In his inaugural address on 20 January, Joe Biden declared: “We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era.”
The new US president outlined four crises facing America: the coronavirus pandemic, climate, economy and racial justice. Here is an assessment of his progress on each in his first 100 days:
In the first and more pressing crisis, Biden has been largely successful in changing the trajectory of the pandemic. Vaccine distribution has accelerated and the White House has been active in fighting hesitancy.
The administration has also made a point of celebrating its milestones for vaccinating the public – in late April the Biden team passed the 200m shot milestone.
There have been some bumps. The White House had to rethink its mass-vaccination site program while Johnson & Johnson had to temporarily halt distribution of its vaccine after a tiny fraction of recipients suffered blood clots. At moments the Biden team has had to fine tune and clarify statements on proper health protocols for staving off the pandemic.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president, has also gotten into proxy sparring matches with Republican elected officials over the pandemic. But if Biden’s presidency is to be judged on the pandemic, the figures speak for themselves.
Jeffrey Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said at a press briefing last week: “This crucial milestone of 200m shots in less than 100 days enabled more than 52% of adults across the country to have at least one shot. That’s more than 135 million Americans who are on their way to being protected from this virus.
“Importantly, seniors accounted for 80% of Covid deaths. But now, we’ve seen an 80% reduction in deaths and a 70% reduction in hospitalization among seniors, proving just how effective vaccination is in preventing death and severe disease. This significant progress in a short period of time is a direct result of our deliberate, whole-of-government, wartime effort.
But even as the Biden administration oversees the end of the pandemic, some states are still struggling with coronavirus cases. There is also the outstanding question of how the Biden administration will do in helping the rest of the world battle the pandemic. On Monday the United States announced it would start sharing its stores of AstraZeneca vaccines with other countries.
Early on in his presidency, Biden appointed former secretary of state John Kerry to be climate czar and elevated that to a cabinet-level position. He issued a number of executive orders reversing the Trump administration’s moves weakening car emissions and energy efficiency standards.
In February, Biden restored the pricing standard for carbon to the level it was at during the Obama administration. At the time though that fell short of boosting the cost to the level some climate scientists were recommending. Later the administration increased the cost again to keep up with inflation.
Last week Biden convened a summit with 40 world leaders to discuss the climate crisis. He said: “The steps our countries take between now and Glasgow [host of a UN climate change conference] will set the world up for success to protect livelihoods around the world and keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5C.
“We must get on the path now in order to do that. If we do, we’ll breathe easier, literally and figuratively; we’ll create good jobs here at home for millions of Americans; and lay a strong foundation for growth for the future. And that can be your goal as well.
“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative, a moment of peril but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities. Time is short, but I believe we can do this. And I believe that we will do this.”
Nevertheless, the Biden administration has had to grapple with trying to accomplish its climate change goals with a narrowly divided Senate. The threat of filibusters in the Senate makes it very difficult for the administration to see its policy proposals move through federal legislation.
Coronavirus vaccinations are up, unemployment is down and businesses are reopening. Whether he is talking about infrastructure or the climate crisis, Biden has been pushing a message hard for anyone on the left or right to disagree with: jobs, jobs, jobs.
The economy added 379,000 jobs in February and 916,000 jobs in March, exceeding expectations. The unemployment rate now stands at 6%. Weekly unemployment claims have fallen to their lowest level since the pandemic began. Growth increased to 6.4% in the first quarter of 2021, up from 4.3% in the final quarter of last year.
And the stock market has seen better returns in Biden’s first hundred days than under any president in the past 75 years, despite former president Donald Trump’s prophecy of a Biden crash.
Promising to “build back better”, Biden moved fast to sign a $1.9tn rescue plan on 11 March. It was the biggest federal recovery effort in a generation and more than double the size of Barack Obama’s stimulus package that followed the 2008 financial crisis.
The legislation, which gained no Republican votes in Congress, sent more than 150m stimulus checks to US citizens, extended unemployment benefits, expanded food assistance and boosted health insurance subsidies. Its historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit aims to cut child poverty in half.
The pandemic has exacerbated inequality. The rescue plan did not include a federal $15-an-hour minimum wage but is expected to boost the incomes of the lowest 20% by 20%. After four decades of Ronald Reagan’s low tax, trickle-down economics, it marked a restoration of faith in big government.
Then came a $2tn infrastructure bill, which is likely to take longer and face more significant amendments in Congress. Biden, again touting job creation, is proposing to pay for it by increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% – lower than the 35% it stood at before Trump but still a stumbling block with Republicans.
In the meantime, experts predict that the US economy could grow as fast as 7% this year – a potentially strong tail wind for Democrats going into the 2022 midterm elections.
“The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer,” Biden said in his inaugural address, and he appointed a historically diverse administration that includes, in the interior secretary, Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve in cabinet.
The administration vowed to embed racial equity in its policies as never before. The $1.9tn coronavirus relief bill, for example, $5bn for Black farmers, and was described as the most significant legislation for this group since Civil Rights Act more than half a century ago.
Biden’s first 100 days also coincided with the trial of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, found guilty of murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis. The White House is pushing for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which aims to improve police training, curb use of excessive force and end techniques such as chokeholds.
“George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago,” Biden said after the Chauvin verdict. “It shouldn’t take a whole year to get this done.”
The contrast from last year, when Donald Trump sided with police against Black Lives Matters supporters, was startling. In a sign of Biden’s resolve to exert federal oversight over police, the justice department launched an investigation into the Minneapolis police department.
But Biden has gone back on a campaign promise to create a national police oversight commission in his first hundred days, reportedly after consulting civil rights organisations and police unions and concluding it might be used by Congress as an excuse to procrastinate.
Some observers suggest that Biden, 78, is not undergoing a personal transformation so much as keeping in step with the Democratic party, which belatedly recognises racial justice as a defining issue.
Rashad Robinson, president of the group Color of Change, told the New York Times: “Biden is actually being Biden by being inside of all of the ways in which the current landscape is sending him messages. That is good, but I don’t want to be classifying this as some sort of out-front radical leadership. That would really not represent everything that could be possible if we leaned in more.”