“It is a time for boldness, for there is so much to do,” President Joe Biden said in his inaugural address on Jan. 20. “And, this is certain. We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.”
On Wednesday, the eve of his 100th day in office, Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, touting the achievements his administration has made so far while acknowledging there is still much work to be done.
“One hundred days since I took the oath of office, lifted my hand off our family Bible, and inherited a nation in crisis,” he said. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.
“Now, after just one hundred days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden added.
According to an Associated Press tally, Biden made somewhere around 61 promises to the American public for his first 100 days, pledging to tackle policy issues ranging from climate change to tax reform.
One hundred days into his administration, where does the president stand on addressing the so-called “cascading crises” of his era?
Biden was clear that tackling the coronavirus pandemic would be his administration’s top priority before even taking office, and laid out his team’s “first three objectives” during an address on December 8, 2020.
The first of those goals was to ask all Americans to wear a mask for the first 100 days of his presidency; the second, a target of 100 million COVID-19 vaccines administered within 100 days; and third, to reopen a majority of schools during that same time frame.
“My first one hundred days won’t end the COVID-19 virus, I can’t promise that,” Biden said at the time. “But I’m absolutely convinced that in 100 days, we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better.”
The president’s singular focus on handling the virus at the outset of his presidency largely paid off.
Vaccine administration ramped up dramatically over the course of the past three months, so much so that Biden doubled his goal to 200 million shots in arms in late March. The country passed the increased goal on day 92 of Biden’s presidency.
While it’s nearly impossible to tally if the rate of mask-wearing increased over the past 100 days, Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office mandating that masks be worn at all federal buildings and territories, and by all federal employees and contractors.
But school reopenings have become something of a thorn in the Biden administration’s side, with the White House being accused of moving the goalposts and offering confusing guidance for educators and students hoping to go back to in-person learning.
At first, the administration was criticized for offering little clarity on what exactly qualified as an “open” school. Did that mean a school had to be operating at 100% capacity for in-person learning? Or would students still have the option to participate in virtual schooling?
In mid-February, CDC officials defined that goal to mean just over half of schools should hold in-person learning at least one day per week.
Soon after, the agency released guidelines for reopening K-12 schools that focused on five specific mitigation strategies: Masking, distancing, hand washing, cleaning and contact tracing. Schools were also advised to take into consideration the number of cases of COVID-19 in the surrounding community when reopening.
The most recent data available from the Department of Education, released in early April and reporting data for the month of February, about 80% of public schools with fourth or eighth grade classes were open either part-time or full-time for in-person learning.
But according to Burbio, a school-tracking site, around 65% of K-12 students were attending “traditional” — i.e. in-person, every day classes — as of April 25. It is unclear how many of those are elementary schools.
Another major victory for Biden in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic was signing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law on March 10, having promised during his campaign to give most Americans a stimulus check directly into their bank accounts.
As of April 28, the IRS sent out nearly 163 million Economic Impact Payments.
The package delivered on a number of other Biden campaign promises, including a year-long extension of the moratorium on evictions through September, increased federal unemployment benefits to $400 per week through the same month, and billions of dollars for various COVID-19 safety measures.
Biden has also long spoken of the need to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, and tried to include legislation to do so in his rescue plan — but lawmakers killed that part of the bill before approving it in the House and the Senate.
The president, however, is not giving up his fight for $15 that easily. On April 27, Biden issued an executive order requiring all federal contractors to begin offering employees a $15 minimum wage beginning next January; by the end of next March, all agencies “will need to implement the minimum wage into new contracts,” per a release from the White House.
Biden again pushed for a nationwide increase to the minimum wage during his address to Congress on Wednesday, saying in part: “While you’re thinking of sending things to my desk, let’s raise the minimum wage to $15. No one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line.”
Immigration reform has been a major hurdle for the Biden administration, as the president promised numerous times to undo many of his predecessor’s anti-immigration policies on day one in office.
“If I'm elected president, we're going to immediately end Trump's assault on the dignity of immigrant communities,” Biden said during a virtual conversation with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials last August. “We're going to restore our moral standing in the world and our historic role as a safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers.”
And it’s true that the president kept a number of those promises, having signed a flurry of executive orders relating to the immigration system during his first week in office.
Those orders included: Halting construction of the wall on the U.S. - Mexico border; reinstating and fortifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects those who came to the country illegally as children from deportation; and ending Trump-era travel restrictions on people from a variety of Muslim-majority countries.
Some of the president’s goals are still in progress, as he cannot completely overhaul the immigration system without help from Congress.
As promised, he introduced a sweeping proposal for immigration reform on his first day in office, the U.S. Citizenship Act, which includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of people living undocumented in the country, increased border technology and a variety of other changes.
The bill was formally introduced on Capitol Hill in February, but it faces a likely roadblock in the 50-50 Senate. For now, bipartisan groups of lawmakers are discussing potential compromises.
In the meantime, the president has called on Congress to pass protections for groups that have historically had bipartisan support, like Dreamers, people brought to the U.S. undocmented as children.
In March,House lawmakers approved one bill offering legal status to around 2 million Dreamers plus hundreds of thousands of migrants living in the U.S. with temporary, humanitarian protections from a dozen troubled countries.
They then voted for a second measure creating similar protections for 1 million farm workers who have worked in the U.S. illegally. The government estimates they comprise half of the nation’s agricultural laborers.
