Biden’s first 100 days: Progress on COVID, economy

New US president faces tougher road dealing with migration, mass shootings and rising calls for racial justice.

US President Joe Biden will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday to set legislative goals for the year ahead [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

During the 2020 United States presidential campaign, Joe Biden presented himself as a healer who would bring unity to a nation in crisis and a president who would be transformative. So far he is succeeding at the first part.

On the two most immediate challenges – ending the pandemic and fixing the US economy  – the new US president has won victories in his first 100 days in office. Other pieces of Biden’s agenda face challenges, however.

Congress passed a massive and far-reaching $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus bill and appears poised to approve a jobs and infrastructure spending measure later this year, fulfilling key campaign promises by Biden.

“Biden was a focused candidate in that regard,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“He talked about the pandemic a lot, talked about the economy a lot,” Kondik told Al Jazeera.

Biden now confronts tough challenges in surging migration at the US’s southern border, mass shootings, and unmet demands from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing for higher taxes on the rich, police reform and racial justice. And continuing political polarisation – reflected in Biden’s narrow governing majority in Congress – means the 2022 elections could deal him a defeat.

“Biden’s had a clear strategy, theme and message” focused on the pandemic and the economy, said James Thurber, a professor of politics at American University in Washington, DC.

“But it’s not necessarily how a president will be remembered,” Thurber told Al Jazeera. Much depends on what happens in the 2022 midterm elections and whether Biden is able to deliver on his promises of “unity”.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington on January 21, Biden’s second day in office [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Coronavirus pandemic

Biden brought back Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease scientist, and restored the US Centers for Disease Control, both sidelined by former President Donald Trump, to leading roles at the White House.

The administration delivered more than 200 million shots of vaccine within its first 100 days – exceeding a benchmark Biden set. That means more than 135 million Americans now have been or are being vaccinated.  Everyone over the age of 16 is now eligible to sign up for a vaccine appointment.

By mid-July, every US adult who wants a vaccine will have been able to get one and the Biden administration will be confronting a new challenge of urging people who are sceptical, or resisting getting vaccinations.

US infection data has improved, although the numbers are still troubling. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have declined and now average about 60,000 a day, down from a peak of 254,000 a day in January. Deaths have dropped to fewer than 700 a day, according to CDC data.

Jobs and the economy

Congress’s approval of a $1.9 trillion spending programme to address the coronavirus pandemic and help rescue the American economy was a huge win for Biden.

“The COVID-19 response bill was his primary success. That was a huge package,” Thurber said.

Biden and congressional Democrats used special budget rules to get past Republican opposition. The bill provided direct relief payments of $1,400 to most US citizens, except the wealthy.

The economic stimulus and Biden’s plans to deliver more in infrastructure spending and job promotion, have helped drive a rebound.

With the US Senate divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, centrist Democrat Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has held Biden’s more progressive proposals in check [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Biden has proposed spending another $2 trillion on an infrastructure and jobs programme but Republicans have countered with a more targeted $568bn plan that has drawn praise from Senator Joe Manchin, a key centrist Democrat.

“Biden will get something done on the American jobs plan. How large it is, we don’t know,” Thurber predicted.

This year, the economy began growing at a five percent annual rate, according to consensus estimates. The stock market reached record highs earlier in April and unemployment is edging down from six percent.


Biden’s actions to reverse former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies at the US border with Mexico have fuelled a rise in border crossings, especially by families and children.

Biden had promised to end Trump’s harsh “family separation” and “remain in Mexico” asylum policies. US border detention facilities have been overwhelmed by a wave of migrants leading to criticism from Republicans of the new administration’s handling.

Biden has proposed immigration reform legislation but has put no political capital behind the proposal which has languished in the congressional committee process. Republicans have leapt to exploit the situation.

Migrants crowd a room with walls of plastic sheeting at a Customs and Border Protection processing centre in Texas [Handout via Reuters]

“Republican political leaders know that immigration and border security are demonstrated mobilisation issues for their partisans,” said James Henson, a pollster at the University of Texas.

There is no political incentive for Republicans to compromise with Biden and national actors like Republican Senator Ted Cruz are more likely to blow up any deal than seek bipartisan agreement, Henson said.

Immigration is an “intractable problem” defined by “politically polarised discourse” and bringing legislators to the middle will be “incredibly difficult” for Biden, Henson told Al Jazeera.

Voting rights, police reform

With much of the Democratic Party’s agenda stalled in Congress, Biden will deliver a formal speech to a joint session of lawmakers on Wednesday setting out his agenda. On Thursday – the 100th day of his presidency – Biden will travel to Georgia.

Senator Raphael Warnock, a progressive Democrat who won a special election in Georgia earlier this year giving Democrats control of the Senate, will be up for re-election. Stacey Abrams, who organised Black voter turnout for Biden is likely to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

“You will have a very powerful one-two punch at the top of the ticket,” Charles Bullock, a professor of politics at the University of Georgia, told Al Jazeera.

And they will be advocating for voting rights, police reform and racial justice. “Those are going to be a very effective message for Democrats,” Bullock said.

Source: Al Jazeera