Opinion: Megan Dewhirst

Biden Calls for Cross-Party Collaboration... The past week in US Politics...

(Content Warning: As a heavy week in the U.S. imbued with sorrow and loss comes to a close, I just want to warn readers that this Refresher will discuss the recent mass shootings in the U.S. this week.)

Image: Maria Lysenko from Unsplash

Calls for Gun Reform Resurfaces After Colorado

The U.S. unfortunately witnessed a harrowing scene in Boulder, Colorado on March the 22nd, as a lone gunman opened fire and left ten dead in a Colorado supermarket, marking the seventh case of mass killing this year. This signals the most recent outcry for gun-control.

President Biden mirrored these demands, calling for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, with a focus on closing loopholes in the background checks for those attempting to buy weapons.

The emphasis Biden places on closing loopholes comes after it was discovered that the Colorado suspect bought the weapon just six days before the assault took place.

Regrettably, the shooting occurred just ten days after a judge blocked a ruling, passed by Boulder in 2018, that put a ban on assault rifles. The 2018 ruling came after the mass school shooting in Florida that same year.

While Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to motion forward two House-passed bills, with President Biden’s support, to expand background checks for gun buyers, Schumer faces an up-hill battle in Congress, as a closely divided Senate may struggle to push through any form of gun reform.

Atlanta Grieves

The Colorado shooting followed another mass killing in Atlanta on March the 16th, which left eight dead at three spas in Atlanta, Georgia. The suspect has been charged with eight counts of murder by the Cherokee County officials.

While the suspected shooter, Robert Aaron Long, claims that race did not play a role in his targeted killings, six women were of Asian descent and many are calling for the authorities to charge Long with a hate crime.

Shamefully, the Sheriff’s Office spokesmen, Capt. Jay Baker, described Long as ‘having a bad day’ and cautioned against calling the attack a hate crime too early.

However, regardless of whether the intent was consciously racially motivated for Long or not, this attack marks a horrific moment in American history and lays bare the damage that anti-Asian rhetoric coming from a Trumpian White House throughout the coronavirus has done.

Subsequently, it has been revealed that Capt. Jay Baker had shared posts on Facebook promoting t-shirts with the text ‘Covid-19: IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA”.

This almost verbatim quote from Trump directly evidences the damage that executive led anti-China discourse has done and how far this discriminatory rhetoric has seeped into society, and into law enforcement as well as citizens.

This post from the Sheriff’s Office spokesman has led many to fear that a fair investigation into this crime will not occur, with fears over systemic racism towards the Asian victims being too entrenched.

Importantly, and despite the Cherokee County officials refusing to call the shooting a hate crime, Biden has implored Americans to counter hate, and spoke to condemn anti-Asian hate.

He emphasised, on the 20th of March, that hate crimes against those who are of East-Asian descent have risen since the pandemic, and that America must work to extinguish this hatred that plagues the nation.

In response to the shooting, Biden has pressed Congress to pass the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act introduced by two Asian-American lawmakers. This bill seeks to ensure state and local support to improve reporting of hate crimes and respond more effectively to the rise in cases.

Consequently, this past week and a half has been full of loss, sadness and grief in the U.S., and has marked a time for serious reflection on the impacts of discriminatory discourse and a return to the age-old debate of gun reform in the U.S.

A look to progression and inclusion

To leave this Refresher on a more inclusive and hopeful note, Rachel Levine became the first ever openly transgender federal official this week. Levine was confirmed by the Senate to take on the role as assistant Secretary of Health in the Biden administration.

Image: Tom Wolf from Wikimedia Commons

Levine is extremely qualified for the role, having served as the former Pennsylvania Health Secretary since 2017. While her expertise on the response to the pandemic shall be welcomed as the roll out of the vaccine goes full steam ahead over the following months. Biden has commended her experience, noting that her ‘steady leadership’ and ‘essential expertise’ shall help to steer the U.S. through the last hurdles of the pandemic.

In a rare show of Senators crossing the partisan line, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined the Democrats in supporting her nomination on Wednesday 24th, which resulted in the confirmation passing 52-48 in Levine’s favour.