November 28, 2023

President Joe Biden ordered his Justice Department Tuesday to expire its private prison contracts, one of several new planks on Biden’s broader agenda for racial justice.

Biden signed four more executive measures after setting up his Racial Justice Plan at the White House. Actions are aimed at tackling discriminatory housing practices, reforming the prison system, respecting the sovereignty of tribal governments, and combating xenophobia against Asian Americans, especially in the face of the Covid pandemic.

“I ran for president because I believe we are in a battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said before signing the actions. “And the simple truth is that as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist, our souls will be troubled.”

Vice President Kamala Harris watches President Joe Biden sign Executive Orders after speaking on racial justice in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 26, 2021.

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“I firmly believe that the nation is ready to change, but the government must change too,” he said.

The actions are the latest in a comprehensive flex of the presidential powers in the first week. According to a preview from senior administrative officials, Biden signed the following Tuesday afternoon:

  • An executive order directing Biden’s attorney general not to renew DOJ contracts with privately operated penal institutions;
  • A presidential memorandum directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the impact of the Trump administration’s regulatory actions that “undermine fair housing policies and laws.” Based on this analysis, the memo also instructs the HUD to take steps to fully implement the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
  • An executive order urging federal agencies to deal with tribal governments on a regular and meaningful basis;
  • And an executive memorandum directing the Department of Health and Human Services and the Covid Health Equity Task Force to publish best practices in their Covid response efforts to promote “cultural literacy” and sensitivity towards Asian Americans and islanders in the Pacific to consider. The memo also instructs the DOJ to work with these communities to prevent hate crimes and harassment against them.

“For too many American families, systemic racism and inequality in our economies, laws and institutions have still pushed the American dream way out of reach,” said domestic affairs adviser Susan Rice at a press conference prior to Biden’s speech and signing.

“These are desperate times for so many Americans, and all Americans urgently need federal action to help us overcome this moment,” said Rice.

“Building a fairer economy is essential if Americans are to compete and thrive in the 21st century.”

Rice noted in the briefing that Biden’s order to the DOJ does not apply to contracts with other agencies such as immigration and customs.

The order says “nothing about what may or may not happen to ICE facilities,” she said, stressing that the recent measures are “just the beginning” of the government’s racist justice push.

Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 26, 2021.

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Biden put questions of racial justice at the center of his winning campaign against former President Donald Trump. Shortly after he took office, Biden signed an executive order setting his government’s focus on social justice and repealing some of his predecessor’s policies.

In particular, the January 20 action overturned Trump’s September order to restrict federal entrepreneurs’ ability to deliver training on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Biden also ended the Trump administration’s “1776 Commission” which, in the final days of Trump’s tenure, produced a report that was extremely critical of progressive ideologies.

Biden’s command charged the Rice-headed Home Affairs Council with coordinating “efforts to embed principles, strategies, and approaches of justice throughout the federal government.”

“This includes efforts to remove and provide equal access to systemic barriers to opportunity and benefit, identify communities that have been underserved by the federal government, and develop strategies to advance equity for those communities,” it said in this regulation.

Biden is expected to return to the state dining room at 4:45 p.m. to speak about his government’s efforts to contain the Covid pandemic.

– CNBC’s Christian Nunley contributed to this report.