‘Unfair and out-of-touch’: Democrats slam Biden’s White House staff marijuana policy

White House marijuana
A demonstrator waves a flag with marijuana leaves on it during a protest outside of the White House calling for the legalization of marijuana on April 2, 2016.

  • Several Democrats are criticizing the Biden White House over their marijuana policy for staffers.
  • Staffers were asked to resign or told to work remotely due to their drug use, per The Daily Beast.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the policy only affected a small number of staffers.
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Several leading Democrats are criticizing a White House policy that has disqualified or and sidelined staffers for past marijuana use, as first reported by The Daily Beast on Friday.

Sources told The Daily Beast that dozens of young staffers under were suspended, asked to resign, or told to work remotely after informing the White House that they had smoked marijuana recreationally – a marked reversal from President Joe Biden administration’s stance of allowing recreational cannabis smokers to apply for open roles.

The rebuke from members of the president’s own party represents a major policy rift just days after the successful passage of the Democratic-backed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California on Friday shared his displeasure over the policy with The Daily Beast, highlighting that medical cannabis was now the law of the land in most states and Washington DC and expressing that the country had “evolved beyond [former US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions’ reefer madness hysteria.”

“I want to find out how and why this happened, and obviously I’m going to urge them to change course,” he said. “This administration promised a more enlightened approach, but somewhere along the line they reverted to the dogma.”

Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, was even sharper in his criticism.

“What’s happening now is a vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair, and out-of-touch cannabis policies,” he told The Daily Beast. “There is confusion across the country because of out of date laws and the fact that the American public is not waiting for the federal government to get its act together. This is an opportunity for the Biden administration to help end the failed War on Drugs and make a more rational policy for everyone.”

He added: “In the meantime, these young people should not be singled out and discriminated against for something that is legal in much of the country and supported by the vast majority of Americans.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the pushback to the report on Twitter, noting that of the hundreds of staffers hired, just five individuals were no longer serving in the administration.

“The bottom line is this: of the hundreds of people hired, only five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy,” she wrote.

Psaki didn’t specify how many applicants were potentially blocked from actually being hired, but told The Daily Beast that there were other considerations pertaining to individuals affected by the policy.

“In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” she said in a statement. “While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated.”

Other members didn’t bite their tongue in responding to the report, including progressive Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California.

“This is an absurd policy that will block law abiding people – particularly people of color – from pursuing careers in public service,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s all the more unjust that many of these staffers applied for their security clearances with the understanding that past marijuana use would not be held against them.”

While cannabis is legal in Washington DC and 14 states, possession of the drug remains a federal crime, as it is still considered a Schedule I drug, the “most dangerous class” of substances.

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Biden’s stimulus shows he’s governing like Bernie

joe biden bernie sanders
Joe Biden greets Sen. Bernie Sanders before the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa.

  • The House just passed the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, sending it to Biden’s desk to be made law.
  • The package provides direct relief to workers and families in ways that could cut child poverty.
  • In these and other ways, it’s positively Bernie-esque – even though it comes from President Biden.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The historic $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan just passed the House of Representatives for a second time, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk to be made law as soon as this week.

The package is the first major legislation of Biden’s presidency – and it enjoys widespread support. A new Morning Consult poll found that 75% of voters support the package, including 59% of Republicans. In fact, poll after poll has shown the popularity of going big with the package.

The elements of the package that make it so popular are strikingly similar to policies long favored by one of America’s most popular senators: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Since he emerged as a serious candidate for president in 2016, Sanders has loudly advocated for the United States to join the ranks of developed countries that have embraced social democracy.

The stimulus is chock-full of social-democratic ideas: Putting cash into Americans’ pockets, beefing up their unemployment benefits, and providing a child tax credit, to name just a few.

Although Sanders defines himself as a Democratic Socialist, there’s a big difference between “socialism” and social democracy, as the developed countries Sanders admires so much include pro-market democracies, often Scandinavian ones.

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people,” Sanders said in a 2016 CNN debate.

The final American Rescue Plan does indeed echo some of those countries.

So it’s not surprising then that Sanders has thrown his support behind the legislation, calling it the “the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working families in the modern history of this country” in a tweet.

What’s so historic about this stimulus?

Throughout the 2020 campaign, Biden inspired comparisons to (and name-checked) another president who took office during a massive, unprecedented downturn: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In fact, FDR’s “New Deal” agenda of the 1930s was a sea change in American politics, injecting the government into American life in unprecedented ways. But it stopped short of establishing a modern welfare state along the lines of those that emerged in Western Europe. Democrats tried again under President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” of the 1960s, but that also fell short of the party’s dreams amid social unrest and the Vietnam War.

Sanders, now the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has led a generation of progressives in seeking to rekindle FDR-sized ambitions in the party. At least one economist has called for a “New New Deal” to address the pandemic’s recession and economic devastation. It’s not the first time the New Deal has been evoked in modern politics. Leading progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez named her plan to address climate change the “Green New Deal.”

AOC
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hold a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of their Green New Deal proposal outside the Capitol November 14, 2019 in Washington, DC.

