Democrats need black voters to show up this fall. Are they going?
Marking the second anniversary of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, President Biden last week signed an executive order to reform federal policing practices as Floyd’s relatives, reform advocates and civil rights leaders.
A string orchestra’s slow rendition of ‘Hail to the Chief’ gave the White House ceremony a mournful air and served as a dirge to hopes for more substantial police reform demanded by activists Biden and Congress failed to enact.
“The work of our time – healing the soul of this nation – is ongoing and unfinished,” Biden told the crowd, noting the frustrating and slow nature of progress. “It’s a beginning.”
But slow, incremental progress may not be enough to convince black voters that Biden has delivered on his campaign promises to reform the police force, enact voting rights legislation and reduce racial inequality.
On the contrary, the executive order and other recent actions have highlighted the limits Biden faces in advancing more ambitious reforms. And his centrist stance on the issue — in addition to the failure of a nominally Democratic-controlled Congress to advance legislation to reform policing or protect voting rights — risks alienating the critical electoral bloc whose his party needs to avoid an electoral disaster in November.
Its executive order, for example, does not apply to the thousands of local police departments that interact the most with the public. As Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged at the signing ceremony, the order “does not replace legislation or accomplish everything we know needs to be done.”
Along with being joined by civil rights leaders at the ceremony, the president was joined by law enforcement officials who helped shape the ordinance and ease its standards of use of force. The signing also came just two months after Biden’s resounding call to “defund the police” during his State of the Union address in March, a rebuke of liberal activists’ calls to “defund the police,” a mantra that party strategists say cost Democrats during the 2020 election.
Black leaders aren’t hiding their frustration with Biden’s messaging on the issue, or his administration’s failure to push a police reform bill through Congress.
“They have to be careful about this kind of crime,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, a progressive organization working in six swing states this year to activate black voters. “Black voters are very worried about crime, about gun violence. But no one we talk to says the answer is that we need to increase police budgets.
Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, called Biden’s police order “too timid,” arguing that it “will minimize limits on the use of force… [and] avoiding tackling systemic racism” and accusing him of “bowing to the wishes of an entrenched police union establishment.”
The lack of progress on police reform is just one part of a broader political agenda that Biden has promised to promote on behalf of African Americans, his party’s voter base. White House officials say he delivered on many of those promises.
He took historic steps to diversify government. Harris is the nation’s first black woman to serve as vice president, and Biden recently hired a black woman to be the White House press secretary. The president successfully won Senate confirmation in April for the first black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, to serve a lifetime term on the Supreme Court.
He gave impassioned speeches about the importance of the right to vote and the often overlooked history of racial violence in the United States. He signed a federal ban on lynching into law and issued numerous executive orders — granting clemency to dozens of low-level drug offenders, allocating more funds to historically black colleges and universities, and reducing gun crimes to fire. Following the massacre of 10 black people in Buffalo earlier this month, he gave a speech in that city denouncing the dangers of white supremacy, saying it was “a poison that runs through our body politic”.
The president is also considering canceling student loan debt, a move that would be applauded by civil rights advocates, as they argue such loans disproportionately affect black women and black families. Student loan forgiveness is seen especially by younger generations of black voters as “a racial justice issue, a gender justice issue, and an economic justice issue,” said Nse Ufot, chief executive of the New Georgia Project. , a non-profit organization that seeks to boost civic engagement and focuses on increasing black voter turnout.
White House officials pointed to a new administration report that showed the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package enacted in March 2021 “spurred the fairest recovery in memory.” They noted that after the law was passed, black unemployment saw its fastest decline since 1983 and black households saw their annualized incomes increase by about 7.5% over the past two years. A child tax credit included in the law, known as the US Bailout, has led to the lowest child poverty rate on record.
Cedric Richmond, a former senior adviser to Biden who recently joined the Democratic National Committee, said that in allocating funding for the relief package, the administration was “fairness intentional” and ensuring that the money was flowing to underserved communities.
Richmond acknowledged, however, that the administration has suffered major setbacks in Congress, where Republicans have monolithically opposed the president’s agenda and Democrats only control the equally divided Senate thanks to Harris’ decisive vote. That means Democrats can’t afford to lose a single senator if they hope to pass legislation.
The child tax credit, for example, expired in January after Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) torpedoed Biden’s larger social spending bill that included an extension. The reluctance of Manchin and another Democrat, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, denied their party leaders the 50 votes needed to pass legislation using the budget reconciliation process or changing the rules of the filibuster demanding 60 votes to end floor debate and move a bill forward.
While House Democrats passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act last year, it stalled in the Senate. After Biden delivered a fiery speech on voting rights, Senate Democrats staged a chimerical vote in January to change the filibuster to advance a set of voting rights protections they knew would fail. without Manchin’s backing, intending to at least signal their commitment to fight hard. the question to those voters most likely to be frustrated by the lack of progress.
“The right to vote is one of the top two or three issues for black voters,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who has worked on President Obama’s campaigns.
Belcher said Democrats would be smart to change the narrative, pointing out that “House Democrats heard you and passed the legislation you wanted. It was the Republicans who refused to give him a vote.
“The key to this election is putting Republicans on the defensive for sabotaging a popular agenda,” Belcher continued. “We’ll talk about what we’ve done, but this election has to be about Republicans for Democrats to have a chance. If it’s Joe Biden, the Democrats are going to get their ass kicked. »
Richmond, the former White House adviser, said Democrats will work hard to “let people know that’s what we were able to do with 50 [Senate] voice. And if we had 52 votes in the Senate, we would be able to do a lot more.
Facing strong headwinds and historic precedent — the incumbent president’s party typically loses seats in an administration’s first midterm elections — Democrats have ramped up investment in key states, putting a heavy emphasis on focus on black voters.
In Georgia, for example, the DNC plans to spend three times as much this year as the party did in 2018, investing in full-time staff across the state, paid media, and voter organizing and education. . Black voters, who make up a growing and large share of Georgia’s electorate, played a key role in ensuring Democrats won the state’s two Senate seats in the 2020 election.
With the GOP-controlled state Legislature passing a law last year that made it more difficult to access mail-in ballots, and limited drop boxes and mobile voting centers , grassroots organizations are working hard to register and educate voters in hopes of getting them to the polls.
“Georgians know the power of their vote,” said Ufot, of the New Georgia Project. “People are preparing for battle.
It’s not just voting rights and police reform that black voters are concerned about. They also share the frustrations of the wider electorate with the ongoing pandemic, rising consumer costs and the general chaos and anxiety that is pervading American life, according to BlackPAC’s Shropshire.
“People are clear that just because Trump lost doesn’t mean the country is back on track,” she said. “Keeping people involved is going to be difficult. We fight through waves of challenges. People continue to bury loved ones because of COVID.
“Have we had people saying to our organizers, ‘I didn’t pay this much for gas before Joe Biden was president’? Yes,” she said. “But when we talk to people, they also understand very clearly why they need to keep participating. And every day, it seems like something is happening to remind them of the stakes.