A Catholic President at One Year

Mary J. Novak
January 20, 2022

In January 2021, NETWORK celebrated the historic inauguration of the United States’ second Catholic President and first female Vice President “heartened by the administration’s focus on racial equity and economic justice.” Let us take a closer look at how their leadership has lived up to our values of Catholic Social Justice.

The first year of the Biden administration has largely been a series of responses to the crises that surfaced during the previous administration. These included the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, racist policies enacted at the U.S.-Mexico border, and growing distrust in our elections, which has led to the passage of restrictive voting legislation across the country.

In March 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan – a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package – into law. It provided relief to families in the form of healthcare, rental assistance, housing vouchers, access to food programs, and other benefits. It also expanded Child Tax Credit payments and made the credit fully refundable, meaning that families most struggling from poverty had access to monthly payments of cash through December of last year.

The expansion of the Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan was an incredible achievement, providing millions of families funds that they used for necessities including housing, food, clothing, utilities, and education, and living up to NETWORK’s values of supporting families’ economic security. However, if the credit’s refundability is allowed to expire this March, 65 million kids will pay the price.

The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last November – with its investments in broadband internet, climate-friendly public transit, and clean water –  was an important step toward building our country anew. Unfortunately, the Build Back Better Act – the administration’s landmark proposal to invest our nation’s families and communities – has stalled in the Senate. So have efforts to protect voting rights, which President Biden said should be passed even if it required a Senate rules change in the form of altering or eliminating the filibuster. Given the filibuster’s racist history, NETWORK fully supports this call.

A major disappointment for the NETWORK community has been President Biden’s failure to roll back the previous administration’s cruel and xenophobic border policies: the Migrant Protection Protocols and the misuse of Title 42. Under these measures and in violation of international law, asylum seekers are either expelled from the U.S. without being allowed to claim asylum or being turned away and told to wait in Mexico while they await their pending court dates. Both of these policies are resulting in assaults and significant harm against our siblings seeking asylum.

In solidarity with migrant-led organizations, President Biden’s continuation of these unjust border policies brought over 80 Catholic Sisters to Washington in early December to process prayerfully past the White House to protest these policies. In 2022, President Biden must significantly shift his administration’s border policies to align with our faith teaching to “love our neighbor.”

Every year of our 50-year existence, NETWORK has analyzed the voting records of Members of Congress, but we have never reflected on one year of a Catholic president’s administration. This is certainly a significant milestone for Catholic justice-seekers, even as the lived reality has included both progress and setbacks for our justice agenda.

President Biden has credited Jesuits and Catholic Sisters with keeping him Catholic, and he has taken office at a time when the vision of a Jesuit – Pope Francis – and the witness of Catholic Sisters offer him a roadmap to rebuilding solidarity, based in encounter. NETWORK advocates for policies that center people who have been pushed to the margins by our systems and structures. And Pope Francis calls us, individually and at the structural level, to seek out, encounter, and integrate those living on the periphery.

Joe Biden is the son of a working class Catholic family who prides himself on remembering his roots. The clear moral measure for his administration going forward is whether it has prioritized the struggles of individuals and families over powerful interests, whether at the border, the ballot box, or simply their day-to-day efforts to stay safe and healthy.

Transforming our politics from a system that upholds the status quo to one that honors the dignity of every person requires dismantling systemic racism, cultivating inclusive communities, and rooting our economy in solidarity. One year into the Biden administration, we can see with greater clarity than ever just how daunting these challenges are and how much work we have to do. We call on President Biden to join us in this necessary transformation.

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