As an educator, mother of three, and someone who navigates life with a compromised immune system, I’m thrilled to have the president grace the City of Angels for the Summit. On Wednesday, I attended the opening session at the packed Microsoft Theater in DTLA. President Joe Biden greeted the foreign dignitaries hailing from the two “American” continents (to include representatives from Central America and South America) as well as Canada and the island nations of the Caribbean.) The “brainstorming” topics for participant-nation-input include cross-border migration, inflation, climate change and health care access.
I’m glad to know this three-day “exchange of ideas” is happening. There’s a pall over us, here in the U.S. In days, it is expected that the U.S. Supreme Court will issue an opinion invalidating Roe v. Wade and fracturing our country into states which recognize a woman’s dignity and autonomy and those that require forced-to-term pregnancies. Daily — in all corners of the U.S. — gun violence is escalating resulting in deaths at mass levels. COVID complications are rising due in large measure to a public ready to “just move on,” and inflation’s creep dominates the news cycle.
But missing from the story (and evidently from civics education) is that there are three co-existing branches of government: (i) Congress (as described in Article 1 of the 1787 Philadelphia Constitution); (ii) the President, his cabinet and the rest of the executive branch, all part of Article II, and (iii) the federal courts of Article III of the Constitution.
To blame the president when (i) Congress won’t act on big parts of the president’s “help America” agenda and (ii) our federal courts are stocked with judges selected by the previous president with judicial ideologies that deny grown women the dignity of making their own reproductive decisions but enshrine the “God-given right of 18-year-olds to own AR-15s” — is SHAMEFUL.
If we, the citizens of America are its children, then we need to more fully understand that instead of two parents driving the family — there are three. And when the three parents are not on the same page — and two of the parents (Congress and the courts) abdicate responsibility and/or undermine the third – you have what we have now. The president and his executive team are carrying most of the load.
Do people even remember back in March 2021, when we were still barricaded inside, that it was the President’s “American Rescue Plan” stimulus checks (part of the $1.9 trillion of distributions) that kept us all afloat?
Biden’s Rescue plan by year’s end had created more than 6.5 million jobs and unemployment dropped to 3.8%, — numbers never seen in America’s recorded history.
And what about all the road and bridge work and highway fixings that have been appearing across America? These were all part of Biden’s “Invest in America” Act (aka the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act from November 2021). Sure, some Republicans took to the airwaves to deride it, but many (to include those from South Dakota and Montana) took the federal infrastructure money anyway.
So exasperated was I with both my fellow Americans’ lack of understanding of how our government works and distressed with only seeing part of the story reported, — last month I wrote a snail-mail letter to the White House. I thanked the president for changing the culture for the immune compromised like me — as masks are no longer an oddball fashion choice. I thanked him too for appointing people with expertise who care about the public good.
The sausage-making of governing, which is often not pretty, ultimately creates something edible. President Biden’s federal agencies have been busy in the kitchen of government fixing up dishes to sustain us – some more tasty than the others. But nourishing dishes prepared by America’s top executive agency “chefs” get little attention.
So, here’s what else I wished I had told the president.
Thank you, President Biden. I’ve also flagged here a few more executive branch accomplishments for which I am grateful.
1) U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR (DOI): DEB HAALAND
Hats off to the happenings at the U.S. Department of the Interior, where Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, and a former congresswoman of New Mexico, helped restore protections for three National Monuments (that the previous administration had clipped) to include Bears Ears in Utah. Her efforts, informed by her life experience, reaffirm the principle that America’s national parks and monuments are to be protected in perpetuity.
Thanks also to Secretary Haaland for issuing an investigative report, in May 2022, long overdue. It discussed the travesty of America forcibly removing Indigenous children from their parents (1819-1969) and placing them in federal boarding schools to “erase the Indian” in them. The public now knows of the federally funded terror and abuse suffered by the children and that has created a “legacy” of generational trauma.
2) U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD): MARCIA FUDGE
An atta-gal to Marcia Fudge, a former U.S. congresswoman from Ohio, and Black woman, now our HUD Secretary. Contrary to the actions of the previous administration, the HUD of today insists that the Fair Housing Act bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No longer will the LGBTQ+ communities be excluded from federal housing. Plus, the HUD Secretary has taken steps to ensure that home-appraisals are no longer under-valued in communities of color, and that people with COVID complications are not evicted from their homes. Under HUD’s tutelage, some 2 billion dollars is being allocated to help Americans suffering from national disasters (to include wildfires in California, hurricanes in Louisiana, tornadoes in Kentucky and earthquakes in Puerto Rico).
3) THE EPA (ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY): MICHAEL REGAN
Although the EPA is not officially a part of the president’s cabinet, and the person at the helm is not called a “Secretary” but rather an “Administrator,” the EPA head has an informal cabinet rank. EPA Administrator Michael Regan, formerly head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, and a Black man, has made it a priority to “bring back science” into combatting environmental damage in America.
Regan has begun reversing some of the over 100 Trump-era anti-environment rules and practices. The EPA has implemented new car and truck gas pipe emissions standards so that vehicles will be more energy and cost efficient, reduce climate pollution, and improve public health. The EPA is also phasing out dangerous hydrofluorocarbon use that has eviscerated the planet’s ozone level.
4) U.S. DEPT. OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICE (HHS): XAVIER BECERRA
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, a former California Congressman of Hispanic descent, oversees the 80,000 employees of HHS at (i) the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS), (ii) the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and (iii) the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC).
Instead of undermining the nation’s health by downplaying COVID, and instead of preventing Americans access to affordable health care coverage, Becerra has improved the health access and outcomes of many. As of now, 35 million people who call the U.S. home are enrolled in coverage under the ACA, with 21 million of them from the expansion of Medicaid (a federal-state partnership). Biden/Becerra opened a “special enrollment” period (January to August 2021) due to COVID, and as a result 2.5 million people who would not have had health care coverage, received health care coverage under the ACA.
5) U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (DOT): PETE BUTTIGIEG
A former Indiana mayor and first openly gay presidential cabinet member, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is in charge at the Department of Transportation. This under-the radar agency among many other things, fixes roads and bridges and controls the time zones across America (except for Arizona). The Secretary has been funding massive infrastructure projects nationwide, to include investing in states to “build out” electric car charging networks along the nation’s highway system and funding mass transit projects (like trains, subways and light rail and bus systems).
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Secretary Buttigieg, the “man who saved Christmas” during COVID because Biden’s federal infrastructure funds helped the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles “process more goods than years before and at a record high.”
Stop Complaining about the Log jam
To my fellow Americans. Stop complaining about the log jam. Follow the coverage of the Summit of the Americas. Know that while the President is here in Los Angeles, federal agencies (to include a few featured above) back in Washington, D.C., are doing the work for all of us.
Biden’s cabinet (replete with women and people of color in leadership roles), have more than just experience in governing, they well know how to think critically, how to use “scientific methods” to gather and analyze data, and most significantly, how to create and implement possible solutions for America and the broader world.
As the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm once said, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
Get off the sidelines. Read verifiable sources. And become an active participant in making this country (and the world) a better place for us all.
Julie A. Werner-Simon is a former federal prosecutor, former constitutional law fellow, and currently serves as a law professor (adjunct) at University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, Drexel University’s Kline School of Law, and is also a legal analyst at Drexel’s LeBow School of Business.