Tanzina Vega: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Tanzina Vega. If Joe Biden ends up winning the presidential election, he'll have plenty of campaign promises to live up to, and that includes lofty goals the former vice president has said he'd get started as soon as he's sworn in.
Joe Biden: If I'm your president, on day one will implement the national strategy I've been laying out since March. We'll develop and deploy rapid tests, with results available immediately. If I have the honor of being president, I will end the Muslim ban on day one. I'd make the changes on the corporate taxes on day one. On day one, I'm sending to the United States Congress, an immigration bill providing a pathway for 11 million undocumented, and I'm going to make sure every dreamer is protected now.
Tanzina: We're going to have to wait and see whether a potential Joe Biden administration can actually hit the ground running on all of those policies. For more, I'm joined by Jennifer Epstein, political reporter covering the Biden campaign for Bloomberg News. Jennifer, thanks for being with me.
Jennifer Epstein: Thanks for having me.
Tanzina: President Trump has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus even after contracting it himself, but Joe Biden has said he'd make some big changes if he became president. What would he do differently?
Jennifer: It goes from everything, from encouraging mask-wearing, by leading by example on that as he has during the campaign, wearing a mask himself all the time except for when he's at a microphone, socially distanced from anybody else on stage, launching a whole of federal government response to the pandemic that would be aggressively different, I think, than the Trump plan.
He would not be fighting with some of the scientists. He would be listening to them, he has said. Deploying the resources of the federal government. He plans to use the Defense Production Act more aggressively than President Trump has, to get industry to do its part, whether it's with PPE production or vaccine production down the line. He has a plan for the distribution of the vaccine, even just in defending the Affordable Care Act.
He says that that will make vaccine distribution easier and free. Also, will protect people who end up having long-term health issues because of their COVID cases, lung issues or whatever else. It really is a pretty comprehensive approach that touches on a whole lot of different areas. I think it's the public health response and then, obviously, also an economic response.
He says that he will talk to governors and mayors about mask-wearing, to try to encourage them to put in their own mask mandates. He can't really order a federal mandate despite some of the stuff that the Trump people have said, but he can certainly encourage mask-wearing, as I said before. It seems like he really just wants to bore down in every single area where the government can help fight this pandemic, is a piece of what he plans to do.
Tanzina: Joe Biden would also inherit, Jennifer, an economy right now that has been battered by the COVID-19 crisis. We mentioned at the top of the show that 8 million Americans have been pushed into poverty. People are scrambling to keep their homes, to put food on the table, to find work that may not return since this pandemic has taken hold of the country. Does Joe Biden have a plan for dealing with that economy, should he inherit it as to becoming president?
Jennifer: Yes, he does. He has this economic plan called Build Back Better, which is a couple trillion dollars of spending that's meant to stimulate the economy. I think it will depend a little bit on the results of the election, whether Democrats win the Senate, if he wins the presidency, and whether there's any activity during the lame-duck session of Congress.
If the House, and Senate, and the White House can agree on a couple trillion dollars of stimulus spending now through the end of the year, or if people are going to continue to be in need and the government not act, in which case, after inauguration day, Biden would move very quickly on a stimulus bill. I think that the size of it is still to be determined and how much of that falls on some of the ideas that are in his Build Back Better plan, which are things like clean energy spending, health and home aid, and nursing care, and things like that, which I think a lot of people would say are badly needed during the pandemic.
It will depend on what happens before he were to become president, but there is definitely an intention to either add to whatever is done during the lame-duck session this year or to come through with a bigger plan than the couple of trillion dollars that's being talked about, or had been negotiated a bit between Nancy Pelosi and the administration in the last couple of months.
Tanzina: This also would rely very much on how and who was in Congress, wouldn't it?
Jennifer: Yes, it definitely does. If Democrats have a majority in the Senate, and they're likely to keep their majority in the House, you're looking at a much bigger bill than if Republicans end up in control of the Senate still. It could be the difference between it being $2 trillion or $3 trillion, or maybe $5 trillion. It really will depend on that and that alone.
Tanzina: Jennifer, last week Joe Biden announced a plan that would create a task force to reunite the 545 migrant children who were separated from their families under the Trump administration, and whose parents, advocates, and lawyers say they are still unable to find. What would that task force actually be able to do because it seems like a task force is very Washington for we don't know what to do yet?
