Three politics doctoral students reflected on the challenges and successes of President Joe Biden’s administration during a webinar entitled “The Biden Presidency on Day 51.” The webinar was hosted by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies and examined the new administration’s actions through the lenses of foreign policy, criminal justice, and health care.
David Long, assistant provost of the University and director of the institute, gave a brief introduction to the event, and spoke about the greatest challenge being faced currently: the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in a death toll higher than those caused in the country by World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and September 11 combined.
“It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to influence every decision in Biden’s presidency,” Long said. “But one of the challenges any presidential administration faces is that crises do not arise in a vacuum. While the Biden administration may be focused on one issue as a state emergency, other problems of statecraft remain pressing concerns.”
Doctoral student Nicholas Hamisevicz spoke about the president’s foreign policy goals and upcoming deadlines that will require attention and action from the U.S. government. Some of Biden’s first actions, Hamisevicz noted, were rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization.
“For a foreign policy sense, this sent a signal that the United States wants to do more with the world and cooperate on world issues.”
Additional priorities for the administration, Hamisevicz noted, will involve decisions on the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the war in Yemen, and whether or not to keep troops in Afghanistan. The administration must also remain aware of growing challenges from China, Russia, and North Korea.
With the rise of globalization, Hamisevicz said, many foreign policy and domestic policy issues are becoming more closely linked. A large challenge for the administration will involve finding bipartisan support for foreign policy issues.
“Bipartisan complaining is much easier to do than bipartisan solutions,” Hamisevicz said.
Carly Jones, a doctoral student who has a research focus in American politics, spoke about President Biden’s plans for criminal justice. He has faced criticism from progressives for his past support for the 1994 crime bill, which increased policing, incentivized the construction of new prisons, and increased the number and lengths of prison sentences for the incarcerated.
Interest in criminal justice reform reached a peak in the summer of 2020, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black men and women.
“Suddenly these concerns about the 1994 crime bill came up against these larger questions about what we should do regarding our criminal justice system,” Jones said.
Jones credits the Biden administration with three “half-successes” in regard to criminal justice. These positive moves include passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims to increase transparency about police misconduct, the executive order to end support for privately operated prisons, and the appointment of Merrick Garland as attorney general.
Daniel Petri closed the webinar by speaking about administration goals surrounding the issue of health care, including Biden’s biggest campaign promise of a more comprehensive and organized pandemic response. Among those goals are expanding the Affordable Care Act; expanding access to Medicaid and Medicare; and solving issues related to long-term care, mental health and substance abuse, HIV and AIDS, and LGBTQ health.
One significant action taken by the administration, Petri said, is reopening the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act. This action, he noted, could result in an additional 9 million uninsured people enrolling in a health care plan. Biden has also rescinded state medical waivers from Medicaid and nominated Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, an advocate for health care equity, to be the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Petri also spoke about the American Rescue Plan, which will extend COBRA relief for unemployed people who have lost their health insurance and increase funding for hospitals, mental health services, veterans assistance, and states.