creating 1 million new jobs, this all-American plan will ensure that the industry will thrive for decades to come with good paying union jobs,” the United Auto Workers (UAW) said in a statement. “This comprehensive plan will also increase investment in batteries and charging infrastructure and set fuel economy standards that involve all stakeholders. And this plan will save consumers money and cut air pollution. UAW members are looking to Washington, D.C. to invest in future jobs; new technologies; a world race to cleaner air; and to save consumers their hard-earned money. This plan checks all those boxes.”
“Joe Biden’s climate plan—by a long shot—is the most ambitious we have ever seen from any president in our nation’s history,” Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the NRDC Action Fund, said in a statement. “It will get our economy humming again, and give our children a healthier, more just and more hopeful future. And he has committed to getting started on day one.”
“Vice President Joe Biden’s ambitious new commitments to a clean energy economy, environmental justice, and equitable climate solutions are more important than ever as our nation grapples with the realities of systemic racism, a global pandemic, and the ever growing climate crisis. Biden’s strong climate leadership stands in stark contrast with the Trump administration, which is continuing this week with its full scale assault on environmental and public health protections,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs of LCV Action Fund, wrote in a statement. “We applaud Vice President Biden for again making clear with these plans that combatting the climate crisis, fighting for environmental justice and creating millions of good-paying, high-quality jobs in a clean energy economy will be a very top priority on day one as president and every single day.”
“Vice President Biden is right ‘that environmental policy decisions of the past have failed communities of color,’ and his emphasis on addressing those injustices is a critical part of this plan. For too long Black, Latino, as well as low-income neighborhoods have suffered far more than their fair share of pollution and other environmental impacts, with devastating results on the health of the people living there,” said Elizabeth Gore, Senior Vice President, Political Affairs, EDF Action Fund in a statement. “The Biden Plan couldn’t be more of a stark contrast to four years of failure by the Trump administration. They have weakened limits on climate pollution, undermined scientists, and surrendered international leadership. America can’t afford another four years of a president who claims climate change is a hoax instead of providing leadership. We look forward to working with the Congress and a new administration to finally take real action on climate change.”
“While Donald Trump spreads lies about windmills, tries to block legislative efforts to advance electric vehicles, and ignores the millions of Americans working in clean energy, Joe Biden is presenting a vision to invest in and grow an equitable clean energy economy,” Sierra Club Political Director Ariel Hayes said in a statement. “The Sierra Club is encouraged by Biden’s proposal, which shows he is listening to the continued calls from activists and organizations across the country demanding a bold and ambitious plan that meets the size and scale of the crisis and completes the transition to a clean energy economy.”
“Today I heard from many in the environmental justice movement across the country who were overwhelmed by the Historic Ambitious speech addressing environmental, climate, social, and economic injustice by the Vice President,” said former South Carolina State Representative Harold Mitchell and Founder of The ReGenesis Project. “We thank you for listening, and announcing one of the boldest climate and environmental justice plans ever presented by a nominee for President.”
“Joe Biden shares DSCEJ’s commitment to build the power of Black communities, harmed by toxic pollution and vulnerable to the climate crisis, to shape the national agenda for achieving environmental justice and climate justice,” said Beverly L. Wright, Ph.D., Executive Director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
“The Biden Environmental Justice Plan is the most targeted and comprehensive plan to address the legacy of environmental racism and the continuing ambivalence regarding environmental quality in communities of color that has been proposed by a potential presidential nominee,” said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice based in Harlem, New York,” said Peggy M. Shepard, Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “When I was chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to the EPA I witnessed the total disregard of Title 6 administrative complaints by the EPA’s Civil Rights division, and the lack of accountability or reporting on environmental justice progress by the EJ Interagency Council which was mandated to develop plans to address environmental degradation in EJ communities. The Biden plans’ initiative to mandate a report card on progress to the White House is another important proposal to establish accountability which has been absent.”
“It’s encouraging to see former Vice President Biden release an environment, climate , economic and energy plan that places justice and health at the center,” said Dr. Robert. D. Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy, Texas Southern University, widely regarded as the father of the environmental justice movement. “Given the converging and multiple threats faced by low-income, people of color, and vulnerable communities today, I like the fact the plan calls for an inclusive and All-of-Government approach in setting policy and legislative priorities and a framework for targeting resources to address underlying systemic conditions that create and perpetuate racial and economic inequality and unequal protection.”
“This is a truly historic moment in Presidential candidate history. Environmental Justice elders are being heard and together we can, and we will forge a new pathway for this country to live up to its ideals of justice for all!” said Dr. Cecilia Martinez, Executive Director, Center for Earth, Energy & Democracy; Inaugural Signer of the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform; and Co-Chair, Biden for President Climate Engagement Advisory Council.
“We strongly applaud the Biden campaign for taking an ambitious, comprehensive approach to climate change policy that recognizes the renewable energy industry’s ability to grow America’s economy towards a cleaner environment and a more prosperous and equitable future,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association in a statement. “As our country strives to recover from the global pandemic, racial injustices, and economic recession, this is the right moment to grow the investments and good-paying American jobs associated with renewable energy development, including the significant economic benefits, lower cost electricity bills, and diverse community support that wind energy brings to rural parts of the country.”
“I think this plan out of Joe Biden is really visionary. It’s about investing in the technologies of the future and it certainly does deploy a lot of the work that the big three are already doing here in Detroit — and expands upon that and builds that out even further,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said. “Autonomous vehicles, vehicles of the future, electric vehicles — these are the industries we’ve got to make investments in, that we’ve got to grow, and that will make our environment cleaner and be a much longer-term type of investment for the people of this country. I was excited to hear Joe Biden’s plan today.”
