An economic recession that left millions of Americans unable to pay rent or put food on the table amid a raging pandemic is just the beginning of the new president-elect’s problems.
Our healthcare system is stretched beyond repair, we have an unpredictable white supremacist autocrat clinging to power, and too many gun toting Republican politicians in Congress and local governments that support him and his vitriol. We have police forces that target Black people, the climate crisis is getting worse, and the list goes on.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are walking into a veritable s**t show on January 20th.
With so much to do, it’s hard to know what president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris should address first. But there are three specific pieces of legislation that the incoming administration needs to immediately work on pushing through. There are also a few—very few—key players on the other side of the aisle that might help them do it in a Democratically controlled Congress.
I spoke with Joanne Lin, Amnesty International USA’s national director of advocacy and government relations, about the top pieces of domestic legislation that the incoming Biden administration needs to move on.
“We have this rare opportunity to get legislation passed because the next two years they [Democrats] have a slight majority in the House of Representatives,” said Lin. “And in the Senate, it really isn’t a majority. It’s 50/50 and vice president-elect Harris, as the president of the Senate, will be the tie breaker.”
I’ve listed the top three issues to push through first.
1) The National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act or the No Ban Act, which already passed in the House this summer. The Act would repeal the travel ban that was created as part of Trump’s 2017 executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, popularly known as the “Muslim Ban”.
The No Ban Act would also limit the authority of the executive to create similarly discriminatory bans in the future as well as provide legal remedies for victims. The Act would also support already existing prohibitions on religious discrimination in immigrant visa applications.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has been something of a voice of reason lately within the Republican party, particularly since the domestic terrorist insurrection in the nation’s Capitol two weeks ago. In 2017, her husband, former VP Dick Cheney called out the ban saying “it goes against everything we stand for and believe in as a nation.” Democrats can likely look to Rep. Cheney for support on the No Ban Act as well as Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who broke ranks with the Republican party calling the ban “overly broad”. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) along with the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) used more specific language and decried the ban for alienating and stigmatizing Muslim allies.
2) Another legislative priority for 2021 is Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-WA) “Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2019”, which calls for sweeping immigration reforms instituted during the Trump administration.
The Bill would allow immigrants the ability to speedily request release from immigration detention as they wait for their cases to move through the courts, as well as curtail detentions over the coming years.
“Now we lock up kids and families that don't need to be detained merely for immigration reasons.” said Lin. “We want to dramatically reduce the immigration detention footprint.”
Unfortunately and tragically for the children freezing in cages and families being torn apart at the border, not one Republican member of Congress helped sponsor the bill. It looks unlikely that any of them might step across the aisle to work on compassionate immigration legislation that is in line with international human rights standards.
3) The third legislative priority for Democrats and progressive activists involves gun control legislation and gender-based violence. This is something that Tarah Demant, Amnesty International’s director of Gender, Sexuality and Identity Program, told me used to be an entirely nonpartisan issue before things became more polarized under Trump.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, half of all female homicides are a result of intimate partner violence (IPV). Demant said that if there is a gun present during an incident of intimate partner violence the woman is much more likely to die.
“VAWA helps us provide domestic violence shelters, police training crisis hotlines and helps survivors get resources,” Demant explained. “It was passed every five years without a problem until 2018, when it was supposed to be reauthorized. So, while shelters and other organizations have budgeted for several years ahead of time with the money allocated to them five years ago, for many organizations that money has run out.”
Demant also told me that there is currently a “boyfriend loophole” in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAW). The loophole means that an abuser doesn’t have to surrender their weapon if they aren't legally married to their victim. This is true even if the abuser is arrested for domestic violence or convicted of domestic violence. They can also still buy a weapon.
She went on to say that Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a survivor of domestic violence, has introduced a competing bill that would fund most things from the VAWA. However, her bill leaves lots of people behind like those in the LGBTQ+ community. It also keeps the boyfriend loophole in place. Still, this issue is something that should be on Biden’s priority list.
History has shown us that after a major calamity, like the assignation of JFK or the foreign terrorist attack of 9/11, the president often enjoys a temporary surge in support. In this case, incoming president Biden will have a short window of time where the tide is in his favor. And it’s a big tide with Democratic control of Congress and the continued disgust after the white supremacist insurrection at the Capitol. However, it remains up to voters to let their representatives in Congress know what they want.