Biden's Year in Review: Highs, Lows, and What's Next for the White House
Over 11 months, US President Joe Biden's administration has managed to lower unemployment, sign a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law, and reverse a number of Trump-era executive orders. Despite these and more accomplishments, a large portion of US voters remain unimpressed by the work of Biden and Democrats, who control Congress.
Upon entering office in January, one of Biden's main goals was to carry out a proper rollout for COVID-19 vaccines, setting a goal of administering 100 million jabs within his first 100 days in the White House.
The US president would go on to achieve this goal within 58 days
, just days after he signed into law the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill geared toward repairing the US economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation not only delivered direct cash payments to Americans, but also provided enhanced unemployment benefits and additional funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
However, the Biden administration has not been as successful with managing misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, which likely explains why the US is trailing behind other countries with comparable means
As of this article's publication, more than 204 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, representing 61.7% of the US population, according to the CDC
In September, the administration received staunch legal pushback from Republicans and even Democrats after issuing two executive orders that required federal employees and government contractors to be vaccinated against the contagious disease and called for companies of 100 or more individuals to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, or implement regular testing schedules.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in November, moved to suspend the government's vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more workers, pending a court order.
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The US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, has since lifted its legal block on the matter, which opens the way for enforcement in 2022. OSHA has said it will not issue citations for non-compliance prior to 9 February, though the federal mandate is slated to begin 10 January.
Climate Change and Environmental Protections
Combating climate change was also a top priority and campaign promise of the Biden administration — so much so that the US president moved to immediately sign two executive orders on climate change during the same day as his inauguration.
The move included Biden's commitment to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
, which the US officially withdrew from in November 2020, under then-President Donald Trump.
Earlier this month, Biden issued another related executive order that set new greenhouse gas emission reduction standards in three major areas: buildings, electricity generation, and transportation.
Per the order, the government plans to use 100% net-zero electricity by 2030, with 50% of that energy being generated from wind and solar sources. Federal buildings are expected to halve their emissions by 2032, and reach net-zero by 2045.
The US is currently committed to a clean energy path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by 2050 at the latest.
Biden achieved another environmental win for his base with the rejection of a key border crossing permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a contentious tar sands pipeline project intended to transport crude oil from western Canada to Steele, Nebraska. The 1,200-mile (1,931-kilometre) pipeline project spanned three presidential administrations and endured opposing executive orders.
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Despite appeals from Canadian government officials, Biden refused to reverse his decision, which led to the termination of the Keystone XL pipeline project by government agencies and TC Energy, a Canadian energy infrastructure company providing corporate backing for the project.
While many Americans lauded the act and subsequent abandoning of the project as a win for the environment, critics claimed that Biden's order was responsible for the loss of well over 10,000 US jobs tied to the construction.
The Biden administration has expressed commitment to reversing a number of Trump-era environmental rollbacks, including one regarding water regulations. In November, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the reinstatement of a law that effectively restored federal protections to hundreds of thousands of water sources around the nation.
During Trump's tenure in the White House, Congress confirmed approximately 234 Trump-nominated judges, including Supreme Court of the US Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
With a conservative-stacked US Supreme Court, Democrats have found themselves on the offensive regarding judicial appointments. Since Biden took office, the Senate has confirmed a total of 40 nominated judges, the most appointed in a president's first year since former US President Ronald Reagan was in office.
Of those appointed, 80% of the judges are women and 53% are people of colour, according to the White House.
A total of 76 nominations have been submitted by Biden.
While Trump averaged around 61 judicial appointments per year, the Senate only confirmed 18 circuit and district court judges during his first year.
West Wing vs Vice President Kamala Harris
Despite these accomplishments over the past several months, it would appear that the White House has not been running as efficiently as possible.
Both current and former White House staffers broke their silence on the inner discord last month, after a USA Today-Suffolk University poll found that 28% of US voters approve of Vice President Kamala Harris' work, while a whopping 51% of those surveyed disapprove of Harris' efforts. Biden was not popular with the masses either, as his approval rating at the time plummeted to a new low of 38%, with 58% of respondents disapproving of the president's performance.
White House aides, as well as nearly three dozen former and current aides of Harris, Biden administration officials, Democratic operatives, political donors, and outside advisers were interviewed by CNN and documented their side of the squabble between the president and vice president's camps.
According to key West Wing aides at the time, Biden's team was worn out by Harris and her camp amid a frenzy of public criticism and an approval rating worse than that of the US president.
