The First Year of Joe Biden | Sarah Stook

At just past 12PM on Wednesday, the 20th January 2021, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th US President.

It’s been a year since Biden became President. A lot has happened to put it lightly. The COVID pandemic saw no signs of slowing down. Afghanistan fell back in the hands of the Taliban. Prices shot up. Legislation stumbled through Congress. It’s not been an easy ride for America’s oldest President.

What’s Year One been like for Biden?

● COVID Testing & Mandates

With 50 states, the United States was never going to have a streamlined response to the virus. When campaigning for the presidency, Biden criticised Trump’s blasé attitude to the pandemic and promised to be more serious about it.

Biden has taken a federal government approach to COVID or as much as he can in a decentralised system. The government has mandated masks on federal property and pushed for mandatory vaccines in as many areas as he can. Unfortunately for Biden, there has been pushback in several states on mandatory masking and vaccines.

Vaccines have been rolled out with relative success within the USA, though there has been a significant number of people who refuse the jab. Certain minority groups are concerned about the vaccine. Others are concerned about a vaccine that was introduced relatively quickly. Mandates are extremely controversial and it is yet to be seen if this strategy will work for Biden.

There has also been a huge problem with testing. Widespread, free testing at home has generally been unavailable in the US. It was only recently announced that rapid testing would be available to order from home, but these tests would take 7-12 days to ship. Yeah, people could have had it by then. This follows a u-turn after widely criticised comments from Jen Psaki, Biden’s Press Secretary. She said:

‘Should we just send one to every American? Then what happens if every American has one test? How much does that cost and what happens after that?’

Not the greatest idea.

● COVID Economics

Passing legislation has not been easy for Biden and many, mainly Democrats, have blamed two figures. They are Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia). Seen as conservative Democrats, the pair represent states that are usually red on a federal level. They dug their heels in when legislation got a little too spendthrift, mainly when it came to a raised minimum wage.

The full scope of the economic plan that was passed can be found here. Biden also passed executive orders on deferral of student loans and the extension of a memo on foreclosures and evictions.

Stimulus cheques are included in the aforementioned plan. The ceiling for these cheques is a yearly earning of $100K. Not everybody received these and they have also apparently stopped. A petition for $2K a month stimulus cheques has crossed three million signatures.

● Non-COVID Economics

Biden has pushed towards left-wing economic policies. Some, like raising the minimum wage, have been put on the back burner in order to get other legislation passed.

Biden’s main economic legislation is the Build Back Better Act. Costing roughly $2.2 trillion, the bill includes money for climate change provisions, housing and Medicaid among others. It passed the Democratic-held House of Representatives with ease. Unfortunately, it’s in limbo in the Senate due to Joe Manchin. He has concerns about the bill and political climate. At the time of writing, discussions are undergoing.

Other economic plans have included the explanation of the welfare state, reducing unemployment and expanding help for parents and educators.

● Energy and the Environment

The Keystone XL Pipeline, an oil pipeline that travels through Canada and America, is controversial. Environmentalists oppose it, as do the Native Americans whose land it goes through. Barack Obama temporarily delayed it, Donald Trump continued the permit and finally, Biden revoked it. Many Dems generally approve of this, while Republicans and others worry that it robs Americans of their energy independence.

Planned legislation would spend $555 billion on combating climate change, a larger sum than what has been given to other issues.

Biden has also signed a number of environmental executive orders, including having the USA rejoin the Paris Agreement. He attended the COP26 summit in Glasgow, though he did seem to nod off a bit.

Other proposals include limiting leases for oil and gas on federal land and expanding offshore wind energy.

● Education and Childcare

The American Families Plan plans to boost child tax credits, make Pre-K free for all and make community college universal among other things. As this was part of the Build Back Better plan, it is yet to pass.

One campaign pledge was the forgiveness of student loan debt, something that many young Democrats pinned their hopes on. As it stands, this pledge has barely been delivered. Some have received student loan forgiveness, but not all are eligible.

A notable issue that has come up is that of CRT- Critical Race Theory. Simply put, it is a theory that presents history, law and other social areas through the lens of race. Proponents argue that it’s a legitimate theory, that racial history needs to be taught and that America’s systems are embedded with racism- either intentionally or not. Critics argue that it’s racist towards white and is indoctrinating young people.

Controversial in schools, it was something used in the Virginia Gubernatorial election. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe was winning what should have been an easy race until he disparaged parents deciding what their children should be taught. Republican Glenn Youngkin ran with that and along with a good campaign, he won a race that should have been blue.

This is of course not necessarily Biden’s fault, it is symptomatic of his administration. Yes, the opposition party usually does better during midterms, but Virginia should have been blue. Even New Jersey came close to going Republican- perhaps if the GOP had put the effort in, they’d have taken it.

