ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Biden has said racial justice is one of his top priorities. And today, he signed four executive actions. He says they are some of his first steps to addressing systemic racism.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We need to open the promise of America to every American, and that means we need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government. It has to be the business of the whole of government.
SHAPIRO: Even before he signed those orders today, some advocates for racial justice were saying they worry the actions don't go far enough. Joining us now is NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
SHAPIRO: To begin with, describe what the president signed today.
RASCOE: Today's announcement - it is somewhat limited in scope. It's not as expansive as some were expecting. The one that may have some impact on mass incarceration is that Biden is directing the Justice Department to not renew contracts with private prisons. This is something that the Obama administration was going to do. Then the Trump administration reversed it. So the Biden White House is going back to that plan. Also, he's directing HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to advance fair housing laws. And there is an action about respecting tribal sovereignty and fighting a rise in anti-Asian discrimination that we've seen in this past year.
SHAPIRO: The president talked about how George Floyd's death at the hands of police this summer marked a turning point in attitudes toward racial justice. But today's actions don't address policing. Why not?
RASCOE: So that's obviously a top-of-mind issue, especially for activists. Today's announcements don't address that at all. But the president's top adviser on domestic issues, Susan Rice, told reporters that there are more things in the works. She said there will be actions on criminal justice issues, including policing, in coming weeks.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SUSAN RICE: We have 1,454 more days left in President Biden's first term. And so give us a little something to do over the next few days.
RASCOE: Rice is also leading a broad review of all federal programs to find ways to address these sorts of issues.
SHAPIRO: You've been talking with advocates about what they want the Biden administration to do, what they're pushing for. What are you hearing from them?
RASCOE: Part of what Biden promised to do on the campaign trail was a new commission on policing. We haven't heard the details on that yet, but advocates are already concerned about this approach. I talked about this yesterday with Breon Wells. He's a political strategist focused on ending mass incarceration. He said it's too soon to pass judgment, but he pointed out that the Obama White House already had a commission that studied policing. Here's more from him.
BREON WELLS: So for us, the commission is not a solution. A new commission is not a solution for us. It's time to very much start to move forward in some of the things that we do know.
RASCOE: Wells wants clear accountability for officers who engage in misconduct. He also said that while ending contracts with privately run prisons is a step in the right direction, he said the administration needs to also end privately run detention centers for people facing deportation. Those detention centers run by the Department of Homeland Security are not addressed by these actions.
SHAPIRO: And in the weeks ahead, beyond a possible commission on policing, what else do you expect might be coming?
RASCOE: The administration is expected to take action on demilitarizing the police - you know, ending those programs that give local departments serious military equipment that we see at these protests. And there are some advocates who are hoping that the White House will push for a legislation that will go further in dealing with sentencing and standards for policing.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe.
RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.