- Presidential contender Joe Biden’s many years of lawmaking may hamstring him with Democratic voters who resent his harsh drug legislation from the 1980s and 1990s.
- Biden downplayed his role in that era’s drug legislation, saying he got “stuck with” it as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- Progressive voters may see him not only as a relic but a vehicle of racial injustice.
Presidential contender Joe Biden’s many years of lawmaking may hamstring him with Democratic voters who resent his harsh drug legislation from the 1980s and 1990s and connect it to today’s devastating opioid crisis.
Biden downplayed his role in that era’s drug legislation, saying he got “stuck with” it as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his record paints a different picture, according to a Thursday Politico Magazine story.
“The reality of Biden’s long career as a drug warrior, however, suggests … he chose to make it a priority of his 36-year tenure in the Senate,” according to the story, which is just the latest piece to highlight the disconnect between Biden’s past drug policy and the Democratic Party’s present.
Now his potential voters may see the “tough on crime” legislation Biden worked on as policies that worsened the opioid epidemic, mass incarceration and even racial injustice.
Disproportionately Harming Minorities?
Biden said he made a “big mistake” in supporting harsher sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine at an April 11 panel on the opioid crisis, according to Politico Magazine.
“His legacy didn’t trap a generation. If you think about the children, and if you think about the impact on those children’s children — we’re talking about three generations,” Jasmine Tyler of left-leaning Human Rights Watch told Politico Magazine. “A century of slavery, 60 years of Jim Crow, followed by Biden’s policies of mass incarceration and the Drug War.”
A Biden campaign official responded to those allegations in an email to Politico.
“Sen. Biden joined with most other Democrats from urban, suburban and rural districts and across racial lines i[n passing the 1986 and 1988 drug laws],” the official wrote. “The crack cocaine ‘epidemic’ was an issue of bipartisan concern, and the legislative response to the situation enjoyed broad support among liberals and conservatives across the country.”
Potential Voters In Areas Hardest Hit By The Opioid Crisis
The Politico Magazine story highlighted that Biden co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which federal prosecutors used to block the opening of what could have been the country’s first supervised injection site in Philadelphia. Many progressives herald supervised injection sites staffed by medical professionals as a solution to virtually end overdose deaths.
Public health experts believe that crime and drug laws that Biden wrote or sponsored have had wider implications by perpetuating the opioid crisis, reported Politico Magazine. Neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart, Columbia University’s psychology chair, told Politico Magazine that Biden co-authored a law that leads to overdose deaths because witnesses fear they will face criminal charges once they call 911.
“Biden wrote and passed this law that allowed drug users to be prosecuted as murderers. … [The law] decrease[s] the likelihood that somebody is gonna help someone who is overdosing,” Hart told Politico Magazine.
Biden’s intersection of tough on crime and tough on drugs legislation could even be traced to a higher overdose rate for ex-inmates, Politico Magazine suggested. Ex-inmates are more likely than other individuals to die of drug overdoses. Biden authored a crime bill that included the federal “Three Strikes” law and encouraged states to require convicts to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates blamed pharmaceutical companies for the epidemic and said Biden thinks “executives whose gross malfeasance led to this [opioid] crisis must be held fully accountable,” according to Politico Magazine. Bates also touted the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion “the single biggest step ever taken to address the opioid epidemic and the backbone of addiction treatment in America.”
2020 Democrats Face Challenges
Biden may face some of the same campaign trail challenges that his Democratic rival, Sen. Kamala Harris, has been subjected to.
Harris’ past life as a prosecutor has proven to be a double-edged sword: she cites her experience as California’s Attorney General as proof she can “prosecute the case against this president.” But her critics were not pleased that Harris threatened to put parents of truant children in jail when she was San Francisco’s district attorney.
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