As President Joe Biden approaches his 100th day in office, CNN Opinion asked contributors to share their assessment of the Democratic leader’s performance thus far. The views expressed below are their own.
David Axelrod: A welcome tonic after years of chaos
President Joe Biden was left an unholy mess by his predecessor – a raging virus and resultant economic downturn, a fraught politics, a decayed bureaucracy and a bitterly divided Washington, DC.
Yet, former President Donald Trump also set Biden up to succeed. And beyond the clumsy handling of the challenges at the border, he has.
His team, like the man himself, is long on experience. Its quick and masterly passage of his coronavirus relief package has accelerated the vaccination of Americans and provided a jolt to the economy. There is a renewed sense of basic competence.
But the genius of Biden’s first 100 days is his style. Even as he rammed through the $1.9 trillion relief plan through a closely divided Congress on a partisan basis – and even as he is pushing for more – he has struck a decidedly nonconfrontational tone. He does not demand constant attention. He does not vilify his opponents or pick fights for sport. He is low-key, warm and empathetic.
Maybe over time these virtues will lose some of their luster in the face of myriad challenges the White House will confront.
For now, however, Biden’s tone, tenor, and fundamental decency are a welcome tonic after four years with the Great Divider.
David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns.
Sarah Isgur: Biden should beware of repeating Obama’s mistakes
Will Joe Biden follow in Barack Obama’s footsteps – and push for policies that unite Republicans in opposition?
In 2009, Democrats had full control of Congress, giving a newly-elected Obama a clear path to fulfill many of his campaign promises. After 100 days, Obama’s approval ratings were in the mid-60s, and he had signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
But, in February 2009 – still in his honeymoon period – Obama announced at a joint session of Congress that he would pursue changes in three areas of the American economy: “energy, health care, and education.” The Obama presidency is only remembered for the middle one – which included a “historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform” that would become the Affordable Care Act. The ACA was signed into law in March 2010 and, that fall, Republicans, campaigning heavily against the health care plan, gained an astounding 63 seats in the US House of Representatives. With House Speaker John Boehner then in control, Obama’s agenda largely came to halt for the remainder of his time in office.
Biden’s approval rating sits at 54%, and he recently has signed one of the largest relief packages in history. Now he is pushing for another $2 trillion to fund his ambitious jobs and infrastructure plan. He doesn’t have much room for error, though. Republicans only need five seats to take back the House and only one seat to flip the US Senate.
But a lot has changed since 2009. And the biggest question for the midterms may be whether Republicans, who so effectively ran against Obamacare in 2010, will be able to foster the same unity and message discipline against Biden’s administration.
Sarah Isgur is a staff writer at The Dispatch and the host of the legal podcast Advisory Opinions.
Lanhee Chen: It’s been a discouraging first 100 days
President Joe Biden campaigned as someone who would bridge our country’s political divisions but is governing as someone who has eschewed bipartisanship. For progressives, that’s been a welcome development, but for conservatives who thought Biden might meet them halfway, it’s been a discouraging first 100 days.
Biden’s term thus far has been marked by the introduction of two massive fiscal expansions, with a third package of costly reforms scheduled to be introduced this week. The first was a $1.9 trillion spending bill that included money for Covid-19 relief but also a $350 billion bailout for state and local governments. The second was a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package that only spends about a quarter of a total of $2.65 trillion on “transportation infrastructure.” And the last is a package that is reported to include $1.8 trillion in new spending on traditionally progressive priorities like universal pre-K and a national paid leave program, in addition to rollbacks of some of former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts.
In each of these cases, Biden could have tempered his instincts to “go big” and worked in a bipartisan manner to achieve far less expansive, but still impactful, changes. He could have used his considerable power – both via the bully pulpit but also with his partisans in Congress – to send a message that compromise isn’t a dirty word. This was the theory he advanced during his campaign for president. But the reality of his first 100 days in office has been something entirely different.
