Brief recaps and videos from selected such events follow, beginning with the most recent.
U.S. Elections and Domestic Policy
SIPA professors Ester Fuchs, Christina Greer, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, and Joseph Stiglitz (a late additon to the program) convened with moderator Anya Schiffrin for a discussion that focused on domestic issues, with particular attention to economic policy and also the importance of combating racism in the United States.
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Stiglitz stressed the need for Democrats to convince Americans that their policies are indeed better for the economy, while Hertel-Fernandez considered economic possibilities for the Biden administration—such as student-loan forgiveness, advancing worker health and safety, and, potentially, a nationwide jobs program. Greer noted the harsh division and oppression that exists in our country and emphasized that racism needs to be addressed in a meaningful way.
Fuchs observed that, in the midst of a recession, cities have little latitude to spend on their residents—meaning that the federal government must step up. She explained that federal spending has continually decreased in the past few decades and suggested this trend that should be reversed during an economic crisis.
— Aastha Uprety MPA ’21
The View from the Campaign Front Lines
A panel of SIPA students and alumni discussed their experiences campaigning and organizing for President-elect Biden during the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Zachey Kliger MPA ’22 and Professor Michael Nutter, who served eight years as Philadelphia's mayor, moderated.
Nutter recalled teaching his first SIPA class, during which he and his students experienced the election of President Trump. Then as now, Nutter encouraged his students to get involved.
“I want all of you at those tables,” he said. “I want all of you in those rooms and using your experiences to help make different decisions. Please think about going into public service.”
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Andres Chong-Qui Torres MPA ’19, the founder of SIPA’s student group SIPA Civic and Voter Engagement Coalition (CiVEC), described his work helping to launch Creyentes con Biden (Believers for Biden), which was dedicated to engaging Latinx voters of faith. Torres is optimistic that civic engagement will continue, owing to the influx of young voters.
Torres discussed how in the final days of the campaign in Philadelphia, his SIPA network came into play when he contacted Nutter for help reaching out to the Black community for voter turnout efforts.
Jasneet Hora MPA ’19, a speechwriter who worked as a Biden volunteer, said that “virtual campaigning is not going anywhere. The infrastructure of text banking, phone banking, and voter protection came together as a wonderful way for people to get involved. We need to make sure those people stay engaged, even when Trump is not on the ballot.”
Michelle Meza Reusche MPA ’20 used her mother’s phone with an international calling plan to phone bank from Peru.
“I wanted to get engaged in the Biden coalition in a professional role,” she said. “I decided to travel back to the states for this opportunity to join the campaign.”
Meza Reusche referenced Van Jones’s impassioned post-election comments on CNN: “This election was not about different policy menus — it was about decency, unity, integrity, and respect for diversity.”
Nutter said that Trump, and Trumpism, will not abate. “Enjoy the moment,” he said. “But there is still work to be done.”
— Brett Essler
The panel, which was organized and hosted by Anya Schiffrin, senior lecturer and director of the specialization in Technology, Media, and Communications, was sponsored by TMaC, CiVEC, and the SIPA Diversity Committee.
Managing Presidential Transitions and Governance:
Perspectives from the White House
It’s time for more compromise and collaboration. This was the focus of the discussion between two senior policy experts—Joshua Bolten, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and Jacob Lew, former chief of staff to President Barack Obama and a visiting professor at SIPA—who joined a post-election panel discussion with SIPA’s Dean Merit E. Janow.
The two former chiefs of staff from opposing parties have remained good friends for decades since managing their respective administrations’ transition crossovers. They spoke fondly of infamous pranks played on the other team and the patent difficulties of managing multiple moving parts and people through a White House transition. Yet both emphasized the spirit of an orderly and peaceful transition of power that guided their every move. As Lew commented, this dignified tradition is one of the greatest hallmarks of American democracy.
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As for what is taking place now with President Trump’s challenging of the 2020 election results, both policymakers remain cautiously optimistic about an eventual professional transition between the Trump and Biden administrations. What will ultimately get us there, they contend, is more willingness to work across party lines, to stand up to one’s own party, and to lean into compromise.
“We’ve not experienced a president trying to intentionally sabotage the transition of a new government, and I don’t think we’ll see it today,” said Bolten. “We should remember that a transition isn’t just one man to another; it’s a whole government. There are many capable, good public servants in government today who will, when the time comes, do the right thing.”
Lew agreed that career government officials will be prepared to perform the functions of their jobs no matter who is president, but raised the question: What will the country and the world see as America’s election results remain unacknowledged? Will what they see undermine faith in our democracy?
“In the end, I hope we get through this period with another orderly transition.”
— Christina Sewell MPA ‘21
U.S. Elections, Foreign Policy, and National Security
This post-election discussion convened Dean Merit E. Janow and SIPA professors Thomas Christensen, Stephen Sestanovich, and Stephen Biddle, along with the writer Susan Glasser of the New Yorker. Participants discussed the major foreign-policy and national-security issues facing the United States.
Biddle said that domestic politics in the next four years will have a significant influence on what kind of foreign policy the nation conducts. For example, he said, political gridlock on issues of climate and the economy may lead to the outside world viewing the United States as “a failed state” and no longer a model for democracy. All the experts emphasized the importance of renewed multilateralism.
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Turning attention to China, Christensen said that whether it’s working with the World Health Organization, re-entering the Paris climate agreement, or negotiating with Iran, China will play a role. The United States may use its engagements in these multinational efforts to assert dominance over China. The experts acknowledged that while both parties were anti-China during their campaigns, U.S. allies don’t want a cold war — so it will be important to find smarter ways to constrain the rising nation.
The panelists also discussed how Democrats can maintain their values on globalization without being seen as elitist; doing so may require using domestic policy to support those at home who are hurt by international trade deals. Glasser emphasized that moving forward, the Biden administration must outline a clear agenda on foreign policy, which it now lacks. The experts also answered questions from attendees about U.S. relations with Russia and India, and the role of Big Tech in foreign relations.
— Aastha Uprety MPA ’21
Post-Election Roundtable Discussion
Professor Robert Shapiro hosted a roundtable discussion devoted to the 2020 presidential election. The election—which remained unresolved at the time of the discussion—was significant in part, Shapiro said, because the United States needed to show the world it could hold a free and fair election. He expressed concern that the election might be contested by President Trump, and in the interim we have seen those concerns borne out.
The election itself saw record turnout among both Republican and Democratic voters. Answering questions from students and faculty, Shapiro addressed varied topics including the growing place of racial-equality rhetoric in the Democratic Party dialogue, and the surprising virtues of the Electoral College—including the facts that down-ballot races remain competitive, and recounts can be contained to one state.
While Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate and former vice president, seemed then to be inching close to victory, Shapiro also noted the possibility that the Senate would remain in Republican control. (This remains possible, and seems to some the most likely outcome, pending the outcome of a pair of special elections in Georgia on January 5.) A Republican majority in the Senate would likely cause problems for the Democrats, meaning that the 2022 midterm elections would be critical in turn. Shapiro said he expected Biden to focus on a COVID-19 economic recovery plan and to continue discourse aimed about bringing the country together. An effort to combat climate change, another Biden administration priority, would likely face resistance from the GOP.
— Aastha Uprety MPA ’21