President Joe Biden has officially survived a year in the most powerful office in the world. Therefore, it is only apt to review and recapitulate his first year in the White House with the utmost objectivity. Already contemplating a reelection campaign in 2024, Biden’s behavior must be scrutinized to the highest extent to ensure that our votes are cast without a trace of doubt.
On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden officially became America’s 46th President. His team immediately faced a country left in shambles due to COVID-19, climate change, systemic racism, foreign wars, and the many pitfalls of the previous administration led by Donald Trump. In his inaugural address, Biden deemed the day as a National Day of Unity, saying, “To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.” That final word rang throughout the nation, as citizens were anxious as to how exactly President Biden would accomplish this monolithic feat.
That same day, Biden signed a multitude of executive orders that halted funding to Trump’s border wall, reinstated America as part of the Paris Climate Accords, paused federal student loans, lifted the travel ban from Middle East countries, and revoked the permit that was obtained to start construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline, a major threat to our climate and ecosystems. All of these actions were major plans within Biden’s campaign, some of them even outlined to be accomplished within his first 100 days. A lot can be accomplished through the power of the executive order.
Throughout January, Biden continually implemented this constitutionally-granted power. He raised the minimum wage for federal employees to $15 an hour, beginning his push to make this number the nationwide policy. He also overturned Trump’s transgender military ban, an extremely controversial and legally-challenged order.
The Mexico City Policy, a program first introduced by Ronald Reagan, was another policy expanded by Trump that Biden wished to overturn. The policy stated that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were required to ensure that they could not use any funding, federal or otherwise, to provide abortion care to people in need. During Trump’s presidency, the policy was expanded to limit about $7 billion in funding. Biden used his executive power to overturn the Mexico City Policy in January of 2021, but the Supreme Court later ruled in August that it was unconstitutional to do so. This ruling, made by a majority-conservative Supreme Court that was set up under the Trump Administration, forced Biden to reinstate the policy. His campaign promise that emphasized more funding toward Planned Parenthood became much harder to accomplish.
In February, similar executive action took place. This month primarily focused on immigration, as Biden’s campaign promised to improve the naturalization process and transform America into a more welcoming nation. As President, Biden faced this challenge head-on. He implemented policies that attempted to end the separation of families at the border, which was a massive issue under the Trump administration. Biden also increased the number of refugees that the US would accept and reverted the naturalization test back to the one created in 2008. The test that Trump created was riddled with inaccuracies, conservative biases, and unnecessary questions that most US citizens could not answer. This policy made it much harder for immigrants to naturalize, which many criticized as blatant xenophobia.
Biden’s first major controversy also came in February, as he approved a missile strike on February 25 that targeted Iranian-backed militias in Syria. Claimed to be a retaliation against missile strikes on the 15th that killed one and injured many US and coalition contractors, the bombing killed 22 members of Iraq’s state-sponsored Hashd al-Shaabi. Many critics argue that this attack violated United Nations law. Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, stated, “The United Nations charter makes absolutely clear that the use of military force on the territory of a foreign sovereign state is lawful only in response to an armed attack on the defending state for which the target state is responsible… None of those elements is met in the Syria strike.” While this may not be the first time a US president has violated international law, it is also not the first time a US president has promised military transparency and legality.
The month of March was relatively mild for the Biden Administration. Perhaps the most important moment was on March 6, when the Senate passed the American Rescue Plan Act. This bill was a $1.9 trillion aid package focused on supplying American citizens with extra funds to stimulate the economy. The passage of this bill was a major victory for Biden and fellow Democrats, as it was one of the largest stimulus bills ever passed in US history.
The question of Biden’s senility, a major talking point during the presidential race, returned to the forefront this month. After more than two months in office, the President held his first official press conference. Just minutes into the briefing, social media polarized itself as some claimed “he's doing fine” while others stated, “This is not a press conference. This is a scripted reality television show.” Regardless of performance, it was unconventional for the 79-year-old to hold his first press conference so late. Previous presidents have held their first conferences in matters of weeks, not months. This overdue conference only adds to questions regarding the President’s ambiguous mental and physical state.
In April, Biden, among other world leaders, attended the 2021 Leaders Summit on Climate. 17 of the world’s largest economies and greenhouse gas emitters attended the event, discussing plans for climate reform. While the policies agreed upon will decrease the rise in temperature to about 2.4° C, it is still far from the worldwide goal of 1.5°, to mitigate future damage to the environment. Still, much more needs to be accomplished to quell climate change during the administration’s next three years.
With April came the end to Biden’s first 100 days in office. While much was achieved, a lot of Biden’s campaign promises fell short: border reform, methane limits, and land conservation were all enumerated plans that the Biden administration wished to achieve by April 29. None of these, which were all plausible through the use of executive action, hit Biden’s desk during his first 100 days.