Lanhee J. Chen is a regular contributor for CNN Opinion. He is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution and the director of Domestic Policy Studies in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University. Chen previously served as the policy director of the Romney-Ryan 2012 presidential campaign and senior adviser on Policy to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
Peniel Joseph: Never bet against Biden
President Joe Biden’s first 100 days have proven to be the most politically progressive presidency since former President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. His time in office has been marked by a call for democratic renewal, civic activism and robust government intervention – largely in response to the pandemic and America’s racial justice reckoning.
The passage of the massive Covid-19 relief plan, which promises to reduce child poverty by half and includes $5 billion for Black farmers systemically denied equitable treatment by the Department of Agriculture, is the most obvious demonstration of that.
But Biden hasn’t stopped there. Alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, he has publicly called for the end of systemic racism in American society. Biden’s thoughtful words in the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin verdict and his promise to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act exemplify both the arduous road ahead and the steps toward progress that he is committed to making.
The politics of racial, economic and environmental crises that are fast shaping his presidency have made Biden publicly advocate for government intervention backed by science, empathy and imagination. Biden’s plain-spoken honesty about the state of the nation has been, so far, matched by federal policy bold enough to meet this critical moment.
Beyond whatever “honeymoon” period remains of his first term, Biden must continue to turn his words into tangible policy deeds, all the while navigating Republican intransigence over voting rights, environmental justice and anti-racist protest movements. This will require heavy lifting beyond anything we have ever witnessed in recent history. But if the first president in American history to explicitly call out “White supremacy” in an inaugural speech has shown the nation anything, that’s to never bet against Joe Biden.
Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently, “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.”
Jill Filipovic: We’re just beginning to see what this President can do
President Joe Biden has spent his first 100 days cruising through an ambitious sea of policy proposals, legislative actions and executive orders. On a raft of issues, like Covid-19 relief, climate change and forever wars, he has helped American families and has begun to undo some of the worst actions of his predecessors.
Biden’s many achievements are worth celebrating, but they’re less about the man himself – a steady if malleable moderate – than the increased strength of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Biden is the one signing the papers, but it’s the leftists, feminists and racial justice advocates who deserve much of the credit.
Biden wound up the unlikely head of a fractured Democratic Party and the leader of a deeply divided nation. He campaigned as a Scranton guy who knows the pain of the blue-collar worker. Progressives hardly lined up behind Biden in the Democratic primary, instead favoring Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. But the sharper observers among them recognized Biden for what he is: a man whose politics are pliable.
So they pushed him and plied him. And Biden has responded, adopting an agenda that, while not everything on the left-wing wish list, is more progressive than that of any president in recent memory.
There is still much to do. But as we assess what has been done in these 100 days, it’s worth recognizing that Biden is simply the most powerful and visible part of a vast, teeming political ecosystem. We’re just beginning to see what it will produce.
Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter.
Robby Soave: Biden is following advice from those who are being too risk-averse
President Joe Biden’s first 100 days have unfolded alongside a mass vaccination campaign that has finally started to curb the worst impacts of the pandemic. As such, the administration deserves some appreciation, even though efforts were underway before the new President took office.
While Biden’s sober approach to Covid-19 has felt reassuring after former President Donald Trump’s confused and cavalier attitude, the new administration has at times struck an overly cautious note. If Trump’s sin was failing to heed the experts, Biden’s is complete deference to the most risk-averse government bureaucrats. For instance, the President set school reopening goals that were entirely too modest and was caught unprepared when many teachers’ unions balked at the idea of sending their members back into classrooms. The Biden administration also paused the rollout of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine due to a handful of blood-clotting issues; this delay, though deemed necessary by those in the medical community, is ripe ground for breeding vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
People may prefer heavy-handed but passably competent governance to the chaos of the last four years, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Biden’s approval rating is currently lower than any other recent past president, except for Trump.
Roxanne Jones: His policies fall short of promises made to the Black electorate
At another time, it would be easy for me to give President Joe Biden high praise for his first 100 days in office. He’s begun to address big tent traditional Democratic issues – quelling the pandemic, infrastructure, gender equality, climate change and gun control.
But that’s not enough post-George Floyd, post-Capitol insurrection. After a racial reckoning that continues to expose America’s allegiance to its White supremacist foundation – specifically across policing – we expect more from Biden.
