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The Student’s White House Correspondents on President Biden’s first 100 days

US President Joe Biden has inherited an intensifying series of crises that have few analogues. Economic catastrophe, clear cut racial divisions, and a pandemic that has swelled into the world’s largest public health disaster are among the many quandaries Mr Biden has been elected to manage. 

No playbook or remedy exists to deal with such a unique set of circumstances, and not since FDR has an incoming president taken such commanding action to both undo the actions of his predecessor, and alleviate a country in crisis.

As such, the choices Mr Biden makes in his first 100 days, and the style of leadership he pursues, will be uniquely consequential.

Addressing the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be the cornerstone to Mr Biden’s legislative agenda. Covid-related deaths careened into a total of more than 470,000 under the Trump administration, leaving the new incumbent with the laden task of quelling a public health crisis in tailspin.

Scientific evidence underpins Mr Biden’s comprehensive plan for tackling the pandemic. A week after his inauguration, the president detailed vaulting ambitions administering 100 million shots to US residents in his first 100 days. In scaling up production and administration of tests, and boosting global cooperation over ending the pandemic through rejoining and funding the World Health Organisation, the President aims to reverse the acute toll the pandemic has had on the country.

Mr Biden’s approach is a far throw from the politicisation of scientific evidence and attrition of public-health recommendations of his predecessor. Yet, with so many moving parts, questions over its ambitious scope are likely to pose an uphill challenge for the administration. 

Relying heavily upon a divisive $1.9 trillion relief plan, the President’s pandemic response risks Congressional deadlock, and its success may hinder any other legislative aims.

Despite this risk, Mr Biden’s relief plan is set to dominate his initial economic policy, hoping to turn the tide on COVID-inflicted economic fallout. Rejecting bipartisanship over strong legislative action, the bill seeks to protect small businesses, increase unemployment benefits, reopen schools and dampen the disproportionate economic toll experienced by black Americans. 

Modernizing American industry is also high on Mr Biden’s economic agenda. Seeking to protect existing jobs through investment in green energy, Biden has promised a $400 billion government procurement scheme to transform American manufacturing and maximise jobs.

Mr Biden also aims to reduce pervasive inequality by increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 and imposing greater taxes on corporations and America’s wealthiest citizens.

Initiating a “Clean Energy Revolution” was also a linchpin of Mr Biden’s campaign. Having rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and dismantled Trump’s assaults on environmental protections through a flurry of executive orders, Biden appears committed to this promise. Yet, he still has a long way to go before the path to his commitment of “100% clean energy economy” becomes a reality.

Similarly, eyes overseas are certain to be locked on how Mr Biden engages with foreign policy. The Trump administration, ingratiating itself with despots abroad and waning the image of American exceptionalism among western democracies, has left the country’s foreign relations in tatters. An active attempt to reconstruct the country’s image abroad, and a more measured approach to dealing with allies and adversaries, will no doubt be made.

More than a dozen of President Biden’s State Department appointees served in the Obama administration, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, a key architect of the Iran nuclear deal. While this would otherwise pose as a potential sign that Mr Biden isn’t keen to stray far from his days as Vice-President, his administration is instead crafting a unique approach to bilateral and multilateral diplomacy.

American hegemony declined under former president Trump, engending a power vacuum in multilateral institutions, such as the WHO and UN, and permitting autocratic regimes to have tremendous sway over global diplomacy.

Ultimately, a desire to resuscitate democratic values abroad underpins President Biden’s attitude to foreign policy. Since his inauguration, Mr Biden has ordered an end to arms sales to the Saudi Arabian campaign in the Yemen, brandishing it a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe”; expressed support for Russia’s incandescent democratic movement and the release of activist-politician Alexei Navalny from prison; and uniting allies capable of challenging an increasingly belligerent China on issues of human rights abuses and militaristic might.

Another of the thorniest challenges facing the president is navigating and dismantling Mr Trump’s legacy. Mr Biden aimed to leave the Trump administration in America’s past, promising a return to normality and unity. Trump’s impeachment trial is making that impossible. While Biden seeks to cement his legislative agenda, the impeachment trial is greatly detracting from Biden’s policy aims.

The Biden administration is doing all they can to minimise their involvement in the trial. Kamala Harris, Vice-President and President of the Senate, remained absent from proceedings, while Biden’s press secretary refuses to comment on its most recent developments.

This is unsurprising. The impeachment trial was set to not only determine Trump’s ability to run for future office, but also the direction of Republican Party. With the Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, each Senator holds enormous power – a single vote could halt Biden’s agenda. The results of the trial will inevitably define Biden’s relationship with Congress.

Mr Trump’s acquittal has now been determined, and while 7 Republican senators joined all Democrats in the most bipartisan repudiation ever presented in an impeachment trial, the results of the proceedings suggest the former president still has an overarching influence on the party, placing the future of Mr Biden’s legislative program on shaky ground as a result.

Mr Trump’s final days in office placed American democracy on a knife’s edge. President Joe Biden’s first 100 days will be vital in redefining the country’s role in the world. Inheriting a severely divided polity and institutions hollowed out by the presidency’s previous incumbent, Mr Biden’s actions in first 100 days will have repercussions incomparable to any president before him.

Image: Gage Skidmore via flickr.com

By Rufus Lee-Browne and Milo Hynes

Rufus Lee-Browne and Milo Hynes are The Student's White House Correspondents, tracking the Biden administration over his first 100 days in office.