National Election Has Major
Implications for All Animals

Advocates must demand President-Elect Biden Come Out of the Gate Strong on Animal Welfare

With no major animal welfare initiatives launched by humane organizations on any statewide election ballots for the first time in 30 years, the national election was nonetheless enormously consequential for animals, with Joe Biden appearing to be on his way to ousting President Donald Trump and with current House and Senate leaders very likely to retain control of their respective chambers.     

Biden and Trump each attracted record numbers of supporters in a race where more than two-thirds of registered voters turned out, adding 20 million votes to the 2016 presidential vote total.  A “Blue Wave” did not materialize for the Democrats, with the party failing to retake the Senate despite polling forecasts pointing to that outcome. House Democrats and pollsters also predicted a 10 to 15 Democratic gain to expand their majority, but the opposite may have occurred.  Republicans may net up to 10 seats. Nevertheless, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will almost certainly control the chamber.

Democrats also failed to flip any state legislatures, even though they had their eyes on gaining control in as many as six state chambers in an election that will guide redistricting efforts and therefore shape the composition of the Congress and state legislatures for the next decade.

While the change at the top of our federal government will be head-turning, the changes in the states were very modest, with Biden not brining coattails for his party.


Biden is likely to win the popular vote by more than 5 million and to amass more than 300 electoral votes, with expected wins in Georgia and Pennsylvania punctuating his victory. When the election results are finalized he will take over as President with a very substantial record on animal welfare, having served in the Senate for 36 years and for eight years as vice president. Animal Wellness Action is pushing for the Biden Transition Team make animal protection a national priority and to release an animal welfare plan.

During his single term, President Trump took some direct actions to benefit animals, including signing several major animal protection laws into law, including the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act. He signed a 2018 Farm bill that contained a series of AWA-backed amendments, the most consequential one being a national ban on dogfighting and cockfighting.

But his appointments to top positions at the Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior – the two key agencies for animal welfare – proved very detrimental to animal welfare.  Right out of the gate, Agriculture Department officials rolled back two key rules for animal welfare: the Organic Livestock and Poultry Protection (OPPL) standards (the first federal farm animal welfare standards) and a Horse Protection rule to ban cruel soring practices. They didn’t let up during their four-year reign, pushing subsidies to the factory farm industry, unleashing Wildlife Services to slaughter wildlife in the West, and taking down a searchable database tracking violators of federal animal welfare standards. Enforcement actions against chronic puppy mill operators cratered, even as the USDA published a rule to prevent delinquent puppy mill operators from resuming operations under the name of a family member.

The Department of the Interior was arguably even worse, with the agency proposing rules to eliminate federal protections for wolves and grizzly bears in the lower 48 states and to open up a savage attack on them on national preserves in Alaska, with hunters legally allowed to shoot the animals in their dens, over bait, and with the aid of aircraft. Recently, they proposed opening up Katmai National Wildlife Refuge to trophy hunting of Kodiak bears in southern Alaska.  Trophies of threatened leopards have been streaming in, and the agency took no action to protect declining populations of giraffes, also targeted by trophy hunters.

President-elect Biden will have an enormous opportunity to help animals by making strong selections for the top slots at Agriculture and Interior.  He can also continue important work at EPA to reduce animal testing – which was an area where the Trump team was very productive and forward-thinking – and to turn around FDA’s archaic rules that require extensive animal testing for all new drug development protocols, including vaccines.

U.S. Senate

The composition of the Senate did not change much with incumbents prevailing in the vast majority of races. The biggest disappointment for animal advocates, however, was the defeat of U.S. Senator Martha McSally, an ethical vegan, dog rescuer, and leader on a wide range of animal protection issues in the chamber.  She had been the Senate’s leading Republican advocate for animal welfare. Two other pro-animal Senators, Senator Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham, turned back enormous challenges. Collins had cosponsored most animal welfare bills and led efforts to pass the Rescuing Animals with Rewards (RAWR) Act. Senator Graham has been a co-leader of the fight to stop horse slaughter and he’s pledged to help create an Animal Cruelty Crimes section at the Department of Justice. 

U.S. House of Representatives

The House Democrat leaders, especially Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, are strong animal advocates, as are key committee chairmen, including Raul Grijalva at Natural Resources and Jim McGovern of the Rules. Perhaps the least animal friendly committee chairman – Collin Peterson of Minnesota – was ousted after 15 terms from his rural and heavily Republican district in western Minnesota. As his career progressed, Peterson showed more openness to some animal issues, including a ban on horse soring, and at one point sponsored an anti-animal fighting bill. But he was a devoted trophy hunter and very aligned with the factory farming lobby. Oregon’s Peter DeFazio, a steadfast champion of wildlife protection and chairman of the Transportation Committee, survived a strong challenge in his largely rural district.

Animal Wellness Action conducted an independent expenditure campaign in favor of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, one of the leading Republican lawmakers on animal welfare in the House.  We are enormously pleased the Pennsylvania lawmaker from Bucks County won re-election.  Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., the other top leader on animal welfare in the House, also prevailed and won by a substantial margin in his district centered in Sarasota.

AWA did not succeed in its independent expenditure to oust Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who failed to support any animal welfare measures in his first term. He survived a challenge from former state Senator Wendy Davis. Several other pro-animal Democrats seeking to flip Republican-held seats also came up short in their challenges, including Rep. Sri Preston Kulkarni in suburban Harris County. There was little turnover in Texas, with pro-animal Rep. Mike McCaul, a Republican leading the effort to ban shark finning, holding his Austin-area seat.

Ballot Measures

While animal protection groups did not initiate any ballot measures this cycle, AWA did weigh in on three ballot measures with implications for animals.

Colorado voters narrowly approved an AWA ballot initiative to restore wolves in Colorado, with just less than 51 percent of voters backing the plan to restore these carnivores in the heart of the Rockies.  In Florida, voters rejected Amendment 4 to require voters to approve any ballot measure twice before it could become law.  AWA recommended rejection of that initiative to render the ballot measure process – which we’ve used to ban gestation crates for pigs and greyhound racing in the Sunshine State – unusable.

In California, a ballot measure to add billions of public dollars for stem-cell research projects is barely passing. AWA is concerned that this measure will produce a raft of new animal testing.

Lame Duck Session and the 117th Congress

The lame-duck session of Congress, to start next week and running continue through the end of the year, will also be consequential for animals.  A bill to ban doping of Thoroughbred race horses hangs in the balance, as does a compromise agreement to end horse soring in America. An anti-shark finning bill also stands a chance of passing.

The House and Senate are expected to pass a year-end spending bill with enormous implications for animals, and perhaps develop a COVID-19 relief package. It’s our hope that the COVID-19 bill includes the Pandemic Prevention Act, which would shutter live wildlife markets in the U.S. and create tools to phase out those incubators of disease throughout the world.

5 thoughts on “National Election Has Major<br> Implications for All Animals”

  1. Come on Joe….What he did with the stroke of a pen and appointment, please undo ASAP! Lives are in the balance!

  2. President Biden,

    Your election has renewed hope and quite possibly saved our democracy. Please extend those rights and privileges to all species, and begin by reversing any of the anti-animal and anti-environment policies of the previous administration.

    Thank you.

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