Commentary: At 100 days, some successes and some snags for Biden team

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While it may seem way too early to normally begin assessment of the performance of a recently inaugurated president, evaluating chief executives after 100 days in office began with the Franklin Roosevelt administration and has become a political tradition since. For the Joe Biden White House, the record is mixed but positive overall at the 100-day mark.

In terms of meeting the exigent crisis, the Biden administration has done a stellar job with the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, a plan needed and supported by citizens regardless of party affiliation. Further, the Biden medical team has done a good logistical job of furnishing vaccines to states, such that the number of Americans receiving at least one dose doubled the president’s original goal.

At the president’s address to Congress on April 28, he outlined the parameters of his infrastructure plan and his American Families Plan, the total of which would exceed $4 trillion. While ambitious, these goals have real hurdles in front of them. First, it is obvious that the Biden team is modeling their early tenure like Ronald Reagan’s in terms of getting things done fast. However, the Biden group must realize that they are not dealing with President Reagan’s political environment, where, although there was split-party control of Congress, Reagan’s Republican party controlled the Senate. Conversely, the present political setup has a 50-50 Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.

A second reason to be wary of the dual infrastructure and families proposals is their cost. Already running record annual deficits for several years, the Biden White House looks primed to continue that pattern. Moreover, there are serious ramifications for the national debt in approving all of President Biden’s initiatives. At $28 trillion currently, the debt is projected to balloon to $50 trillion in just four years.

Many of the Biden team’s other claimed domestic successes are, in fact, reversals of President Donald Trump’s policies. These areas include reversing the transgender ban in the military; reimposing environmental rules; increasing the corporate tax rate; and stopping funding for a border wall.

On immigration, which traverses the domestic-foreign policy fields, the Biden team deserves points for compassion but demerits for inconsistency and unpreparedness. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to end prolonged detentions of migrants, along with ending family separations, reforming the asylum system, lessening deportations and increasing refugee caps. While accomplishing some of these aspirations, the southern border has been inundated with new immigrants, and there has not been enough space to house them and deal with their cases quickly.

As on domestic policy, several of President Biden’s cited achievements at the 100-day mark are changes from the positions of the Trump administration, including the announced intention to rejoin the Paris climate accord, reengaging in the Iran nuclear deal and renewing America’s affiliation with the World Health Organization. President Biden’s Earth Day climate summit was an earnest attempt to create momentum for global environmental progress.

Early relations with Russia and China portend trouble for the Biden administration and America. On Russia, President Vladimir Putin has been monopolizing areas of the Black Sea, harassing American air defenses in the Arctic and stationing a large number of troops at the border of Ukraine. As for China, President Xi Jinping and communist forces are bullying ships in the South China Sea, abusing personal rights of dissenters and attempting to overtake the independent-minded Hong Kong.

Although President Biden deserves praise for acknowledging the genocide against Armenia, his foreign-policy team seems to be missing an opportunity for a sea change in relations with Cuba, now that Raul Castro has announced his intention to step down as leader of that government. The announced complete withdrawal from Afghanistan comes with the risk of Taliban resurgence.

 

The most visible shortcoming of Joe Biden’s early presidential tenure is his failure to engender bipartisan unity in Congress and his willingness to proceed without Republican support. Maybe that was an unrealistic promise to begin with, but it is one that up until now has defined Joe Biden as a moderate. Granted, it is not helping matters to advance opportunistic concepts, such as forgiving all college debt, stacking the Supreme Court or ending the filibuster in the Senate.

Ultimately, Joe Biden gets points for his demeanor and for fulfilling his promise to return the United States to some sense of normalcy, both socially with the diminution of the pandemic and politically with his respect for American institutions. He is a decent man who exudes empathy.

The composite popularity score for President Biden at the magical 100-day mark is 53%, lower than all presidents except Gerald Ford and Donald Trump at this point across the last 88 years and 15 presidents. So while there is reason to be satisfied with progress up until now, there are certainly challenges ahead for the chief executive and the country.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is a George Washington Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history and political science at Delaware State University. A nine-time presidential candidate, he has taught and published extensively on American institutions.