How did US President Joe Biden do the first year?

Dubai: When US President Joe Biden took office on January 20, 2021, he faced extraordinary challenges: a nation divided by racial conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an economy that needed attention.

Biden, at 78, the oldest man to ever become president of the United States, has vowed to heal the country’s democracy, defeat COVID-19, tackle deep-rooted racial and economic issues, and to restore the position of the United States in the world.

At a Wednesday press conference that lasted nearly two hours, Biden acknowledged the pandemic had left Americans exhausted and demoralized, but insisted he had “exceeded” expectations to deal with it.

Here’s a look at Biden’s first year in office.

Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

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During the presidential race, Biden vowed to restore normalcy and said his science advisers would lead with “science and truth” to combat the virus.

When he took office, Biden got off to a good start with the rollout of vaccines.

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President Joe Biden speaks with reporters after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House, February 8, 2021, in Washington.
Image credit: AP

The country’s vaccination campaign was just getting started with just 1% of American adults fully vaccinated, according to data shared by the White House. A year later, more than half a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered and 64% of American adults are fully vaccinated.

Seemingly lulled into a false sense of security, Biden declared July 4 as Independence Day from the virus. The Delta variant hit that summer, reversing the downward trends of the spring and by the time the Omicron variant took over in December, Biden took the blame.

At the start of the administration, 69% of Americans approved of Biden’s COVID-19 policies. Today it is 46%.

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First Lady Jill Biden with President Joe Biden during the 59th presidential inauguration, January 20, 2021.
Image credit: AP

In conservative parts of the country, the administration’s attempts to impose vaccination mandates have provoked fierce political opposition. On Thursday, the Supreme Court overturned its attempt to impose vaccinations on large corporations.

Economic rescue

The Biden administration credits the passage of the $1.9 trillion US bailout with saving the economy from a downward spiral, with mass unemployment and recession.

Biden also signed into law a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package to fix bridges, roads, internet connections and more. This was achieved with Republican support and is something that Trump, in particular, had long promised but failed to deliver.

Chart popularity of Joe Biden

Image Credit: Graphic News / Vijith Pulikkal, Gulf News

However, an even bigger package of climate and social spending, the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better bill, died in the Senate after Biden proved unable to persuade a stubbornly opposed Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, to to vote for. With a majority of just one in the Senate, that meant shelving the bill.

Stock indices and job growth hit record highs in 2021, with an unemployment rate of 3.9%. However, at the same time, Biden is presiding over high inflation – a record 7% in December annual figures.

Democracy and social change

A natural centrist, Biden has struggled to satisfy his party’s left wing or the pressing demands of major electoral groups, especially African Americans.

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Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol in Washington, January 20, 2021, as their children look on Ashley and Hunter.
Image credit: AP

His frequent vows to change America’s reliance on guns and institute reforms preventing police brutality have met with little success, AFP reports.

His landmark suffrage reforms, designed to end discrimination against black people and suppress participation, foundered in the Senate, again due to opposition from just two Democrats. Having such a thin margin in Congress jeopardizes almost all presidential ambitions.

Biden promised to unite Americans in his inaugural address. But with former President Donald Trump’s ideology now dominating the entire Republican Party, Biden is drawn more to his own left-wing base.

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President Joe Biden removes his mask to speak about the COVID-19 pandemic during prime time remarks from the East Room of the White House, March 11, 2021, in Washington.
Image credit: AP

Climate agreement and external relations

“America is back,” the Biden administration said on day one. In many ways it has been. Biden has put the United States back in the Paris climate accord and the multinational bid to control Iran’s nuclear capability.

He moved quickly to reassure America’s oldest and strongest allies in Europe, NATO and across Asia that Washington stood by them as a partner.

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President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, after his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, January 20, 2021.

Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The exit from Afghanistan ended a failed 20-year war and was something previous presidents had only talked about. However, the dangerous and often chaotic final days of the withdrawal have tarnished the United States’ image of professionalism, turning a moment of relief into despair.

The withdrawal brought more than 124,000 people to safety, but also stranded thousands of desperate Afghans.

Troops have faced threats from the Daesh group’s Afghan affiliate, including a suicide bombing on Aug. 26 that killed 13 US servicemen and dozens of Afghans.

Pressure on/of the press

Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, held long, detailed daily briefings, answering dozens of questions.

The president himself appeared relatively infrequently, and when he answered questions, they were usually limited to a handful.

Joe Biden graphic press conference

Image Credit: Graphic News / Vijith Pulikkal, Gulf News

According to the U.S. Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Biden held nine press conferences in his first year, compared to 22 in Trump’s first 12 months.

Trump also conducted 92 sit-down interviews during that time, compared to about 22 for Biden — which regularly draws complaints from White House correspondents.

Immigration

Migrants began crossing the US-Mexico border once Biden became president. In his first 10 months, there were 1.78 million encounters with border agents, a fourfold increase from Trump’s last 10 months in office, according to data shared by AP.

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President Joe Biden congratulates the Mars 2020 Perseverance team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on successfully landing on Mars during a virtual call in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 4, 2021.
Image credit: AP

On his first day in office, Biden ended Trump’s policy requiring people seeking asylum in the United States to stay in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed — otherwise known as the policy ” Stay in Mexico”. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas officially ended it in June. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden thought the program was “ineffective” and “inhumane.”

But a lawsuit by Texas and Missouri forced him to reinstate the policy, and in December the Biden administration struck a deal with Mexico to reinstate it.

Role of Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris, the first female and first black Asian-American vice president, has been entrusted with some of the administration’s toughest issues, including immigration and voting rights. Biden and Harris publicly insist their relationship is solid.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Biden said emphatically that Harris would be his running mate in 2024, quashing questions about her future.

Harris herself has called “gossip” and “punditry” the rumors questioning her place on the 2024 Democratic ticket.

Kevin E. Boling