A look at Joe Biden’s first months in office
Editors’ Note: All information was up to date at the time of printing.
The Biden administration will be a unique one. Coming after the extremely divisive Trump administration, where news cycles moved by faster than most people can think, transitioning to a more standard administration can make it easy for Americans to quickly tune out, or “go back to brunch” as some might say. But regardless of who’s in office, Americans must remain vigilant of what a president is doing, and what they aren’t doing. That’s why we’re going to take a look at the promises made by President Biden and whether he’s upheld these in his first weeks as president.
Beginning with economic policy, Biden made the response to the COVID-19 pandemic a cornerstone of his campaign, and chief among these promises was an expansion of COVID relief. Especially during the Georgia special election, Democrats (including Biden) leaned heavily on the promise of $2,000 checks. Unfortunately, they began to hedge on this promise almost immediately, shifting from $2,000 checks to $1,400 checks, in addition to the $600 checks sent out by the Trump administration earlier in the year. This is bad policy and bad politics. It never looks good for a party to hedge on promises so quickly, especially after it worked so well in two close elections in Georgia. Democrats promised swift and bold action if they were delivered a majority in the senate. The American people must have confidence that when given power, Democrats will deliver.
Another part of the COVID relief which appears to be stalling is the promise of a $15 minimum wage. This was another core policy prescription of Biden and other Democrats, even in swing seats such as Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Despite this, Democrats have faced pushback from Senate Republicans and even conservative Democrats, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Manchin has become one of, if not the most crucial swing vote in the U.S. Senate. Still, Democrats thought they may have gotten a blessing in disguise. A CBO Report suggested the raise could cost 1.4 million jobs while raising 900,000 people out of poverty, also showing that the raise would affect the budget enough that it may qualify for the use of reconciliation. Reconciliation is basically a process which allows Democrats to bypass Republican hurdles and pass the bill with a simple majority. Unfortunately for progressives, the Senate parliamentarian saw it differently and rejected the raise in the minimum wage as part of reconciliation.
Other than these two high-profile planks, the rest of the COVID relief bill has been largely upheld by Democrats. Biden refused to bite at an insultingly scaled-down Republican version presented by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and held strong on the rest of the bill, which includes important provisions about funds for vaccine distribution and local governments. The relief package was passed in the House with all but two Democrats voting in favor, and zero Republican support on Feb. 27. This shows that Democrats need to be prepared to move forward on legislation, even important pandemic relief, without Republican support. The noble goal of bipartisanship can’t come before good governance.
Biden is also being pushed by left-wing activists, as well as Senate Democrats including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, to forgive at least $50,000 in student loan debt. Biden has said he is prepared to forgive $10,000 but claims he doesn’t have the authority to forgive the total $50,000. But Senate Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have insisted that Biden does indeed have the authority to forgive the total $50,000. Proponents argue this measure will go a long way in lifting a generation of students out of debt and scale down income inequality along both generational and racial lines.
Let’s move to social policy. Immigration was perhaps the most contentious issue of the Trump era, or at least prior to the pandemic. Among the most divisive and outwardly bigoted was the so-called Muslim Ban, where the Trump administration barred travelers from several Muslim-majority countries after previously calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration. Biden has rescinded this by executive order. Biden has also rescinded the family separation policy that was instituted under the Trump Administration. But Biden has not been above reproach. In February, the Biden administration opened its first migrant facility for children, sparking backlash from immigration activists who called the move a “step backward” and argued? that the facilities lacked transparency. Though the administration points to the fact that these facilities are operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and not ICE, many activists still view the move as a betrayal of Biden’s campaign promises.
For the LGTQIA+ community, Biden has come through on his promise to overturn the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender service members. Congressional Democrats have also moved to pass the Equality Act with the support of President Biden. This act would extend Civil Rights Act protections to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Currently, this community is only protected by a Supreme Court interpretation of the Civil Rights Act which could be overturned by a different court. Though this decision is only about a year old, there is still concern over new Supreme Court interpretations since the conservative justices took a 6 to 3 majority on the bench this past October. Though this bill has already been passed in the House of Representatives, it may face roadblocks in the U.S. Senate.
On the environmental front, Biden has rejoined the Paris Climate Accord. Biden has also cancelled the Keystone XL Pipeline. This did cause some tensions in U.S.-Canada relations, but was a big victory for environmental and indigenous activists who had spent years fighting against the pipeline.
Finally, foreign policy has in some ways taken a backseat, over these past few months due to COVID. But Biden has drawn both praise and attack from activists over his foreign policies. Biden has moved to end the U.S.’s involvement in the war in Yemen, which has been a proxy war between Saudi-led forces and Iranian-led forces. While left-wing activists were happy to see the U.S. move away from involvement, they were not fully satiated with the Biden administration continuing to warn the Houthi rebels in Yemen of further U.S. support for the Saudi-led government coalition.
The Biden administration has also made clear continued support for Juan Guaido in Venezuela. The struggle between Guaido and current Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro has been a point of contention among left-wingers who claim U.S. involvement as amounting to a coup and a destabilizing force in the country.
Biden even rattled some congressional Democrats with his decision to launch strikes against Syria without consulting with Congress. Representative Ro Khanna of California said the attack had “no justification” and Senators Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy both sought an explanation from the White House. Congressional Democrats have considered rolling back war powers for the President in response to the actions of the past few administrations.
Biden will also face a crucial decision with a deadline to remove the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1. The agreement to do so has been continuously broken, but would certainly alienate activists who have been clamoring for an end to the conflict for years.
The Biden administration has a long way to go, but if Democrats want to hold onto control of the Senate and House in 2022 and the presidency in 2024, they must prove they can govern boldly and efficiently. Without this, they will alienate their own base of voters, and drive Independents into the hands of the Republican opposition. Good policy yields good politics, and good politics yields good policy.
George Christopher is a second-year journalism major who’s mad that this article is already outdated. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Art Editor Adam Dee.