This year’s State of the Union address will be delivered by a president who has been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. At this critical juncture, with the integrity of our democracy called into question, it is worth taking a step back to consider all that happened in 2019.
Over the past year, we’ve seen the Trump administration continue to push an agenda that is deeply at odds with the values and priorities of young adults in this country—people who disproportionately struggle with student debt, gun violence, and our broken criminal justice system, and who are especially determined to address the climate crisis and reform our immigration system.
Thankfully, their agenda has not gone unchallenged. We’ve seen young people raising their voices—staging massive climate strikes across the country, protesting human rights abuses at the border, and rallying in support of impeachment. We also saw the youngest and most diverse freshman class of U.S. representatives in history take office after being elected, in part, as a result of a surge of young voters in 2018. Over the past year, leaders in the House of Representatives have managed to forcefully push back against the worst impulses of the Trump administration while advancing progressive policies with the potential to create massive change. It is important to note, however, that Senate leaders have obstructed nearly every bill the House has put forward, which has meant that many of these policies are—for now— unlikely to ever even be taken up for a vote.
To get a better sense of where we are now and what we’ll need to build on in 2020, we’ve taken a closer look at the statuses of the issues that Generation Progress network members have been advocating on in recent years.
In addition to conducting extensive impeachment hearings and voting to impeach President Trump, the House of Representatives introduced two bills designed to restore and protect voting rights for all Americans. HR-1 “For the People Act,” introduced and passed in January of 2019, would prioritize voting rights and election integrity by expanding and improving access to the ballot box for the most marginalized communities, including young people. HR-4 “Voting Rights Advancement Act,” passed in December of 2019, would restore Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ensured oversight of states and local governments that have a history of undermining voting rights, especially for communities of color.
Just one month after its historically young and diverse freshman class was sworn into office, the House of Representatives passed HR-8 “Bipartisan Background Checks Act,” the first major gun violence prevention legislation passed in over two decades. Six months later, the House Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Jerry Nadler, held a markup of three new gun violence prevention bills: an extreme risk protection order bill that would allow judges to issue an order to remove firearms from persons determined to be at risk of harming themselves or others, a bill that would outlaw large-capacity magazines, and a bill that would bar those convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime from owning a weapon. Despite the fact that there were 417 mass shootings and over 35,000 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2019, Senate leaders have refused to take up any bills related to gun violence, and have indicated that they will not cooperate on any gun violence prevention measures moving forward.
From the devastating wildfires in Australia to the humanitarian disasters created by Hurricane Dorian, it’s clear that climate change is already impacting the lethality and intensity of extreme weather throughout the world. Despite these concrete examples and the findings of research released by the United Nations and others, Trump’s EPA continues to attack climate science and roll back important environmental protections, increasing air and water pollution. While Trump and his team deny climate change, the House is taking action—they introduced the 100% Clean Economy Act in November, which aims to help the country reach a 100 percent clean economy with net-zero emissions across all sectors of the economy by 2050. Young people have also continued to speak up, coordinating the Youth Climate Strike in March and the Global Climate Strike in September and demonstrating to the world that young people, and particularly young people of color, are passionate and influential leaders on this issue.
It may not come as a surprise that the Trump administration’s immigration policy in 2019 continued to prioritize cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Deaths in detention are at a historic high, but rather than address the gross mismanagement and human rights abuses occurring within those agencies, the Trump administration instead made drastic cuts to our legal immigration system— proposing higher fees for immigrants trying to renew their DACA status or applying to citizenship through naturalization; charging people to exercise their right to apply for asylum, effectively ending the asylum program and forcing tens of thousands of asylum seekers ‘remain’ in dangerous and even deadly conditions in Mexico; and implementing “public charge” rules that would impose a wealth test that would drastically restrict legal immigration. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives passed HR-6, the American Dream and Promise Act, which represents the most broad effort to date to protect young undocumented immigrants without compromising their safety by giving additional funds to agencies like ICE and CBP. This year, advocates and activists will be looking to the Supreme Court, as it prepares to make a decision on whether protections for DACA recipients will remain in place after the Trump administration attempted to end the program.
As of February 2020, forty-three million Americans collectively owe $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt. And young adults have a disproportionate share of this debt: roughly one-third of all people ages 25-34 have a student loan. Despite clear evidence that this crisis will only grow in severity, the Trump administration’s Department of Education, led by Betsy DeVos, continued to deny justice to cheated students and ignore the needs of future borrowers. A reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is also several years overdue—the House approved legislation on this front in 2019, but the Senate remains at an impasse on the package. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Generation Progress and the Center for American Progress released a report in June of 2019 that outlines six steps that policymakers can take to alleviate and eliminate the student loan debt crisis—and the issue has since become a major area of discussion in the presidential primary elections.
Criminal Justice Reform
As of 2016, people ages 18-35 comprised more than fifty-five percent of all arrests, which is nearly double their percent of the population. Young men of color are overrepresented in that group, with Black men of these ages between seven and nine times more likely to end up in prison compared to their white peers. Recognizing the need for reform in the justice system, the House introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge prior convictions, and use federal tax revenue from marijuana sales to reinvest in communities most harmed by the war on drugs. The House also introduced the Clean Slate Act, which would require automatic sealing of certain criminal records to remove barriers for people so they can find housing and employment after they have completed their sentences.