Joe Biden’s Legislative Record Anything but Progressive

Interview with Andrew Cockburn, journalist, author and Washington editor with Harper's magazine, conducted by Scott Harris

In March, while at a Democratic fund-raising dinner in Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden declared that he would be “the most progressive candidate” in the presidential race. Biden launched his 2020 presidential candidacy with the release of a video on April 25, in which the former senator from Delaware declared that there’s a “battle for the soul of this nation.” The video announcement focused on the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in which counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed, and President Trump’s later assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Since his announcement, corporate media has focused much attention on criticism leveled at Biden for his conduct as Judiciary Committee chairman during the testimony of Anita Hill, part of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’ controversial 1991 confirmation hearings. Before the official launch of his candidacy, Biden also came under attack for allegations that he had a habit of improperly invading the personal space of women.
Biden, who spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president, has amassed a long legislative record – that when examined – provides insight into his politics, policy priorities and his relationships with corporate America. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Andrew Cockburn, journalist, author and Washington editor at Harper’s Magazine, who explains why he believes that Joe Biden is anything but progressive, as set forth in his article, “No Joe! Joe Biden’s Disastrous Legislative Legacy.” 

ANDREW COCKBURN: In my Harper’s piece I really went back to the 1970s soon after he got into the Senate, you know, as then a very young senator. One of the sort of, you know, big issues of the day was school busing and an effort by the federal government and the federal courts to bring about school integration, which has been resisted not just in the South, but in the North by moving children around Cincinnati. We are so residentially segregated in this country certainly then and as indeed now. The idea was to bus children from, you know, white districts to black districts and vice versa.

And Joe really came out very strongly and sort of vociferously against that. He made it his signature issue really, in the 1970s and he actually sponsored legislation that really weakened it, prevented the federal government from expending funds to assist school busing, which the then lone African-American senator – I think he was the first one since Reconstruction Ed Brooke of Massachusetts – called it the greatest setback to civil rights since the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

So when he went on from there. In the 1980s among other inequities, he really championed this whole tough on crime approach, which was the effort of the corporate-wing of the Democratic Party to regain, to win the ever-elusive Republican’s swing voter by instituting ever-harsher crackdowns, really on black people with, you know, among other things – the notorious distinction between powder cocaine and crack cocaine. I think it was disparity was 100 to one in terms of sentences. You know, white people use powder cocaine and they got comparatively -speaking light sentences. Thanks to Joe’s legislation, black people with crack cocaine got very heavy sentences. Thanks to Joe.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Andrew, you also go into some history of Joe Biden as it affects banking regulation. Critically important to what happened in 2008 with the economic meltdown here in the U.S. and around the world. There was a bill called the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 that Joe Biden played a role in, Review for our listeners what Joe Biden did in terms of deregulating the banks and repealing the Glass-Steagall Act.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Right. Well that act you just referred to, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, was the repeal of Glass-Steagall and just to remind people, Glass-Steagall was a Depression era, a New Deal era, really piece of legislation that separated investment banks from commercial banks. It meant what it really meant was that banks couldn’t gamble with your money, your money and mine. So that, you know, all money in the bank is protected by the insured thanks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And Glass-Steagall meant that they couldn’t then go off and take our money and sort of make bets with it, which had been going on in the run up, to the Great Crash.

And there was a steady, remorseless effort by the banks to get that repealed, especially in the 1990s. And finally in 1999, they succeeded with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley, and Joe Biden voted for that. In fact, he was an active proponent of that, although he was not alone there. I mean, the Clinton administration was all for it. I mean, it was the very, very unfortunate period when the Democratic administration and indeed everyone, I mean, it was a very bipartisan consensus that, you know, Wall Street should be free freed from regulation to do whatever they felt like – which was what they felt like was, of course, we found out in 2000 date was the, you know, the near collapse of the global economy.

BETWEEN THE LINES: From what we know about the record you’ve researched, Andrew, what’s your feeling about Joe Biden and how he’s pitching his campaign as being a progressive guy?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Pretty upsetting because he’s not a progressive guy. I mean nothing in his record even suggests he’s progressive guy. In fact, pretty much everything in his record suggests he’s not a progressive guy. It’s the usual story of the Democratic party. You know, like Obama ran as a populist and really, you know, and made all sorts of progressive noises and his appointment was basically a Citigroup administration stuffed with people from Wall Street. And I wouldn’t look for too much different than a Biden administration.

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