”This is exactly the bold vision for the future that we need in our country,” said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow. “What I love about what Joe Biden is proposing is that it’s about making it here, it’s about using it here, it’s about tackling the climate crisis in a way that creates new, clean energy jobs and does it in a way that provides opportunity for everyone and addresses parts of our communities that have been hardest hit by that pollution and the inequalities involved. “
“I’ve spent my time in public service fighting for environmental justice and for workers‘ rights so people who work hard can forge a better life for themselves. I know these two issues go hand in hand. So does my friend, Joe Biden. His clean energy jobs plan, with a strong environmental justice focus, proves it,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
“VP Biden has chosen a bold path to get America to energy and environmental security and confront the existential challenge of climate change with bold and realistic solutions,” said former Senator and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
Here is the plan:
The Biden Plan to Secure Environmental Justice and Equitable Economic Opportunity in a Clean Energy Future
The current COVID-19 pandemic reminds us how profoundly the energy and environmental policy decisions of the past have failed communities of color – allowing systemic shocks, persistent stressors, and pandemics to disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities.
Joe Biden is running for President to ensure that all Americans have a fair shot at getting ahead. That means rooting out the systemic racism in our laws, policies, institutions, and hearts. Any sound energy and environmental policy must advance public health and economic opportunity for all Americans, in rural, urban, and suburban communities, and recognize that communities of color and low-income communities have faced disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades. It must also hold corporate polluters responsible for rampant pollution that creates the types of underlying conditions that are contributing to the disproportionate rates of illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 among Black, Latino, and Native Americans. That means officials setting policy must be accountable to the people and communities they serve, not to polluters and corporations.
Addressing environmental and climate justice is a core tenet of Biden’s climate plan. Biden will:
Use an inclusive and empowering All-of-Government approach;
Make decisions that are driven by data and science;
Target resources in a way that is consistent with prioritization of environmental and climate justice; and
Assess and address risks to communities from the next public health emergency.
USE AN INCLUSIVE AND EMPOWERING, ALL-OF-GOVERNMENT APPROACH
Our nation’s environmental justice policy was developed more than twenty years ago and no longer addresses the needs of the present or future. In order to clean up our communities and provide new opportunities to those that have been disproportionately burdened by pollution and economic and racial inequality, Biden will revise and reinvigorate the 1994 Executive Order 12898 (EO 12898) on Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. Specifically, Biden will:
Establish an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has referred the fewest number of criminal anti-pollution cases to the Justice Department (DOJ) in 30 years. Allowing corporations to continue to pollute – affecting the health and safety of both their workers and surrounding communities – without consequences, perpetuates an egregious abuse of power. Biden will direct his EPA and DOJ to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation to hold corporate executives personally accountable – including jail time where merited. Going beyond the ambitious proposals that the Biden plan for a clean energy revolution already includes, the Biden Administration will establish a new Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the DOJ, as proposed by Governor Inslee, to complement the work of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. In line with the new Division’s mandate, Biden will instruct the Attorney General to: (i) implement, to the extent possible by executive action, Senator Booker’s Environmental Justice Act of 2019; (ii) increase enforcement, in line with the commitments already detailed in the Biden Plan; (iii) strategically support ongoing plaintiff-driven climate litigation against polluters; (iv) address legacy pollution that includes real remedies to make communities safe, healthy, and whole; and (v) work hand-in-hand with EPA’s Office of Civil Rights.
Elevate environmental justice in the federal government and modernize the all-of-government approach. Currently, the federal government has two key environmental justice groups. Biden will elevate and reestablish the groups as the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, both reporting directly to the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), who reports directly to the President. To support this work, Biden’s CEQ will also have senior and dedicated environmental justice staff. These two councils will be charged with revising EO 12898 in order to address current and historic environmental injustice, in collaboration with local environmental justice leaders. And, they will be tasked with developing clear performance metrics to ensure accountability in the implementation of the Executive Order. Once the revised EO is finalized, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council will publish an annual public performance score-card on its implementation.
Overhaul the EPA External Civil Rights Compliance Office. For too long, the EPA External Civil Rights Compliance Office has ignored its requirements under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That will end in the Biden Administration. Biden will overhaul that office and ensure that it brings justice to frontline communities that experience the worst impacts of climate change and fenceline communities that are located adjacent to pollution sources, beginning with the following actions: (i) revisit and rescind EPA’s decision in Select Steel and its Angelita C. settlement, which allowed state environmental agencies to issue dangerous permits, and to conduct its business in a way that harmed communities; (ii) conduct a rulemaking and open a public comment process to seek Americans’ input on agency guidance for investigating Title VI Administrative complaints; and (iii) work with Congress to empower communities to bring these cases themselves, by reinstituting a private right of action to sue Title VI, which was written out in the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Alexander v. Sandoval.
MAKE DECISIONS DRIVEN BY DATA AND SCIENCE
President Trump denies science and disempowers experts in the federal government. Biden will choose science over fiction, ensuring we make data-driven decisions when it comes to environmental justice.
Building on EPA’s EJSCREEN tool, developed in the Obama-Biden Administration, and lessons learned at the state level, Biden will charge the newly elevated White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, in close consultation with the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, to create a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify communities threatened by the cumulative impacts of the multiple stresses of climate change, economic and racial inequality, and multi-source environmental pollution. To ensure that information is accessible and transparent, the Screening Tool will be used to publish annual maps in multiple languages that identify disadvantaged communities; including disproportionately burdened tribal areas. In addition, since too often low-income and communities of color lack air quality monitors and are, as a result, unaware of unsafe pollution levels that threaten their health, Biden will:
Mandate new monitoring in frontline and fenceline communities. Biden will ensure that the federal government recommends that each state adequately monitors environmental pollution, including emissions, criteria pollutants, and toxics, in frontline and fenceline communities. This will include installing new monitors where they are lacking to provide accurate and publically-available real-time data. Biden will also create a new environmental public health corps that boosts communities’ capacity to use this data meaningfully.
Establish interagency teams to address targeted issues and partner directly with communities. Biden will also establish an Interagency Climate Equity Task Force to directly work to resolve the most challenging and persistent existing pockets of climate inequity in frontline vulnerable communities and tribal nations. This work includes addressing the challenge of lack of access to credit and capital for many local governments and small businesses owned by and located in environmental justice communities. Biden will rely on the leadership of these communities to identify what they need most. The Biden Administration will let community leaders lead by investing in community self-determination, marshalling federal resources to support local leaders and organizations, and directly funding capacity building — from critical tools to talent — to arm the creativity of local leaders and help them build back better.
