Election 2020

Joe Biden: Coronavirus Is an 'Opportunity' for 'Structural' Change on Voting, Climate Change

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

As America reels from the coronavirus crisis, Democrats stalled vital relief legislation to advance their pet projects. As Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, notoriously put it, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

On Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden — who became the presumptive Democratic nominee on Wednesday as Bernie Sanders dropped out — echoed that exact sentiment. Specifically, he said the coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity for changes to voting laws and climate regulations.

Speaking to CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Biden said, “We have an opportunity, Chris, to do so many things now to change some of the structural things that are wrong, some of the structural things we couldn’t get anybody’s attention on. In a sense, no pun intended, the bandaid’s been ripped off here.”

“Everybody now understands that we have a voting system that is not transparent and clear and available for everyone. Everyone understands that the environment has impacted on this coronavirus and mounting evidence of that. Everyone understands that we have to lead the world — we can’t just sit back because no one else will,” Biden claimed.

The former vice president supported the $2 trillion stimulus bill President Donald Trump signed to help the economy, but he went further. He said America has to “deal with another significant increase in funding for people who need the money just to keep their home, just to keep their apartments, just to be able to keep things going.”

Yet Biden also advocated a “reconstructive” bill, just like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “There’s so many things we’ve learned here that I think the public’s going to be so much more ready to deal with some of the structural change that has to take place,” he concluded.

Biden’s view of the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity for structural change should sound familiar, and not just because of Rahm Emanuel. Last month, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told his fellow Democrats, “This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

Indeed, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had worked out a compromise on a $2 trillion stimulus bill to help the economy amid the crisis, Senate Democrats blocked the bill. Pelosi put forward her own alternate version, jam-packed with liberal pet projects.

Both climate regulations and voting “reforms” — the issues Biden seized upon — featured in Pelosi’s version.

Pelosi’s bill included funds for the airline industry, which has been suffering acutely during the social distancing strategy to fight the coronavirus. Yet that money would have come with conditions. First, the federal government “shall require each air carrier receiving assistance … to fully offset the annual carbon emissions of such air carriers for domestic flights beginning in 2025.”

It got worse, however. By January 1, 2023, air carriers would have to present passengers with “information regarding greenhouse gas emissions resulting from each individual flight.” Such information must be “customized to account for such emissions associated with each aircraft and the flight route of such aircraft” and it must be “made available on the first display of any website selling any ticket for such flight.” This onerous burden would have strained air carriers and may have convinced Americans to avoid flying altogether — which was likely the goal.

Pelosi’s version of the coronavirus relief bill also included a whopping 60 pages of federal mandates for elections.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, noted that “the programs Democrats are forcing States to adopt, like early voting and no excuse absentee ballots, have been known to take some States over 5 years to successfully implement. There’s no way States would be able to follow these outrageous demands before the 2020 elections.” Worse, the bill included a provision for ballot harvesting. The legislation would have enabled political operatives in every state to come to a voter’s house to pick up his or her ballot and take it to the polling station.

“I fully support states who are working to expand absentee voting during this national emergency, but we should be putting safeguards into place to protect against the practice of ballot harvesting, not in support of it,” Davis said. He condemned these measures as “nothing but a dangerous ploy to federalize elections.”

“States are already working around the clock to keep their elections functioning during this national emergency. The last thing they need is for the federal government to impose unnecessary and time consuming mandates.”

Joe Biden did not endorse Pelosi’s bill, but he did support the Democrats’ obstruction against the compromise bill, echoing talking points about a corporate “slush fund.” It seems the Democratic nominee agreed with the spirit of Pelosi’s bill, even if he would not have backed the specific legislation.

Pelosi’s gambit notoriously failed, and Republicans raked her over the coals for it.

“We just watched in the last week 3.28 million people laid off,” McCarthy declared on the House floor amid the spending battle. “And yet for days, Democrats stalled this bill. How many people were laid off as the Democrats fought to change the election law or implement the Green New Deal?! How many parents lost sleep wondering how they’re going to make the payments for the next month?! How many small businesses sat around the kitchen table and had to make that decision they never had to before about laying their employees off — [employees] that are like family?”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the that the Democrats’ bill for “changing the emissions standards on airplanes. Mr. President, what the hell do the emissions standards on airplanes have to do with thousands of people dying and millions of people out of work in the coronavirus epidemic?!”

“Don’t treat this bill like a partisan Christmas list,” Cruz added. He noted that he’d love to abolish the IRS, but he isn’t submitting amendments to every spending bill to get his pet project in there.

Even Saikat Chakrabarti, former chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the principal architect of the Green New Deal, said, “I helped write the #GreenNewDeal and I think this is ridiculous. The tiny little emissions standard increase doesn’t even do anything meaningful to stave off climate change and gives the [Republicans] leverage to get rid of real help for working people. Solve the problem at hand.”

Some former Obama administration officials excoriated Pelosi and her allies for smuggling in non-pandemic-related provisions during the coronavirus crisis.

“Have we learned nothing?” asked Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist who advised then-Vice President Joe Biden in the White House during the 2009 stimulus debate. In comments to Politico, Bernstein recalled that Democrats used the 2009 stimulus to smuggle in all sorts of Christmas wish-list items, and they paid dearly for it in the 2010 tea party wave election.

It seems Joe Biden took the wrong lesson from that battle, and now he’s doubling down on Pelosi’s disgraceful coronavirus politicking.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.