When Joe Biden was declared the winner of the November presidential election, he had a clear message for the black voters who propelled him to the White House: “You have always supported me, and I will have yours.”
Now Mr Biden is under pressure to show he can deliver for the African Americans who have proven so crucial to his winning campaign. He’s already on track to assemble the most diverse cabinet in US history and has used the early days of his presidency to issue executive orders aimed at addressing racial inequalities in the housing market and responding to the pandemic.
But while Mr Biden can use the executive’s action to make some changes, his most ambitious plans – from restoring and expanding voting rights to increasing the minimum wage and implementing sweeping police reforms – will prove to be much more difficult, especially since it needs the support of Congress.
“[Biden] took out its first week to show there was good faith, ”said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of advocacy group Black Voters Matter. “But that’s not the end of everything. We must have major changes in this country.
Even though Democrats control both houses of Congress with narrow margins, they need the approval of at least 60 senators – or at least 10 Republicans – to pass legislation. This will not be an easy task, as illustrated by the Republican Party’s rejection of its $ 1.9 billion coronavirus relief plan, which includes a proposal to more than double the federal minimum wage from $ 7.25 to $ 15 an hour.
“I don’t think it was just a question of black voters helping us win the election,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of advocacy group BlackPAC. “Black voters especially want to see real politics that change not only their lives but the lives of all Americans.”
Mr. Biden’s rise to the White House has been attributed in large part to support from black voters, who initially proved to be in large numbers for him in the South Carolina Democratic Primary, and were later credited with his victories on major battlefields in the November general election.
This was especially true in Georgia, a southern state that had not selected a Democratic presidential candidate for nearly three decades. Then, in January, Georgian voters elected Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the second round of the Senate, clinching control from the upper house of Congress for Mr. Biden’s party.
Democrats will need a similar level of support from black voters to succeed in the 2022 midterm elections, when the entire House of Representatives and about a third of the Senate – including Mr. Warnock in Georgia – up for grabs.
On cabinet appointments, Mr. Biden has kept his word. According to Inclusive America, a nonprofit that promotes diversity in government, Mr Biden’s cabinet, if confirmed, would be half white and half non-white, and nearly one person named on four would be black or African American.
“President Biden has done a good job of representing America’s diversity in his first key appointments,” said Andra Gillespie, director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University in Atlanta. .
Mr. Biden’s team includes Lloyd Austin, the country’s first black secretary of defense, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who, if confirmed, would be the first black woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the UN. Marcia Fudge, a former Congressional Black Caucus fighter, has been asked to lead the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Susan Rice, a former official in Barack Obama’s administration, has returned to the White House as director of the domestic policy council.
“Representation is important,” said Ms. Shropshire of BlackPAC. “By welcoming people from diverse backgrounds, you are not only introducing smart and skilled people who will do their jobs, but you are inviting people who bring particular experiences that will shape the policy outcomes we achieve.”
Ms Fudge told a Senate committee last week that she would use her role to end discriminatory housing policies and boost black home ownership, in part by providing down payment assistance to residents of neighborhoods that had previously been “redlined” or that had refused mortgages in the race.
Ms Brown of Black Voters Matter also welcomed Mr Biden’s appointments, but cautioned that a cabinet’s diversity alone does not guarantee that the government at large will put the needs of black voters first.
“What I don’t want to see happen, and I’ve seen this, where we have the leadership in place, but there is a lack of will around the priorities in the budget,” she explained, making reference to annual federal government. budget, which must be approved by Congress.
Mr Biden’s first two weeks in office saw a wave of unilateral decrees, many aimed at tackling racial inequalities.
The president ordered all government agencies to conduct “equity assessments” to determine if resources could be channeled to underserved communities, and to set up a Covid “health equity task force” -19 to examine how the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected black Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities. He also asked HUD to see if the Trump administration had “undermined” fair housing laws.
Ms Gillespie of Emory University called the decrees “important first steps”. But she added that black voters and activists would like to see sustained commitments from the administration in the months to come.
“It’s great that in his first 10 days in office he issued a number of executive orders that strive for racial equity and which can help him deliver on his election promises,” she said. . “But the big test is, what is he going to focus on in six months?”
Additional reporting by Christine Zhang in New York