In a statement after the votes, President Joe Biden called the action a “critical first step” toward the more sweeping overhaul he proposed. The narrower measures stand a better chance of getting Republican votes in the Senate, though they haven’t moved forward yet.
The administration is also receiving mounting criticism for failing to progress in a number of key areas on immigration reform.
At the outset of his presidency, Biden attempted to enact a 100-day deportation moratorium pending a review of the immigration system. Soon after the executive order, a federal judge in Texas issued a restraining order requiring the Biden administration not to enforce the moratorium.
Less than a week after the judge’s ruling, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had already deported immigrants to at least three countries: 15 people to Jamaica and 269 people to Guatemala and Honduras.
Biden is also getting heat from members of his own party for not lifting the nationwide refugee cap.
Last October, then-president Trump decreased the U.S. refugee allowance to a historic low of 15,000. Biden promised — both on the campaign trail and while in office — that he would lift that number dramatically, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken notifying Congress on Feb. 12 of a plan to raise the ceiling on admissions to 62,500.
In mid-April, the White House backtracked, stating that the admission of up to 15,000 refugees set by President Donald Trump for this year “remains justified by humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest.”
Hours later — and after outcry from allies within his own party — the Biden administration released a statement declaring it would likely increase the refugee cap for this year after all, on or by May 15, but they did not clarify by how much.
Biden has also kept a Trump-era policy that allows Customs and Border Protection to expel thousands of migrants who reach the U.S.-Mexico border, due to the pandemic. Judges have said the order, called Title 42, is likely illegal, but the administration has relied on the policy to stem this year’s record surge in migration.
The president has made somewhat limited progress on gun control and police reform, but it’s not entirely up to him — Congress has remained paralyzed on passing gun control laws for years.
In early April, following a deadly shooting rampage in Atlanta that left eight people dead, Biden put on a modest White House ceremony to announce a half-dozen executive actions to combat what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America.
Biden’s mandates included a move to crack down on “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and are often purchased without a background check. He also moved to tighten regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces like the one used in Boulder, Colorado, in a shooting that left 10 dead in March.
The president’s actions delivered on a pledge he made to take what he termed immediate “common-sense steps” to address gun violence, after a series of mass shootings drew renewed attention to the issue.
But his orders stopped well short of some of his biggest campaign-trail proposals, including his promise to ban the importation of assault weapons, his embrace of a voluntary gun buyback program and a pledge to provide resources for the Justice Department and FBI to better enforce the nation’s current gun laws and track firearms.
Biden mentioned a formidable list of priorities he’d like to see Congress tackle, including passing the Violence Against Women Act, eliminating lawsuit exemptions for gun manufacturers and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He also called on the Senate to take up House-passed measures to close background check loopholes.
But with an evenly-divided Senate — and any gun control legislation requiring 60 votes to pass — Democrats would have to keep every member of their narrow majority on board while somehow adding 10 Republicans.
The administration has also backed away from one key promise Biden made on the campaign trail, namely to create a national police oversight commission inside White House.
At an April 12 White House briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the White House will focus on moving the George Floyd Policing Act, which contains numerous reforms, including a national police misconduct registry and a ban on no-knock warrants and police chokeholds, through Congress and "not on the policing commission."
Biden took immediate action to undo many of the damaging mandates left over from Donald Trump, who belittled the science behind climate efforts, loosened regulations on heat-trapping oil, gas and coal emissions, and spurred oil and gas leasing in pristine Arctic tundra and other wilderness.
Biden signed an executive order rejoining the Paris climate accord within hours of taking the oath of office, fulfilling a campaign pledge.
The Paris accord commits 195 countries and other signatories to come up with a goal to reduce carbon pollution and monitor and report their fossil fuel emissions. The United States is the world’s No. 2 carbon emitter after China.
The president also signed a number of executive orders in January to transform the nation’s heavily fossil-fuel powered economy into a clean-burning one, pausing oil and gas leasing on federal land and targeting subsidies for those industries.
Biden also directed agencies to focus help and investment on the low-income and minority communities that live closest to polluting refineries and other hazards, and the oil- and coal-patch towns that face job losses as the U.S. moves to sharply increase its reliance on wind, solar and other other energy sources that do not emit climate-warming greenhouse gases.
And just last week, Biden opened a global climate summit on Earth Day with a pledge to cut at least in half the climate-wrecking coal and petroleum fumes that the U.S. pumps out by 2030.
"The signs are unmistakable," Biden said in a virtual address to world leaders. "The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn't waiting. We are resolving to take action."
But it remains to be seen if and how the United States will be able to reach those lofty goals, with much of the funding for green programs likely coming from Biden’s recently-unveiled $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan.
The plan, should it pass Congress, would help spur some of Biden's promises on green energy and curbing emissions, as it allocates billions of dollars for research and development on climate issues.
Administration officials, in previewing Biden’s climate target, disclosed aspirations and vignettes rather than specific plans, budget lines or legislative proposals for getting there.
Officials, who briefed reporters in advance of Biden's announcement, made no direct mention of politically tricky moves to wean the U.S. from oil, natural gas and coal. They emphasized the role of technology, including carbon capture and hydrogen power, which have yet to be affordably developed to scale.
Spectrum News' Political Digital Journalist Austin Landis contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.