President Joe Biden has moved fast since his January 20 swearing-in, signing a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill into law less than two months into his term and issuing more executive orders so far than his three predecessors.
Those efforts have paid off, with the administration reaching the milestones of 200 million coronavirus shots delivered and vaccine eligibility opened to everyone 16 and over before Biden’s 100th day in office. Unemployment is falling, with new jobless claims hitting a pandemic low, and schools are reopening for in-person learning, returning kids and families to a semblance of normal life.
And Biden has delivered on his pledge to return the presidency to what it looked like before his predecessor Donald Trump, replacing tweets with daily press briefings and bringing in a Cabinet and staff of seasoned experts.
He has made less progress toward his goal of restoring bipartisanship and unity. Not a single Senate Republican voted for the Covid bill, and even moderate Democrats are balking in the face of unified GOP opposition to other goals like immigration revisions, extending voting rights or passing Biden’s next agenda item, a massive infrastructure package.
As a candidate, Biden issued dozens of comprehensive plans for what he would do as President. But the administration has faced hurdles, including a surge of unaccompanied minors coming across the US-Mexico border. And in some cases, Biden’s approach has shifted. For example, the White House recently stood down on creating a policing commission that Biden had said he would establish during his first 100 days in office, opting instead to push for legislation in Congress.
Here are some of Biden’s main goals for his first 100 days and how he did:
Biden came into office pledging to administer 100 million vaccine shots by his 100th day in office, after Trump fell short of his goal to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020. The Biden administration reached its 100 million-shot goal in mid-March, about 40 days ahead of schedule. The administration reached 200 million vaccine doses on April 21 — a week ahead of Biden’s updated timetable.
To speed up and secure an increased vaccine supply, the President invoked the Defense Production Act with Pfizer and Moderna, as well as in a deal with pharmaceutical rivals Merck and Johnson & Johnson — though delivery of Johnson’s vaccine later was temporarily paused by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Biden also committed to having the US purchase hundreds of millions more coronavirus vaccine doses throughout his first months in office. Now the White House says the US will have enough vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May.
To increase Americans’ access to vaccines, the Biden administration started a federal retail pharmacy program that turned more pharmacies into vaccination sites. It also opened up vaccinations at community health centers and set up federally run vaccination centers across the country. The President ordered an expansion of the list of eligible vaccinators to include dentists, midwives, paramedics and optometrists, among other professionals, to meet increased demand. The administration also committed to partnering with community organizations to transport seniors and people with disabilities to get their vaccinations.
Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which was passed in March, provided billions in funding to bolster vaccinations.
The President has also pledged up to $4 billion in a US contribution to Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, or COVAX.
Biden has put public health experts and scientists front and center in a number of roles within the administration. He tapped Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who had a contentious relationship with Trump, as chief medical adviser and elevated the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to a Cabinet-level position. And his administration restarted frequent Covid-19 briefings featuring federal government’s public health experts, including Fauci, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the head of the White House’s Covid-19 health equity task force.
Days before his inauguration, Biden put forth a massive economic relief proposal, asking Congress to approve $1.9 trillion in funding to provide Americans with another round of stimulus checks, aid for the unemployed, support for small businesses and money to help schools reopen safely.
In March, Congress approved the package, known as the American Rescue Plan. Much of it mirrored Biden’s proposal, though there were some key changes, including narrowing the scope of the $1,400 stimulus payments, trimming the federal boost to unemployment benefits and jettisoning an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 a hour.
So far, the Biden administration has sent out more than 160 million stimulus payments worth up to $1,400 per person, released more than $80 billion in aid to state education agencies and beefed up Affordable Care Act subsidies on the federal exchange, healthcare.gov. It has also delivered $39 billion to states to help child care providers reopen or stay afloat.
States have largely implemented the $300 federal enhancement to weekly jobless benefits and the extension of two key pandemic unemployment programs through early September. Also in place is a federal income tax break on $10,200 in unemployment compensation for those earning less than $150,000.
The package provides more than $350 billion to states and local governments, territories and tribes, extends a 15% boost to food stamp benefits through September and offers billions of dollars in aid to struggling renters and homeowners. It also greatly enhances the child tax credit for one year, increasing its size, allowing more low-income parents to qualify and providing half of it as a monthly stream of income from July to the end of the year.
Separately, Biden has used his executive powers to expand food assistance, extend the federal moratorium on evictions and continue the suspension of federal student loan payments and interest charges.
Yet the rollout of relief programs hasn’t gone entirely smoothly. A new grant program for struggling restaurants that was established by the bill has yet to launch. The Small Business Administration ran into trouble standing up a grant program for closed theaters and music venues that had been approved under an earlier Covid relief package passed in December. It was taken offline hours after opening and reopened only this week. But money continues to flow through two existing aid programs for small businesses, boosted by the American Rescue Plan: the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
Also going slowly is the Biden administration’s efforts to provide funds to low-income families whose children are missing free- or reduced-price meals in school because they are learning remotely. While Biden increased the value of the Pandemic-EBT benefits and the US Department of Agriculture has approved many more state plans for the 2020-21 school year, about a dozen states have not yet gotten the nod, leaving millions of children waiting for the aid program created last spring. Also, many parents are still waiting for the money even in states that have been approved.
