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Biden signs executive orders related to racial ‘equity’

UPDATE: President Joe Biden on Tuesday afternoon ordered the Department of Justice to end its reliance on private prisons and acknowledge the central role the government has played implementing discriminatory housing policies.

The moves came as Biden signed a series of orders and memorandums Tuesday to spotlight the new administration’s effort to make combating racial injustice a central focus of his presidency.

The new orders will recommit the federal government to respect tribal sovereignty and disavow discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community over Covid-19. Former President Trump frequently used xenophobic language in public comments when referring to the coronavirus.

ORIGINAL REPORT:  WASHIINGTON, DC -- President Joe Biden is slated to sign a series of executive actions revolving around racial equity policy on Tuesday, focusing on nondiscrimination policy, prison reform and public housing, according to a senior Biden administration official.

"America has never lived up to its founding promise of equality for all, but we've never stopped trying. Today, I'll take action to advance racial equity and push us closer to that more perfect union we've always strived to be," the President tweeted on Tuesday morning.

The President will direct the Justice Department not to renew any federal contracts with private prisons. Biden had campaigned on eliminating the federal government's use of private prisons.

The official said cost implications of the move away from private prison was not a "motivating factor."

"The motivating factor, however, was the fact that private prisons are not only encouraged profiteering off of human lives but more importantly, I've been shown by the Department of Justice inspector general's report to be subpar in terms of safety and security for those incarcerated," the official said.

Biden will also establish that it is the policy of his administration to condemn and denounce anti-Asian bias, the official told reporters on Tuesday.

"He'll also task the Department of Health and Human Services, with providing, with producing best practices to eliminate anti-Asian bias in the federal government's Covid-19 response and directs the Department of Justice to partner with Asian American and Pacific Island communities to prevent bullying, harassment and hate crimes," the official said.

Biden will issue a memorandum directing Housing and Urban Development to take steps to promote equitable housing, with the administration official saying that the memorandum will direct the department "to mitigate racial bias in housing, and to affirmatively advance our nation's fair housing laws."

The memorandum will also "make clear we have to acknowledge the role that the federal government has played through much of the 20th century and implementing discriminatory housing policies across the United States from redlining to mortgage discrimination, to destructive federal highway construction to redress this history," the official said.

Biden will also take steps to reaffirm the federal government's commitment to tribal sovereignty and consultation.

Reporters were also told by a senior administration official that "the President has asked (the Office of Management and Budget) to examine opportunities to embed racial equity in its work(.)"

Biden has specifically asked the office, which plays a role in crafting the administration's annual budget proposals, to evaluate opportunities to allocate funding "more equitably to target groups who have been underserved or harmed by federal investments in the past" in its annual budget submission, the official said.

The official said that while previous presidential administrations have had "an interest in advancing justice and equity," the Biden administration intends to integrate equity policy holistically across its domestic policy efforts.

"Never before has there been this whole of government approach, where every part of the White House, every agency in all of its work, not in a silo, not in a, you know, an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion but throughout everything they do," the official said.

The official indicated that Tuesday's executive actions are the first among more Biden administration initiatives related to equity -- including supporting future legislation in Congress.

An earlier draft of Tuesday's plans indicated that the President was going to issue an executive order creating a policing commission, something he promised he'd create if elected to office. It also indicated that Biden would sign an order to reinstate an Obama-era policy barring the transfer of military equipment to local police departments.

Biden's voting history in Congress on criminal justice and prison reform issues had an impact on his presidential campaign. And Tuesday's actions, coming less than a week into his presidency, seem to be an apparent attempt to correct what he has admitted was one of his shortcomings.

"You know I've been in this fight for a long time. It goes not just to voting rights. It goes to the criminal justice system," Biden said on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019. "I haven't always been right. I know we haven't always gotten things right, but I've always tried."

Biden helped draft the 1994 crime bill, which set strict federal sentencing standards and which critics argue led to an era of mass incarceration.

In a 1993 Senate floor speech speaking in favor of the crime bill, Biden warned of "predators on our streets."

"We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created," Biden said. "They are beyond the pale many of those people, beyond the pale," Biden continued. "And it's a sad commentary on society. We have no choice but to take them out of society."

Biden's vice president, who was once his 2020 presidential race opponent, said in 2019 that she believed the bill caused mass incarceration.

Then-California Sen. Kamala Harris said she disagreed with Biden, who had said at the time that the crime bill "did not generate mass incarceration."

"That crime bill -- that 1994 crime bill -- it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country. It encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three strikes law. It funded the building of more prisons in the states. So, I disagree, sadly," Harris said.

Biden also expressed unequivocal support, in both 1994 and in the years following, for the law's billions in funding to build state prisons, including in his home state of Delaware. He argued in 1994 that the law should include less money for prison construction than Republicans wanted to spend -- but he emphasized that he too wanted to spend billions.

He was also a longtime proponent of a Police Officer's Bill of Rights measure while serving as a senator, which critics have said would have made investigating police officers for misconduct more difficult.

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