With his stimulus, Biden promised to “go big.” The resulting bill spends money a lot like Sanders’ beloved Scandinavian countries.

It includes a one-year provision to expand the child tax credit, where parents could receive up to $3,600 per child. The Democrats want to distribute that in monthly checks.

As Insider’s Hillary Hoffower and Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported, that measure could be key in halving child poverty – and revolutionize the government’s relationship with parents. Some Democrats want to make it permanent. Biden is one of them.

For some Western European countries, that idea is already a reality: Germany and Sweden both have universal child benefits and Luxembourg boasts a monthly family allowance, while Denmark has a slightly lower quarterly one.

The bill also has funding for some of those who have been left behind or systemically excluded from prior economic policy (including the New Deal). It contains the largest-ever investment – $31.2 billion – for Native American communities, who have also been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Another provision, as reported by The Washington Post, is $5 billion to disadvantaged farmers, something Black farmers stand to benefit from.

An analysis from the Tax Policy Center found that the bill could ultimately give the poorest 20% of Americans a 20% boost in income.

Unemployment line
People line up outside Kentucky Career Center prior to its opening to find assistance with their unemployment claims in Frankfort, Kentucky, June 18, 2020.

Some major progressive initiatives are still missing from the package

A federal minimum wage hike (which would’ve been the first one since 2009) didn’t make it into the package. It’s something long championed by Sanders, and an issue Biden ran on as well, but Biden and Senate Democrats ultimately respected the parliamentarian’s decision not to include it in the Senate version of the bill.

There’s also the issue of student-loan debt relief. The legislation includes a tax exemption on student-loan forgiveness through 2025, which could set the stage for student loan forgiveness. But while leading Democrats – including Senator Elizabeth Warren – have called for $50,000 in student loan forgiveness, Biden has said he may cancel up to $10,000.

Chuck Schumer cancel student debt
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a press conference about student debt outside the Capitol on February 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. Also pictured, L-R, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA).

The package also contains an important provision for unemployment, extending it through September, but cutting it from $400 to $300.

While the bill doesn’t deliver on every progressive initiative, it shows a willingness to go big – and a potential shift in how Congress approaches spending.

Millions of Americans will no longer live in poverty because of the act, according to a new analysis from the Urban Institute. That study finds that the plan would reduce the projected annual poverty rate in 2021 by over a third – meaning that the number of Americans living in poverty would shrink by around 16 million people.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” Biden said in a statement.

He added: “On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House – a people’s law at the people’s house.”

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Sen. Bernie Sanders said he thinks President-elect Joe Biden isn’t doing enough to amplify progressive policies

biden.sanders
Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont point fingers at each other during a Democratic Party presidential debate in Washington, DC, on March 15, 2020.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders called out President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, saying he thinks the president-elect isn’t doing enough to represent progressive policies and voices in his cabinet.
  • “Remember, I was the runner-up to Biden and we got a few votes, Elizabeth Warren got a few votes, a number of progressives won seats to Congress,” Sanders said.
  • “Those voices of millions and millions of people deserve representation in the Biden cabinet. And if you’re asking me if I’ve seen that at this point, I haven’t,” the Vermont senator continued.
  • Former Democratic presidential rival Pete Buttigieg, a moderate, is set to join the Biden cabinet as transportation secretary. Progressive voices like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren still have a chance to join the incoming administration as Biden slowly fills up slots in his cabinet.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Sen. Bernie Sanders called out President-elect Joe Biden, saying he thinks Biden isn’t doing enough to support progressive policies.

After winning the Democratic primaries over Sanders, progressives rallied behind Biden in the November election against President Donald Trump. The Electoral College affirmed Biden’s win in the 2020 election on Monday, though Trump still has yet to concede.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, Sanders urged Biden to do more for the “progressive movement in this country” and have their voices be heard in the upcoming administration.

“Remember, I was the runner-up to Biden, and we got a few votes, Elizabeth Warren got a few votes. A number of progressives won seats to Congress,” Sanders said. “Those voices of millions and millions of people deserve representation in the Biden cabinet. And if you’re asking me if I’ve seen that at this point, I haven’t.”

He described other Biden cabinet picks, including former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, a former Democratic presidential rival, as “really good, really bright, really confident people.”

As Biden slowly fills up slots in his cabinet, progressive voices like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are still in the running to fill roles in the incoming Biden-Harris administration.

 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another prominent progressive, made a similar call for Biden to recognize progressive demands and amplify such policies and voices during his term.

During an October interview with Jake Tapper, the New York congresswoman told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she thinks  it is “extremely important” for Sanders to be a part of the Biden-Harris administration.

“I think a lot of people kind of misunderstand about the progressive movement that it wasn’t a slogan when Bernie ran on saying ‘not me, us,'” she said at the time, adding that she thinks it is also “critically important that the Biden administration appoint progressive leaders, whether it’s in Labor, it’s in Treasury, whether it’s secretary of Education, et cetera.”

At the end of October, Warren also reportedly planned on asking Biden to join his cabinet as treasury secretary. However, Biden announced last month that former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen would be his nominee for the position.

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