Not Biden his time

Joe's hectic first 100 days

With the standard presidential term in the United States lasting 1461 days, you may find yourself wondering what could possibly be achieved by evaluating one’s performance after just 100 days. It is, indeed, a strange concept and one which dates back to the 1930s, when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s extremely productive first 100 days led to high levels of popularity. It was then that the strangest of yardsticks was created.

Whether it is fair or not, US presidents are judged on their first 100 days and Joe Biden, the nation’s 46th president, is no different.

In an election that was as much a reaction to Covid-19 as Obama’s 2008 election win was a reaction to the financial crisis, Biden was not an inspiring candidate. In many ways, he has not been an inspiring president. Let’s not forget that Biden was not elected due to his charisma, eloquence or bold ideas. He was elected to steady the ship. A ship that had been piloted by an outlandish, attention-hungry demagogue, for the last four years.

Peek beneath the surface of his first 100 days in office, however, and you will find that Biden has made some major moves through policies introduced.

Biden appears to be doing what many Americans, and onlookers from further afield, have been hoping for: he’s made the presidency boring again.

Facing the virus

Coming into office, nobody could deny Biden’s, and the United States’, biggest challenge was to overcome the pandemic and put plans in place for the recovery. This was done by the signing into law of the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus package worth $1.9trillion. Included in the ambitious plan are provisions that are mainly aimed at aiding lower and middle-income citizens, such as child-care subsidies, expanded health insurance access, expanded unemployment benefits and food stamps.

One much-talked-about element that was proposed but did not make it into the final draft of the recovery plan was increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour from the current – and measly – $7.25 per hour. 

The recovery plan has been well received by the majority of US citizens. When the all-important midterm elections roll around next year, Biden and his team will be hoping they will not see a repeat of 2009, where the credit for Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was forgotten about when the polls opened and democrats lost important seats.

A stimulus package alone was never going to be enough to deal with the ongoing pandemic, however, and another key step on the road to recovery is the rollout of vaccines. On this point, Biden has – as his predecessor would have suggested – put America first. 

The vaccine rollout in the US has been a massive success, with an estimated 30% of the population already fully vaccinated. On the other hand, for a man who claims he wants to reinstate the US as the leader of the western world, he was reluctant to share his country’s overwhelming supply of vaccines until it was absolutely necessary. Only recently, when it became clear that India was on the verge of complete catastrophe, did he agree to send 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the Asian country, having previously shared very small amounts with his next-door neighbours, Canada and Mexico. 

Changing on climate

During his first 100 days in office, President Biden signed 42 executive orders. Amongst these were two first day reversals of orders that were signed by Trump and would have led to irreparable damage to the environment. On his first day, Biden announced that the US would rejoin the Paris Agreement and revoked a permit that had been granted to the Keystone XL pipeline.

President Biden’s stance on climate change was clear before he took office and his actions have followed it up. His ambitious target of a 50-52% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 represents a true signal of intent. 

Biden has also offered to host a climate summit, once again expressing his desire for the US to be front and centre, battling global challenges with its allies (and indeed, its enemies). His desire for the perception of the US President to return to how it was pre-2016 is, unfortunately for him, a fantasy. Too many world leaders fear the return of Trump, or a like-minded candidate, in four years time to put all their eggs in the red, white and blue basket. 

Foreign policy

If there is one thing Biden wants, and perhaps needs, to achieve during his term, it is to restore the United States’ image on the global stage. For four years, world leaders laughed at, and then quickly grew tired of, Trump’s incompetent diplomacy. 

Biden is well known for his differences to Trump in this department, though we are yet to see too much of this just yet. 

As we learned this month, all US involvement in Afghanistan is to come to an end. President Biden has chosen the symbolic date of September 11th as the deadline for all troops to be removed. With this action, he will become the 4th leader to attempt to bring to an end the US’ longest war, which has seen more than 2,000 US military lives lost, as well as countless Afghan lives and trillions of US taxpayer dollars spent. To say this is overdue would be the understatement of his tenure.

Moving slightly west, President Biden stated this week that the US would recognise the then-Ottoman Empire’s genocide of the Armenian people as just that. For anyone well-read on the topic, this is common knowledge. However, with the announcement, Biden is perhaps trying to show Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that his crimes – like those of his ancestors – will not go unnoticed, even if they continue to go largely unpunished.

If Biden is to bring the US back to the forefront of international diplomacy, he will need the help of the EU. Though not yet a major diplomatic force, the EU still holds considerable influence and its relationship with the US is one that has helped to ensure peace in this part of the world over the last century. The feeling in Brussels is positive, with EU officials stating there has been a clear change in atmosphere since day one of Biden taking office. Both parties have imposed sanctions on Russia and Belarus in recent months, as well as getting back to business on collectively tackling climate change.

One international relationship which has not changed too much is that with China. Though doing so in a much quieter way, Biden has so far taken a similar stance to Trump, engaging with China, all the while aware that two-thirds of US citizens hold a negative view of the Asian powerhouse. We will have to wait and see what happens over the coming months and years before we can categorically determine Biden’s approach to US-China relations. 

Undoing Trump

In the lead-up to the election last November, many pundits claimed that if Biden got elected, it would be because he is not Trump. While this is not strictly true, in his first century of days in the Oval Office, Biden has set to work on undoing many of Trump’s barbaric actions.

62 of Biden’s orders, including 19 of his executive orders, were signed to overturn legislation implemented by the previous administration. Once again signing up to the Paris Agreement and ensuring the US rejoined the World Health Organization were top priorities for Biden back in January. He has followed these moves up by removing what became known as the Muslim travel ban, the ban on transgender people joining the military, and halting construction on the border wall.

These are changes that cut right at the core of what Trump was trying to create: an America for white, cis, wealthy Americans.

If there is one area in which Biden has not shown his moral superiority when compared to Trump, it is migration. Having promised so much, he has failed to deliver. Child detention facilities – or concentration camps as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez labelled them when Trump was in office – are still in operation. 

During the election campaign, Biden assured citizens he would increase the historically low 15,000 migrant cap – put in place by, you guessed it, Donald J. – to 125,000. Once in office, this quickly became the target to hit by the end of 2022, with a goal of 62,500 set for this calendar year. Now, 100 days down the line, Biden has said the 15,000 limit will remain in place. This flip-flopping on such an important topic is hardly inspiring and it displays some terrible leadership qualities on his part. 

Furthermore, Biden is well able to follow in Trump’s footsteps regarding misleading the public, as one Washington Post study suggests. According to the piece, Biden has made 67 false claims since he took office. Although Trump’s numbers in this area were astronomical (511 misleading claims in his first 100 days) that does not give the new commander-in-chief carte blanche to start spewing lies to the public.

What’s the verdict?

What do the first 100 days tell us about Joe Biden as a leader? Like any other employee who is judged by the first 7% of their term, not much. It is abundantly clear, however, that he will be a very different leader from the man who most previously held that office. 

Where the public saw Trump as loud, arrogant and unpredictable, Biden is seen as dull, uninspiring and (relatively) reliable. And that’s ok. Watching the President of the United States on television should not be entertainment. Imposing sanctions is not a game. New policies should benefit the population as a whole, instead of lining your friends’ pockets. Biden’s first 100 days have shown he intends to be the kind of president we were used to seeing in the US before his predecessor.

Whether or not he will be a success over the coming four years, it is too soon to say. What we do know is that this is exactly what the population voted for. They needed someone to steady the ship and, although his rivals would never admit it, it seems Sleepy Joe is wide awake at the helm.