Jennifer: Yes, it certainly seems like something that the campaign scrambled to put out to seem responsive to this. I've covered the family separation issue closely a couple of years ago, and I know that the ACLU and other groups have been working really hard to match up these kids with their parents, find their parents who may not be in the US anymore.
I think the federal government does have a lot of resources around, everything from, they have people on the ground in the Central American countries that these kids came from. The campaign is not really detailed what this would look like or how they would do something that all of these advocacy groups have been unable to do over the last two years and find these parents to reunite them with their kids. I think that remains to be seen exactly how that would work.
Tanzina: Joe Biden has also made multiple promises about how he'd overhaul the Trump administration's immigration policies, specifically, how it relates to DACA, and trying to make those protections permanent. If Joe Biden wins and the Democrats don't take the Senate, would he be able to do that through executive order?
Jennifer: His campaign has not said exactly how he would intend to do that. If that were the case, I think he may try to do that through executive order, which I think would then be challenged in the courts and get up to the Supreme Court. Now that the Supreme Court is pretty clearly not in Democrats favor, I would assume that that would get struck down. I think that that's probably the way that they would go.
Maybe they would be able to come to a deal even with a Republican Senate, as part of a bigger bill that has other priorities that Republicans favor or something like defense spending. Again, it's unclear exactly how that would happen. I think a lot of the things that Biden has proposed, there's always a piece of it that assumes that he'll have a Congress that will work with him, whether it's Republican majority or a Democratic one. That's certainly something that until recently he was saying quite a bit on the campaign trail, that he thought that once Donald Trump was out of office, there would be some Republicans who would be eager to work with him.
He has backed away from that message in seeing just how white-knuckled they were in the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation process, getting through that process. In about a month, that he is more skeptical now than ever before about the prospect of working with Republicans. I think that would pose a challenge on immigration and lots of other issues.
Tanzina: We've talked a lot in the previous segments about President Trump's immigration policies, but using his policies to dissuade people from even attempting to enter the United States. However, Joe Biden was vice president during the Obama administration, and Obama himself was called the deporter-in-chief for his aggressive policies to deport people from the United States. Joe Biden has also made a point of distancing himself from some of those failed immigration reforms under the Obama administration. What's his plan to go forward should he become president?
Jennifer: One piece of his plan and one issue that has created a lot of the issues at the border is to reinvigorate the programs that allow for refugees and asylum-seekers to apply for status in the US. The Trump administration has been really strict around people seeking asylum at the southern border. Biden has made clear that he would reverse the policy and go back to a time when somebody could cross the border and apply for that status if they are found by authorities.
I think that you're going to see a revamping of those agencies in the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to make it possible for people to go through the process as it has previously existed to become true pieces of the immigration system in the US.
Tanzina: Another part of his legacy that has been a large point of criticism for Joe Biden, it was the 1994 crime bill that he authored. Last month he called the crime bill "a mistake". How do Black and brown Americans in particular look at Joe Biden in this light? Does he have a current criminal justice reform plan that looks markedly different that the crime bill?
Jennifer: Yes, he does. There are two crime bills: there's a 1986 bill and a 1994 bill. The 1986 one had tough drug laws that created a situation where people of color oftentimes got punished much more harshly than white people, kind of the crack and cocaine sentencing disparity. He has said that much of that was a mistake, but he has also said Black leaders were on his side on this. It's true the Congressional Black Caucus, faith leaders, and community leaders were all in favor of those bills at the time. They say that they were doing what they believed was best at the time. Obviously, the way that those policies were carried out was really detrimental to those communities.
Biden is proposing to basically get rid of a lot of the criminal penalties for any kind of drug offenses, to release people who are in jail for those offenses now, to work on drug treatment issues as a way to help people rather than punish people. There is a whole lot he's just going to do on the drug piece. Then in terms of broader criminal justice reform, he was attacked pretty roundly by the president and by other Republicans for being on the same side as people who were protesting to defund the police.
He has made it very clear he does not want to defund the police, in fact, he wants to spend more, not just on policing, but on supporting police officers and mental health people who could deal with a situation like what just happened in Philadelphia. He has a lot of different plans there.
Tanzina: Jennifer Epstein is a political reporter covering the Biden campaign for Bloomberg News. Jennifer, thanks so much.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me.
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