Biden Must Call For Democracy Reform During Joint Address to Congress

President Joe Biden’s upcoming speech on April 28 in front of a joint session of Congress will capture the zeitgeist shift of a post-Trump America.

Biden will address a nation still reeling from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and mourning the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives due to the pandemic. While recent months have brought much-needed relief and promise of a better tomorrow, our economy is still in recovery, the existential threat of climate change looms large, and our nationwide racial reckoning continues.

As Biden prepares for this historic tone-setting speech, there is one item that must be infused into the narrative: restoring faith in government by ensuring a functioning democracy.

The connective tissue between all the issues the Biden administration must tackle is that Americans, having seen an assault on democracy (and the Capitol building itself), must see that our president believes in a functioning democratic system as the mechanism for accomplishing his big-ticket goals.

In February, we saw all but seven Senate Republicans vote to acquit Donald Trump after he organized and instigated a violent insurrection against the nation itself. He actively worked to prevent Congress from certifying the free and fair election, tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power, and sought to undermine the core functions of our democracy. In the months since, we have seen nationwide attacks on voting rights at the state level. Both events have undermined the public’s faith in our system of government, at the very moment we need it most.

To make real progress on the challenging issues we face, we need an effective democracy that the people can believe in. A democracy where all voices are heard; where the public interest – not corporate special interests – drives policy decisions; and where the people can trust their leaders to do the right thing.

To make that a reality, we need to prioritize comprehensive democracy reform. The Senate must pass the For the People Act and Biden should express his continued commitment to this legislation. We should hear from him about it often, and certainly in this joint address.

The For The People Act is our clearest first pathway toward a more equitable democracy. It addresses long-term systemic problems around corruption, money in politics, and voting access while repairing the damage caused by the disturbing democratic norm-breaking we saw in the Trump administration, culminating with his insurrection at the Capitol.

Just days before Trump’s attack on our democracy, the For the People Act was introduced in the 117th Congress as H.R. 1 and was passed in the House in March. The bill doubles down on the importance of democracy reform and demonstrates Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deep commitment to reforming our campaign finance, ethics, voting systems and the rule of law.

The package has since been introduced as S.1 in the Senate, followed closely by a blockbuster hearing in the rules committee, showing Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s similar commitment to democracy reform. We expect the bill to be voted on in the coming months.

The bill is a bold package that includes the reforms essential to making our government work for all people. It will end partisan gerrymandering. It will reform campaign finance, end dark money and curb the influence of special interests and corporations in our elections. It includes desperately needed ethics reforms that will slow the revolving door between public service and the private sector and rein in executive branch ethics abuses. It also will strengthen oversight and enforcement of ethics laws and rules, among many other critical components.

For decades, Biden has expressed support for the policies needed to create a full, participatory democracy, including his support for the For the People Act. Now is the time for Biden to build on his long history of fighting to end the dominance of big money and protecting voting rights by using the bully pulpit of the presidency to push these reforms forward. The For the People Act is an essential building block in building back better, as trust in government will enable the administration to successfully enact its bold plans on the economy, health, race, climate, and more.

As we all tune in for his joint address, we hope that Biden voices his ongoing commitment to democracy. The American people deserve to know that the Biden administration will continue to make the For the People Act a priority. America will be listening.


Lisa Gilbert is the executive vice president of Public Citizen.

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