News You May Have Missed: January 24, 2021

“Draw the Line National Day of Action Against the Keystone XL 9/2013” by Overpass Light Brigade is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Like Biden himself, these days we need to do an awkward two-step in the coming months, moving backward and forward to make sure that Biden’s agenda to restore a humane, just democracy remains intact, and to challenge the forces that would upend or impede all the work his administration might do. Thus, we’ll continue to let you know what anti-democratic forces are doing and how you can engage them, as well as what issues will require continuing pressure on the Biden administration.

As the Washington Post points out, however, “gridlock” has already hit the Senate, with Mitch McConnell’s dead hand freezing appointments and preventing legislation from advancing. Indivisible is suggesting that we write our senators to insist that the Democrats not give in to McConnell on the Organizing Resolution, required when the Senate split 50-50. Their link has a message you can send.

Amy Siskind’s List, which for four years has weekly documented the not-normal practices and policies of the previous administration, is coming to end as of the Inauguration. Still, her January list is perhaps the most breath-taking yet.

The Americans of Conscience checklist has specific action items for how you can manage the new dance we are in; we suggest others below.

We offer more reading in the Resources Section, below.


1. Work has begun on immigration issues

President Biden promised immediate action on immigration following his inauguration. So far, he has acted in two areas: He has submitted proposed legislation on immigration on issues that fall under the purview of Congress–so he can make suggestions and try to broker agreements, but cannot act unilaterally. Most comprehensively, the day after he was inaugurated, he sent the Citizenship Act of 2021–which essentially would provide an eight-year pathway to citizenship–to Congress. The New York Times delineates the proposal but the Times and the Wall Street Journal detail the kinds of opposition it will meet from Republicans.

Where Biden can act unilaterally is in responding to Trump’s immigration-related Proclamations and Executive Orders. He has already cancelled at least six changes to immigration policy ordered by Trump:

Executive Order on the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities and the Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States end the Muslim ban, cancel “terrorism prevention” rules that were designed to prevent people from specific regions of the world from entering the U.S., and call for an immediate review of all changes to immigration policy made by the previous administration.

Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) reinstates the Obama-Biden era policy that “deferred… removal of certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, have obeyed the law, and stayed in school or enlisted in the military.

Reinstating Deferred Enforced Departure for Liberians extends the ban on deportation of Liberians who ca to the U.S. during civil strife in that country, guaranteeing that they will have an opportunity to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

Executive Order on Ensuring a Lawful and Accurate Enumeration and Apportionment Pursuant to the Decennial Census  ends Trump’s effort to purge undocumented Americans from the census population count used to determine distribution of House seats to individual States.

Proclamation on the Termination of Emergency Order with Respect to the Southern Border of the United States and Redirection of Funds Diverted to Border Wall Construction will prevent further transfers of funds from the military budget to pay for a border wall and seeks to undo previous transfers of funds for this purpose.

         We can thank Biden for his prompt action on these issues—and can also urge him to end some of the dangerous, unnecessary practices used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We can add requests that deported veterans be immediately invited back, innocent people thrown out of our country after decades also be invited back, and that cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE—such as the 287(g) agreements that delegate federal immigration authority to State and local police—be eliminated. S-HP

You can thank Biden for what he has done already and urge him to do more. • President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @JoeBiden. See a sample letter here.

2. Work yet to do on immigration priorities

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a list of clear, detailed priorities for immigration reform, among them: ending discriminatory immigration policies; restoring a humane asylum application process; enabling applicants for asylum and immigration to once again have access to the courts and to representation in them; imposing a moratorium on deportations; eliminating detention while substituting case management; and ending the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which have required thousands of people to wait for their hearings in unstaffed, unstable camps vulnerable to inclement weather and criminal behavior just over the southern border.

Biden has already declared a 100 day moratorium on deportations, according to CBS news, but various exceptions mean that asylum-seekers and other immigrants are still being deported on the grounds of public safety.

The Trump administration signed a series of last-second agreements explicitly designed to impede Biden’s immigration reforms from being implemented for six months, NBC reported on Inauguration Day, quoting a former Trump administration official as saying that the agreements were “an attempt at undemocratic sabotage.” Whether they will be legally enforceable is not yet clear.

In October, Biden promised to establish a task force to reunite the hundreds of children with their parents who have been deported, Reuters reported. The key element which would make reunification possible is permitting the families to legally return to the U.S. Mother Jones says that Biden is expected to make an announcement next week regarding the reunification of families and sketches the complexities of what will be necessary to do so. RLS

3. Biden launches COVID economic relief

A fact sheet and New York Times reporting enumerate President Biden’s actions to provide COVID-19-related economic relief. President Biden has already sent a COVID-19 relief economic proposal to Congress, which controls much of the COVID-19 response because it holds the “purse strings” of the U.S. government. Biden has, however, begun taking those actions that are possible within the purview of the executive branch. He has issued an executive order that calls for an across-the-board “effort to provide equitable emergency economic relief to working families, communities, and small businesses across the nation.” This and related executive orders include:

◉ A call for expanded Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) support for those needing it.

