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The First Quarter

We’re just over three months into Biden’s term: not quite the traditional First Hundred Days, but it’s a good time see where he stands. Here are five subjects, with a grade and comments.

The Pandemic and Health Care (double credit) B+

Biden rightly understands that getting control of the Covid-19 pandemic has to be his first priority. If he can’t do that, nothing else will be possible. The initial relief bill pushed through Congress via reconciliation in the Senate devoted very strong financing to addressing the multiple aspects of the pandemic, as well as its brutal economic consequences. While he has taken steps to reduce the number of uninsured, he has not to date proposed systematic improvements in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

The Economy (double credit) B+

The Covid relief bill passed by Congress contains very substantial measures to get help to those adversely affected by the pandemic. The proposed infrastructure bill envisions substantial funding for a wide range of long-term priorities, including areas not traditionally considered as infrastructure, such as child care. Biden is betting on a revival of activist state intervention in and management of the economy. He is pushing for tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, both as a means of paying for his ambitious programs, and redressing the extreme inequality of income and wealth in American society. However, he lacks a clear vision for fundamental transformation of the economy to make it sustainably more egalitarian.

Climate Change, Energy and Environment (double credit) A

Biden has a deep grasp of the problem of structural racism, and fundamentally empathizes with Blacks subjected to violence at the hands of police.

Biden truly understands how serious is the challenge of climate change, and is determined to lead this country and the world in confronting it. He also has pledged to reverse Trump’s dismantling of the EPA and restore it to its traditional mission of controlling pollution. He is pushing hard for renewable energy.

Racial Justice B+

Biden has a deep grasp of the problem of structural racism, and fundamentally empathizes with Blacks subjected to violence at the hands of police. He is perhaps more determined than any previous president (even Obama and Johnson) to address these problems. He has shown less interest in and less commitment to addressing problems of other minorities (e.g., Latinx, Asian, Native American).

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Immigration D

This is the area where Biden most needs improvement. He pledged to reverse the many Trump policies that were overtly anti-immigrant and racist, but to date has made limited progress. He seems to have little idea of how to get the immigration system on a more constructive and humanitarian track, facing the likely long term increase in refugees due to disruptions from climate change.

Foreign Policy and Defense C+

His international stance has been largely traditional liberal internationalism. Reemphasizing alliances is a major part of that. He is trying to establish nuanced relations with adversaries like Russia and China, allowing for cooperation where possible and confrontation where necessary. He has mostly avoided innovation, with the major and controversial exception of his decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan. He has not moved to reestablish relations with Cuba. His proposed budget keeps defense expenditures steady while putting massive resources into domestic priorities.

Grade Point Average: 3.01= B

Complicating and Mitigating Factors

Joe Biden came into office confronted with entrenched Trump policies and personnel that in many cases will take months to reverse. This is most evident in the area of immigration.

While he has acted energetically within his executive authority, much of his ambitious agenda depends on legislative action by Congress, where Democrats have a slender majority in the House, a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Harris as tie-breaker, and an opposition Republican Party that seems little inclined to compromise, and much inclined to filibuster. He could potentially use reconciliation (requiring only a simple majority) for his major initiatives, but he currently doesn’t have all 50 Democratic senators on board for that.

impeachment unavoidable

When Franklin Roosevelt pushed the New Deal through Congress, when Lyndon Johnson pushed Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Great Society, both had overwhelming, filibuster-proof majorities. Never has a president proposed such a sweeping an array of reforms as Biden, with such a slim majority.

He is, in short, doing remarkably well with the hand he was dealt.

John Peeler