Biden's first 100 days: Quiet, calm - and going big

Filed on April 25, 2021 | Last updated on April 25, 2021 at 07.29 am

It’s a performance that according to the latest Pew poll wins Biden a 59% approval rating — well above anything Trump ever scored.

The daily (hourly) White House melodrama of the Trump era is history, but there has been nothing quiet about Joe Biden’s 100 days rush to transform the country he inherited.

Biden will deliver a primetime address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday — the eve of his first 100 days mark — with ambitions to be one of the most consequential presidents since Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression.

At 78, he was the oldest man ever to take the job.

And facing the deadliest reported Covid-19 outbreak in the world, a badly shaken economy, and toxic divisions in the wake of four years of Donald Trump, the incoming Democrat had a mountain to climb.

But three months on, he has surprised many with his discipline, his hard negotiating edge, and above all hunger, as he puts it, to “go big”.

It’s a performance that according to the latest Pew poll wins Biden a 59 per cent approval rating — well above anything Trump ever scored.

Biden vowed to “heal” America and with a Covid vaccine program that last week recorded its 200th million shot, he’s fulfilling the promise literally.

The $1.9 trillion stimulus American Rescue Plan that Biden’s party rammed through Congress in March likewise injected money into every corner of the Covid-battered economy. A post-pandemic boom is widely expected.

Now Biden’s pitching another splurge, a $2 trillion-plus American Jobs Plan which would revamp US infrastructure in almost every way, from traditional roads and bridges to broadband internet and electric car development.

Next? That would be the American Families Plan, costing at least another $1 trillion, to fund child care and education.

Republican politicians complain that Biden has unleashed an avalanche of socialism. However, polls show their voters are far more supportive of Biden, allowing him to claim he’s making good on promises to rule in a bipartisan fashion.

Given a chance, Biden would like to change the rest of the planet’s fate too.

Entering the White House, Biden brought the United States back into the Paris climate accords, which Trump had ditched, and last week he went further, convening a 40-nation summit where he announced a doubling of US targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

Everywhere else on foreign policy, he’s moving quickly.

Allies are being reassured that “America is back.” Adversaries are being reassessed, with China and Russia classified as frenemies who must be vigorously opposed — except on strategic issues where cooperation is just as important.

Proving he can take decisive and perhaps risky action, Biden reportedly overruled top generals to set a firm date of September 11 for the final, complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

And on Saturday he broke decades of US equivocation by openly recognizing the mass killing of Armenians a century ago as genocide — a categorization that infuriates Turkey.

Perhaps more than anything, Biden was hired by exhausted voters to make America normal again. Or even boring.

And on that, he has delivered.

Gone is rule-by-tweet. Gone is the swearing during presidential speeches. Gone is the daily insulting of the media or belittling of critics. Gone are the cult-of-personality style rallies.

Still, a glimpse at Washington’s Capitol when Biden gives his primetime address Wednesday will be enough to remind that the country is still far from really normal.

Lingering nervousness in the aftermath of the unprecedented January 6 riot by Trump supporters means the temple of US democracy remains under a severe lockdown.

And continued threat from the coronavirus means Biden will only be addressing a thinned out crowd, far from the high-energy gathering that usually greets presidents on the big occasion.

“It will not look like or feel like, in many ways, what past joint addresses have,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

For the first time in history the two people sitting behind the presidential lectern during the speech will be women — Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, a key Democratic ally of Biden.

But many less friendly faces will also be looking on.

Republicans have been unanimous so far in opposing Biden’s big ideas. That leaves him relying on a wafer-thin majority, which midterm congressional elections next year could easily erase.

And that titanic push for vaccinations and passing the American Rescue Plan were arguably the easy part, compared to what’s coming.

The political minefields start with the out-of-control situation on the Mexican border, where Biden’s rhetoric about bringing humanity to the immigration process is colliding with chaotic reality.

Republicans are piling in on what they see as a sure vote-winning issue at the midterms. And Biden’s leftwing base is grumbling over what it considers his flip-flopping on a campaign promise to allow more refugees.

Police brutality, gun control, government health care — the issues that Biden says he wants to tackle, but which have bedeviled his predecessors for years and risk bedeviling him too, are piling up.

And abroad, challenges from the likes of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia are only just beginning.

Biden did bring some calm to the United States in his first 100 days.

He’ll just be hoping it isn’t the calm before the storm.

Here are three big achievements and three areas where much remains to be done.

1. Covid vaccinations: the raging pandemic was the gravest single threat facing Biden’s administration when he took over on January 20. The solution was mass vaccinations.

On this, Biden is delivering. Last week he celebrated the 200th million vaccine shot administered and Covid deaths have fallen dramatically.

2. Economic stimulus: Biden pushed through a nearly $2 trillion rescue plan for an economy that has been hobbled and hollowed by the more than year-long coronavirus shutdown.

Although Democrats control Congress, their margin is razor thin and he had to work hard to get the American Rescue Plan passed. Polls show it is popular both among Democratic and Republican voters.

3. Foreign policy rethink: Biden’s priority was to undo what he saw as the reckless damage caused by Donald Trump to traditional US alliances.

Inviting Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as the first foreign leader to the White House showed that Washington is serious about its ties to Asia.

The White House says Biden’s own first foreign trip will be to Europe, where he will attend G7, NATO and EU summits in June. The transatlantic alliance, which Trump questioned, is back.

As well as returning the United States to the Paris climate accord and seeking to revive the Iranian nuclear negotiations, Biden has also set a clear date for pulling the final US soldier out of Afghanistan: September 11.

1. Working with Congress: Biden promised bipartisanship but so far he has worked on the back of a razor thin Democratic majority.

That raises growing doubts over his upcoming big projects — an infrastructure bill, greening of the economy, police brutality reforms and immigration.

Midterm congressional elections next year could erase the Democrats’ advantage in Congress.

2. Immigration: nowhere has the smooth running Biden administration stumbled more than on handling illegal immigration at the southern border.

Biden promised a more humane approach after Trump’s hardline crackdown, which relied largely on physical barriers.

But the new administration was unprepared for a surge in people, many from Central America. Facilities overwhelmed with unaccompanied migrant children provided Republican critics with political ammunition while angering Biden’s own supporters.

The administration’s confusing back-and-forth on promises to greatly increase the cap on refugees allowed into the United States has fueled the sense of disarray.

3. Foreign policy trouble: Although Biden moved quickly to repair ties with allies, his plans for dealing with adversaries remain very much a work in progress.

He has also yet to be tested by a genuine crisis. China, Iran, North Korea and Russia could provide one at any time.

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