Joe Biden leads US out of 'winter of peril' in first 100 days, but the hard work is just beginning

The first 100 days of a presidency is traditionally seen as an opportune moment to gauge its achievements and tone, though circumstances dictate that not every incumbent of the White House enjoys the freedom, or fortune, to pursue their own agenda.

Like Barack Obama’s inheritance of the global financial crisis at the dawn of his first term, President Joe Biden’s administration has spent its first few months firefighting in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

If he has been less visible than his immediate predecessor, that is by choice, and also by virtue of the fact that he views the presidency as a sacred duty, and not a platform for self-publicity. Perhaps the greatest change since January has been the novelty of once again witnessing a president who projects decency, empathy, and rationality.

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These things matter, though they are no cure all. Mr Biden took up the top job in what he called America’s “winter of peril and significant possibility.” Brighter days are coming, but storms lie ahead, too.

There can be no doubt that the 78-year-old has made significant inroads. If the popular perception was of a nuts and bolts pragmatist, Mr Biden has quickly realised that the age demands bold, transformational action.

His immediate priority has been to upscale the US response to the pandemic. He took the helm of a nation that had been bruised and battered by Covid-19, with more than 550,000 dead. The good work of scientists and public health experts was done in spite of the White House, not in tandem with it.

But in the space of a few months, Mr Biden has effectively marshalled a wartime response during peacetime to provide impetus for one of the biggest immunisation programmes anywhere in the world.

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President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress ahead of the 100 days milestone. Picture: Melina Mara/AFP/Getty

With time to spare his administration surpassed its aim of delivering 200 million vaccine shots inside the 100 day window, with around 52 per cent of the adult population having received at least one dose to date.

The success of the programme owes no small part to his decision to wrest greater control of the vaccine distribution network from individual states, but challenges undoubtedly remain as the emphasis shifts from those most at risk, to the wider population.

A sizeable minority of Americans remain reluctant about getting the vaccine - the legacy, perhaps, of the previous administration’s careless and conspiratorial messaging. Mr Biden is attempting to mitigate this by providing tax credits to firms to allow employees paid time off to get vaccinated.

With deaths currently at a seven day average of 682 and falling, the Biden administration has also set about a major overhaul of the economy. A £1.3 trillion stimulus package ratified in February had provided much needed finance for business, while extending unemployment benefits and giving direct aid to families.

Measures such as job growth and retail sales indicate the economy is booming, and even on track for seven per cent growth - the fastest rate in 37 years. Mr Biden has set out plans for a £2.9tn investment plan for jobs, education, and social care.

The proposals, if approved, would form the backbone of Mr Biden’s presidency, given their immense scope and potential to lift poorer families out of poverty. But the measure would be funded by tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations, all but ensuring fierce Republican resistance to their progress through Congress.

On the foreign policy front, Mr Biden’s progress was slow at front - a sign of the major rebuilding job he faces at home. But in a shift back to multilateralism, the US has symbolically rejoined the Paris Agreement, and Mr Biden has announced a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

The job, as in so many areas, has been primarily about undoing the efforts of the Trump administration. Mr Biden has taken a step back from Saudi Arabia, and there is now no longer any ambiguity surrounding the US president’s views of - or relationship with - Vladimir Putin.

Make no mistake, however. Mr Biden’s report card is not unblemished. The US has struggled to deal with a spike in migrants arriving at its border with Mexico, with efforts to provide emergency shelter failing to keep pace with demand.

He has also faced criticism for failing to back up his pledge to tackle police violence, shelving plans for a commission and instead putting his weight behind legislation passing through Congress. That is a gamble which may not pay off.

The greatest challenge Mr Biden still faces, however, and the one on which he will be ultimately judged, is his ability to unify a country left fractured by the Trump years.

A recent Pew Research Centre study found that 59 per cent of Americans approve of the job he is doing. That is higher than than the 39 per cent Mr Trump polled at the same period in his first and only term, but it is lower than that of George W Bush and Ronald Reagan.

Crucially, however, the gap between Democratic and Republican approval of Mr Biden is at record high 86 points, compared to 77 points for Mr Trump, 56 for Mr Obama, 57 for Mr Bush, and 50 for Bill Clinton.

He is also the only president in modern polling history to command the support of less than half of white Americans at this point in his administration.

100 days ago, Mr Biden stood on the steps of the US Capitol and spoke of unity overcoming division, and light triumphing over darkness. The chaos which engulfed American life may have receded, but the wounds remain raw. There is no miracle cure, and Mr Biden knows it.

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