In 1994, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware stood proudly behind Bill Clinton as he signed into law a reform bill that touched nearly every aspect of the US criminal justice system.
More than 25 years later, amid national protests against racial injustice in law enforcement, the Democratic presidential nominee is grappling anew with the implications of legislation he helped author and which experts say opened the door to an era of mass incarceration that devastated African American communities.
At a town hall in Philadelphia on Thursday night, Biden was asked by a voter about the legacy of the 1994 bill, which she said included “prejudice against minorities”, and what his view of the legislation was now.
Biden sought to defend the bill as a product of a different era, while arguing that elements of it were wrongly implemented.
Pressed by the moderator, George Stephanopoulos, to say if his support for the bill had been a mistake, Biden replied: “Yes, it was.
“But here’s where the mistake came,” he said. “The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally.”
In an eight-minute response, Biden said the bill passed with the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and Black mayors around the country. He noted that it contained the landmark Violence Against Women Act and an assault weapons ban.
Conditions were different now, he said, as activists demand an overhaul of policing and incarceration policies in response to police killings of Black Americans.
“Things have changed drastically,” Biden said.
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When Vernon Jones, a black Democratic state representative from Georgia, crossed party lines to deliver a passionate endorsement of the president’s re-election bid at the Republican convention, the GOP greeted him like a rock star. Now there’s evidence the label has gone to his head.
In arguably the most ill-advised and dangerous crowdsurf since electro dance legend Steve Aoki broke a concert goer’s neck in a dinghy, a maskless Jones launched himself into a mostly maskless audience at Trump’s rally in Macon, Georgia, on Friday night.
Riding a sea of red Maga hats packed tightly together in contravention of CDC guidelines, the grinning 59-year-old lawmaker, in suit and tie and with thumbs raised, was passed overhead from deplorable to deplorable, to use a term for Trump supporters Jones used in a tweet defending the stunt.
“Yes, I surfed that crowd!” Jones said in a follow-up message. “To the haters – stay mad! You’ll be even more mad come 3 November.”
On social media, reaction was swift and brutal. One Twitter user dubbed Jones “Captain Covid” alongside a photograph of him in superhero pose. Others denounced him as an idiot and a loser, living in fairytale land.
Republicans hope Jones, who was first elected to the Georgia state house in 1992, can help shore up the black Republican vote in his state. Trump won Georgia from Hillary Clinton by more than five points in 2016, but recent polls show the president trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden by almost one and a half points.
At the Republican convention in August, Jones tore into Democrats’ handling of race issues, as one of a number of first-night speakers of color to deliver a similar message.
“Why is a lifelong Democrat speaking at the Republican National Convention? The Democratic party does not want black people to leave their mental plantation. We’ve been forced to be there for decades and generations,” Jones said, in a controversial speech he later said he intended to be “a culture shock”.
Jones resigned his Georgia House seat in April, after first endorsing Trump. But he rescinded his decision days later, claiming he had received “overwhelming support”.
There is something worse than Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican party.
Yes, even worse than a party that doesn’t take seriously a pandemic that has killed more than 217,000 Americans. Worse than a party that doesn’t care about locking up children in cages at the border or separating them permanently from their parents. Worse than a party that celebrates a leader who was impeached for abusing overseas military aid as a tool to smear his political opponent.
What could be worse than Trump’s version of Republican politics? It’s the Trump-driven conversion of the Grand Old Party into a cult of unhinged conspiracy wingnuts.
The QAnon cult is a bizarre world where everything makes sense of nonsense: where Trump is a savior of the nation’s children from a secret pedophile ring of satanic Democrats and deep state officials, who will be overthrown in some great awakening. And that’s the sane, simplified version of the story.
It should be easier to condemn these fringe-heads than the white supremacists who form such a loyal base for this white supremacist president. But it isn’t. Because to the spiritual leader of the cult of Trump – Donald himself – there are no fringe-heads who think he’s a savior. They are all just very fine people.
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The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has announced the six topics that will be covered in the debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in Tennessee next Thursday: “fighting Covid-19”, “American families”, “race in America”, “climate change”, “national security” and “leadership”.
The debate will take place at 9pm ET and will be moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker. CPD has not announced any modifications to the format of the event, even though it said after the last debate that it would announce “additional structure … to the format of the remaining debates, to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues”.
The first debate, which took place on 29 September, was largely seen as a chaotic rumble between Trump and Biden, criticized for its lack of substance.
Of course the debate line-up itself changed after Trump contracted Covid-19 and refused to participate in a virtual debate. The two opted for town halls instead.
It was a hug that would have shocked many, even in a year without social distancing: Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, ending a contentious week of supreme court confirmation hearings with a full-body embrace of Lindsey Graham, the committee’s Republican chair.
The act and her remarks about the hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett – “This has been one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in” – sparked calls among progressives for her retirement, and outcry that she had been in office for too long. Many of the California senator’s constituents and her more progressive Democratic colleagues have been arguing that for years.
“There have been a number of us in San Francisco that for a long time felt that, without taking away from what she has accomplished, it has gotten to a point where she is out of touch with where San Francisco is and where California is,” said David Campos, chair of the San Francisco Democratic party, not speaking on behalf of the organization.
“She represents the past of San Francisco and California,” Campos continued. “It’s not surprising that at a time when we’re facing a crisis, when we have a rightwing supremacist being rushed through the supreme court, she’s not up to the task. And it’s not because of her age. It’s just because of who she is.”