Issue Position: Equality and Justice Reform
In America, everyone should be treated equal in the eyes of the law. But it's hard for many in our country to get a fair shake--and has been for a long time. I'm committed to fulfilling that promise by fighting for equal treatment and equal opportunity for everyone.
I'm proud that Massachusetts has led the nation in protecting and promoting equality -- from marriage equality to the Transgender Equal Rights Bill. Each June, I love going to Boston's Pride Parade. I don't march at Pride -- I dance. I dance with people young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight. It's a celebration of our Commonwealth and our country at its best: diverse, inclusive, united, and strong.
I'm glad that the Supreme Court recognized nationwide marriage equality in 2015, and that Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hates Crimes Prevention Act and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" under President Obama. Equal means equal. But there's a lot more to be done to secure equal rights for LGBTQ Americans. This means passing the Equality Act to ban discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in employment, housing, and many other areas, protecting LGBTQ kids from bullying at school, and resisting the Trump Administration's efforts to roll back the progress we've already made. I'm in this fight all the way.
Our criminal justice system plays an important role in keeping our communities safe. I support our first responders, not just for the heroism they perform every day, but in their efforts to crack down on systemic problems like human trafficking and gang violence.
Too often, though, our criminal justice system fails the test of equal justice under law. It's not equal justice when a kid gets thrown in jail for stealing a car but a CEO gets a huge raise when his company steals billions. It's not equal justice when someone hooked on opioids gets locked up for buying pills on the street but bank executives get off scot-free for laundering nearly a billion dollars of drug cartel money. And it's certainly not equal justice when black and brown Americans continue to die at the hands of those sworn to protect them.
It's also not equal justice when the Department of Justice gets in the way of states' attempts to decriminalize marijuana, but is hands-off when local police departments repeatedly violate citizens' constitutional rights. That's why I've worked hard to form a consensus in Congress, leading efforts on the STATES Act, a bipartisan bill with Republican Senator Cory Gardner that would ensure the federal government allows each state to decide for itself what the best approach to marijuana is. And I also support a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.
We need to reform our criminal justice system -- from the interactions between police and the communities they serve to drug policies to our sentencing guidelines -- to ensure it's delivering on the promise of equal justice for all. I will fight until our criminal justice system delivers on that promise.
The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. Throughout American history, discriminatory laws and practices have prevented countless Americans -- from landless men to women to African Americans -- from exercising that right. And those groups fought back at each turn--demanding to be treated as full citizens.
Today, the fight to protect the right to vote continues. Though landless men, women, and many other groups have gained full voting rights, African Americans and other groups continue to be the targets of government-sponsored voter suppression efforts. Efforts to undermine the right to vote come in many forms, from gerrymandered districts created to decrease the voting strength of these groups, to voter ID laws that disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, to voter roll purges designed to kick eligible voters off of the voting rolls.
The Trump Administration has supercharged these efforts with false claims of widespread voter fraud and support for laws and policies that would make it harder for eligible citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
We need to fight to protect the right to vote for all Americans. That means passing laws like the Voting Rights Advancement Act to stop states from enacting laws or policies that make it harder for people of color, the elderly, the disabled, and other marginalized groups to vote. It also means holding the federal government accountable for enforcing the U.S. Constitution and federal laws that guarantee the right to vote. I will fight any efforts to deny the right to vote to eligible Americans and will fight to pass laws that protect and defend the precious right to vote.
America's diversity is an essential part of who we are. It's that diversity, fueled by generations of immigrants from across the globe, that makes us a stronger, more vibrant nation. My son-in-law and the father of my three grandchildren immigrated here as a young adult. His story and countless stories from millions of other families reach back for generations, creating our uniquely American story.
I have long supported common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform: reform that protects our borders, creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and go to the back of the line, and helps us retain talent trained at our world-class institutions.
But the immigration debate has taken an ugly turn since President Trump's election. Today, we live in a country where, too often, the undocumented are wrongly scapegoated for crimes, immigrants are afraid to report things like sexual assault or ask law enforcement for help for fear that they'll be deported, and families live in constant fear of being split up by deportation. And worst of all, this administration is splitting families apart at the border and throwing them in cages. I went to the border. I saw the horrific conditions where children were torn from their mothers and fathers -- many of whom were seeking asylum from violence and oppression. This country should never stand for that.