As early as December, Biden was already pledging to get the majority of schools open by the end of his first 100 days in office.
Unlike other countries, the US leaves school control at the local level, and the challenges to providing in-person instruction are not the same everywhere, making it nearly impossible to create effective federal and even state-level guidance as the pandemic wears on. In some places, school authorities faced strong opposition from powerful teachers’ unions.
At first there was confusion over how the administration defined reopening. When pressed about his administration’s stance during a February 16 CNN town hall, Biden clarified that by the end of his first 100 days, “the goal will be five days a week” of in-person instruction or close to that for K-8 students in particular.
There are certainly more schools offering in-person instruction now than there were at the beginning of 2021. But it remains unclear whether a majority of schools are offering it five days a week for all students.
One estimate from the private data-tracking company Burbio says that about 65% of K-12 students are attending schools that offer in-person instruction each day, up from 33% the week Biden took office. About 29% currently attend schools offering hybrid models that include some in-person instruction, and less than 6% have only virtual options.
Younger students are more likely to be offered in-person learning. As of April 20, elementary and middle schools in a little more than half of the 101 largest school districts in the country are offering full five-day-a-week in-person instruction, according to CNN’s tracking.
Some experts say the transition to in-person learning could have come more quickly, arguing that guidelines released by the CDC in February made it harder for schools to reopen. The CDC relaxed its physical distancing guidelines in March, recommending that most students maintain at least 3 feet of distance, accelerating the return to school for some.
Biden has acted swiftly to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, one of his main campaign promises. His administration has already taken multiple steps to reverse efforts by Trump to destroy the Democrats’ landmark health care law.
Biden reopened the federal Affordable Care Act exchange in mid-February, giving uninsured Americans until mid-August to sign up for 2021 coverage and allowing existing enrollees to shop for better plans with their beefed-up subsidies, which last for two years.
That additional assistance was part of the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion relief package. Enrollees will now pay no more than 8.5% of their incomes toward coverage, down from nearly 10%. And lower-income policyholders and the jobless will receive subsidies that eliminate their premiums completely.
Also, those earning more than 400% of the federal poverty level — about $51,000 for an individual and $104,800 for a family of four in 2021 — are now eligible for help for the first time.
The 14 states, and the District of Columbia, that run their own exchanges have also extended enrollment, though the durations differ by state.
Laid-off workers who want to stay on their work-based coverage will receive subsidies that pay the full premium cost from April through September, as part of the relief package.
Biden has also started withdrawing approvals from the Trump administration that enable states to mandate work requirements in Medicaid.
And the administration has asked the Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act, reversing the position of the Trump administration, which joined Republican-led states in urging the justices to strike down the entire law. The justices have not yet ruled in the case — and if they upend Obamacare, it’s not clear what Biden and congressional Democrats will be able to pass to replace it.
Biden has signed several executive actions taking aim at Trump’s hardline immigration policies, including reversing the former President’s travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and fortifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after Trump’s efforts to undo protections for undocumented people brought into the country as children.
Biden created a task force focused on identifying and reuniting migrant families separated at the US-Mexico border as a result of Trump’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy, and he revoked a Trump-era proclamation that limited legal immigration during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Biden rescinded Trump’s national emergency declaration, which allowed his predecessor to dip into additional funds for his signature border wall, and called for a review of ongoing wall projects. He narrowed immigration enforcement in the US. The President also directed relevant agencies to ensure LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protections.
Biden went on to end Trump’s so-called “remain in Mexico” policy, which required asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their immigration court dates in the United States, and began the gradual entry of migrants who still had active cases. His administration also initiated a review of policies “that have effectively closed the US border to asylum seekers.”
Yet the Biden administration has struggled to keep up with the influx of migrants coming to the US southern border, particularly unaccompanied minors, who have been held in Border Patrol stations as officials scramble to find sites to accommodate them.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with the care of unaccompanied migrant children, announced or opened at least 11 new temporary facilities to try to get kids out of Border Patrol stations, which are akin to jail-like conditions and not suited for children.
Vice President Kamala Harris was assigned by Biden to oversee efforts with Central American countries to stem the flow of migrants to the US southern border. It is the first major issue Biden has assigned Harris, who is expected to travel to Mexico and Guatemala.
On legal immigration, Biden signed an order seeking to reverse Trump-era policies that targeted low-income immigrants, including calling for a review of the public charge rule, which makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers, and reestablished a Task Force on New Americans.
Biden has, however, gone back and forth on refugee admissions. The White House recently said the President would set a new, increased refugee cap by May 15 after facing blowback for keeping the Trump-era ceiling of 15,000, though without the restrictions put in place by Trump.
