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President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccinations at the White House on April 21, 2021. (AP) President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccinations at the White House on April 21, 2021. (AP)

President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccinations at the White House on April 21, 2021. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson April 26, 2021

If Your Time is short

• Presidential historians say that Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office — a somewhat arbitrary but frequently cited milestone — have included an above-average number of major accomplishments.

• The three biggest developments, experts say, have been the wide-scale coronavirus vaccination program, passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus and economic relief bill, and the rejoining of the Paris climate accord.

• Experts also say that Biden has made significant, but more intangible, changes in tone that contrast sharply with the tensions of Donald Trump’s presidency.

In the first 100 days, new presidents try to turn campaign promises into quick legislative victories, defuse lingering crises, set themselves apart from their predecessor, and set a leadership tone for the next four years — all while avoiding blunders that could destroy their momentum. 

So how is President Joe Biden doing as he approaches the 100-day mark? 

Not bad, experts say, given the scale of the crisis he’s tackling and the political opposition he faces in Congress.

"I think there are three accomplishments that stand out so far: The ramped-up coronavirus vaccine distribution, the passage of the American Rescue Plan, and the return to the Paris Climate Agreement," said John Frendreis, a political scientist at Loyola University in Chicago. "These will stand the test of time."

 

When Biden took office, the seven-day rolling average for vaccinations was 777,000 a day, but that number rose under Biden to about 3 million a day. As his 100th day approached, about half of the 16-and-older U.S. population had received at least one dose of vaccine. In addition, more than 80% of seniors had received at least one shot, and 25% of American adults were fully vaccinated. 

The American Rescue Plan was a $1.9 trillion bill aimed at both providing additional funding for fighting the pandemic and helping the economy through the resulting recession. The measure included aid to state and local governments, increased unemployment insurance, support for vaccination efforts, education aid, refundable child tax credits and housing assistance.

"Few presidents have passed anything as consequential as the relief package" in their first 100 days, said John J. Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.

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Finally, Biden signed an executive action on his first day in office that brought the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement, the international protocol that aims to arrest climate change by reducing carbon emissions. 

Beyond these three accomplishments, experts cited a few other notable actions during Biden’s early tenure.

Biden has moved to improve relations with U.S. allies that had been strained during the presidency of Donald Trump. He’s also placed new sanctions on Russia, taking a harder line than his predecessor.

Other moves have been more intangible, but no less significant, experts said. "One word sums it up: normality," Pitney said. "We can now skip the news for a day or two without worrying that we've missed a scandal or a crazy presidential tweet. Biden has made mistakes, such as having to backtrack on refugee policy, but they are the kind of mistakes that presidents normally make early in their term."

Biden came to office focused on the coronavirus and its economic impact, but the other priorities he campaigned on most often included racial justice, climate change and immigration.

PolitiFact is tracking his campaign promises on the Biden Promise Tracker: Out of 100 promises, we’ve rated just over 30 either Promise Kept or In the Works. We’ll continue monitoring these promises over the four years of his presidency.

Here is a closer look at what the Biden administration has done, and how his overall performance compares with his predecessors. (Biden's 100th day in office is April 29, if you count his half day in office on Jan. 20.)

The coronavirus pandemic and health care

A Northwell Health nurse inoculates a sheet metal worker with the first dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine at a pop-up coronavirus vaccination site in Elmont Park, N.Y., on April 14, 2021. (AP)

Experts said it’s possible that the vaccine rollout would have ramped up no matter who was president, but they added that Biden deserves credit for taking certain steps. He pushed manufacturers to increase vaccine production, provided federal support for mass vaccination sites and ensured that a vaccine is accessible within 5 miles of almost every American. 

"He’s done a really good job," said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association for Immunization Managers. "The first thing he did when he came into office was set a tone and goals, and that was important to have a benchmark." 

Biden has also met two goals he’d set for his first 100 days in office — first, 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, then, after achieving that goal on the 58th day of his presidency, 200 million doses. On April 22, eight days before his 100th day, that goal was achieved, too. 

"At the end of the day, the proof is in the results," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "More than half of the population having had at least one shot means they’ve been extraordinarily successful."

Biden also notched a victory on health insurance. Part of the $1.9 trillion relief package was a provision that no one must spend more than 8.5% of what they earn on insurance premiums, which experts say is among the most significant changes to the affordability of private insurance since the Affordable Care Act.

