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White House adviser Susan Rice on expanding opportunities for Americans

In his first week in office, President Biden has made several moves to address equity in America. White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, who has echoed the president’s commitment to expand opportunities for Americans, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's dig deeper now into President Biden's executive actions today.

    And, for that, we're joined by Susan Rice, his domestic policy adviser.

    Susan Rice, so good to see you again.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    We heard from Yamiche Alcindor's reporting earlier in the program about the memoranda, executive actions the president is taking around equity, a number of these similar to what President Obama rolled out early in his administration. That was 12 years ago, and even echoes of President Clinton.

    Tell us how what is going on now is different.

  • Susan Rice:

    Well, Judy, it's good to be with you.

    I served in the Clinton administration, the Obama administration, and now the Biden administration. And I can tell you that, while each of the previous administrations that were Democratic worked to advance racial equity and justice, what we have seen in the last week and the first week of the Biden presidency is something quite different and unprecedented.

    President Biden on his first day in office implemented an executive order that will embed racial justice and equity in everything the federal government does, from how it collects data, to how it allocates resources, to how it assesses where we currently stand on matters of civil rights and racial equity. And it will hold each agency accountable for its results. We have never done that before.

    And, today, beyond his whole-of-government, interagency commitment to ensuring that we put justice and equity front and center for everything, he rolled out a number of additional executive actions that will be beneficial for a wide range of Americans, combating xenophobia, for example, against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who faced so much vitriol and animosity and even hate crimes resulting from previous leaders' attempts to target them in the context of COVID.

    He instituted a very important housing regulation that will — or — excuse me — order that would lead to new housing regulations, quite likely, that would roll back what Donald Trump did to try to prevent full implementation of the Fair Housing Act.

    So, there were many actions today, combined what he did last week. But, Judy, this is not the end of what we intend to do. This is six days in. We have a great deal more to do on all aspects of equity and justice.

    The other thing I would mention is that the…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so…

  • Susan Rice:

    Sorry. Go ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, I was just going to say, so, for Americans watching this, what tangible changes are they going to see from this?

  • Susan Rice:

    Well, the first and most important thing, and what President Biden spent a great deal of time today talking about, is, we don't just invest in equity and racial justice out of moral purpose, as significant as that may be.

    We do it because it benefits every single American, not just one group or another. You know, there have been important studies that have been recently conducted by economists, including at Citi, which have indicated that, if we can close the racial gap in income and opportunity, all Americans stand to benefit.

    We will add $5 trillion to the economy over five years and create six million new jobs for everybody. So, this work is the business of making all Americans do better, because, when some of us are suffering, and the gaps are so huge, it actually drags us all down.

    So, what we will do that is different is to make sure that, when we have new policies and programs, that we're thinking about how they can be beneficial broadly. So, for example, in the president's American Rescue Plan, his COVID relief package, there are things this there that benefit all Americans, raising unemployment benefits and extending them, making sure that we have up to $2,000 to all those who need it.

    But there are many steps in there that will benefit those at the lower-income scale and lift half of American children out of poverty and reduce overall poverty by 30 percent. So, this is beneficial to everybody.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you say to some conservatives, like the columnist Andrew Sullivan — and I'm quoting from him — he's accusing the president in one of the things he wrote — of culture war aggression.

    And he went on to say, the president's focus on equity, he said, "would give named identity groups a specific advantage and treatment by the federal government over other groups."

  • Susan Rice:

    What I would say to that is that is a false characterization of what is going on. We are not giving anybody an advantage. We are giving everybody an equal, level playing field, or that's what we aim to do, because the history in this country is, there has not been a level playing field for many Americans, not just of Black and brown Americans and people of color, but people in rural areas who have been left behind, people in urban and suburban areas, disabled Americans, religious minorities, LGBTQ Americans.

    And the reality is, it is holding us all back. So, rather than look at this through a divisive prism of zero sum, if it's good for them, it has to be bad for me, that's not the American way, and that's not how we all grow and prosper.

    We have to recognize that we're in this boat together. We sink or swim together. And when we have a leak in the boat and people are at risk, it puts all of us at risk.

    So, it's not about advantaging one group over another. It's making sure that we all begin at the same place and have the chance to fulfill our God-given potential.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I ask because Andrew Sullivan went on to say, you don't unite the country by dividing it along what he calls these deep and inflammatory issues of identity.

  • Susan Rice:

    Well…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as you know, there are Republicans saying the focus on equity is pointing a finger at Republicans, saying they are racist.

  • Susan Rice:

    Well, that is absolutely not the case.

    And, as President Biden said today, he believes and most religions teach us that we have to look out for one another, and that we believe that most Democrats, Republicans, and independents believe that we are all human beings of equal dignity and equal worth, and we have to respect that.

    But it's a bit rich, frankly, for Republicans to suggest that, by trying to lift up everybody, we are dividing America, when we just had four years of the most divisive, vitriolic presidency that one can imagine, and that division was a political strategy. And, thankfully, it hasn't worked, because it is not what the American people want.

    They want us to come together. They want us to value each other. They want us to find common ground. And contrary to the notion that somehow this divides us, by recognizing that we all have inherent dignity and worth, that we're all worthy of respect and opportunity, we're reaching out hands to one another and lifting each other up.

    That's the America that makes the American dream accessible to not just the few, but the many. And that's what we want to be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One very brief final question. Will there be government funds that go into supporting these new policies?

  • Susan Rice:

    Yes, absolutely.

    For example, in the COVID relief package, which we call the American Rescue Plan, there are funds there for all Americans, but funds that will benefit people who have been left behind as well and people of different backgrounds and races, of all backgrounds and races.

    But the reality is, yes, there will be money for child tax credits, for the Earned Income Tax Credits, for vaccines, so we can get vaccines in everybody's arms, not just those with access to information and resources.

    And the COVID crisis is a perfect illustration of the fact that we are all in this boat together. We are not going to recover from this crisis if our essential workers, our front-line workers, from meatpackers to restaurant workers to hospital workers, are suffering, because we all rely on them to keep our economy afloat and to keep our lives working.

    We need to get our kids all back in school. That's not a Democratic or Republican imperative. That's a national imperative. So, this package and these resources serve us all. And we will make those investments because they are in our shared benefit and interest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Susan Rice, who is President Biden's domestic policy adviser, I know we will want to be checking in with you as the weeks and months go by to see how these policies are progressing.

    Thank you so much.

  • Susan Rice:

    Thank you, Judy.

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