Black Organizers Who Helped Propel Biden to White House Can't Give Him an 'A' After First 100 Days
Updated: May 11, 2021
President Joe Biden has made progress on issues impacting Black communities, but 100 days into his presidency, organizers have mixed feelings about his time in office and are warning him not to forget about the promise he made in November to have their back.
Black voters propelled Biden to the White House and helped secure two vital Senate seats for Democrats in the Georgia runoff elections. Those Senate seats gave Biden the support he needed to pass his $1.9 trillion relief package and failing to make noticeable strides on voting rights and police reform could mean losing that advantage in the midterms.
"We didn't tell people in Georgia that if they came out and risked their lives, that our future was going to be up to [Senator] Joe Manchin or up to the parliamentarian. That's not the case we made. We said, 'If we get these senators and they go with the president, we can get voting rights passed," Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of the Black Votes Matter Fund, told Newsweek.
The For The People Act passed the House in March with every Republican in opposition and all but one Democrat voting in favor of it. However, it's stalled in the Senate because without Republicans on board, Democrats don't have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.
Manchin's been a key swing vote in the Senate and on Tuesday, he warned passing the measure along party lines could ignite tensions and lead to more "anarchy," as was seen during the Capitol riot on January 6. That, he said, was something he "wouldn't be a part of."
Jasmine Burney-Clark, consulting director of the Equal Ground Education Fund, was "shocked" Biden didn't make voting rights his No. 1 priority, especially because it could hinder Democrats' chances in 2022 and set former President Donald Trump up for a comeback in 2024.
Biden putting voting rights on the back burner wore on the overall average score Burney-Clark and Albright gave him for his first 100 days in office. Albright put him at a C- because it was "hard to give him a high grade" on several issues impacting Black voters. Burney-Clark offered a better evaluation at a B and both said his response to COVID-19 and expansion of vaccinations boosted his score.
"It's above average," Burney-Clark told Newsweek about her score. "COVID is the number one issue affecting Black and Brown people. I think that is what, for me, makes him an above-average president at this point because of his speediness to get folks vaccinated."
With Republicans in staunch opposition to much of Biden's agenda, some Democrats pushed the party to eliminate or reform the filibuster in an effort to pass legislation with a simple majority, which the caucus has. But, that effort was largely declared moot because it would require a unified caucus and Manchin's made it known that he won't support the measure.
If people aren't willing to work in a bipartisan fashion, Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, told Newsweek Democrats need to use other tools, including getting rid of the filibuster or reforming it.
"Did I expect them to walk in the door and in 100 days fix all the problems? No," Campbell said. "I would have liked for them to push for the filibuster reform so they don't have that as a barrier to moving on the critical life and death issues that are impacting my community and others."
Those life and death issues include criminal justice and policing reform. Burney-Clark applauded Biden for calling former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin's actions toward George Floyd "murder," as it's something she didn't think would have happened under Trump, but Albright gave him a "barely passing" grade on police violence.
On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland's announced the Department of Justice was investigating whether the Louisville Police Department has a pattern of using unreasonable force. The department came under heavy scrutiny last year for the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Although a step in the right direction, Albright said Biden needs to help push the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through Congress. The bill, which would limit qualified immunity for police officers and lower the criminal intent standard, passed the House in March with all but two Democrats voting in favor and all but one Republican voting against it.
"We're exhausted from watching our lives being taken away and you've got folks saying, 'Where is this president that was put in office in part because we thought he would do a better job about reeling in these police departments?'" Albright said.
Biden's nomination of Garland to head the DoJ and Kristen Clark to lead the DoJ's Civil Rights Division were "strong," according to Campbell. but Biden needs to be doing more, including advocating for the George Floyd act, because "Black folks are still being killed."
Campbell wouldn't give Biden an overall grade until the "semester" was over, which she put at about six months from now. When it comes to his commitment to engaging with people of diverse backgrounds, though, she gave him an A. She also praised his diverse cabinet, but noted it's not enough to satisfy Black voters.
"I think what happens over this next year, in his first 12 months, will have a significant difference in what happens in 2022," Campbell said. "This administration needs to move legislation. Midterms are where you're going to see people complain about it and that will affect voter engagement."
The first 100 days of a president's tenure gained significance with President Franklin Roosevelt, who engaged in a burst of activity as the Great Depression plagued the country. While used as a benchmark in a presidency, it isn't a true indicator of a president's success and Biden's first months have been tumultuous.
Amid a historic second impeachment of his predecessor, Biden focused on passing COVID-19 relief and getting his cabinet in place. Albright acknowledged those issues, as well as, the legislative challenges that come with passing legislation, but with more than 40 years of legislative experience and relationships with many members of Congress, he advised the president to urge Democrats to fall in line.
"He's got to have his Lyndon B. Johnson moment where he twists the arms of people within his own caucus to pass historic legislation," Albright said.