Biden vowed to “rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country,” back in a July 4, 2020 video. He added racism infects society in many areas, “from unfairly administered Covid-19 recovery funds, to laws that perpetuate racial wealth gaps, to health disparities, to housing policy, to policing, to our justice system and everywhere in between.”
But, after 100 days in office, Biden has yet to put an urgent enough focus on dismantling systemic racism and repaying the debt he owes to the Black and brown electorate that turned out in historic numbers to put him in office.
Repaying that debt will require pushing harder on Congress to pass police reform measures like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – before the 2022 midterm elections. The initiative includes federal oversight of police misconduct, a ban on chokeholds and a public national registry of police misconduct violations and investigations, among other sweeping measures.
Kudos to Biden’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, for valuing the lives of Americans over politics. But at this stage in the fight for justice and equality, it is not good enough to roll out a pandemic policy that does not directly address the structural racism in health care that has allowed for a well-documented lack of investment in vaccine distribution in the nation’s hardest-hit Black and brown communities.
Though Biden is addressing equity concerns in his infrastructure package, and that is a good start, we do not know if the amount his administration has allocated to historically underserved Black and brown communities will make it into the final bill. And even if those funds remain in the package, it is not yet clear they will be adequately distributed to address a lack of access to jobs, government contracts, crumbling schools and toxic water systems in underserved communities.
So, solid start, Mr. President, but keep your eye on the prize. We’re watching and done waiting.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM WURD.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Biden’s compassion alone is a victory for America
“Democracy requires consensus. I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president,” Joe Biden asserted on the campaign trail last October. One hundred days into his administration, he has lived up to that promise, passing sweeping measures, such as the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, that are intended to benefit Americans across the political spectrum. A Pew Research poll found that 70% of Americans approve of the bill, including 41% of conservatives – no small victory in an age of intense polarization in and outside of Congress.
Biden has acted purposefully to restore faith in America’s commitment to democracy – a message Americans and the world need to hear, especially after the January 6 Capitol riot. His support of the H.R. 1 For The People Act will enhance election security and decrease corruption in politics. The global summits he hosts, such as a recent one on climate, emphasize accountability, a bedrock principle of democratic politics.
Americans have endured the loss of loved ones, jobs and serenity due to the coronavirus pandemic – all of this in the midst of lost trust in the presidency: Trump made over 30,000 misleading or false claims during his four years in office. Having a leader who shows compassion, most recently for victims of racial injustice, is itself a victory for America.
Jeremi Suri: He has brought the presidency back
Joe Biden is the first US President to follow a twice-impeached predecessor and a violent insurrection that tried to overturn his election. And yet, despite the national trauma, Biden has brought calm and confidence.
With a steady hand – undramatic, but focused – he has taken decisive action to serve all Americans. Biden delivered $1.9 trillion of pandemic relief to American citizens, including the most vulnerable. He helped organize more than 200 million Covid-19 vaccinations for Americans. His Justice Department is pursuing and prosecuting right-wing extremists who threaten our democracy. And Biden has returned the United States to a global leadership role, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement again, convening a virtual climate meeting of 40 world leaders, reaffirming the American commitment to NATO and sending a seasoned diplomat to the United Nations.
The details are impressive, but the overall effect is much greater. Through his highly regarded appointees, his carefully chosen words, and his singular commitment to national recovery, Biden has bought the presidency back. Instead of bluster and lies, the White House puts out factual information each day. Instead of spreading hate, the President encourages citizens to come together. Although our fissures remain deep, we are a better country after Biden’s first 100 days, and we can have hope for the future.
Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor of history and public affairs. He is the author and editor of nine books, most recently “The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office.”
Carrie Sheffield: Biden’s alarming leftward turn
President Joe Biden’s first 100 days featured a sharp leftward turn – far from the bipartisanship he promised during his campaign.
After Democrats previously complained about executive overreach during the Trump administration, Biden, in his first days in office, signed a flurry of executive orders, including suspending the migration protocol protections, or the “remain in Mexico” policy, for asylum-seekers. Not surprisingly, a surge of migrants tried to cross the border shortly after, including a record number of unaccompanied minors. Biden’s team failed to acknowledge the crisis for weeks.