While the US-China relationship was a key issue during the campaign, Biden has focused on three other areas since taking office: Afghanistan, Iran and Russia.
Two decades after the US launched what would become America’s longest war, Biden has committed to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan before September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and at the Pentagon, just outside Washington.
Biden said the withdrawal will begin May 1, in line with an agreement made with the Taliban during the Trump administration. Some US troops will remain in Afghanistan to protect American diplomats, but a precise number of remaining troops has not been disclosed. US humanitarian and diplomatic efforts will continue in Afghanistan and the US will continue to support peace efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Biden said.
The President has also moved to salvage the US-Iran nuclear deal put in place in 2015 under President Barack Obama, which was abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018.
The US and Iran resumed talks in Vienna in April, though delegations from the two countries did not interact directly but instead exchanged views through officials from the global powers still party to the deal. A State Department official stressed earlier this month that the Vienna conversations were “just the first step of this first phase of a potential return to” the nuclear deal.
And the Biden administration issued sweeping sanctions and diplomatic expulsions against Russia in response to Moscow’s interference in the 2020 US election, its SolarWinds cyberattack and its continued occupation and “severe rights abuses” in Crimea.
The US pointed to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service as the group behind the SolarWinds hack. The White House also said it is expelling 10 Russian diplomats in Washington, including “representatives of Russian intelligence services,” for the hack and the election meddling.
The Biden administration also barred US financial institutions from participating in the primary market for bonds issued by Russia’s central bank and other leading financial institutions. Two days before issuing the sanctions, Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and proposed a summit between the two countries later this year.
Last week, Biden fulfilled his pledge to host a global climate summit within his first 100 days in office. During the event, he committed the US to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% below its 2005 emissions levels by 2030. While the goals are part of the Paris climate agreement, which Biden rejoined upon taking office, they are nonbinding and the administration has not rolled out a plan on how the US will meet them.
The wide range of leaders attending the two-day summit included a number of American allies, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron and the United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson, as well as leaders with whom Biden anticipates having a more confrontational relationship, like China’s Xi Jinping and Putin. While some countries reiterated during the summit that they were working toward their previously set climate goals, others, including Canada and South Korea, announced they were upping their targets.
Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office reversing Trump’s 2017 decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accords, the landmark international agreement to limit global warming championed by Obama. The US was the first and only country to pull out of the agreement, officially exiting in late 2020.
As part of the global deal, which the US formally rejoined in February after a 30-day review, countries are expected to enhance their commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions every five years. The goals of the global pact are to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.
Social justice and inequality
Biden kicked off his presidency by naming the most racially diverse Cabinet in US history, disbanding the 1776 commission and taking steps to address racial economic inequality, including signing executive orders that could potentially help bridge the gap in homeownership between people of color and White people, strengthen the fight against bigotry faced by Asian Americans and ease the anxiety of families with incarcerated relatives.
Biden signed an executive order in January repealing a Trump-era ban on most transgender Americans joining the military. The Pentagon said in March that its updated policies, which make it easier for transgender individuals to join up and to access medical treatment while serving, go into effect April 30. The changes will also protect transgender individuals from discrimination within the services.
In the wake of last week’s conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, Biden called systemic racism “a stain on our nation’s soul” and said he was heartened by the jury’s verdict, the testimony of other police officers against Chauvin throughout the trial and the collective realization about the reality of systemic racism worldwide that has taken place since Floyd’s death.
Yet his administration said in April that it would stand down on a campaign promise to create a White House-led commission on policing and instead move forward with efforts to pass police reform through legislative channels.
“The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and is working with Congress to swiftly enact meaningful police reform that brings profound, urgently needed change,” Domestic Policy Council director Susan Rice said in a statement.
Last month, Biden laid out a massive plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure and shift to greener energy.
The roughly $2 trillion proposal, which Congress will spend months on, would provide funding for roads, bridges, trains, broadband, airports, waterways and ports. He would put billions toward manufacturing, job retraining, housing, schools, veterans’ hospitals and federal buildings.
He would also lay out $400 billion to enhance long-term-care services for elderly Americans and those with disabilities, as well as improve the pay of home health workers. To pay for the package, he would increase a variety of taxes on businesses, including raising the corporate rate to 28% from 21%, where it was set by the 2017 Republican tax cuts.
The President is also set to unveil an additional $1.8 trillion federal investment in education, child care and paid family leave during his first address to Congress on Wednesday.
The proposal calls for making community college free for two years, investing in a universal preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds, providing paid family and medical leave and helping families afford child care. It would also extend or make permanent enhancements to several key tax credits that were contained in the rescue bill.
To pay for the plan, Biden would raise taxes on the wealthy. In particular, he would reverse a key part of the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts by returning the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6% for those in the top 1%. The GOP law had reduced it to 37%. The President would also raise the capital gains tax rate for households earning more than $1 million annually.