Biden will also:
Tackle water pollution in a science-based manner. Biden will focus on improving water quality in a comprehensive way. For example, it is estimated that up to 110 million American’s drinking water could be contaminated with PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a suite of chemicals that cause a host of health issues, including cancer, and are found in states from Michigan and Wisconsin to Colorado and New Hampshire. Instead of making empty promises with no follow-through, Biden will tackle PFAS pollution by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research on PFAS. In addition, Biden will accelerate the process to test for and address the presence of lead in drinking water and housing, in line with the CDC’s determination and in partnership with labor, and state, local, and tribal governments. Biden will also help protect rural communities from water and air pollution and make water bills affordable for low-income communities, rural Americans, and tribes through targeted state revolving funds and Rural Utility Service funding for disadvantaged communities.
Prioritize strategies and technologies that reduce traditional air pollution in disadvantaged communities. Biden will direct his Cabinet to prioritize the climate strategies and technologies that most improve public health. He will also direct his Office of Science and Technology Policy to publish a report within 100 days identifying the climate strategies and technologies that will result in the most air and water quality improvements and update analytical tools to ensure that they accurately account for health risk and benefits. Finally, Biden will recommend that every state prioritize emission reductions within the disadvantaged communities identified by the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool in their state-level air quality plans.
TARGET RESOURCES CONSISTENT WITH THE PRIORITY THAT ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE REPRESENTS
The Biden plan already commits to providing low-income and communities of color preference in competitive grant programs. Today, Biden commits to go even further and target 40% of his historic investment in a clean energy revolution to disadvantaged communities. Building on the ambitious New York State climate law, Biden will:
Target relevant investments with the goal of delivering 40% of the overall benefits from those investments to disadvantaged communities, specifically:
Targeting investments made through programs related to clean energy and energy efficiency deployment; clean transit and transportation; affordable and sustainable housing; training and workforce development; remediation and reduction of legacy pollution; and development of critical clean water infrastructure; and
Utilizing the results of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to help identify these disadvantaged communities, which are threatened by the cumulative impacts of the multiple stresses of climate change, economic and racial inequality, and multi-source environmental pollution.
In addition, Biden will directly fund historic investments across federal agencies aimed at eliminating legacy pollution – especially in communities of color, rural and urban low-income communities, and indigenous communities. Biden will also address common challenges faced by disadvantaged communities, such as funds for replacing and remediating lead service lines and lead paint in households, daycares, and schools in order to ensure all communities have access to safe drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. These investments will create good-paying union jobs and help to build infrastructure that is resilient to the impacts of climate change in frontline and fenceline communities.
ASSESS AND ADDRESS RISKS TO COMMUNITIES FROM THE NEXT PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY
As a country, we must do a better job to prepare for and prevent public health emergencies, particularly in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental stressors. The link between climate change and health security is well-documented – climate change creates a growing threat to Americans and hits low-income and communities of color the hardest. We must heed the warning signs from the current pandemic and prepare all communities. Building on The Biden Plan to Combat Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Prepare For Future Global Health Threats, Biden will take the following actions to minimize the impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided:
Create a National Crisis Strategy to address climate disasters that prioritizes equitable disaster risk reduction and response. The Trump Administration’s lack of preparedness and failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced that the next President must develop a science-based, national climate crisis strategy to support states, tribes, and territories. The next President must ensure the efficient and equitable allocation of disaster risk reduction-related resources and that we build back better after climate-related disasters. Building on Senator Markey’s Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act, Biden will use a whole-of-government approach to develop a national climate crisis strategy for each type of climate disaster that the National Climate Assessment warns will put Americans at risk (e.g., heat waves, sea level rise, wildfire, air pollution, infectious disease, hurricane, and floods). And, in line with recommendations from the American Lung Association, Biden will provide additional CDC grants to every state and territory to work with their local health departments to develop climate disaster mitigation plans.
Establish a Task Force to Decrease Risk of Climate Change to Children, the Elderly, People with Disabilities, and the Vulnerable. The Biden Department of Health and Human Services will lead a Task Force to Decrease Risk of Climate Change to Children, the Elderly, People with Disabilities, and the Vulnerable including disadvantaged and frontline communities identified by the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. The Task Force will identify the health impacts of climate change that will pose the largest risk to the most vulnerable populations and work across the Department and with other agencies to use a whole-of-government approach to decrease those risks, including baseline health inequities. In addition, this Task Force will be charged with developing a ready-to-deploy recovery strategy that ensures adequate housing for individuals displaced by climate disasters.
Establish an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity at HHS and Launch an Infectious Disease Defense Initiative. In order to fully prepare for and minimize the impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided, Biden will establish an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in the Office of the Secretary of HHS, modeled after the Office of AIDS Research that was created in 1983, and invest in surveillance, early-warning systems, and research to decrease climate change and health equity risks. This new HHS Office, in collaboration with the CDC, will partner with the Department of Defense to predict the infectious diseases with the highest probability of being exacerbated by climate change, evaluate their population risk, and work with additional federal agencies to accelerate the development of vaccines or other mitigation measures that reduce the risk to Americans.
Improve the resilience of the nation’s health care system and workers in the face of natural disasters. Building on guidelines published in the Obama-Biden Administration, Biden will establish a biennial Health Care System Readiness Task Force, a public-private task force to assess the current state of the nation’s health care system resilience to natural disasters and recommend strategies and investments to improve it, which will include participation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The evaluation will include an assessment of both physical health care infrastructure and the frontline health care workforce, including opportunities to provide workforce development opportunities in disadvantaged communities. In order to inform the Readiness Task Force, beginning in 2021, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in coordination with the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Security Council will publish a declassified, annual report identifying the type, likelihood of occurrence, and locations at the highest risk, and potential impacts of natural disasters in the United States.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed an Executive Order — the ‘New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative’ — requiring local police agencies, including the NYPD, to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force.