After saying he didn’t support packing the US Supreme Court, Biden signed an executive order to form a commission to, among other court reforms, consider the possibility of just that. Yet, multiple polls from late 2020 show Americans reject expanding the high court.
Biden halted construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and put a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. This not only kills some American jobs, but it also aids Russia and oil-exporting countries.
And Biden’s new multitrillion dollar “infrastructure” spending plan would grow our national debt, make us less globally competitive by hiking the corporate tax rate to 28%, and likely lead to job losses among working-class Americans.
Americans deserve better in the next 100 days and beyond.
Carrie Sheffield is a senior fellow at Independent Women’s Forum.
Kate Masur: This President may take his cues from Lincoln
Three years into the Civil War, former President Abraham Lincoln wrote to the editor of a Kentucky newspaper: “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” He had arrived in Washington, DC, believing that “if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” but had been equally certain that the US Constitution gave the president no power to interfere with slavery in times of “ordinary civil administration.”
Then came a cascade of extraordinary events, and with them, the realization that otherwise unconstitutional measures could “become lawful” if the preservation of the nation were at stake. And so, on January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an emergency executive order that attacked slavery and cemented his place in history.
When Joe Biden became President, he, too, inherited a nation in crisis. His predecessor had challenged the legitimacy of a fair election and roused his supporters to attack the Capitol to preserve his power. Americans mourned over 400,000 lives lost to Covid-19 while suffering economic hardships stemming from the pandemic and decades of deepening inequality.
Biden, in turn, moved beyond the inclinations of his long career as a moderate and embraced immense domestic spending programs, defended the government’s capacity to help those who are struggling, insisted on tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, and unabashedly condemned structural racism.
But the challenges Lincoln faced in his first 100 days were far more dire than those we face today: Congress was out of session when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 state militiamen to help defend the Union, four additional states joined the rebellion and the sectional crisis spiraled into civil war.
Biden is being tested in far more quotidian ways, as he faces the likelihood that a divided and dysfunctional US Senate could block legislation the nation sorely needs. Perhaps, like Lincoln, Biden will someday reflect that “events have controlled me,” pulling him in directions he might never have expected. If so, it will probably be all to the good, since Lincoln’s greatest quality as president was likely his ability to adapt to new situations, moving slowly but decisively onto bolder, more democratic paths that he had once dismissed.
Kate Masur is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University and the author of “Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction.”
Keith Boykin: How Biden impressed this skeptic
Early last year, I appeared on CNN several times and explained why I felt uninspired by Joe Biden’s lagging presidential campaign. At the time, candidate Biden spoke in the cautious language of bipartisanship and introduced modest proposals for incremental change that I felt misread the dramatic needs of the moment.
One year later, as Biden completes his first 100 days in office, I have to admit I’m impressed.
Biden’s governing strategy – to under-promise and overdeliver – has helped to manage the nation’s expectations as it faces the four lingering crises left by his predecessor: the coronavirus pandemic, the economic crisis, the racial justice crisis and the crisis of democracy.
In just 100 days, the Biden-Harris administration has passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, appointed the most diverse cabinet in history, prioritized racial equity, restored honesty and competence to government, introduced the most ambitious first-100-day agenda of any president in my lifetime, and reversed key Trump-era policies on the environment, immigration and transgender exclusion.
Through it all, Biden’s job approval remains consistent and high among Democrats, demonstrating that many of these progressive ideas are far more popular with both progressives and moderates than the critics would admit.
Keith Boykin is a former White House aide to President Bill Clinton and a CNN political commentator.
John Avlon: Experience has its benefits
President Joe Biden decided to go big. Armed with the experience of a half-century in Washington, DC, Biden has been incredibly disciplined, refusing to be distracted by small ball or scandals. He’s focused on kicking Covid’s butt because he knows that’s issue number one. And while the battle hasn’t been won in the first 100 days, doubling his stated goal to achieve 200 million shots in arms is an eloquent statement that doesn’t require speeches.
