[Column] Biden has done well in his first 100 days, but can do more

Posted on : 2021-05-04 17:06 KST Modified on : 2021-05-04 17:06 KST
It will take a long time to repair a broken body politic that suffered so many insults and injuries during the Trump era
John Feffer
John Feffer

By John Feffer, author and co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies

After four years of Donald Trump, a tightly contested presidential election last year, and an insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, the United States remains a deeply divided country. It’s not just Congress, where the Democrats have a very narrow majority. It’s not just the state legislatures, where the Republicans have a slightly larger majority (54 to 45).

It’s also the public at large. President Joe Biden enjoys only a slim positive approval rating. According to a recent Washington Post poll, 52 percent of Americans approve of the president’s performance as he approaches his hundredth day in office. An average of all polls of his performance so far puts him closer to 54 percent. That’s certainly better than Donald Trump, who was at 42 percent after 100 days in office. But Barack Obama, for instance, was much more popular at this stage of his first term.

While 90 percent of Democrats approve of Biden, only 13 percent of Republicans think he’s doing a good job.

This partisan divide is all the more remarkable given what Biden has done in his first three months to benefit all Americans.

The United States is administering nearly 3 million vaccinations daily against COVID-19. Over half of the population over the age of 18 has received their first shots, and more than one-third has been fully inoculated. Both the infection rate and the death rate have dropped dramatically since peaking in January.

The administration also managed to push through a major economic stimulus bill that totaled nearly $2 trillion and included $1,400 checks for most Americans. It has prepared an equally massive infrastructure bill and will soon roll out an “American Families Plan” devoted to child care, family leave and education.

Despite a lack of cooperation from the outgoing administration, the Biden team has managed to push through most of its appointments through the Senate, though some still require approval. In the first 100 days, these new federal appointees have spent a lot of time just cleaning up the messes created by Trump officials who were either incompetent or deliberately trying to destroy the administrative infrastructure of their agencies.

On foreign policy, the administration has rejoined organizations and agreements, like the World Health Organization and the Paris Agreement on climate that Trump opposed. Biden held a major international climate conference on Earth Day, extended the last major strategic arms control treaty with Russia, and has been negotiating re-entry into the Iran nuclear deal.

The new administration has announced the withdrawal of the last American troops from Afghanistan by September. As part of its commitment to human rights, it even overturned decades of American policy by boldly acknowledging the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against its Armenian population.

All of this has been accomplished so far without any major scandals, any obvious incompetence and any mean-spirited attacks coming from the White House. It has been accomplished, moreover, with almost no support from the Republican Party. Not a single Republican in Congress supported the pandemic relief package, even though many prominent Republicans at the state and local level were enthusiastic about the federal funds that were about to flow into their jurisdictions.

The Biden administration has not accomplished everything it set out to do. Domestically, it didn’t create a police oversight commission or push through any gun control legislation.

Internationally, it has failed to push hard for greater equity in vaccine distribution. So far, one in four people in high-income countries have received one of the approved vaccines, but only one in 500 people have been so lucky in poorer countries.

The Biden administration has begun to share doses with Canada and Mexico. It has recently agreed to remove obstacles to the export of the raw materials for making vaccines and to send medical equipment to India, which is currently the hardest-hit country by the pandemic. And it will be sharing with other countries up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that the United States has been stockpiling.

But the administration rejected an earlier proposal from France to share vaccines with African countries. And it has been cool to the idea of permitting patent-free production of the vaccines for the poorest countries. Providing additional funds for the international effort to provide drugs to the needy is meaningless when the wealthiest countries have effectively cornered the market with their pre-orders.

Biden has also vacillated on the question of immigration and refugees. He immediately reversed some of the worst Trump-era policies, like the construction of the wall on the Mexico-United States border and the travel ban from Muslim-majority countries. The new administration has ceased separating families when they come over the border, though children are still arriving unaccompanied by their parents.

The administration is, however, facing a surge in people coming across the US southern border. This surge is largely seasonal and a result of pent-up demand from the COVID-19 border closures. Nevertheless, administration critics falsely claim that the numbers constitute a “crisis” that results from Biden’s reversal of the previous administration’s policies.

This deliberate weaponization of the immigration issue, a tactic Republicans have so effectively used in the past, has helped muddle the administration’s approach to refugees. Although people who qualify for refugee status – because they are fleeing their countries for political reasons or because of war – fall into a different category than immigrants, they are often confused in the public mind.

And that explains why the Biden administration backed away from its initial promise to raise the annual ceiling on refugees to 125,000 from a low under Trump of 15,000. Biden didn’t want to seem to be allowing even more people into the country, regardless of their reasons.

When members of his own party criticized the administration’s reversal of its own promise, Biden backed down and said he would indeed lift the limits on refugees. So far, in 2021, only 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States.

As the refugee issue demonstrates, the Biden administration is still navigating a highly divided political environment. It is willing to invest considerable political capital on its two priority categories: ending the pandemic at home and boosting the US economy. For everything else, it is treading more carefully.

In 100 days, the Biden administration has accomplished a great deal. It promises to do even more. But it will take a long time to repair a broken body politic that suffered so many insults and injuries during the Trump era.

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