John Walter interrogates Biden’s actions in the Oval Office so far, and analyses how his decisions may be reflected in future diplomatic tensions.
At the time of writing, it is 81 days since President Biden’s inauguration on 20 January 2021. Encouraging America to come together after the Capitol riot, this marked a dramatic shift of tone from the Trump administration, replacing bickering about the size of inauguration crowds with calm and professional press briefings. But what has the Biden administration accomplished so far, and where will it go next?
Immediately after entering office, President Biden kickstarted his agenda with an impressive array of over 50 executive orders, covering issues like the pandemic, immigration and social equality.
As well as mandating mask-wearing on federal property and reinforcing vaccination efforts, these included many reversals of Trump policies, halting construction of the border wall with Mexico and re-joining the 2015 Paris climate accords.
An impressive start, these covered many early Democratic priorities and reset many Trump policies.
Undoubtedly the greatest achievement of the administration so far is the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package of COVID relief to help Americans cope with the impacts of the pandemic.
Signed into law on 11 March, this extraordinarily varied bill included direct payments of $1400 to all adults earning up to $75,000, expanded child tax credit and increased funding for vaccinations and testing.
“President Biden’s foreign policy has not always been as diplomatic as his rhetoric implies, bearing some similarities to Trump’s more confrontational approach.”
Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a key campaign promise, failed to make it into the bill, being removed by the impartial Senate parliamentarian.
However, little effort was made at bipartisanship, rejecting Republican proposals and pushing the bill through Congress without a single Republican vote.
This raises important questions about President Biden’s brand of ‘unity’.
For their part, the administration indicated the popularity of the bill among voters across the political spectrum to claim bipartisan support.
But without cooperation in Congress, political divides will only increase, especially as Biden turns to less broadly popular policies such as immigration or climate change.
Similarly, President Biden’s foreign policy has not always been as diplomatic as his rhetoric implies, bearing some similarities to Trump’s more confrontational approach.
In March, a two-day meeting with a Chinese delegation in Alaska prompted fierce and unusually public criticisms. Clashing over trade and human rights, the US accused the Chinese of “grandstanding”, while the Chinese responded by highlighting America’s domestic problems.
This suggests that tensions will continue, raising questions about future cooperation on issues like climate change.
Likewise in February, a retaliatory US missile strike on Iranian-backed militias in Syria has provoked criticism from human rights organisations. Democrats, including Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki, have fiercely condemned similar actions by Trump in the past.
Concerns about 78-year-old Biden’s fitness for office have been renewed by a video of him falling over three times going up the stairs to Air Force One.
His first press conference was also heavily criticised by opponents, as he occasionally appeared confused and read from pre-prepared notes.
Although the President’s performance surpassed many expectations, conservatives were quick to criticise, with Fox News host Sean Hannity described it as “a train wreck in slow motion”.
Announcing he would consider running again in 2024, these concerns will only grow.
Despite this, FiveThirtyEight puts Biden’s current approval rating at around 53%. Although significantly lower than Obama’s 60 per cent approval rating in April 2009, it is still much higher than Trump’s, which stood at 40 per cent in 2017.
Looking ahead, Biden’s next priority is a $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill called the American Jobs Plan. This pours another massive raft of spending into transport, housing, broadband and green energy, as well as providing $400 billion for the care industry.
Though the bill has fairly broad popularity, congressional Republicans have again vowed to oppose it, largely because it raises the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 per cent.
Whilst it is likely to be passed, this might undermine bipartisanship further, despite infrastructure being a traditional area for compromise.
Immigration is another important issue, with surging numbers of undocumented migrant crossings, especially unaccompanied children. Vice President Harris has been tasked with dealing with it, representing her first major responsibility in the role.
Recent mass shootings in Colorado, Georgia and California have raised demands for action on gun control, whilst the ongoing trial of police officer Derek Chauvin threatens to reignite last summer’s racial tensions. Voting rights is another major issue, as Republican states pursue restrictive voting bills that Democrats claim target minority voters.
However, to pass significant legislation on these issues, Biden will need to deal with the Senate filibuster, which requires a majority of 60 to pass most legislation.
Whilst many Democrats want to amend or remove the rule to sidestep Republican opposition, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema recently repeated their absolute opposition to any changes.
Without their support, President Biden faces serious challenges pushing bills through a deeply divided Senate, which could bring Biden’s agenda to a grinding halt.