● Immigration

Quite easily Trump’s most criticised area- and that’s saying something- immigration is of huge importance to many Americans.

Biden immediately undid many of Trump’s policies- the ‘Muslim’ ban and building the wall being two of the first to go. Unfortunately, there was also the issue of unaccompanied minors. Upon hearing news that they would not be turned away, more children came across the border. Trump was criticised for ‘kids in cages,’ but Biden had even more children in detention centres.

There are also plans to soften immigration policy by offering a path to citizenship for illegals and making it easier for those who came to America as children to stay. Biden is yet to see those proposals come to any fruition.

Unfortunately for Biden, there were more bad optics in the form of a bridge in Texas. Around 15,000 migrants, mainly Haitians, crowded under a bridge in the city of Del Rio. Concerns were raised about conditions and the risk of COVID. Both sides were worried for different reasons. Eventually, the bridge was cleared.

Biden seems to want to push for a new immigration policy, but the makeup of the Senate means he most likely won’t get anything through. Democrats from border states also need to toe the line.

● Afghanistan

Oh boy.

The US government had signed an agreement in 2020 that would see their troops pull out of Afghanistan. As that date approached, the Taliban started gaining new ground. It was expected that they would possibly have Afghanistan by the end of 2020, but it came much quicker than most people thought. As they approached Kabul, experts said that it would last for a few more months. The capital soon fell.

Government leaders fled and the Taliban immediately took over. The only place of exit was Kabul Airport. Foreign countries, including the US, were allowed to evacuate personnel.

The scenes, however, were shocking. Desperate Afghans fell to their deaths from high altitude, having held onto the planes as they flew into the air. Families stood in the baking heat in hopes of being allowed out. Parents attempted to pass their children onto servicemen in a last ditch attempt to get them out.

It soon transpired that Americans had given the Taliban a list of all those who were to be allowed into the airport. This, of course, wasn’t a great move, as the Taliban now knew of those who had assisted the West. Many of those who should have been evacuated weren’t.

Then a suicide bomb exploded in the crowd. Among the dead were thirteen American soldiers, many of whom weren’t even old enough to drink.

This widely dented Biden’s popularity on all fronts. Months later and the Taliban still have their tyrannical grip on the country. Many question what was the point of the two decades of occupation that led to Afghanistan metaphorically turning back the clock.

● China and Russia

Biden has continued the policy of sanctions and boycotts towards China. He has encouraged a boycott of the Beijing Olympics and has criticised China’s human rights violations. Despite talks with Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, there has not been much leeway. Some imports are still banned and sanctions have come from both sides.

Unfortunately, Biden’s son Hunter seems to have some dealings with the Chinese. There have been investigations into this but they are yet to come up with anything close to criminal convictions.

Russia has proven a complication once again. They’ve started circling Ukraine. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is about to start talks with his Russian counterparts but we do not know how this will go. The US has also been the subject of a number of attacks by Russian hackers. It is possible that Russian aggression will lead to the Americans

Approval Ratings

Joe Biden’s approval rating for his first year is 48.9%. This is the second-lowest since records began, only edging out Trump. As of writing, Biden is on a pretty measly 42%. His lowest so far was 36% in November. His current disapproval rating is 52.3%.

He’s broken 50% at least, something Trump himself struggled to do. Still, it’s clear Biden isn’t doing super well in his first year. Most worryingly for him, approval among Democrats is going down.

Relationship with Kamala Harris

Let’s put it bluntly. The VP isn’t super important. It sounds harsh, but they don’t really have any constitutional power besides overseeing the Senate. In modern times, they serve to balance the ticket, be it geographically, ideologically or something else.

Very few Presidents and Vice Presidents have actually been friends. In living memory, you can only really count Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

Biden and Harris may put on a front of friendship, but they’re likely more just colleagues. She has mainly been dispatched to greet foreign dignitaries- a job the president should really do- and handling the border.

Unfortunately, Harris has even worse approvals than Biden. Her all time low was 28% in November and her first year approvals were only 32%. They are certainly not ideological soulmates and do not seem to work very closely together. Harris was picked to be VP as Biden promised to have a woman on the ticket- and being an ethnic minority helped too. He has pledged that she will be his ticket mate in 2024.

What’s Next?

Well, COVID is still a thing for a start. Biden needs to ensure a downturn in cases, though we must admit that’s not really in his control.

With prices rising, especially fuel costs, people are getting angry about the cost of living. That is an essential area that Biden needs to address. Nearly every voter will see this directly. Employment also needs to go up and inflation down.

There are more than a few people who think Biden will get another term, whether he chooses not to or will lose to the Republican ticket. There could be a rematch with Trump in 2024. It could be Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or somebody else entirely.

How would you rank Biden’s first year in office?

Photo Credit.

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