Dubai: When US President Joe Biden took office on January 20, 2021, he faced extraordinary challenges: a nation divided by racial conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an economy that needed attention.
Biden, at 78, the oldest man to ever become US president, promised to heal the country’s democracy, defeat COVID-19, address deep-rooted racial and economic problems, and restore US standing around the world.
At a press conference on Wednesday that lasted nearly two hours, Biden acknowledged that the pandemic has left Americans exhausted and demoralised but insisted that he has “outperformed” expectations in dealing with it.
Here’s a look at Biden’s first year in office.
During the race for president, Biden promised to restore normalcy and said his scientific advisers would lead with “science and truth” to combat the virus.
When he took office, Biden made a strong start with a rollout of vaccines.
The country’s vaccination campaign was just getting started with only 1% of US adults fully vaccinated, according to data shared by the White House. A year later, more than half a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and 64% of American adults are fully vaccinated.
Apparently lulled into a false sense of security, Biden declared July 4th a day of independence from the virus. The Delta variant struck that summer, reversing the downward trends of the spring and by the time the Omicron variant took grip in December, Biden was taking the blame.
At the start of the administration, 69 per cent of Americans approved of Biden’s COVID-19 policies. Today that’s 46 per cent.
In conservative areas of the country, the administration’s attempts at imposing vaccine mandates have provoked fierce political opposition. On Thursday the Supreme Court struck down his attempt to mandate vaccinations at large businesses.
The Biden administration credits passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan with saving the economy from going into a downward spiral, with mass unemployment and recession.
Biden also signed into law a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package to fix bridges, roads, internet connections and much else. This was achieved with Republican support and was something that Trump, in particular, had long promised but failed to deliver.
However, an even bigger climate and social spending package, the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better bill, died in the Senate after Biden proved unable to persuade a stubbornly opposed Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, to vote in favour. With a majority of just one in the Senate, that meant shelving the bill.
Stock market indexes and job growth hit records over 2021, with unemployment at 3.9 per cent. However, at the same time Biden is presiding over high inflation - a record seven per cent in December’s annual figures.
Democracy and social change
A natural centrist, Biden has had difficulty satisfying the left wing of his party or the pressing demands of key voting groups, particularly African Americans.
His frequent vows to change America’s addiction to firearms and to institute reforms preventing police brutality have got little traction, AFP reports.
His signature voting rights reforms, designed to stop discrimination against Black people and suppression of turnout, foundered in the Senate, again because of opposition from just two Democrats. Having such a razor-thin margin in Congress puts almost any presidential ambition at risk.
Biden promised to unite Americans in his inaugural speech. But with former President Donald Trump’s ideology now dominating the entire Republican Party, Biden is being drawn further to his own leftist base.
Climate accord and foreign relations
“America is back,” the Biden administration declared on day one. In many ways, that has been the case. Biden put the United States back into the Paris climate accord and back into the multinational attempt to control Iran’s nuclear capacity.
He moved quickly to reassure America’s oldest and strongest allies in Europe, NATO and across Asia that Washington stood with them as a partner.
Pullout from Afghanistan
The exit from Afghanistan ended a failed 20-year war and was something previous presidents had only talked about. However, the dangerous and often chaotic final days of the drawdown punctured the US image of professionalism, turning a moment of relief into desperation.
The withdrawal brought more than 124,000 to safety, but also stranded thousands of desperate Afghans.
The troops suffered threats by the Daesh group’s Afghanistan affiliate, including a suicide bombing on Aug. 26 that killed 13 US service members and dozens of Afghans.
Pressure on/from the press
Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, has held long, detailed daily briefings, taking dozens of questions.
The president himself appeared relatively seldom, and when he did take questions they were usually limited to only a handful.
According to the American Presidency Project at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Biden has held nine news conferences in his first year, compared to 22 in Trump’s first 12 months.
Trump also did 92 sit-down interviews during that time, compared to around 22 for Biden - something that draws regular complaints from White House correspondents.
Migrants began streaming across the US-Mexico border once Biden became president. During his first 10 months, there were 1.78 million encounters with border agents, a four-fold increase compared with Trump’s last 10 months in office, according to data shared by AP.
On his first day in office, Biden ended Trump’s policy requiring people seeking asylum in the US to remain in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed — otherwise known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas formally ended it in June. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that Biden believes the programme is “ineffective” and “inhumane.”
But a lawsuit by Texas and Missouri forced him to put the policy back into effect, and by December, the Biden administration struck an agreement with Mexico to reinstate it.
Role of Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris, the first woman and first Asian and Black vice-president, was assigned some of the administration’s most difficult issues, including immigration and voting rights. Biden and Harris insist publicly that their relationship is solid.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Biden declared categorically that Harris will be his running mate in 2024, quashing questions about her future.
Harris has herself dismissed as “gossip” and “punditry” the rumours questioning her place on the 2024 Democratic ticket.
- with inputs from AFP