During the same event, attended by Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell; NAACP President Hazel Dukes; Reverend Al Sharpton , New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Cuomo also signed the ‘Say Their Name’ Reform Agenda package following the killing of George Floyd and an ongoing pattern of police brutality against minority communities across the nation. These landmark policing reforms will help reduce inequality in policing and reimagine the state’s criminal justice system. The reforms include:
Allowing for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers by repealing 50-a of the civil rights law;
Banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers;
Prohibiting false race-based 911 reports; and
Designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the civilian deaths.
“The murder of George Floyd was just the tipping point of the systemic injustice and discrimination that has been going on in our nation for decades, if not centuries,” Governor Cuomo said.”These are issues that the country has been talking about for a long time, and these nation-leading reforms will make long overdue changes to our policing and criminal justice systems while helping to restore community confidence in law enforcement.
Under Cuomo’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative executive order, police forces throughout the state, in cities, towns and counties- some 500 of them – must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding and certify that they have:
Engaged stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools;
Presented a plan, by chief executive and head of the local police force, to the public for comment;
After consideration of any comments, presented such plan to the local legislative body (council or legislature as appropriate) which has approved such plan (by either local law or resolution); and
If such local government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible to receive future state funding.
“The protests taking place throughout the nation and in communities across New York in response to the murder of George Floyd illustrate the loss of community confidence in our local police agencies — a reality that has been fueled by our country’s history of police-involved deaths of black and brown people,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our law enforcement officers are essential to ensuring public safety — they literally put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect us. This emergency regulation will help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”
Immediately following the death of George Floyd, Governor Cuomo laid out a series of reform policy items – called the “Say Their Name” agenda – including allowing for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers by reforming 50-a of the civil rights law; banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers; prohibiting false race-based 911 reports and making them a crime; and designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement.
This builds on prior executive actions the Governor has taken including appointing the Attorney General as a special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement.
“The horrific murder of George Floyd, the most recent in a long list of innocent people like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, and so many more, has led to a rightful outpouring of grief and anger,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, who recalled when her own son, at 18 years old, was taken into custody and left with a broken nose. “Black New Yorkers, like all residents of this state, deserve to know that their rights, and lives, are valued and protected by our justice system. The legislation that will be signed today will help stop bad actors and send a clear message that brutality, racism, and unjustified killings will not be tolerated.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said,”The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham and so many others shake us to the core. This week, my colleagues and I in the Assembly Majority answered the call of New Yorkers by passing historic reforms to our law enforcement system. These reforms have been championed by our members for years, and I want to thank my colleagues for their tireless commitment to seeing them through to the finish line. I would also like to thank the families of the victims and the passionate advocates who never tired in this fight for justice. They have courageously channeled their grief into a positive force for change and inspired us to deliver meaningful reforms here in New York.”
Cuomo stressed that actions need to be taken at the federal level to create national standards that root out systemic racism in criminal justice and law enforcement, but that New York State, as the “progressive capital” of the nation, would serve as a model for other states and ultimately the federal government.
“Criminal justice reform should be done on a national level,” he said. “And the House has been very aggressive on reform, the Congress, and I applaud them for it. But New York State is the progressive capital. We never sit back and say just what the nation should do, we show the nation what it should do. We lead by example and we lead by getting it done. We are a state of action and that’s us at our best…”
“There is no quick fix to this,” Cuomo said. “There is no, ’”Well, stop tear gas. Well, change the uniforms.’ That’s not what this is about, my friends. And it would be a mistake if we went down that path. This is systemic reform of police departments. This is sitting down and taking a look at exactly what they do and have been doing and looking at it through a new lens of reform and reinvention, because this has been 40, 50 years in the making. Providing police with military equipment, increasing the number of police, it goes back to the ’90s in the crime bills. Looking at the population explosion in our prisons, this was a long time in coming, and this is not about a press release that’s going to solve it. The way we really solve this is we say to every police agency in this state, I believe it should happen in the nation, sit down at the table with the local community, address these issues, get to the root of these issues, get a plan, pass that plan by your local government, and if you don’t, you’re not going to get any additional state funds, period. We’re not going to fund police agencies in this state that do not look at what has been happening, come to terms with it and reform themselves. We’re not going to be as a state government subsidizing improper police tactics, we’re not doing it. And this is how we’re going to do it.”
Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins spoke personally: “But every parent, every mother who looks like me understood that scary notion with our kids, with our husbands, with our brothers. I got that call when my son, my youngest son was only 18 years old and he was quote unquote on the wrong side of the town, he was stopped, he was frisked. The next thing I know after we’re out of the police station, we’re in the emergency room because he has a fractured nose. Thank god I was able to bring him home. I ache for Gwen, Valerie. I understood that.”
She noted that her brother, Bobby, a Marine vet, a Vietnam War vet, served as a transit police officer for six years, before he left “because he was convinced that the department, that the system was designed so that every young black man would have a record. He knew. He was a good cop, he worked with good cops, but he couldn’t change that. And you knew the system couldn’t change itself.
“And so here we are. We know this isn’t a cure, as the governor said. We know that this is the beginning, but it’s a move to bring justice to a system that has long been unjust. And, again, I thank you for being a partner for making sure that we take to heart this moment that has taken too long to come to. And I thank all of the people in the streets and the leadership of the families to make this happen. So, thank you, Governor.”
Assembly Speaker Heastie reflected, “There are still many other issues of systemic injustice and systemic racism that people of color have to deal with. It’s education and health disparities and these are all things that we have to continue as Government to be a part of. Government is supposed to be problem solvers. When society can’t fix things that’s what government is supposed to come in and chart that costs so this is just a very it’s an emotional day.”
Many reflected on the long list of victims over the past 40-50 years, and sporadic flare-ups of outrage but nothing concrete to change the system. What was different now?
