Looking Back at Joe Biden's First 100 Days in Office: What He Has and Hasn't Done

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Sean Neumann
·9 min read
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ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images Joe Biden

President Joe Biden will mark the upcoming milestone of his first 100 days in office with a televised public address to Congress on Wednesday night, urging support for a $1.8 trillion proposal to expand access to education and healthcare and lower the cost of raising children.

The pitch is in keeping with how Biden has approached his early months in the White House.

So far, he has pushed a series of enormous legislative proposals that he argues are sized to the moment, as the country grapples with COVID-19 and what Democrats call more endemic failures to fund the middle class and the country's social programs and infrastructure.

One such package passed through the narrow Democratic majorities in Congress — over Republican opposition and conservative arguments that the bill was bloated and ineffective and would unnecessarily expand the government.

The White House is hoping to repeat their legislative success and, as Biden prepares to hit his 100-day mark on Thursday, his administration is enjoying continued support in the polls.

Problems loom, however, particularly on immigration, where Biden's approach is less popular.

"One-hundred days is really kind of a strange, arbitrary benchmark" Dr. Adam Warber, a Clemson political science professor and the author of Executive Orders and the Modern Presidency, tells PEOPLE. "But at the same time, the first several months is where you've got to hit the ground running."

Historian Jeffrey Engel believes Biden has "marvelously" transitioned into the role of president, seeking to counsel a country trying to emerge from a deadly pandemic and four years under President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a divisive, provocative style.

"People aren't paying that much attention to Biden, because he's not doing anything as crazy as the last guy," Engel, the director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, tells PEOPLE.

"It doesn't surprise me," Engel says. "He's thought about himself in that role for 40 years and has seen it done up close and personal for eight."

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JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Kamala Harris and Joe Biden

Although presidents don't give a State of the Union address until the start of their second year in office, Biden's Wednesday night's speech is expected to have a similar breadth, giving the public an update on his plans amid the pandemic.

The address, and Biden's 100 days, also offers an opportunity to evaluate what his White House has done so far.

A review by the Associated Press reports that Biden has fulfilled 25 out of a total of 61 promises he made during the campaign.

Out of those 61 promises, the AP reports, Biden's administration has started to work on 58 of them within the first 100 days.

What Has Biden Done in Office?

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Joe Biden

Biden's most prominent success was in passing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill through Congress.

He has also signed 40 executive orders — more than any U.S. president this early on in their first term since President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

Biden's sweeping use of orders drew applause from supporters hoping he would reverse many of Trump's policies, but the volume of orders brought criticism as well.

"You can't govern with a pen and a phone," Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, tweeted days after Biden took office. Another Republican, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert (who has drawn controversy of her own) pleaded for someone to "please hide the pens" at the White House.

In late January, The New York Times editorial board published an op-ed titled: "Ease up on the Executive Actions, Joe."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden's rush of executive orders within the administration's first few days in office, saying the president was merely taking steps "immediately to address the pain and suffering that the American people were feeling."

Indeed, the president has argued he's taken so many executive actions in order to swiftly reverse some of the most controversial Trump-era policies, such as ending the ban on transgender military members, stopping the construction of the southern border wall and rejoining the Paris climate agreement.

Biden has made climate change a national priority, launching a climate summit with other world leaders and creating a special climate envoy in his Cabinet, to which he appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry.

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He also made international headlines this month by announcing the U.S. will pull its military troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Trump administration had similarly hoped to leave Afghanistan this year, before Biden won the election.

Dr. Warber, the professor, says that Biden has been busy without making much noise: He rarely uses Twitter and makes only careful media appearances, compared to his predecessor, with few notable dustups with the press and the public.

"He's cooled down the rhetoric from the Trump era," Warber says.

What Biden Hasn’t Done — or Is Working On

OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Joe Biden

Biden's biggest challenge thus far has been what his Republican detractors — and even some of his own administration officials — describe as an immigration "crisis" at the southern border.

About 78 percent of Americans agree that the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is a "crisis," according to a new CNN poll, while roughly 65 percent disagree with how immigrants are being treated by border authorities.

"The Biden administration owes the American people an honest assessment of what is happening at the southwest border," Republican Rep. Jason Smith told Fox News this week.

Biden officials have asked for patience and said there are no easy answers while, they say, they are trying to implement a more humanitarian approach than under the more hardline Trump administration.

Progressives have also criticized Biden for moving too slow on erasing student loan debt and reforming gun laws.

Biden signed an executive order pausing federal student loan payments and interest until at least Sept. 30, extending previous pandemic-era pauses under Trump. But he's yet to take action on erasing any amount of debt, despite expressing support to the idea of forgiving up to $10,000.

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Some criticizing Biden for moving too slowly on the issue say it would have a ripple effect on other pressing matters, as well: "This is the single most powerful executive action President Biden could take to advance racial equity and give everyone in America a chance to build a future," Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a former 2020 opponent, said earlier this month.

Biden has also not entirely fulfilled his vow to get a majority of children in kindergarten through eighth grade back in classrooms, though that process in continuing in local school districts nationwide.

As his administration rolls out hundreds of millions of vaccines around the U.S., the administration released a "roadmap" for reopening schools completely by this fall.

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images President Joe Biden

The issue of gun violence, which has stymied previous presidents and has little consensus in Congress, was thrust back into the national consciousness after a spa of mass shootings in recent weeks.

Biden took some executive action on firearms this month but has mostly called for more permanent legislation outside his authority. "It's up to Congress to deliver," Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat whom the White House has called a "leader" on the issue, told PEOPLE this month.

Still, the country's problems with gun violence have only "gotten worse," said Kris Brown, president of the Brady gun violence prevention organization. The Gun Violence Archive estimates there have been nearly 14,000 gun-related deaths already this year in the U.S.

Elsewhere, as NPR notes, Biden's previous promises about working with Congress have not come to fruition on reversing some of the Trump tax cuts, on criminal justice and voting reforms and on major changes to the country's immigration system.

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How About Kamala Harris?

getty images From left: President Joe Biden listens as Vice President Kamala Harris gives a speech on April 20.

As for the role of the vice presidency, Harris' chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, tells the AP she's "taken it on with gusto."

Harris has often held phone calls with world leaders without Biden, according to White House readouts routinely provided to media outlets like PEOPLE.

Earlier this year, Biden told PEOPLE that he and Harris would work together with a similar closeness as he did while serving as Barack Obama's No. 2.

"I'm going to be the last one in the room — and there to give him honest feedback," Harris told PEOLE last year. "Being vice president to Joe Biden to me means supporting his agenda and supporting him in every way."

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The AP reports that Harris has also taken the reins on rallying her former congressional colleagues to back the administration's efforts on racial justice.

Last month, Biden named her the lead of the White House's immigration efforts at the southern border — a high-profile, and politically fraught, challenge.

All that experience, Engel says, is what helped Biden prepare for his own presidency.

"Say what you will about the vice presidency — there's not much to say about it — but you do get to see the presidency up close," Engel says.

It also may be the biggest difference between Biden and Trump's administrations, the presidential historian adds.

"What Biden is doing in bringing back people with genuine experience — which is what George W. Bush did too — that's not unusual," says Engel. "So, we're actually surprised at this point to see competence."