It’s evidence that government can work again. And that’s the biggest goal of the Biden administration. That’s the theme that flows through the promise of his big-spending American Rescue Act and the oncoming $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. He’s the anti-Trump, abandoning narcissistic Twitter-tantrums and replacing the bluster with quiet decency, connecting small virtues with big goals, armed with the belief that good policies can solve problems that make a difference on Main Street.
In our polarized times, when faith in democracy has been shaken, that is a bold agenda. Yes, there is a chance of blowback if he sidesteps Republicans entirely, given his promise to unify the nation. But he can point to the broad popularity of many of his plans – and his aim is to make the middle class and working-class feel that they have an advocate in the White House. That’s why he’s avoided wading into the culture wars, other than insisting on racial justice, aided by a demeanor that’s difficult to credibly demonize.
Experience has its benefits: our oldest President has proven to be a steady hand, offering competence in a chaotic world. His presidency also provides a needed reminder that just maybe there is a connection between character and destiny.
John Avlon is a CNN senior political analyst.
Jessica Anderson: He promised unity, but he’s only delivered division
While candidate Joe Biden promised unity on the campaign trail, President Biden has delivered only division.
The highest-profile example is his approach to immigration policy. On his first day in office, Biden signed sweeping executive orders to weaken border enforcement. Since then, he has introduced a bill to grant a path to citizenship to nearly 11 million immigrants who arrived in the US illegally, without providing a clear framework for how to guarantee border security. And this as thousands of unaccompanied minors continue to cross into our country, exacerbating the ongoing border crisis. Not surprisingly, according to recent polling, many Americans are dissatisfied with Biden’s approach to handling this crisis.
But Biden’s partisanship extends beyond immigration and proves he is not the moderate he once was – or promised to be. The Biden administration has been working to reshape the rules of politics, starting a commission to study Supreme Court reforms – including possible Court-packing, supporting changes to the filibuster and calling for Washington, DC, statehood. He’s jammed through leftist nominees like Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra and promoted several multitrillion-dollar packages that might make Franklin Roosevelt blush.
The most telling moment this year was when one of Biden’s senior advisers attempted to redefine the word “bipartisan” to mean a bill that passed Congress without a single Republican vote but which has support from some Republicans in polls. I don’t buy that, and neither do the American people.
Jessica Anderson is executive director of Heritage Action, a nationwide grassroots organization. Anderson formerly served as an associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget from 2017 to 2018. Follow her on Twitter at @JessAnderson2.
Joe Lockhart: The biggest surprise in Biden’s first 100 days
After four years of daily surprises from the Trump administration, many Democrats – and disenchanted Republicans – voted for Joe Biden in the hopes that he would restore the presidency and the country to some degree of normalcy. And while Biden has certainly worked to do just that, his first 100 days haven’t been without their own fair share of surprises.
First and foremost, Biden dealt with the most pressing problem – the Covid-19 pandemic and its many ripple effects – succeeding in getting a $1.9 trillion relief package through Congress, while scaling up the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines to the American people.
And Biden is now using those early wins to go bold on infrastructure, climate change and restoring equity to our tax system. However, to make headway on these big issues, he is doing something many would not expect from a leader who campaigned as moderate – he is using the full power of the federal government to attack the biggest challenges we face. That may seem simple, but it’s not something many presidents have had the courage to do.
A creature of government for nearly five decades, Biden realized that the time to go big is when the federal government is most relevant – in times of crisis. And given the popularity of his proposals with the American people, Biden has a real chance of leveraging the federal government to attack inequities in our society like no leader since President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Biden also learned something critical during the Obama administration – there is no point negotiating with a political party that is not interested in solving the problems of real Americans. If Republicans are as unwilling to support Biden’s jobs plans, as they were his Covid-19 relief plan, then he can and should use the majorities he has in Congress to go around them – and speak directly to the American voters.
Joe Lockhart is a CNN political analyst. He was the White House press secretary from 1998 to 2000 in President Bill Clinton’s administration. He co-hosts the podcast “Words Matter.”