And he kept other promises that he made on the campaign trail, such as rejoining the World Health Organization and restoring the White House directorate for global health security

In addition, "restoring the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to a place of prominence, having scientists speaking to the general public on a regular basis, this is all evidence that science is clearly a priority for the federal government and for the White House," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. 

Other promises on health have been more difficult to keep, such as mandating masks nationwide. While Biden did implement a mask mandate in areas where the federal government has authority, such as federal buildings, airplanes and other types of transportation, Republican governors in states such as Texas and Alabama have rolled back their mask mandates in recent months. We rated this promise Compromise

The administration faces challenges in getting the remainder of the U.S. vaccinated. There are indications that the number of daily vaccinations is slowing, and some Republicans tell pollsters that they are unwilling to get vaccinated at all. 

"The challenges ahead include continuing to adjust the vaccination effort in order to get the next 20% of people vaccinated," said Hannan. "And we’ll eventually need to get vaccinations to kids, too. We will just have to keep adjusting our efforts for different populations." 

The economy

A hiring sign outside of restaurant in Prospect Heights, Ill., on March 21, 2021. (AP)

Biden’s progress in containing the pandemic has also paid dividends for the economy, boosting consumer activity that had been restrained during the pandemic. 

Key elements of the American Rescue Plan included unemployment assistance, a temporary expansion of the child tax credit, an increase in food stamp aid, and aid to state and local governments for public health, housing and education. Those items  "deal squarely and forthrightly with the economic calamities that have stuck working class and poorer Americans as a result of the public health crisis," said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

Critics have expressed concerns about the plan’s size and timing, saying it was passed late in the pandemic, when an upturn was in sight. "There’s a danger of overheating the economy" from injecting so much spending, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the center-right American Action Forum.

Dean Baker, senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, said this concern is reasonable, but he added that it’s a risk worth taking."This package should propel the economy quickly back to full employment," he said. 

This matters, Baker said, because the people who benefit most from a situation close to full employment "are the ones who are most disadvantaged in the labor market: Blacks, Hispanics, the disabled and people with criminal records. We can talk about various programs to try to help these people, but the quickest and most effective way is to give them a job."

Daniel Mitchell, a libertarian economist who thinks the American Rescue Plan was too big, said he was surprised at Biden’s early inaction on one economic front: reversing Trump’s tariffs. 

Critics have also expressed disappointment that Biden was unable to get bipartisan support for his economic policies. But experts say they’re not surprised, given the polarized politics of the day.

Biden’s policies so far "are necessary, and I do not believe it would be worth scaling them back to get a few Republican votes with little more than symbolic effect," said Steven Fazzari, an economist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Racial justice

People cheer after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd on April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP)

Taking office less than a year after widespread protests against police brutality and racial inequality, Biden made several promises to address systemic racism in housing, jobs, education, criminal justice and voting rights. 

Biden promised to update the Voting Rights Act, which was first signed into law in 1965. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively scrubbed a provision of the law that required certain jurisdictions with histories of discrimination to submit any proposed changes in voting procedures to the federal government, a process called preclearance.

"Expanding the franchise is integral to a functioning democracy," said Howard University political scientist Niambi Carter. The 2013 decision imperiled Black and minority communities, Carter said, and restoring the act’s powers "is essential to any social justice agenda."

Biden has taken a step toward that promise by supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore it under a new process. The bill — named for the former Georgia congressman, civil rights leader and voting-rights champion who died in 2020 — stalled in the Senate in 2020, but Democrats are expected to reintroduce it.

The White House put on pause Biden's promise to form a national commission on policing (it’s rated Stalled on the Biden Promise Tracker) and is focusing instead on passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Key civil rights advocates including Marc Morial, the president of the Urban League, said they agree with this strategy. The Floyd bill has passed the House but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.

"A commission is when you are seeking solutions," Morial said. "There is a solution. This solution passed the House of Representatives twice. It incorporated recommendations made over the years by various committees, commissions. There has been plenty of process — now we need action."

Even if the bill doesn’t move forward, the Justice Department is taking action. Following the guilty verdicts in the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced the Justice Department was opening an investigation into Minneapolis’ police department. The investigation will assess all types of force used by the police.

