Biden Should Make Fair Representation a Cornerstone of First Major Speech

Joe Biden speaking at a podium with an American flag in the background. Kamala Harris out of focus next to him wearing a mask.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks to Department of Defense personnel, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. Department of Defense photo by Lisa Ferdinando

President Biden will deliver a speech before the joint session of Congress on April 28 – an opportunity for him to outline what policies he will prioritize in the coming year and set the tone for his presidency.

In this first major speech, Biden should state his commitment to making the promise of democracy real for us all and the importance of passing the For the People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1).

President Biden faces a historic set of challenges: carrying us out of a crippling pandemic, rebuilding our economy, advancing racial justice, grappling with climate change and more.

In order for the United States to meaningfully respond to these problems, Americans must know that their elected leaders are acting in the best interest of the public.

They must know that their representatives are responsive to their constituents – not wealthy special interests – and that their voices are wanted and valued. To make real progress moving forward, America needs a fully functioning democracy.

Biden has the power to advance this kind of transformative change. The For the People Act would restore power to the hands of the American people by tackling all of the shortcomings of our democratic system.

This bill has been deemed a top priority for the House and the Senate. It has passed the House, and there will be a markup on the bill in the Senate on May 11.

President Biden has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to try to make the promise of democracy real for us all and express his firm commitment to passing the For the People Act in his first major public address as president. Doing so would go a long way to show how important democracy reform is to the new administration.

The For the People Act will advance voting rights for all, strengthen ethics laws, increase transparency, curtail partisan gerrymandering and decrease the influence of wealthy special interests in our political system.

It is a bold piece of legislation that will make our democracy more representative and accountable, making possible reform on other pressing issues that President Biden was elected to pursue.

Moreover, the For the People Act has broad-based, bipartisan support. Polling indicates that 67% of Americans – including 56% of Republican voters and 68% of Independent voters – are in favor of passing H.R. 1/S. 1.

The bill is bipartisan in origin: many of the proposals draw from bipartisan bills of past Congresses introduced to address issues like fixing the broken Federal Election Commission (FEC) or ending partisan gerrymandering.

The For the People Act offers some of the most comprehensive advances our democracy has seen in decades; just as Democrats and Republicans have come together in the past to enact historic voting rights, campaign finance and ethics legislation, we have the bipartisan power and support to make H.R. 1/S. 1 law now.

The Senate and House have followed through on their intent to prioritize fair representation for Americans: the House passed H.R. 1 this year and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that his caucus is united in support of the bill, and it will be brought to the floor.

Additionally, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain expressed strong support for passing H.R. 1/S. 1 in a Feb. 24, 2021 interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid. President Biden must now express the same urgency and commitment to passing the For the People Act.

On the campaign trail, Biden expressed that policies to create a fully participatory democracy will be among his first priorities once elected. His first major address offers the chance to push these reforms forward and continue the fight to advance voting rights and end the dominance of money in our politics.

After four years of ethical breaches, full-fledged corruption and attempts to deny our freedom to vote by the former president, President Biden now has the opportunity to demonstrate to the American people that government can and should be accountable to the people.

Voters cast their ballots in record numbers in 2020 with the promise of a better government: a government of the people, by the people and for the people. President Biden should carry through on that promise and voice his steadfast commitment to passing the For the People Act immediately.

We all deserve to have a government that is accessible, transparent and responsive to us.

Kate provides research and writing support to program staff across all of CLC’s issue areas.