The Biden administration has been quite open about its belief that we are in a global war to reestablish the security of democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism. On February 4, President Biden said in a speech at the State Department that American diplomacy must be “rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken followed up a month later by emphasizing that America would rebuild alliances to “renew democracy, because it’s under threat.” Blinken noted that authoritarianism and nationalism are rising around the world, including in the United States, and that the U.S. would work with allies to counter it. “We will stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, the rule of law,” he said.
To that end, the Biden administration has joined our partners to take a strong stand for human rights and democracy.
In his confirmation hearings, Blinken promised to repudiate the previous administration’s attack on LGBTQ individuals and to champion LBGTQ rights around the world.
On March 8, Blinken and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden hosted the 15th annual International Women of Courage Awards in a virtual ceremony honoring women nominated by U.S. embassies around the world for making a difference in their communities, their countries, or the world. They emphasized that the U.S. will stand with women and girls everywhere.
Today, the Treasury Department joined the European Union, Canada, and Britain in announcing sanctions against six Chinese officials because of the continuing human rights abuses against the minority Uyghur population of that country. The administration has accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the 12 million Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province, who are mostly Muslim and who have been herded into “re-education camps,” used as forced labor, and forcibly sterilized.
These sanctions come after last week’s sanctions on 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials because of their suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong. Just days after administration officials imposed those sanctions, Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan began a discussion with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, by taking a provocative stand and insisting that Beijing needs to return to the rules-based system that democratic allies built after World War II. Sullivan said: ”We do not see conflict but we welcome stiff competition, and we will always stand up for principles, for our people, and for our friends.”
China responded by suggesting that it considers the U.S. a waning power that it no longer has to appease with gestures toward human rights. In a 16-minute lecture, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, accused Blinken and Sullivan of hypocrisy and arrogance, calling attention to police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and America’s own human rights challenges. He later suggested that the U.S. no longer can claim to represent the views of the world, and said that “China’s development and growing strength are unstoppable.”
The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against two members of the Myanmar military, which staged a coup against that country’s civilian government, a coup that is still roiling the nation. In those sanctions, the U.S. joined the E.U., Canada, and the United Kingdom, while two of Myanmar’s neighboring countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, issued strong statements condemning the violence.
It is also preparing sanctions against Russia for its attempt to swing the 2020 election and for its massive hack of U.S. businesses and governmental agencies last year. Unlike his predecessor, Biden has refused to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, agreeing with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that Putin was a killer. In this stance against Russia, too, the U.S. has partners: British special forces have been ordered to counter the activities of Russian military intelligence.
Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hinted to India that its planned purchase of a Russian missile system could bring U.S. sanctions, saying “[w]e certainly urge all our allies and partners to move away from Russian equipment… and really avoid any kind of acquisitions that would trigger sanctions on our behalf….”
China has invited Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing.
The Biden administration is not just trying to defend democracy overseas. It is also trying to reclaim democracy here at home. Since 1981, Republicans have focused on cutting taxes and turning over our public infrastructure to private individuals, and as their agenda became less and less popular, they have relied on voter suppression and gerrymandering to stay in power. With Republicans in charge of the Senate, they could kill even enormously popular bills that passed the House of Representatives, and now that Democrats are in charge, the filibuster enables them to do the same.
The Biden administration has used its success with the coronavirus vaccine rollout to illustrate that government can actually be a dramatic force for good. This weekend, the number of coronavirus vaccines delivered was over 3 million a day, and President Biden beat his own goal of reaching 100 million vaccines in arms within his first hundred days by a month.
The passage of the American Rescue Plan, which 77% of the American people wanted and which promptly put desperately needed money into people’s pockets, has encouraged the White House to turn to a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package. The details of the plan are still fluid, but it appears that this plan will have two parts: one focused on infrastructure, including hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges, and one focused on the societal issues that Biden calls the “caregiving economy,” including universal prekindergarten and free tuition for community colleges, as well as funding for childcare. This plan will likely be funded, at least in part, by tax increases on those who make more than $400,000 a year.
They are reclaiming the government for the American people.
But Republicans, who generally cling to the idea that, as President Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem,” are determined to stop Democrats from enacting their agenda. Legislators in 43 states have proposed more than 250 bills to suppress voting. Getting rid of Democratic votes would put Republicans back into power even if they could not command a real majority.
To combat this rigging of the system, Democrats in the House passed HR 1, a sweeping bill to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and limit the power of dark money in our elections. The “For the People Act” has now gone on to the Senate, where Republicans recognize that it would “be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country.”
The bill will die so long as Republican senators can block it with the filibuster, and if it does, the Republican voter suppression laws that cut Democrats out of the vote will stand, making it likely that Democrats will not be able to win future elections. That reality has put reforming the filibuster back on the table. While President Biden, as well as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all expressed a wish to preserve at least some version of the filibuster, they are now all saying they might be willing to reform it. This might mean making election bills exempt from the filibuster the way financial bills are, or going back to the system in which stopping a measure actually required talking, rather than simply threatening to talk.
Both parties recognize that their future hangs on whether HR 1 passes, and that hangs on the filibuster.