How Joe Biden’s campaign promises are shaping up after 50 days, from climate change to immigration reform

New president has prioritised bringing pandemic to heel and rolling back Donald Trump’s toxic legacy in frenzied start to White House tenure

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 10 March 2021 22:55
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Related video: Joe Biden attends roundtable on the American Rescue Plan

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President Joe Biden looks set to mark his 50th day in the Oval Office witnessing the House of Representatives pass a hugely ambitious $1.9trn coronavirus relief package, a major win for his fledgling administration and the second-largest economic stimulus bill in US history.

Its approval will see Americans receive $1,400 monthly bailout cheques and state and local governments handed a raft of fresh funding to kickstart the recovery following the devastation wrought by the pandemic over the last year.

The veteran Democrat, 78, took office promising to roll back the toxic and divisive legacy of his predecessor Donald Trump and pledging swift action on everything from climate change to immigration reform.

Fifty days in, Mr Biden has made significant strides on a number of his key campaign pledges, while others are still awaiting action.

Here’s where he stands.

Completed?

Joe Biden prioritised addressing the coronavirus pandemic during his first weeks in office and, so far, that singular focus has paid off. He’s on target to hit his goal of 100m vaccine doses administered in his first 100 days – and could even surpass it, hitting that total as soon as the end of next week.

The US is currently averaging more than 2m jabs per day, while more than 75m doses have been administered since the new president was sworn in on 20 January, a vast improvement on the final days of Mr Trump, by which point the commander-in-chief had seemingly lost all interest in conquering Covid-19 and remained preoccupied with contesting his landslide election defeat on false grounds.

Mr Biden has also made a bright start on tackling the climate crisis.

He signed an executive order on Inauguration Day that revoked the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, halted development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ordered the review of Trump-era rules on the environment, public health and science.

An executive order issued on 27 January stopped any new oil and gas leases on federal lands and offshore waters being issued, a practice that was allowed to continue unchecked under President Trump, who consistently backed fossil fuel jobs over the health of the environment at every turn.

Other Trumpian hangovers the Biden administration has moved to correct include rejoining the World Health Organisation and the Paris climate accord, suspending construction on his predecessor’s white elephant US-Mexico border wall, overturning his travel restrictions on people arriving in the US from a number of Muslim-majority nations and forming a task force to reunite families separated at the country’s southern border by Mr Trump’s “zero tolerance” agenda.

Mr Biden also made some early moves to deliver on his pledge to tighten up ethical standards in his administration, including a 20 January executive order imposing an ethics pledge on appointees governing activities such as lobbying and taking gifts, which included prohibiting political interference in the Justice Department.

While his predecessor may have repeatedly promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington, DC, President Trump’s tenure was rife with conflict of interest concerns, not least over the use of his network of hotels and golf resorts being used for official events.

In progress

While the vaccination push is ticking along nicely, Mr Biden’s national Covid response strategy also pledged to establish 100 new, federally-supported inoculation centres across the nation by the end of February. So far, only around 20 mass vaccination sites run jointly by the federal government and active-duty Pentagon troops are in service.

On immigration, the administration has made some moves to reform the asylum system, including a move by the Department of Homeland Security on Mr Biden’s first day in office to suspend a Trump-era programme requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims were under review. But he has yet to outline a plan to manage asylum flows beyond proposing that billions of dollars be spent to address root causes in Central America.

The president has also kept in place pandemic-related powers that allow his administration to immediately expel people at the border without an opportunity to seek asylum. Mr Biden’s aides have said they have no immediate plans to end the authority, which Mr Trump introduced a year ago using an obscure 1944 public health law.

Joe Biden also promised to end the long-term detention of migrant families. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signalled last week it plans to discontinue the use of one such facility, but ICE will continue to hold families for three days or less at two other facilities in Texas. And the Biden administration is expanding capacity at a number of long-term facilities that hold immigrant children, to address an ongoing surge of unaccompanied minors at the border.

On climate change, Mr Biden pledged to establish enforceable commitments from other nations to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation and to convene a climate world summit to discuss new and more ambitious pledges to address climate change, within his first 100 days. The US will hold such a summit on 22 April, a date chosen to coincide with Earth Day.

Reopening America’s schools is one of Biden campaign promises that’s proving tougher to realise, in part because the decision on whether to return to in-person learning is left up to local officials and teachers’ unions. After some back-and-forth over the details of his goal, President Biden said last month that his 100-day mission was to have most elementary schools open five days a week for in-person learning.

This month he directed states to prioritise vaccinating teachers and announced he would be directing federal resources towards that end this month. The passage of his American Rescue Plan before the House will make fresh funding available to schools, colleges and universities to support reopening efforts.

Still waiting

Criminal justice reform has yet to get much of a look-in in what has been something of a frenzied start to the Biden era, aside from the president issuing one executive order terminating private prison contracts. His pledge to establish a new police oversight board during his first 100 days in the wake of last summer’s George Floyd demonstrations has yet to materialise so far, although there’s still time.

Other 100-day pledges also awaiting movement include creating a Cabinet-level working group focused on promoting union participation and ordering an FBI review of gun purchase background checks.

Some of Mr Biden’s first 100-day pledges will require congressional action, like his promise to reauthorise the Violence Against Women Act and increase taxes on corporations. He also promised to make passage of the Equality Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, a priority in his first 100 days and that bill has passed the House but not the Senate.

Some of his promises are also waiting on the necessary Cabinet secretaries to be confirmed by the Senate. On gun control, Mr Biden has said he would direct his attorney general to deliver recommendations to restructure key Justice Department agencies to more effectively enforce the nation’s gun laws, and his nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, has been confirmed (the decision coming on 10 March).

His call to make housing a right for all Americans is dependent on Marcia Fudge’s confirmation as his new housing and urban development secretary, which is expected to take place this week.

Additional reporting by AP

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