By Ian Teunissen van Manen
North America Analyst
The first year of Joe Biden’s presidency was eventful to say the least. When Biden took office in late January 2021, the US was reeling from the January 6th Capitol Attacks spurring from election controversy, high rates of unemployment, pandemic complications, as well as ever-increasing political and societal divides. Biden inherited a United States whose only form of unity was through its citizens’ shared experiences of turmoil and uncertainty.
This was in no way an easy place to start, but Biden held lofty aspirations when entering office, despite the adversity that he faced. He had run on a campaign promising a return to unity and normalcy, but his campaign promises went beyond a return to the pre-Trump status quo. While some of his promises seek to directly undo the work of his predecessor, many of his promises dealt with moving the country “forward”. To faithfully and continuously track progress on Biden’s numerous campaign promises, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a journalism school and research organisation, has created a highly insightful tool called the “Biden Promise Tracker”. They have previously tracked President Obama’s and President Trump’s promises in the same manner. The tool tracks in real time how Biden has faired and is fairing on the “Top 100 most important campaign promises” (PolitiFact 2022) that he indicated on his path to the White House. Using the “Biden Promise Tracker”, this two-part series will delve deeper into Biden’s top priorities, and the extent to which he has been successful in his first year.
Of the top 100 most important campaign promises being analysed by the Biden Promise Tracker, 16 are categorised as “Kept”, 3 are categorised as “Compromise”, 24 are “Stalled”, 46 are considered to be “In the Works”, and 0 are categorised as “Broken” (PolitiFact 2022). At first glance, no promises broken would seem to indicate a highly successful, if not completely successful, first year. However, this number is a bit misleading, as the first year of any presidential administration is more about laying the groundwork for their goals than it is about actually achieving things. The reality of a procedural, bureaucratic and highly divided bi-partisan democracy is that a president, for better or for worse, will not achieve everything on their agenda. Thus, while Biden has not broken any promises outright, it remains highly likely that some of the promises in the “Stalled” and “In the Works” categories will ultimately be broken by the end of the Biden Administration’s first term.
The Biden Administration’s top five priorities (listed in the order they appear on whitehouse.gov) are:
COVD-19, Climate, Racial Equity, Economy, and Healthcare. Part one of this series will focus on the first two priorities, while part two will examine the latter three.
Starting with COVID-19, the Biden Administration indicated that they “[would] move quickly to contain the COVID-19 crisis by expanding testing, safely re-opening schools and businesses, and taking more science-driven steps to address the communities […] who have been hit hardest by the virus”. Additionally, the administration promised to start an effective vaccination program nationwide (“The Biden-Harris Administration Immediate Priorities” 2021). Specifically on the vaccination front, Biden promised “100 million vaccines for 50 million people in the first 100 days” of his presidency (PolitiFact 2022). Most aspects of this promise have been delivered, certainly when it comes to vaccinations and testing- the vaccination campaign crossed the threshold of 100 million vaccinations in 58 days and testing capacity has been expanded (PolitiFact 2022). However, it certainly cannot be said that the COVID-19 virus has been “contained”, and it is clear that the Administration will need to do even more to combat the pandemic in its second year.
In January 2022, the US crossed the 1 million new COVID cases per day marker (Allen et al. 2022). Naturally, these numbers have increased partially as a result of testing frequency and accessibility, however, the numbers remain staggering, especially with the Omicron variant become more prevalent in recent months. This is despite the Biden Administration’s six-pronged “Path out of the Pandemic”, which focuses on “Vaccinating the Unvaccinated”, “Further Protecting the Vaccinated”, “Keeping Schools Safely Open”, “Increasing Testing & Requiring Masking”, “Protecting our Economic Recovery”, and “Improving care for those with COVID-19”, which was brought forth in September (“President Biden’s COVID-19 Plan” 2021). However useful and pragmatic this plan may have been in September, it has not been updated to factor in the effects and changes resulting from the Omicron variant. In order to make good on his promise, Biden will need to create a new plan that not only deals with the Omicron variant directly, but anticipates the next variant that will inevitably emerge in the next year.
On climate and the climate crisis, Biden promised to “reduce climate pollution in every sector of the economy”, as well as “put the United States on the path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy wide, by no later than 2050” (“Immediate Priorities” 2021). Of the aforementioned 16 “Kept” promises, 3 relate to the administration’s climate priorities: establishing new fuel economy standards, re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement, and re-joining the World Health Organisation. Under Biden’s direction, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new, ambitious fuel efficiency standards through 2026 (Greenberg 2022). In April of 2021, the administration submitted its “Nationally Determined Contributions” Plan to the United Nations, formally re-joining the Paris Agreements that the previous administration had pulled the US out of (Greenberg 2021a). This was a continuation of the trend set by Biden on his first day in office, when he wrote a letter to the World Health Organisation, officially asserting the US’ intentions to remain a member of the international organisation (Sherman 2021). Despite this kept promises, however, Biden’s ambitious target of net-zero by 2050 will need to be shored up and strengthened by legislative action in Congress (Greenberg 2021b). Given the current polarised state of the US legislative bodies, this will be a formidable challenge over the remainder of the Biden Administration’s first term.
Attention to readers:
In Part Two of this series, due to be published in March, the status of the “Racial Equity”, “Economy” and “Healthcare” priorities will be examined. Additionally, Part Two will examine Biden’s foreign policy record in his first year, and discuss the challenges facing the Biden Administration in year two.
Allen, Jordan et al. “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 3, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html.
“Biden Promise Tracker.” PolitiFact. The Poynter Institute, 2022. https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/biden-promise-tracker/?ruling=true.
“The Biden-Harris Administration Immediate Priorities.” The White House. The United States Government, September 20, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/priorities/.
Greenberg, Jon. “EPA Tightens Fuel Efficiency Rules for Cars and Light Trucks.” PolitiFact, January 11, 2022. https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/biden-promise-tracker/promise/1543/establish-new-fuel-economy-standards/.
Greenberg, Jon (a). “U.S. Formally Rejoins Paris Climate Agreement.” PolitiFact, March 21, 2021. https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/biden-promise-tracker/promise/1544/rejoin-paris-climate-agreement/.
Greenberg, Jon (b). “Joe Biden’s Moves Start the US toward Net-Zero Carbon, but Congress Is Key.” PolitiFact, January 27, 2021. https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/biden-promise-tracker/promise/1520/put-us-course-net-zero-emissions-2050/.
“President Biden’s COVID-19 Plan.” The White House. The United States Government, September 9, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/covidplan/.
Sherman, Amy. “Biden Sends Letter to Reverse Trump’s WHO Withdrawal.” PolitiFact, January 21, 2021. https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/biden-promise-tracker/promise/1524/rejoin-world-health-organization-who/.