Cuomo opined, “But I think it wasn’t just about Mr. Floyd’s death. I think it was the cumulative impact and I think all the names on that list did not die in vain. I think it took that repeated articulation to get the country to this point. Reverend Sharpton— on every one of those situations— was out there making this point all over the country. All over the country. And finally, finally, the country heard! But the reason we’re here today, make no mistake, is because Rev. Sharpton and good people across the country, were out there making the point every time over and over and over again.
“So, Eric Garner did not die in vain. Shawn Bell did not die in vain. It took— it took a number of lives, unfortunately. it took a number of injustices, unfortunately. But each one was a part in getting to today and it was Rev. Sharpton standing up and making sure the people of this nation heard every time, every injustice happened. And that— that Reverend— is a special ability, a special contribution, and it happened year after year after year and we all respect your effort. We thank you for what you’ve done. We thank you for your voice, which the nation has heard. This state has heard. And not only did we hear you— we’re going to make a difference and this state is going to make a difference and I believe it’s going to be a difference that will resonate across the nation. Because what we’re doing here, making every police agency come to the table with the community— that should be done in every police agency in this country. Together we’ll make it happen. Reverend Sharpton.”
Sharpton replied, ”let us be very clear. There is no governor in this country that has said what he said this morning. He and I are debating sometimes, but he has, in many ways, done things that even I did not expect. To say that every mayor must come up with a plan along these areas or they will withhold state money, is a model for where we ought to be dealing with 21st century civil rights in this country. Make no mistake: this is a new level that all other 49 governors ought to look at, because to say, “I want to see mayors deal with this” and “I want to see city councils deal with this,” is one thing. But to say, “we’re going to hold funds— means that he means it.”
He noted that 20 years ago, when Sharpton organized a March on Washington, Cuomo, then Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, was the only member of Clinton’s cabinet to attend.
“Andrew Cuomo has raised the bar, and I hope every governor in this country will be asked today whether or not they’re going to do what he just did. Somebody has to raise the bar. Then we can say to the Floyd family and others that you really have seen a new day, and we’ve turned a new way in this country. And I think that he has done that and Andrew Cuomo knows that when I don’t think he did whatever, I will tell him. He has gone beyond even my expectations. So enjoy these few minutes. But I think this is a great day.”
Here are more details of the legislation Cuomo signed:
Repealing 50-a (S.8496/A.10611)
Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law creates a special right of privacy for the personnel records of police officers, correction officers, and firefighters and paramedics employed by the State or political subdivisions. The current law prevents access to both records of the disciplinary proceedings themselves and the recommendations or outcomes of those proceedings, leading to records of complaints or findings of law enforcement misconduct that did not result in criminal charges against an officer almost entirely inaccessible to the public.
Repealing 50-a will allow for the disclosure of law enforcement disciplinary records, increasing transparency and helping the public regain trust that law enforcement officers and agencies may be held accountable for misconduct.
Banning Chokeholds (S.6670-B/A.6144)
In 1993, the New York City Police Department completely banned its officers from using chokeholds, but the ban has not prevented police officers from using this method to restrain individuals whom they are trying to arrest and the continued use of chokeholds has resulted in too many deaths. This new law creates criminal penalties when a police officer or peace officer uses a chokehold or similar restraint and causes serious physical injury or death.
Senator Brian Benjamin said, “Criminalizing the use of the chokehold by police or peace officers punishable up to 15 years in prison is an important step that will bringing sorely needed police accountability reform to New York State. It is time that we make it abundantly clear that no one is above the law. This is the first law that I am aware of that establishes an enhanced offense specifically on police officers and that is primarily because those who we hire to protect and serve must be held to a higher standard. I would like to thank the Senate and Assembly for passing the ‘Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act,’ and Governor Cuomo for signing this legislation that will help to save the lives of unarmed black men and women who encounter the police and hopefully begin the process of establishing trust and reducing tensions with law enforcement and communities of color.”
Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley said, “George Floyd and Eric Garner yelled out the same words as they were brutally killed by police officers. We need real change to protect black Americans, and part of that is ensuring there are consequences for misconduct on the part of police officers. This legislation is one of many steps in that direction. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law and hope to continue working with his administration to make our state a fairer and more equal place to call home.”
Prohibiting Race-Based 911 Calls (S.8492/A.1531)
Recent years have shown a number of frivolous and false calls to 911 based on the callers’ personal discomfort with other people and not for any particular threat. This new law makes it a civil rights violation to call 911 to report a non-emergency incident involving a member of a protected class without reason to suspect a crime or an imminent threat.
Senator Kevin Parker said, “Social media is rampant with videos of people weaponizing the 911 emergency system against African-Americans hoping to see them falsely arrested or worse. This legislation is by no means a solution to the systemic injustices and prejudices that fuel these types of calls to the police. However, this law gives victims of this despicable behavior the beginnings of some recourse. I am glad that it was passed, together with other important police reform bills, and I thank Governor Cuomo for signing it into law.”
Appointing Attorney General as Independent Prosecutor for Police Involved Deaths (S.2574-C/A.1601)
This new law establishes an Office of Special Investigation within the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute cases where the death of a person follows an encounter with a law enforcement officer. The law also requires the new Office of Special Investigation to produce a report explaining the reasons for its decision regardless of whether it chooses to pursue charges. This will help improve public confidence in the criminal justice system by removing a potential conflict of interest in these types of investigations. This law builds on the Governor’s Executive Order No. 147 from 2015 which established the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor in instances of police-involved deaths.
Assembly Member Nick Perry said, “Over twenty years since police unloaded 41 shots killing Amadou Diallo, nearly six years after the merciless choking of Eric Garner, it took the videos of the heartrending death of George Floyd to finally help us break through the blue wall of silence and resistance to the public cry for criminal justice reform and changes in the prosecution of cases involving death at the hands of the police, who are supposed to protect us. We know that this new law will not end our quest for an assurance for fairness in the process for prosecuting crimes by bad police officers, but it is a big step in the right direction. Millions of New Yorkers and I are delighted that the Governor has signed this bill into law.”
