Biden endures up-and-down first year

Washington DC: Joe Biden’s long arc in public life has always had one final ambition: to sit behind the Resolute Desk of the Oval Office. He achieved it — albeit, at 78, as the oldest person to assume the presidency. After the turbulence and chaos of his predecessor, Donald Trump, Biden was seen by voters as one who could restore a sense of normalcy and a reassuring tone to the White House.

But Biden also found out, as all his predecessors have, that events beyond his control would shape his time in office and the public’s assessment of him. Over his first year in office, he’s spent at least a portion of 99 days in his home state of Delaware, mostly during weekend trips and amounting to more than a fourth of his presidency.

President Biden, who ran on the promise of being the most pro-labor president in history, has struggled to secure pro-worker legislation during his first year in office and recently clashed with major unions over his administration’s COVID-19 policies.

Still, labor leaders point to the American Rescue Plan and bipartisan infrastructure law as two of Biden’s many pro-worker victories and blame the tight Democratic majority in the Senate for failing to deliver on other legislative priorities like the PRO Act and Build Back Better plan.

His administration’s decision to weaken COVID-19 isolation guidelines and rescind the emergency temporary standard for health care worker protections puts Biden in rare disagreement with labor unions.

Big Ambitions

Biden started his presidency with more than $4 trillion worth of big ideas — his eyes larger than what the Senate could stomach. $1.9 trillion worth of coronavirus relief passed in March, which in many first years in office would have been considered a signature achievement. But Biden kept asking for more: an additional $2.3 trillion for infrastructure and jobs, and another $1.8 trillion for families. After some tortuous negotiations, he got a version of his infrastructure plan passed and even got more than a dozen Republicans in the Senate to vote for it.

Shooting High and falling short

Biden inherited a long list of unfulfilled Democratic policy priorities when he took office, but despite his best efforts, most remain so. Taking office after Trump’s efforts to subvert the will of voters, no issue seemed so urgent for Biden as the push for legislation on voting protections. Biden’s attempt to break a logjam on the legislation by pushing for the Senate to change its rules to pass bills by a simple majority was quashed before it even really began by two moderate members of his own party.

No Obama 2.0

Biden came to office trumpeting “America is back,” his shorthand message to allies and adversaries that the days of Trump’s inward-looking “America First” foreign policy were over. But his approach to the world has also been notable for its determination to avoid some of the missteps of his old boss, Barack Obama. Biden stood by his pledge to meet an August deadline to end the war in Afghanistan even as military commanders and some political allies urged him to slow down what ended up being a chaotic and bloody U.S. military withdrawal.

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