◉ A request that the Treasury Department change the means by which it provides COVID-19 relief payments to individuals. Currently, these payments are distributed through the IRS, so individuals whose incomes aren’t sufficient to require the payment of taxes are still awaiting payments authorized in March and December of 2020.

◉ A call to the Department of Labor to clarify that workers who refuse unsafe working conditions are still eligible for unemployment benefits, noting “that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health.”

◉ An expansion of benefits to help families still sheltering in place to provide meals for their children that would otherwise be provided at their school sites.

◉ A request that the Department of Agriculture begin “the process of revising the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern cost of a healthy basic diet.”

◉ An order to lay the groundwork to require federal contractors to provide a $15 minimum hourly wage and paid emergency leave for employees.

◉ Restoration of collective bargaining powers for federal employees that were withdrawn during the Trump administration.

         Not surprisingly, Republicans have begun fighting these efforts, which a tweet from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) characterized as “A radical leftist agenda in a divided country [which] will not help unify our country, it will only confirm 75 million Americans’ biggest fears about the new administration.” S-HP

If you support these actions, your Senators and Representative need to hear about it. Find them here.

4. Voting Rights Act

The For the People Act was one of the many pieces of legislation passed by the House in the 116th Congress on which Mitch McConnell prevented Senate action. This act has been re-introduced in the House now that the new session of Congress is underway and has been given, as it was last year, the designation H.R.1. This legislation would affirm and improve voting rights by providing for automatic voter registration, requiring the availability of online registration, requiring same-day voter registration, improving mail voting and other practices that make casting a vote easier, and set limits on the purging of voters from the rolls. H.R.1 would provide for states to use independent commissions to conduct redistricting, rather than leaving this in the hands of the party in power in each state. It would close loopholes that allow spending by foreign nationals on U.S. elections and require increased disclosure of campaign spending. It would require alerting states to disinformation campaigns by foreign governments and prohibit the use of “deepfake” audios and videos by campaigns. H.R.1 would provide for an alternative, government-funded system for campaigns for some federal offices. It also would strengthen ethics rules regarding elected and appointed officials. Many are asking that the For the People Act be renamed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to honor the recently deceased Senator and civil rights activist. S-HP

If you want to see consistency in voter registration rules and voting rights restored, you can urge House committee leadership to take swift, positive action on H.R.1. Addresses are here.

5. The “Real-ID” Act provided cover for waiver of environmental provisions and Indigenous rights

You may not know that the legislation that brought us the 2005 Real ID Act, which requires either a passport or new federal ID for air travel within the U.S., also “included an unprecedented provision that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive all local, state and federal laws that the secretary deems an impediment to building walls and roads along U.S. borders,” as the Sierra Club explains. Under the Trump administration this provision was repeatedly used to waive 48 federal laws in construction of the border wall, including the National Environmental Protection Act; the Endangered Species Act; the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; the Archaeological Resources Protection Act; the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act; the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act; the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Biden has said he does not support any additional construction on the border wall, but that promise does nothing to prevent future use of the Real ID Act to avoid complying with laws intended to protect environmental, archaeological, and Native American resources. S-HP

If you want to speak up about the misuse of the Real ID act, tell President Biden to ask Congress to repeal the Secretary of Homeland Security waiver power under the Real ID Act and ask your Congressmembers to introduce and/or support legislation to repeal the Secretary of Homeland Security waiver power under the Real ID Act.• President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111• Find your senators here, and find your representative here.

6. Student loan payments suspended till September

Following through on a request from President Biden, the Education Department has extended the suspension of student loan payments through September 30. Loans will not accrue interest over this period. A House stimulus package last year included cancellation of student debt, but the then-House Majority Leader never allowed consideration of that possibility. S-HP

You can thank Miguel Cardena, the Acting Secretary of Education for taking this action and urge him to work with Congress to support debt cancellation, not just suspension. You might also want to let the new Senate Majority Leader know that we want to see him approach student debt and COVID-19 relief the way McConnell dealt with judicial appointments—using the majority to get things done quickly rather than negotiating with those who have no intention of supporting such programs. Addresses are here.

7. Farmworkers working in smoke without adequate protection

One significant concern during California’s wildfires this past summer, was the lack of consistent protections for farmworkers, whose employment prevented them from sheltering indoors on days with poor air quality. AB-73, the Farmworker Wildfire Protections Act would require checks of air quality conditions at agricultural worksites during wildfires, would direct the Department of Industrial Relations to create a stockpile of N95 filtration respirators sufficient for California’s population of farmworkers, and guarantee access to the state’s stockpile of N95 filtration respirators. It would also create policies for and training in responding to poor air quality conditions in agricultural workplaces during wildfires. This legislation is currently with the California Assembly Committee on Labor Employment. S-HP

You can urge quick, positive committee action on AB-73, because California’s fire season is now year-round and farmworkers need protections as soon as possible. Addresses are here.

9. It’s not over till it’s over…

We need to know what happened regarding security preparation for the counting of electoral votes, planning for the capitol siege, the siege itself, the roles played by and command of law enforcement and National Guard, and potential collusion by members of Congress. We also need to know about Congressional collusion in the effort to oust Cting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in order to put in place an Attorney General who would cooperate with Trump’s campaign of election disinformation.