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer has galvanized the nation and the world. His murder was only one of a long, long list of murders and lynchings over decades. But this was a perfect storm that made its heinousness obvious to all: this was not the instant firing of a gun in a moment of fear, but a tortuously long, drawn out 8 minutes, 46 seconds, during which three other police stood around, onlookers pleaded for mercy, and the whole thing captured on video shared over social media. So while there were other unprovoked killings – Breonna Taylor, shot in her own apartment in the dead of night after police invaded with a no-knock warrant – this one was undeniable in demonstrating the ingrained culture that dehumanizes in order for such violence to occur, and the smug security of police, given unparalleled power of a gun and a badge, that they would not be held accountable.
Enough is enough, protesters by the tens of thousands in hundreds of cities throughout the country and the world, chant, even putting their own lives at risk, not just from the baton-wielding, tear-gas throwing, flashbang grenade hurling, rubber-bullet firing police dressed as an invading army, but from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The protests have come to suburbia and our home town as well – most affectingly, one this weekend organized by Great Neck high school students which drew well over 500 people to Firefighters Park in Great Neck Plaza. (They withstood accusations on Facebook they were terrorists who had collected stones to throw at police. Meanwhile, county police closed off the main street to traffic so they could march a mile to the Village Green, and walked along side.)
They decried the structural racism at the heart of a police culture that has its origins in catching slaves, then, morphed into an enforcement mechanism for White Supremacy, along with so many other structural inequities that, by design, have kept African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities unequal in society.
While the elements of police brutality and criminal injustice are well known, they are kept in force year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation by supremely politically powerful police unions.
Indeed, the most dramatic “reform” is to completely rebuild police departments – there are 16,000 of them. Some police departments have actually done this – Camden, NJ, for example – and it may be the only way to really root out the structural inequities, bias. Now Minneapolis’ city council has voted to disband its $193 million police department. What that actually means is that, like Camden, it intends to rebuild it, in order to make it functional and appropriate in a country that supposedly is based on principles of “equal justice for all.”
They will likely scrutinize how police officers are recruited, hired, know if there is a record of police brutality (like Timothy Loehmann who murdered 12-year old Tamir Rice). How are officers trained and what they understand their “mission” to be? One trendy training program (as John Oliver disclosed on “Last Week Tonight”) is in the “art” of “Killology” where officers are instructed that if they are not predators prepared to kill, they have no business being police.
Not only are the problems well known, but the solutions have been methodically investigated, analyzed, quantified and put in the form of recommendations – by the Obama Administration after the Ferguson, Missouri, riots that followed Michael Brown’s unprovoked murder by police. The task force developed a template for 21st Century Policing, including ending militarizing police. His Department of Justice under Eric Holder obtained consent decrees from the most vile police forces. But, like the template to address a global pandemic handed to the Trump Administration, it was immediately discarded, and the consent decrees withdrawn.
But George Floyd has created the rarest opportunity for reform. With breathtaking speed for New York or any state government, major measures for a “Say Their Name” police reform agenda have already passed the Legislature: Allow for transparency of prior disciplinary records by reforming 50-a; ban chokeholds; prosecute for making a false race-based 911 report; and designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor in cases involving death of unarmed civilian by law enforcement.
Cuomo wants to go further to “seize the momentum,” correctly seeing this time as transformational to “reinvent” policing..
“This is a long time coming,” Cuomo said. “It is time to reimagine and reinvent policing for 2020…Police are public servants for that community – if the community doesn’t trust, doesn’t respect police, police can’t do their job.”
Democrats in Congress have also seized on this transformational moment as well, introducing “Justice in Policing Act” which at the federal level would ban chokeholds; challenge “qualified immunity”; prohibit no-knock warrants; counter the trend toward militarization of police; require body and dashboard cameras; require independent prosecutors in cases of police brutality; establish a national database to track police misconduct; and (finally) make lynching a federal hate crime.
Others want more. There are calls to “defund police” – which like “They’re coming for your guns” and “Open Borders!” is a catchy slogan that fits on a sign that has been deliberately distorted by Trump and the Republicans and used to incite fear among (white suburban) voters who are being told their neighborhoods will be overrun by criminals, gangs and rapists.
What “defund police” means is reassessing what functions the police do. Do we want protectors or warriors? Are police the best ones to address situations involving mental health, drug overdoses, domestic violence or school discipline? More accurately, people are calling for “divest-reinvest”: take that money and invest in social workers, mental health professionals, and guidance counselors that police, themselves, have said they are not equipped to deal with.
And it means investing in community programs that in themselves reduce crime. That’s what Cuomo is proposing in a Justice Agenda to root out the causes of criminal injustice, all on view in conjunction with the coronavirus epidemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color: it goes to addressing the disparities in education, housing, health care, poverty.
“This is not just a moment for political protest,” Governor Cuomo said. “It’s not just a moment to express outrage. It’s a moment to do something about it, and to make real reform and real change. That’s the goal of the moment. I understand the emotion. I want people to know how upset I am. Good. Second step, what do we do about it? And let’s get it done here in the State of New York.
“When we talk about a Justice Agenda, we want to fight the systemic racism, inequality and injustice in our society. That is what the protesters are saying and I stand with the protesters in saying that because it’s very true. But in this moment of change, let’s make it real change and let’s get to the root of the issue. You want to talk about injustice and inequality in America. Well then it has to start with our education system. We do not educate all children the same. ‘Opportunity for all.’ No, opportunity for some, opportunity for people who grow up in a rich school district and a rich family with high property taxes and they go to great schools, but not for the children who grow up in poorer communities, who go to inferior schools. That is the reality today. That is the truth. I’m saying that as Governor of New York not as a protester on a street corner. It is a fact. Even in this state, we spent $36,000 per year, per student, in a wealthy school district, $13,000 per year in a poorer school district. How do you rationalize that? You can’t and say this is a system that provides equal opportunity for all.