Climate change

Tackling climate change was one of the sharpest contrast points between Biden and Trump. Where Trump had rolled back regulations and policies to rein in the release of greenhouse gases, Biden vowed not just to restore those rules, but strengthen them.

In addition to Biden’s executive action that brought the United States back into the Paris accord, he announced on Earth Day that the U.S. would reduce emissions by 50% to 52% of 2005 levels by 2030.

Biden also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land, although the immediate impact would be limited. In 2019, oil from federal land amounted to about 22% of the nation’s total production, and natural gas accounted for about 11%

He gave regulators until July 2021 to set new, more aggressive fuel efficiency standards.

Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal includes about $650 billion aimed at curtailing climate change. He would spend over $200 billion to build and retrofit affordable housing for energy efficiency. There would be about $175 billion to shift the nation to electric vehicles, and another $100 billion to upgrade the country’s electric grid.

Bob Perciasepe, head of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington policy group, said Biden’s moves are bold, especially on greenhouse gas reduction. But he added that Congress remains an obstacle. Biden faces critics on both the right and the left. Republicans accuse him of killing jobs to save the planet. More liberal Democrats have said he isn’t pushing far enough.

"He will have to sustain momentum and work with Congress to transform it to durable legislation if we’re to meet the ambitious 2030 targets."

Immigration

A Customs and Border Patrol agent detains a migrant atop Montezuma's Pass in Coronado National Memorial in Arizona on Dec. 9, 2020. (AP)

Biden checked off some high-profile immigration promises during his first week in office. He revoked Trump’s controversial travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nations, and he rescinded the "zero-tolerance" Justice Department policy that led to the separation of thousands of immigrant families.

Other pledges — such as increasing refugee admissions and creating a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million immigrants in the country illegally — remain stalled or face an uphill battle, however.

The administration is also dealing with an influx of migrants arriving at the southern border. Officials project that the number of Border Patrol encounters this fiscal year will be the highest in 20 years. Many of the people showing up are unaccompanied children seeking asylum — and instead of expelling them under a public health law, as the Trump administration did, Biden is allowing them in so that immigration proceedings can be held. 

That has created challenges, including overcrowded conditions for recent arrivals. As of April 22, about 1,700 unaccompanied children were in Border Patrol facilities, and more than 21,000 were under federal care in shelters and temporary facilities before ultimately being placed with a relative or sponsor in the U.S.

How do Biden’s first 100 days compare with those of his predecessors?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 100-day accomplishments remain head-and-shoulders above any of his successors, experts agree. Roosevelt signed 15 major bills to overhaul the economy and fight the Great Depression. Harry Truman navigated the end of World War II. Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. Barack Obama authorized a nearly $800 billion stimulus package to combat a spiraling recession. 

"Biden compares quite favorably with every other president after Franklin Roosevelt," said Max J. Skidmore, University of Missouri-Kansas City political scientist. "Not only has he accomplished many things quickly — most of them are highly significant."

Biden has faced arguably fiercer partisan polarization than any of those predecessors — no congressional Republican voted for the American Rescue Plan, and most GOP lawmakers have expressed reservations about other aspects of his policy agenda. In addition, Biden’s party has narrow majorities in the House and Senate.

In that context, "Biden has done a tremendous job bringing the Democratic Party together in the face of unified opposition," said Eric M. Uslaner, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.

Experts believe that the narrow margins in Congress will push Biden to continue using executive orders and other administrative actions to advance his agenda. Biden has so far used executive orders on the coronavirus, immigration and gun policy. In some cases, Biden was able to overturn executive orders signed by Trump, who, like Biden, turned to executive orders when he was unable to get some of his priorities through both chambers of Congress.

"All recent presidents seek legislative change if they can get it, but most have spent the bulk of their terms with divided government," Frendreis said. "Even when they have unified government, they rarely enjoy a filibuster-proof Senate majority. President Biden is no different on this score."

Jon Greenberg, Emmarie Huetteman, Victoria Knight, Amy Sherman and Miriam Valverde contributed to this report. 

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Our Sources

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PolitiFact, "American Rescue Plan includes $350 billion for states, localities," March 16, 2021

PolitiFact, "Joe Biden signs proclamation revoking Trump’s travel ban," Jan. 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "Biden fulfills promise to end Trump policy that led to family separations," Jan. 27, 2021

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