As the New York Times explains, around the time of his call to the Georgia Secretary of State, Trump pressured Rosen to act on a variety of fictive theories around election fraud, and conspired with Justice Dept. attorney Jeffrey Clark to fire Rosen and replace him with Clark. But when Trump convened the rest of the Justice Department attorneys and announced his plan, they said they would resign en masse if he fired Rosen. S-HP

If you want to act on this, tell appropriate committee chairs that you want to see immediate action on these investigations and call for public release of all findings: addresses are here.

10. Biden’s new Secretary of Defense will work against sexual assault, radicalization among troops

The Senate has confirmed President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired four-star general and former commander of the U.S. Central Command. In his first act in that position, he gave military leadership two weeks to provide him with a study of military efforts to prevent sexual assault and the successes or failures of those efforts. He also asked for novel approaches to the problem. During his confirmation hearing, Senator after Senator questioned Austin about his commitment to fighting sexual assault in the military, which has increased steadily since 2002. Austin agreed, telling Senators: “This starts with me and you can count on me getting after this on day one.” In addition to the issue of sexual assault, the military is currently struggling with white supremacist radicalization among its troops. According to Pentagon information reported by the Washington Post, the military does not screen recruits’ social media posts–for better and for worse. Finally, the Trump administration’s ban on transgender troops remains in place, despite the objections of military leadership. S-HP

You might find it timely to welcome Austin to the cabinet, thank him for his initial action to understand the problem of sexual assault in the military, and urge him to take swift action to end sexual assault and far right radicalization among the troops, as well as the ban on transgender troops• Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Defense, 1400 Defense Pentagon, Washington DC 20301-1000


11. Biden moves against climate change by cancelling Keystone XL.

President Biden has cancelled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which presented “pervasive threats to climate, ecosystems, drinking water sources, and public health, and advancing a national commitment to decreasing our reliance on dirty energy,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The cancellation of KXL has caused tensions with Canada; the province of Alberta invested heavily in the project, committing some 1.5 billion, according to the Globe and Mail. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said that Canada should apply sanctions, or counter-measures, against the U.S. for cancellation of the project.

Now indigenous leaders and others are calling for Biden also to cancel the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), construction of which has been ruled a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. Activists have protested the construction of DAPL because it threatens the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. S-HP

Consider thanking President Biden for halting Keystone XL and urge him to bring a halt to DAPL as well–for the sake of environmental justice and in recognition of Native American sovereignty• President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111.

12. Tracking Biden’s actions to preserve the environment and address the climate crisis

Biden has already taken a series of steps to regain lost ground around environmental and climate issues. He has re-committed to the Paris Climate Accord, paused gas and oil drilling, restored the use of science for decision-making, established a process for re-evaluating national monuments–and much more, the AP reports. The Washington Post has an excellent piece which sketches the many, many actions Trump took to undermine evidence-based policies and practices, dismantling environmental protections and contributing to the risk in greenhouse gasses. The Post has an analysis of how each of these can be reversed, and at what pace.

The Environmental and Energy Law Program (EELP) at Harvard Law School has an even more comprehensive list of environmental regulations that Trump dismantled and where they stand in terms of being restored. They also have a list of other environmental law and policy trackers. RLS

13. Biden to challenge ruthless anti-choice policy

President Biden has committed himself to reversing a Trump administration policy that prohibits U.S. funding for international nongovernmental groups that provide or refer patients for abortions. NPR reports that Dr. Anthony Fauci has told the World Health Organization that President Biden will be taking this action “as part of his broader commitment to protect women’s health and advance gender equality at home and around the world.” A study in the Lancet has concluded that the Trump policy, also known as the “gag rule,” has actually led to increased rates of abortion in Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions—an increase of approximately 40% among the countries included in the study. Trump also cut off federal funding to Title X family planning programs that provide or refer patients for abortions. As a result, many organizations like Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women’s healthcare in the U.S., that refused to end abortion services and referrals are no longer receiving government funding. That rule is still in place. S-HP

Consider thanking President Biden and Dr. Fauci for standing up for women’s health and urging them to do all they can to see that every woman has access to safe affordable family planning that includes the option of abortion. You might also urge Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra to begin working immediately to change the Title X gag rule put in place by the Trump administration. Addresses are here.

14. Transgender Assistant Secretary of Health nominated

President Biden has nominated Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s top health official as Assistant Secretary of Health. In a statement, President Biden said, “Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic—no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability—and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond.” If confirmed, she will also be the highest-ranking transgender official in the federal government. S-HP

You can welcome nominee Levine and share your support for a broader understanding of gender and quality healthcare for all• Rachel Levine, Nominee, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence SW, Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775. @SecretaryLevine


Daniel Morrison, writing for the Journal Blog has a well-researched piece on how QAnon captured the imagination of so many people and how people became persuaded that Donald Trump was going to save the world.

Megan Boler from the University of Toronto writes incisively about the dismissal of Trump from social media sites–and why it is too little, too late.

The Boston Review has an interesting piece on how the Trumpists are not who we think they are.

Heather Cox Richardson’s nightly letters continue to be essential.