As he addressed Congress for the first time since taking office, Joe Biden completed his 100th day in office as President of the United States this week. Unlike some previous presidents, there was to be no honeymoon period for Biden as he entered into office during an extraordinarily turbulent period in US history. Given the number of challenges which have arrived thick and fast in his first 100 days in office, how has this veteran of American politics performed so far?
Biden’s first challenge and opportunity to make a materially positive impact on the lives of Americans arose prior to his inauguration. In conjunction with the presidential election, Senate elections were held in the state of Georgia which resulted in no candidates receiving a majority, thus necessitating a run-off election. In the run-up to this election, which was held on the 5th of January, the Democratic senate candidates, along with Joe Biden, promised that that Americans would receive $2000 in stimulus checks which would ‘go out the door immediately’.
Unfortunately for Americans suffering from the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, this promise was not fulfilled. It would take two months for the stimulus bill to pass Congress and the lump sum promised was reduced to $1400. While the bill contained other positive attributes, this was seen by many as a missed early opportunity for Biden to set the tone for the rest of his presidency.
Democrats attempted to argue that, when talking about $2000 stimulus checks, what they really meant was that they would be adding $1400 on top of the $600 checks which Donald Trump had signed off on in December 2020. However, this was not convincing to critics.
Biden has also disappointed those who were hoping his leadership would result in the US taking a different foreign policy approach in the Middle East. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was his decision to bomb targets in Syria which left 22 people dead. Further, his administration has not yet re-entered the Iran nuclear deal after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018. While Biden has expressed interest in re-entering the agreement, this is conditional on Iran halting its actions which have breached the terms of the deal.
It’s not all bad news though. In early April, the US joined talks in Vienna which were aimed at reviving the accord. However, Biden has insisted that Iran take the first step in re-entering the agreement by halting its nuclear enrichment activities, despite the fact that it was the US who withdrew from the agreement in the first place.
Further examples of the US’ bad habits can be seen in Joe Biden and the Democrats’ proposals on military expenditure. At a time when the US’ military budget is already far larger than those of the next several countries combined, Joe Biden has proposed to increase this sum to $753bn for national security overall, and $715bn directly for the Pentagon. This marks the highest amount the United States has ever spent on its military. In addition, Biden hopes to boost this number further to $769bn in future budgets, an astronomical sum.
In addition to military spending, Biden has outright rejected calls for police departments across the US to have their large budgets reduced for distribution to other areas including mental health and social services. Instead, he has argued that police budgets should be increased even further and that policing reform should result in greater diversification among police officers and, on a slightly more positive note, less jail time for non-violent drug offenders.
European leaders have welcomed Biden’s arrival in the White House, as he has so far displayed none of the caustic and transactional style politics as Donald Trump did. In an effort to smooth relations with European allies, Biden sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Brussels to discuss matters including the US’ involvement in Afghanistan and the future of NATO among others. It remains to be seen what concrete results will arise from this, but European leaders have no doubt sighed a breath of relief in the months following Donald Trump’s departure.
From the Irish perspective, Biden’s election marks a sign of hope that the Good Friday Agreement will remain in force and that the fragile peace in Northern Ireland will continue to hold in spite of the challenges arising as a result of the UK’s exit of the European Union. Biden’s support of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland, as well as expressions of concern during loyalist riots earlier this month, are both positive signs that the current administration takes peace in Ireland seriously.
In another positive move, Biden has promised to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There is a large degree of scepticism surrounding this promise, particularly as the last two administrations (including one under which Biden served as Vice President) repeatedly made and broke promises to withdraw troops from the war-torn country. However, supporters remain optimistic that Biden will finally follow through on this promise, even as military insiders and GOP leaders step up their opposition to this decision to end the longest war in the history of the United States.
Perhaps the most important success for Biden and the American public in general has been the success of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout across the United States. Having promised to deliver 100 million doses of the vaccine within 100 days, Joe Biden has far outpaced this promise, with 200 million doses being administered as of last week. Having suffered close to 600,000 deaths as a result of this pandemic (by far the highest worldwide), Americans are no doubt delighted at this rare bit of positive news and sign of hope.
There are numerous other stories which sum up Biden’s highly mixed record to date, including his proposal to raise capital gains tax on wealthy Americans, growing tensions with geopolitical rivals, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, and the ongoing legislative drama on the pro-union Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. This has been the nature of Biden’s presidency to date, and we can expect this trend to continue for the duration of his time in office.