In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden will have no shortage of issues to discuss. He will understandably focus on the developing situation in Ukraine.
However, while the U.S. helps Ukraine defend its democracy, there are several ways that the president can uplift democracy at home to make it work better for all Americans as we head into the 2022 midterm election cycle.
Specifically, President Biden should promise to pursue three objectives: banning congressional stock trades to prevent perceived corruption and alleged insider trading, using executive power to safeguard voting access and throwing his support behind efforts to stop anti-voter laws and attempted gerrymanders.
1. Banning Congressional Stock Trades
To protect voters’ right to know whether elected officials are putting the public’s interest first, President Biden should discuss the need for legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks.
During his 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden promised to work with Congress to enact laws preventing personal financial holdings from influencing government officials. Now is the time to fulfill the promise, as polling shows that the majority of Americans support banning lawmakers from trading stocks.
There is already a law, the 2012 Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, that governs members’ trades. Unfortunately, in the 10 years since it was signed into law, it has done little to prevent the appearance of corruption and has fallen short of ensuring that members prioritize the public’s interest above their own wallets.
The onset of COVID-19 highlighted the STOCK Act’s shortcomings. Several members allegedly received intelligence briefings about the likelihood of the pandemic and based on that information made stock transactions valued at millions of dollars.
Additionally, despite the timely disclosure dictated by the STOCK Act, there have been a number of late or missing filings since the law was enacted, and the current $200 fine for failing to report a transaction is a weak deterrent.
Clearly, transparency alone is not enough to stop violations. President Biden must show his support for holding members accountable, and we're encouraged by reports that indicate the president may highlight this issue in his speech.
Only by changing the status quo can we increase the public’s trust in government and help to create a stronger foundation for our democracy.
2. Using Executive Power to Expand and Safeguard Voting Access
Even though legislation that would establish national baseline standards for voting access stalled in the U.S. Senate earlier this year, President Biden should continue his dedication to forging a path forward on voting rights.
President Biden must continue to pressure Congress to explore all available legislative options but also leverage the power of the executive branch to advance Americans’ freedom to vote. In his speech, President Biden should vow to mobilize executive agencies across the federal government to promote voting access.
With a stroke of his pen, the president could make Election Day a holiday for all federal employees and require that all federal contractors give their employees paid time off to vote and volunteer at the polls.
Federal agencies regularly interact with some of America’s most historically marginalized voters and can lower barriers to voting through easy-to-implement programs.
The Department of Education can reduce barriers to voting for students while the Department of Housing and Urban Development can assist voters with unstable housing. And the Department of the Interior could help Native American voters register to vote and vote by mail.
Finally, several executive agencies could help jailed and formerly incarcerated voters find accurate information about their eligibility, overcome logistical obstacles and better-equip officials at these agencies to guide them through the rights restoration process.
These are commonsense policies that executive agencies can and must undertake to ensure that voters can cast their ballot in this year’s elections.
3. Supporting Efforts to Stop Anti-Voter Laws and Gerrymandering
Finally, during the State of the Union, President Biden should state his commitment to stopping anti-voter laws and gerrymandered district maps from being implemented.
He should acknowledge the important role of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in enforcing the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and its ongoing work to protect voters in lawsuits challenging various states’ redistricting plans and anti-voter laws.
The DOJ can and must enforce the VRA to the fullest extent possible, ensuring equitable representation in government for communities of color and combatting legislation erecting intentional barriers to voting.
Strong enforcement of the VRA benefits Americans of all political persuasions by enabling them to participate in greater numbers.
With the first primary of the 2022 midterms occurring on the same day as the State of the Union address, now is the time to act to ensure that people can trust our democracy. President Biden must use his power to protect the freedom to vote and guarantee that the promise of democracy is realized for every American.