“How do you still have children living in poverty? With all this wealth, with all this abundance, how do you tolerate a situation where some children to no fault of their own, you can’t blame them, they were born into one circumstance and they are living in poverty? You can’t justify it. The number of homeless, lack of affordable housing, you have a federal government that just went out of the housing business. I was the former housing secretary, worked in housing all my life. Housing was a federal responsibility, not state, not local. 1949 Housing Act, “for this nation, safe, clean, decent housing for all Americans.” 1949, it’s 2020, what are we doing? There’s no section eight, no section eight project base, no more public housing, and then we wonder why there is an affordable housing shortage.
“And yes, criminal justice reform, why do we lock up more people than any industrialized nation on the globe? That is a sign of success? …Why do we have racial disparity in the criminal justice system? How do you rationalize it? Unless it goes back to the other systemic injustices and inequality, if a person grows up in poverty, if a person doesn’t have education, if a person doesn’t have access to opportunity, then you see the result in the criminal justice system. This is how you get at injustice and inequality, and you can’t do it piecemeal, either attack it fully or you will never defeat it. That is the justice agenda. And this has to be done on the federal level and it should be done on the federal level because this is not a New York or California or Florida issue. It is an American issue. And you are in the middle of election season, stand up and say, ‘Here is my election reform agenda. You want my support and my vote? Here is my agenda. You are running for Congress, you’re running for Senate, or whatever you’re running for, you want my support? Here is my agenda.’ That is my opinion,” Cuomo said.
But none of this will happen as long as Trump and the Republicans are in power.
Amid national protests over police brutality and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Donald Trump calling out the military against peaceful protesters outside the White House, VP Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, declares, “The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism. To deal with the growing economic inequality in our nation. And to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation — to so many.“
“We are a nation in pain,” Biden declared. “but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.
“As President, it is my commitment to all of you to lead on these issues — to listen. Because I truly believe in my heart of hearts, that we can overcome. And when we stand together, finally, as One America, we will rise stronger than before.”
Here is a transcript of Vice President Joe Biden’s speech delivered from the Mayor’s Reception Room in Philadelphia City Hall in front of an audience that included Mayor Jim Kenney, Congressman Brendan Boyle, and state and local elected officials.:
“I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.”
George Floyd’s last words. But they didn’t die with him. They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation.
They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk.
They speak to a nation where more than 100,000 people have lost their lives to a virus – and 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment – with a disproportionate number of these deaths and job losses concentrated in black and brown communities.
And they speak to a nation where every day millions of people – not at the moment of losing their life – but in the course of living their life – are saying to themselves, “I can’t breathe.”
It’s a wake-up call for our nation. For all of us.
And I mean all of us. It’s not the first time we’ve heard these words – they’re the same words we heard from Eric Garner when his life was taken six years ago.
But it’s time to listen to these words. Understand them. And respond to them – with real action.
The country is crying out for leadership. Leadership that can unite us. Leadership that can bring us together. Leadership that can recognize the pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for too long.
But there is no place for violence.
No place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses — many of them built by people of color who for the first time were beginning to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families.
Nor is it acceptable for our police — sworn to protect and serve all people — to escalate tensions or resort to excessive violence.
We need to distinguish between legitimate peaceful protest — and opportunistic violent destruction.
And we must be vigilant about the violence that’s being done by the incumbent president to our democracy and to the pursuit of justice.
When peaceful protestors are dispersed by the order of the President from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House — using tear gas and flash grenades — in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle.
More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care.
For that’s what the presidency is: a duty of care — to all of us, not just our voters, not just our donors, but all of us.
The President held up a bible at St. John’s church yesterday.
If he opened it instead of brandishing it, he could have learned something: That we are all called to love one another as we love ourselves.
That’s hard work. But it’s the work of America.
Donald Trump isn’t interested in doing that work.
Instead he’s preening and sweeping away all the guardrails that have long protected our democracy.
Guardrails that have helped make possible this nation’s path to a more perfect union.
A union that constantly requires reform and rededication – and yes the protests from voices of those mistreated, ignored, left out and left behind.
But it’s a union worth fighting for and that’s why I’m running for President.
In addition to the Bible, he might also want to open the U.S. Constitution.
If he did, he’d find the First Amendment. It protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Mr. President: That is America.
Not horses rising up on their hind legs to push back a peaceful protest. Not using the American military to move against the American people. This nation is a nation of values. Our freedom to speak is the cherished knowledge that lives inside every American.
We will not allow any President to quiet our voice.
We won’t let those who see this as an opportunity to sow chaos throw up a smokescreen to distract us from the very real and legitimate grievances at the heart of these protests.
And we can’t leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away and do nothing. We can’t.
The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism. To deal with the growing economic inequality in our nation. And to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation — to so many.
I’ve said from the outset of this election that we are in a battle for the soul of this nation. Who we are. What we believe. And maybe most important — who we want to be.
It’s all at stake. That is truer today than ever. And it’s in this urgency we can find the path forward.
The history of this nation teaches us that it’s in some of our darkest moments of despair that we’ve made some of our greatest progress.
The 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments followed the Civil War. The greatest economy in the history of the world grew out of the Great Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 came in the tracks of Bull Connor’s vicious dogs.
To paraphrase Reverend Barber — it’s in the mourning we find hope.
It will take more than talk. We’ve had talk before. We’ve had protests before.
Let us vow to make this, at last, an era of action to reverse systemic racism with long overdue and concrete changes.
That action will not be completed in the first 100 days of my Presidency — or even an entire term.
It is the work of a generation.
But if this agenda will take time to complete, it should not wait for the first 100 days of my Presidency to get started.
A down payment on what is long overdue should come now. Immediately.
I call on Congress to act this month on measures that would be a first step in this direction. Starting with real police reform.
Congressman Jeffries has a bill to outlaw choke holds. Congress should put it on President Trump’s desk in the next few days.
There are other measures: to stop transferring weapons of war to police forces, to improve oversight and accountability, to create a model use of force standard — that also should be made law this month.
No more excuses. No more delays.
