Biden’s First 100 Days Move America Forward

In his inaugural address on January 20, President Biden told the nation that “A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer…And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat. To overcome these challenges — to restore the soul and to secure the future of America — requires more than words.”

President Biden took that seriously. After a dark chapter in this country’s history that required us to push back against relentless attacks on our civil and human rights, Biden acted quickly to reverse some of the previous administration’s worst atrocities. And he did so alongside Kamala Harris — the nation’s first woman, first Black American, and first Asian American to serve as vice president.

On his first day in office, Biden sent a bold immigration proposal to Congress, signed a memo to preserve and fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ended the discriminatory Muslim and African bans, asked the Department of Education to extend the pause of student loan payments, requested the CDC extend the federal eviction moratorium, directed an immediate pause in border wall construction, rescinded Trump’s unlawful orders and ensured that all people in the United States would be counted in the 2020 Census, revoked an order that limited diversity and inclusion training, directed agencies to protect LGBTQ people, and launched a whole-of-government initiative to advance racial equity.

And that’s just some of what he did on day one.

Over the course of its first 100 days, the Biden-Harris administration has taken important action on a number of The Leadership Conference’s priority issues. On the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, for example, Biden signed an executive order to promote voting access — an important step to ensure people can participate in the political process. The White House also issued formal statements of support for the For the People Act and for DC statehood legislation before both bills passed the House, and Biden has on multiple occasions since taking office expressed his hope that Congress will fully restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The administration has also acted to promote LGBTQ equality. On his first day in office, Biden directed federal agencies to take lawful steps to ensure federal anti-discrimination statutes that cover sex discrimination prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Soon after, he signed a memo promoting the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world. He reversed Trump’s transgender military ban, and the Department of Justice withdrew the federal government’s support for laws in Connecticut and Idaho that discriminated against trans student athletes. The Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department issued a memo clarifying that — in the wake of the Bostock decision — Title IX protects LGBTQ students from discrimination. And the president has urged Congress to act by passing the Equality Act for him to sign into law.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has worked to protect LGBTQ people, too. Secretary Marcia Fudge withdrew the previous administration’s proposal to weaken the Equal Access Rule, which would have allowed homeless shelters to deny access based on a person’s gender identity. HUD also announced that the agency would enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — a move that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also took with respect to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Importantly, HUD is moving to reinstate two Obama-era fair housing rules — the 2013 disparate impact rule and the 2015 affirmatively furthering fair housing rule — both of which had been gutted under the previous administration.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has also taken important steps forward. In January, the acting attorney general rescinded the Trump administration’s cruel and inhumane family separation policy and issued a memo to all federal prosecutors rescinding a 2017 memo from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which mandated that prosecutors almost always pursue the harshest charges and stiffest penalties. Since his confirmation last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland has reversed a Trump-era policy that curbed the use of consent decrees to address police misconduct, and subsequently opened pattern or practice investigations into the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Police Department, the Louisville/Jefferson County metro government, and the Louisville Metro Police Department. After the previous administration abandoned DOJ’s police accountability work, these actions are critical steps toward fixing unconstitutional conduct and enforcing civil rights — especially as the nation grapples with ongoing police violence and killings.

The DOJ also affirmed the federal government’s support for the Affordable Care Act by switching positions in California v. Texas — the case attempting to strike down the federal health care law. This action followed an order from Biden taking steps to strengthen Medicaid and the ACA, including by reopening for a special enrollment period. The administration also announced plans to revoke harmful Medicaid work requirements and proposed a new rule to revise the Title X family planning program regulations to strengthen the program — undoing the previous administration’s actions.

And in addition to restoring DACA, ending the Muslim and African bans, and sending a legislative proposal to Congress, the Biden-Harris administration has also supported immigrants by refusing to defend — and subsequently rescinding — the previous administration’s “public charge” rule, which targeted low-income immigrants and their families. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas last month also designated Venezuela and Burma for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) following earlier action by the administration to re-designate Syria’s status. Not all moves have been welcome: Earlier this month, Biden announced that he wouldn’t raise the historically low refugee cap — then reversed and said he would raise it next month. The civil and human rights community will continue its advocacy on this and other issues vital to immigrant communities.

This week, the president signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage, index the minimum wage to an inflation measure, eliminate the tipped minimum wage for federal contractors by 2024, and ensure a $15 minimum wage for federal contract workers with disabilities — in addition to signing an order establishing the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. This follows other important pro-worker actions, such as formally supporting the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act and issuing strong worker safety guidance to help mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We also know that personnel is policy, and the president has nominated individuals to critical posts who we believe will work to uphold civil and human rights. And from naming the first Native American cabinet member to the first openly LGBTQ person confirmed to a cabinet position, Biden has made progress in ensuring that those in power better reflect this nation’s incredible diversity. To date, The Leadership Conference has written or joined letters of support for the historic nominations of Xavier Becerra, Miguel Cardona, Rohit Chopra, Marcia Fudge, Seema Nanda, Robert Santos, and Julie Su.

At the DOJ, The Leadership Conference was particularly pleased with the president’s nomination of Vanita Gupta, our former president and CEO, to be the first woman of color and first civil rights lawyer to serve as associate attorney general — and with the nomination of Kristen Clarke, our former board member and ally in the civil rights community, to be the first woman confirmed and first Black woman ever to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights (Clarke’s nomination is still pending). Together with Attorney General Garland, the DOJ will be back in the business of enforcing our nation’s federal civil rights laws and will restore independence and integrity to the department’s critical work.

Biden also nominated his first group of judicial nominees who collectively represented an important step toward ensuring our federal judiciary reflects those that it serves. It’s particularly notable that he nominated three Black women for circuit court seats, as it’s been nearly a decade since a Black woman was confirmed to serve on a circuit court. Many of the nominees also possess experience from areas of the legal profession woefully underrepresented on the bench, including having served as public defenders. In addition, Biden announced the creation of a presidential commission to study and issue a report on Supreme Court reform. The commission’s work to explore every avenue for change — and to ensure the Supreme Court provides more equal justice — will be vital.

It will take more than 100 days to reverse the previous administration’s assault on civil and human rights — and it will take continued advocacy to ensure the Biden-Harris administration acts to ensure justice for all communities in America. We applaud the passage of Biden’s COVID-19 relief package, for example, but know that much more must be done to protect the most vulnerable — including people in jails and prisons. We also need the administration to continue nominating diverse individuals to serve on our nation’s courts and in the federal government who will protect and advance civil and human rights for all. We need additional action to protect immigrants, including TPS designation for Haitians and other populations and an increase in the refugee resettlement numbers. And of course, we need sustained efforts to respond to anti-Asian violence and xenophobia and all forms of hate. Last month, the administration established a DOJ cross-agency initiative to address anti-Asian violence — and we know implementation of this and other efforts will be critical to combating hate in America.

Taken together, the Biden-Harris administration’s early actions have represented important first steps in charting a new direction for our country. We look forward to continuing our work with the administration to advance civil and human rights for every person in the United States.