The Israel-Palestine Crisis became the center of attention throughout the world during the month of May. Thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes due to Israeli missile attacks, and foreign governments had to formulate a calculated response. President Biden decided to side with Israel, as the US has still refused to acknowledge Palestine as a sovereign nation. He signed off on a $735 million arms deal with Israel that would provide them with more precision-guided weapons. After the crisis, Biden condemned Israeli-American hate despite calls from his advisors to recognize Israel as the instigators of the conflict, going back on his promises to handle foreign relations morally and justly.
The summer began with controversial words from Vice President Kamala Harris, who President Biden placed in charge of the Administration’s immigration response and policy. Speaking on immigration in South America, she simply told the citizens of those countries, “Do not come.” The crisis at America’s border was becoming too much to handle for the Biden administration, forcing them to go back on their ideals of acceptance and welcome.
These comments were not the only controversies of the month of June, however. President Biden decided to ban Americans from investing in 59 Chinese brands, including Huawei, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world. This decision was a part of Biden’s persistent goal of diminishing China and its global influence amid what many political strategists and commentators have called the beginnings of a new Cold War.
Additionally, a drone strike in Syria killed 9 Iran-backed militiamen. The US chose not to disclose some vital information about the attack, leading many to think that Biden was going against his word. He originally planned for militaristic transparency, yet this lack of knowledge is directly contradictory.
As the summer heated up, so did the coronavirus, especially the newly emerging Delta variant. Despite this, Biden threw a large party for Independence Day. About 1,000 military families and essential employees crowded the White House lawn maskless, as the rest of America was advised to have small gatherings and not “large events with lots of people.”
Later in July, Biden approved more missile strikes in Somalia targeted at Al-Shabab, a group claimed to be connected to Al-Qaeda. While there was not a single US soldier in the area, Biden still decided to fire his first strike in Somalia as President. Biden’s military policy and integrity were, yet again, questioned.
While August saw the passing of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that Biden vehemently endorsed, the main issue was the war in Afghanistan. Earlier in the year, Biden foreshadowed the end of America’s longest war and vowed to extract all US troops from Afghanistan by August 31. While the last US soldier left just one day before that, the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal was heavily criticized.
On August 15, Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul was overtaken by the Taliban with unexpected alacrity. This invasion left hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens helpless. The US, months before, denied accepting Afghan refugees, which caused a need to evacuate these people in a matter of days. What could have been a longer, streamlined process turned into an all-out panic. Jane Ferguson, a PBS News correspondent, put it simply, saying “There is no system. The system has collapsed.” Additionally, the panic and confusion surrounding the exit of US forces were complicated by a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport which left 13 US service personnel dead.
Because of this lack of planning, hundreds of US citizens were abandoned in Afghanistan and thousands of Afghan people looking to escape were left in the hands of the new Taliban-controlled government. While Biden’s goal of ending the war was accomplished, his withdrawal was utterly disastrous.
In September, Biden’s immigration controversies continued. His administration planned on expelling migrant families due to COVID-19 restrictions, using a policy implemented under Donald Trump. Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled against this use of policy saying that it denies asylum-seekers the “opportunity to seek humanitarian benefits.” Again, Biden’s welcoming promises were falling flat in the face of crisis.
This exclusion continued in October, as the Biden administration reinstated the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Doing this allowed the US government to send Mexican asylum-seekers back to Mexico to await their hearings. Forced back into the harmful region they wished to escape, these hopeful immigrants were again placed at high risk in their home regions.
In November, the world’s leaders met again to discuss climate change at the COP26 conference. After days of discussion, the meeting was practically ineffectual at creating real change. Analysis shows that the plans discussed will still warm the earth by 2° C, not meeting the goals necessary to mitigate the damage of climate change.
While agreeing to measures that fight climate change, the US government auctioned off oil leases on the US-Mexico border. Totaling to about $190 million, this sale directly contradicts Biden’s campaign promise to prohibit the federal sale of oil.
As the year came to an end, Biden started looking toward the future. He held many discussions on his Build Back Better plan, which is his attempt to revive America’s struggling economy affected by the pandemic. He also increased the debt ceiling, preventing the US’s first possible default and allowing the government to carry out its expenditures for at least the next two years.
Finally, in January, Biden began to discuss filibuster reform, a hot topic among many in Washington. Achieving a change to the filibuster would allow congress to work more effectively and efficiently. Ultimately, both the Build Back Better plan and attempts at voting and filibuster reform were shot down in the Senate due to an inability of the Democrats, particularly Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to unite around these bills.
With that came the end of Biden’s first year as Commander-in-Chief. Filled with progressive reform as well as traditionalist actions, Biden’s initial goal of unity is still far from view. His actions seem to polarize one group or another whichever direction he turns. To combat this lack of consistent support and cooperation, he needs to hone in and decide exactly what direction he wishes to take this country. At this point, it is unknown whether he will easily be reelected. Republican ideals continue to fester within their own echo chambers, and Democrats seem to be either too complacent or too “radical.” For Biden to truly become a force for change, he needs to unify one group before he can unify the entire nation.