We need to put a stop to this. We need to pass the Dream Act, end the forced separation and mass deportation of children and vulnerable families, and return to a real debate about immigration reform that is true to the rule of law, to our tradition as a nation of immigrants, and to our need to invest in the future.
The people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. citizens. But months after devastating hurricanes hit the islands, too many families there still lack power and clean drinking water -- and the Trump Administration seems to lack the will to help. I witnessed this myself when I led the Massachusetts congressional delegation on a trip to Puerto Rico earlier this year. I had worked hard to help Puerto Rico's economy long before Hurricane Maria struck, but since the storm, I've redoubled my efforts to help the millions of people on the island and the hundreds who have relocated to Massachusetts.
The Trump Administration refuses to use its authority to provide medium- and long-term housing for hurricane survivors who have relocated to the mainland, including hundreds in Massachusetts. I have worked with Senator Markey to increase pressure on FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to set up its disaster housing assistance program. In the face of continued resistance, we introduced the Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act, which would provide long-term housing assistance for families affected by major disasters, including Hurricane Maria.
And we need comprehensive efforts to help the islands rebuild and recover. I joined with Senator Bernie Sanders to propose a $146 billion plan to help rebuild Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of these natural disasters. This funding would go to renovating infrastructure, rebuilding the electric grid, and helping the people of these beautiful islands rebuild.
It's also time to fully relieve Puerto Rico of its crippling $74 billion in debt. The vulture funds who have snapped up that debt should not profit one cent from Puerto Rico's struggles. I introduced the U.S. Territorial Relief Act, a bill that would create an avenue to comprehensive debt relief for Puerto Rico, helping the island and its residents get back on their feet.
I have led my Senate colleagues in pushing for an accurate count of the fatalities caused by the hurricane, for an investigation of botched contracts with companies that should have been providing relief supplies and services, and for swift assistance to the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra. While Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are home to millions of U.S. citizens, they have no representation in the United States Senate, and that puts an extra responsibility on all of us to step up.
Our country has a history of mistreating Native communities. For generations, the government robbed Native people of their land, suppressed their languages, put their children in boarding schools, and gave their babies away for adoption. It has stolen their resources and, for many tribal governments, taken away the opportunity to grow and prosper for the good of their people.
Even today, the discrimination and neglect continues. We see it in the unmet health care needs of Native children and families, the alarmingly high rate of suicide among Native teenagers, the growing opioid crisis and the broader epidemic of substance abuse that has ravaged so many Native communities. Most violent crimes against Native Americans are perpetrated by non-Natives, and more than half of Native women have experienced sexual violence.
Too many politicians in Washington want to let their Big Oil buddies pad their profits by encroaching on Native land and fouling the rivers and streams there. Meanwhile, even as the economic future of Native communities hangs in the balance, they want to cut nutrition assistance, cut Medicaid, and cut other programs that many Native families rely on to survive.
This must stop.
Washington owes respect -- and much more -- to tribal communities. It owes them a fighting chance to build stronger communities and a brighter future, starting with a more prosperous economic future on tribal lands. For example, banking and credit are the lifeblood of economic development, but it's about 12 miles on average from the center of tribal reservations to the nearest bank branch. Meanwhile, Native business owners get less start-up funding than other business owners. Native communities are far behind the rest of the country in infrastructure. Rural broadband access on tribal lands is worse than anywhere else in America, and more than a third of those living on tribal lands don't have high-speed broadband at all. Without it, Native communities are simply shut out of a 21st-century economy. It's time to make real investments in Indian Country to build opportunity for generations to come.
The federal government should stop giant corporations from stealing tribal resources, expand federally protected land that is important to tribes, and protect historic monuments like Bears Ears from companies that see it as just another place to drill. Washington can take steps to stop violence against Native people, including passing Savanna's Act to fight the plague of missing Native women and girls. Most of all, we can fight to empower tribal governments and Native communities so they can take their rightful seat at the table when it comes to determining their own future.
The Native community has made enormous contributions to the United States -- serving in our military at rates higher than any other group in America. And there is plenty of reason to be hopeful about the future of tribal communities: More Native people are going to college and graduate school and growing local economies, and tribes are showing remarkable resilience in reclaiming their history and traditions, refusing to let their languages fade away and their cultures die. We must stand united with Native Americans and ensure that everyone's voice is heard. Together, we can write a new story of our country's treatment of Native people -- a story that future generations of Americans will be proud to tell.