If the Senate has time to confirm Trump’s unqualified judicial nominees who will run roughshod over our Constitution, it has time to pass legislation that will give true meaning to our Constitution’s promise of “equal protection of the laws.”
Looking ahead, in the first 100 days of my presidency, I have committed to creating a national police oversight commission.
I’ve long believed we need real community policing.
And we need each and every police department in the country to undertake a comprehensive review of their hiring, their training, and their de-escalation practices.
And the federal government should give them the tools and resources they need to implement reforms.
Most cops meet the highest standards of their profession. All the more reason that bad cops should be dealt with severely and swiftly. We all need to take a hard look at the culture that allows for these senseless tragedies to keep happening.
And we need to learn from the cities and precincts that are getting it right.
We know, though, that to have true justice in America, we need economic justice, too.
Here, too, there is much to be done.
As an immediate step, Congress should act to rectify racial inequities in the allocation of COVID-19 recovery funds.
I will be setting forth more of my agenda on economic justice and opportunity in the weeks and months ahead.
But it begins with health care. It should be a right not a privilege. The quickest route to universal coverage in this country is to expand Obamacare.
We could do it. We should do it.
But this president — even now — in the midst of a public health crisis with massive unemployment wants to destroy it.
He doesn’t care how many millions of Americans will be hurt— because he is consumed with his blinding ego when it comes to President Obama.
The President should withdraw his lawsuit to strike down Obamacare, and the Congress should prepare to act on my proposal to expand Obamacare to millions more.
These last few months we have seen America’s true heroes. The health care workers, the nurses, delivery truck drivers, grocery store workers.
We have a new phrase for them: Essential workers.
But we need to do more than praise them. We need to pay them.
Because if it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now. This country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs. It was built by America’s great middle class — by our essential workers.
I know there is enormous fear and uncertainty and anger in the country. I understand.
And I know so many Americans are suffering. Suffering the loss of a loved one. Suffering economic hardships. Suffering under the weight of generation after generation after generation of hurt inflicted on people of color — and on black and Native communities in particular.
I know what it means to grieve. My losses are not the same as the losses felt by so many. But I know what it is to feel like you cannot go on.
I know what it means to have a black hole of grief sucking at your chest.
Just a few days ago marked the fifth anniversary of my son Beau’s passing from cancer. There are still moments when the pain is so great it feels no different from the day he died. But I also know that the best way to bear loss and pain is to turn all that anger and anguish to purpose.
And, Americans know what our purpose is as a nation. It has guided us from the very beginning.
It’s been reported. That on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, little Yolanda King came home from school in Atlanta and jumped in her father’s arms.
“Oh, Daddy,” she said, “now we will never get our freedom.”
Her daddy was reassuring, strong, and brave.
“Now don’t you worry, baby,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. “It’s going to be all right.”
Amid violence and fear, Dr. King persevered.
He was driven by his dream of a nation where “justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Then, in 1968 hate would cut him down in Memphis.
A few days before Dr. King was murdered, he gave a final Sunday sermon in Washington.
He told us that though the arc of a moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.
And we know we can bend it — because we have. We have to believe that still. That is our purpose. It’s been our purpose from the beginning.
To become the nation where all men and women are not only created equal — but treated equally.
To become the nation defined — in Dr. King’s words — not only by the absence of tension, but by the presence of justice.
Today in America it’s hard to keep faith that justice is at hand. I know that. You know that.
The pain is raw. The pain is real.
A president of the United States must be part of the solution, not the problem. But our president today is part of the problem.
When he tweeted the words “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” – those weren’t the words of a president. They were the words of a racist Miami police chief from the 1960s.
When he tweeted that protesters “would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs … that’s when people would have been really badly hurt.” Those weren’t the words of a president — those were the kind of words a Bull Connor would have used unleashing his dogs.
The American story is about action and reaction. That’s the way history works. We can’t be naïve about that.
I wish I could say this hate began with Donald Trump and will end with him. It didn’t and it won’t. American history isn’t a fairytale with a guaranteed happy ending.
The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push-and-pull for more than 240 years.
A tug of war between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart. The honest truth is both elements are part of the American character.
At our best, the American ideal wins out.
It’s never a rout. It’s always a fight. And the battle is never finally won.
But we can’t ignore the truth that we are at our best when we open our hearts, not when we clench our fists. Donald Trump has turned our country into a battlefield riven by old resentments and fresh fears.
He thinks division helps him.
His narcissism has become more important than the nation’s well-being he leads.
I ask every American to look at where we are now, and think anew: Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be? Is this what we pass on to our kids’ and grandkids’ lives? Fear and finger-pointing rather than hope and the pursuit of happiness? Incompetence and anxiety? Self-absorption and selfishness?
Or do we want to be the America we know we can be. The America we know in our hearts we could be and should be.
Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either.
But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate.
I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain.
I’ll do my job and take responsibility. I won’t blame others. I’ll never forget that the job isn’t about me.
It’s about you.
And I’ll work to not only rebuild this nation. But to build it better than it was.
To build a better future. That’s what America does.
We build the future. It may in fact be the most American thing to do.
We hunger for liberty the way Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass did.
We thirst for the vote the way Susan B. Anthony and Ella Baker and John Lewis did. We strive to explore the stars, to cure disease, to make this imperfect Union as perfect as we can.
We may come up short — but at our best we try.
We are facing formidable enemies.
They include not only the coronavirus and its terrible impact on our lives and livelihoods, but also the selfishness and fear that have loomed over our national life for the last three years.
Defeating those enemies requires us to do our duty — and that duty includes remembering who we should be.
We should be the America of FDR and Eisenhower, of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., of Jonas Salk and Neil Armstrong.
We should be the America that cherishes life and liberty and courage.
Above all, we should be the America that cherishes each other – each and every one.
We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.
As President, it is my commitment to all of you to lead on these issues — to listen. Because I truly believe in my heart of hearts, that we can overcome. And when we stand together, finally, as One America, we will rise stronger than before.
So reach out to one another. Speak out for one another. And please, please take care of each other.
This is the United States of America. And there is nothing we can’t do. If we do it together.