Editorial: Biden's job isn't finished yet

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday February 8, 2023
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President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Photo: Screengrab via CBS News
President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Photo: Screengrab via CBS News

President Joe Biden's State of the Union address Tuesday left no doubt that he is running for reelection — and thank goodness for that. While much of his speech focused on the economy, Biden (D) showed the nation why he is a leader for all of us, including the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities. Contrast his remarks with the transphobic comments delivered by Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders during the Republican response to the State of the Union and, well, there's simply no getting around the fact that whether it's former President Donald Trump, for whom Sanders once served as press secretary, or Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, today's GOP is all about seeing who can be the most virulent, the most extreme, and the most hateful when it comes to LGBTQs — especially trans young people.

Biden went with a bipartisan theme Tuesday night. "Let's finish the job," he said more than once, asking Congress and the American people watching at home to support policies that will help seniors, the middle class, and kids. He hit upon several topics important to us. Near the top of his speech, he noted that since taking office just over two years ago, he has signed hundreds of pieces of bipartisan legislation. One of those was the Respect for Marriage Act, which removed the shameful federal Defense of Marriage Act from the books once and for all.

"In fact, I signed over 300 bipartisan laws since becoming president," Biden said. "From reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, to the Electoral Count Reform Act, to the Respect for Marriage Act that protects the right to marry the person you love."

But Biden also expended some political capital when he called for passage of the Equality Act. Frankly, we were impressed he mentioned it at all. It languished in the Senate in the previous Congress, and now the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, making any future action on it unlikely. (The House under Democratic leadership did pass the Equality Act on a bipartisan vote in 2021.) The Equality Act is critical, as we've mentioned before, because it would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protecting millions more Americans, including those who aren't married. "Let's also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity," the president said.

The Human Rights Campaign welcomed Biden's remarks. As Kelley Robinson, HRC's new president, noted in a statement, "President Biden called attention to the campaign of hatred that is driving discriminatory legislation that targets transgender kids in statehouses across the country," she stated, adding that HRC appreciated that Biden made a point to "focus national attention on this urgent topic and stand up for transgender kids, because we need our nation's leaders to show up and prove that collectively, we are greater than hate."

On health issues, Biden praised the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. That was started by President George W. Bush 20 years ago and is up for reauthorization this year, after previously being extended in 2018. It's been a game-changer in the global fight against AIDS by supporting countries with treatment and investing resources in their health systems. In a January 28 statement, Biden noted that since 2003, PEPFAR "has saved more than 25 million lives and dramatically improved health outcomes in more than 55 partner countries." He voted for PEPFAR when he was in the Senate. On Tuesday, he said, "20 years ago, under the leadership of President Bush and countless advocates and champions, we undertook a bipartisan effort through PEPFAR to transform the global fight against HIV/AIDS. It's been a huge success. I believe we can do the same with cancer. Let's end cancer as we know it and cure some cancers once and for all."

Transphobic response

Sanders' hate-filled response to Biden's State of the Union speech will do little, if anything, to broaden the Republican Party's appeal ahead of the 2024 presidential race. It was weird that she didn't mention Trump by name, simply referring to him as "the president." Trump, who declared in November that he's running for president next year, went full-on anti-trans in a video he posted January 31 on his social media platform. He said he would "protect children from left-wing gender insanity," and unveiled a slate of extreme policy proposals targeting transgender identities, including a federal law that recognizes only two genders and bars transgender women from competing on women's sports teams, as The Hill reported.

Sanders spewed misinformation as she attacked trans and nonbinary people and leaned into the culture wars. "I'm the first woman to lead my state, and he's the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can't even tell you what a woman is," Sanders said.

Predictably, it went downhill from there.

HRC noted that the Arkansas Senate is expected to soon send Sanders a bill to prohibit transgender students from using public school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. As the B.A.R. reported online this week, Arkansas' legislature is also considering a bill that would classify drag shows as "adult-oriented" businesses in an effort to restrict them. We have no doubt she will sign them.

No comparison

Listening to Biden and Sanders, it's crystal clear which political party has the backs of LGBTQ people and those living with HIV/AIDS, in addition to communities of color, which also includes us. One of Biden's most moving moments came when he spoke about police killings of unarmed Black men as the parents of Tyre Nichols sat in the audience. "Imagine having to worry whether your son or daughter will come home from walking down the street or playing in the park or just driving their car," Biden said. "I've never had to have the talk with my children — Beau, Hunter, and Ashley — that so many Black and Brown families have had with their children."

That resonated with many people of color, some of whom commented on social media that they'd never heard a president reference "the talk" in a speech like the State of the Union.

It's just one example of Biden standing with all people in the country — and we're glad about that.

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