clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

It’s time for Biden to deliver on promises

Biden has done well in his appointments, creating a diverse leadership team. But on one critical issue after another, there is widespread frustration and disappointment.

President Joe Biden
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Listen up, Democrats in Washington — from the White House to the Senate to the Congress: It is time to deliver.

Biden’s popularity among African Americans is slipping. Blacks provided the president with 22% of his votes in 2020, putting him into the White House. African American turnout, particularly in Georgia, was crucial to the Senate victories that brought Democrats a 50-50 split. In his campaign, Biden named systemic racism as one of the fundamental crises facing the country. “You’ve always had my back,” he told African American voters, “and I’ll have yours.” Now, it is time to deliver on that promise.

Biden has done well in his appointments, creating a diverse leadership team. But on one critical issue after another, there is widespread frustration and disappointment.

African Americans — and Latinos and the young — demand that the right to vote be protected. Republicans across the states are systematically passing laws designed to make it harder for African Americans to vote. Democrats in the House unified to pass HR 1, the For the People Act, that would protect our democracy, and to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to strengthen the Voting Rights Act after the right-wing judges on the Supreme Court gutted it. Both bills are stalled in the Senate as Republicans have used the filibuster to block passage. Biden initially opposed reforming the filibuster, a procedure employed largely to block civil rights legislation through the years by requiring 60 votes to pass legislation.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the president “is also tired of waiting” and that voting rights “will be a fight of his presidency.” OK, but then is it too much to ask that the president throw a punch or two and not simply take them?

Immigration reform and the $15 minimum wage were blocked by a ruling of the Senate parliamentarian — and neither Biden nor the Democratic leadership chose to challenge the unelected appointee. Again, Senate Republicans united in opposition — but Democrats couldn’t unite to push it through.

Even moderate legislation on police reform — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — has met a similar fate. Then the nation watched appalled as Haitian migrants were hunted down by agents on horseback — and entire families were shipped back to Haiti without even a hearing, even though many of them had not been there for years. The contrast with the treatment accorded Afghanistan refugees was stark.

The unending negotiations among Democrats have whittled down the president’s Build Back Better plan, cutting funds for two years of free community college, dropping paid family and medical leave, abandoning plans to provide care for eyes and teeth in Medicare, omitting reforms to lower the price of prescription drugs, and cutting back funding for a range of programs, including the funds needed to replace lead pipes that are a clear and present danger to the health of poor children across the country.

We still don’t know what the bills will finally include — or whether they will be passed at all.

It is long past time to deliver.

There’s no question that the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better bill — if passed even in their reduced form — contain reforms that provide real help to working and poor people generally, and to African Americans in particular. Universal pre-kindergarten and support for child care will help give children a decent start. The child tax credit will aid parents across the country. Historically Black colleges and universities will get aid as part of the support for higher education, although much less than what is needed and what was promised. The building of one million units of affordable housing addresses a vital need. Public transit funding in the infrastructure bill is long overdue.

Many of these reforms, however, will take time to set up — and it will be a long time before people feel the impact in their lives. This is a toxic combination: high visibility defeats on voting rights and police reform and immigration and the minimum wage combined with reforms that are not yet in place, and a president who seems unwilling to drive them with the passion needed.

African Americans and Latinos aren’t about to vote for Republicans in large numbers. Their unified obstruction of every measure that might help working and poor people and their race-bait politics repel the overwhelming majority of minority voters. But Democrats need Blacks and Latinos and the young to turn out in large numbers and to vote and organize with a passion to have any chance to win in elections that are rigged against them by gerrymandering and voter suppression laws.

That requires more than rhetoric. It requires more than diverse appointments. It requires action — and a demonstrated willingness to fight hard to fulfill the promises made. “You’ve always had my back,” the president said, “and I’ll have yours.” Blacks and Latinos helped deliver him to the White House. Now it is time to deliver in return.

Email: jjackson@rainbowpush.org.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.