(WASHINGTON) — With the United States facing many of the same crises that Joe Biden took on when he took office one year ago, the president has been taking stock of his legislative accomplishments — including major infrastructure and coronavirus relief packages — and has stayed upbeat even as his popularity plummets and key priorities remain unmet.
“There’s a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven’t gotten done,” Biden said last week. “We’re going to get a lot of them done, I might add.”
From fighting the pandemic and rebuilding the economy, to dealing with racial strife and combating climate change, Biden faces a mixed report card of what he’s been able to accomplish, as the limits of his office — and political realities he’s had trouble overcoming — launch him into a challenging second year in the White House.
On COVID, shift to science gives way to ‘reactive’ policies
From his first day in office, Biden set a different tone on COVID-19 from his predecessor, President Donald Trump. He embraced science and his top medical advisers — like Dr. Anthony Fauci — donned face coverings, and expressed sympathy for lives lost to the virus.
Biden pushed a $1.9 trillion relief package through Congress, oversaw a testing program that ramped up exponentially in his first months in office, and encouraged or mandated masks where he could, including on planes and other public transport.
Sixty-three percent of Americans are now fully vaccinated and nearly all schools have in-person instruction. And while the Supreme Court this month blocked his administration from requiring large businesses to mandate their workers get vaccinated or test weekly, many companies have instituted vaccine and testing requirements regardless.
But after Biden predicted that the Fourth of July last year would “begin to mark our independence from this virus,” the delta and omicron variants drove up cases, hospitalizations and deaths — and overwhelmed U.S. hospitals.
Shifting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a testing shortage amid the omicron surge led public health experts to criticize his administration. A group of Senate Democrats said “far too many measures” his White House had taken “have been reactive, rather than proactive.”
And fewer Americans than ever now approve of the way Biden is handling COVID.
“If you take a look,” Biden said earlier this month, “we’re very different today than we were a year ago, even though we still have problems.”
On Tuesday, a White House official said, the Biden administration would make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks available to Americans for free and a government website went live allowing them to order free at-home tests.
Economy surges, but inflation hampers economic recovery
Biden delivered on two key economic promises: a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure law that passed with bipartisan support.
He presided over the economy’s resurgence last year, with a record 6.4 million jobs created, rising wages and low unemployment — dropping to just 3.9% in December.
But inflation was up a record 6.8% over the course of the year, outpacing wage growth for many Americans.
The White House initially labeled rising prices temporary in nature, and this month said they expected price jumps to moderate this year.
Global supply chain headaches have also led to shipping delays, although most packages reached consumers on time for the holidays.
Legislative priorities stalled
While his infrastructure bill marked a major win, Biden ended his first year in office with two top domestic priorities, his nearly $2 trillion “Build Back Better” social plan and a pair of voting rights bills, stalled in the Senate despite passing the House.
That’s in large part due to the intransigence of two key Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The pair’s opposition to changing Senate rules — over Biden’s pleas — has allowed Republicans to block legislation that would widen access to voting and federal oversight of elections.
Meanwhile, the president’s negotiations with Manchin on the social spending plan — which includes universal preschool, expanding the child tax credit, an historical investment in climate policies and more health coverage, among other policies — hit a roadblock last month.
Biden had pledged to take on climate change and racial equity as key priorities, and while he has signed executive orders aimed at both, legislative pushes — climate action in the “Build Back Better” bill, and police reform measures — have failed to garner bipartisan support despite Biden’s pledge to soften political divisions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden would continue to “advocate for both” voting rights and the “Build Back Better” bill.
“You don’t get everything done in the first year,” she said.
‘America is back’
The president traveled twice to Europe last year, declaring to allies that “America is back,” reaffirming traditional relationships and returning the U.S. to international organizations and agreements like the World Health Organization and Paris climate accord.
Seeking to end America’s involvement in Afghanistan, he withdrew troops from the country before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — but in the chaotic final days, a terror attack killed 13 American service members.
He has found it difficult to bring Iran back to the agreement over its nuclear program, which Trump scrapped, while North Korea has continued to test missiles despite U.S. misgivings.
As he juggles long-term competition with China and bringing about worldwide consensus on fighting climate change, Biden has in recent months found one of his most acute foreign policy challenges to be Russia’s military build-up on its border with Ukraine.
Biden has threatened severe consequences — economic and otherwise — should Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to invade.
Hope of unity hits political reality
Just two weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Biden stood on the building’s steps for his inauguration and preached about the need for unity.
Biden predicted Republicans would have an “epiphany” after Trump left office, but that has not materialized. In an ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted in late December, 71% of Republicans said they sided with Trump’s false claims that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election.
Trump’s lies about the election — and politicization of the pandemic — continue to guide Republicans, both in Washington and across the country.
And Biden this month used his strongest language yet to describe Republicans opposed to passing voting rights bills, comparing those opposed to his measures to notorious racial segregationists.
ABC News’ Karen Travers contributed to this report.
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