On Harris' side, aides and supporters claimed that, despite the campaign promise of bringing about a transformational government, Harris was being left out and placed in a losing situation with the public, likening the sidelining to a satirical article from The Onion: "White House Urges Kamala Harris to Sit at Computer All Day in Case Emails Come Through".
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One of those losing situations happened to be her appointment as the Northern Triangle diplomacy point-person, which Harris' allies viewed as a "no-win political situation" and an attempt to dash any future presidential aspirations.
Other individuals were also caught in the report's crosshairs, like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a former contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Those from Harris' camp pointed out that the White House was quick to come to Buttigieg's defence when he received backlash for being granted paternity leave, but appeared laissez-faire when it came to media criticism of the vice president.
Neither Biden, Harris, nor Buttigieg engaged in commentary on the report, and the White House rebuked the claims
, arguing that the vice president is valuable to the administration.
But Harris' allies are not letting up on the issue.
In a 23 December report from The New York Times, both Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Mark Buell, a prominent Democratic donor in San Francisco, California, came to the vice president's defence.
"I think she was an enormous help to the ticket during the campaign", said Mark Buell, one of Harris' earliest fundraisers since her first race for district attorney in San Francisco. "I would like to see her employed in the same way, now that they're implementing their objectives or goals".
"What the White House could've done is been clearer with the expectations of what was supposed to happen under her watch", said Rep. Bass, who was on Biden's vice presidential shortlist.
Their comments came ahead of Harris' interview with CBS' Margaret Brennan, who directly asked the vice president to name her "biggest failure" during her vice presidency.
"To not get out of DC more", Harris said with a laugh.
"People have a right to know and believe that their government actually sees and hears them", she said during a "Face the Nation" broadcast. "And my biggest concern is I don't ever want to be in a bubble when it comes to being aware of and in touch with what people need at any given moment in time".
AUKUS and Relations With France
In September, Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson each delivered an address in which they announced the formation of AUKUS
, a trilateral security partnership for advanced defence-tech sharing between the three nations.
The moment of unity did not last too long, however, as the leaders also revealed
that their first initiative would be to deliver Australia its first nuclear-powered submarine fleet.The initiative, which relies on the US and US-based contractors, ultimately led to Australia cancelling an estimated $37 billion deal with France's Naval Group, which expressed "deep disappointment" in the decision to reject its diesel-powered submarines.
France, despite being a Western ally, only found out about AUKUS hours before the announcement.
At the time, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the pact as a "stab in the back" and the French government recalled its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra for consultations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has since met with French President Emmanuel Macron and has spoken with Le Drian on several occasions.
"We could and we should have communicated better", Blinken told Macron in October, speaking in French. "We sometimes tend to take for granted a relationship as important and deep as the one that links France and the United States".
A test of US-French communication may be on the horizon, as the US State Department has approved a $9.4 billion foreign military sale geared toward the modernisation of Greece's Hellenic Navy MEKO Class frigates and the delivery of four Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) ships.
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However, Naval Group is also intending to secure a tentative $3.4 billion deal to sell Greece three frigates, with the option for the future procurement of a fourth frigate. Athens has also signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" regarding negotiations.
2022 and Beyond
Per a recent Politico-Morning Consult survey, some 41% of registered US voters claimed Biden and the Democrats in Congress have failed to meet expectations and underperformed during 2021. Meanwhile, 32% of respondents said their expectations were met, and 10% claimed Biden and his Democratic allies performed beyond their initial belief.
The Biden administration and Democrats' inability to pass voting rights legislation following the 2020 presidential election has unnerved many, including religious leaders led by Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, who recently urged Congress to take action
"for the work that remains unfinished".
The stalling has been mainly due to Republicans successfully filibustering the proposed legislation on four separate occasions.
On the most recent occasion, it was the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late civil rights leader and long-term congressman. The proposed legislation seeks to outlaw excessive gerrymandering, and implement early voting, mail-in voting, and same-day voter registration.
"If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster", Biden recently told ABC News.
The removal of the filibuster would move the vote threshold for passage from 60 to 50 votes, and, in the event of a tie in the 50-50 split Senate, Harris, president of the Senate, will be the deciding vote.
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Another key issue up in the air is Biden's "Build Back Better Act", which is now in jeopardy of being shaved down yet again after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) refused to back the bill.
Per The Washington Post's
Jeff Stein, Manchin's proposal to the White House
included a wealth tax for billionaires, which may trigger backlash from Senatore Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), who has expressed opposition to raising revenue through such means.
With pandemic pressures progressing into their third year and the 2022 midterm elections drawing near, it will be on the Biden administration next year to increase Democrats' favourability and electability by making further progress on a wide range of issues, like racial equity, climate change, healthcare, and immigration.