A year after his inauguration, Joe Biden has a mixed record. After the first 100 days at full speed, the Democratic president is now facing many obstacles. Jean-Eric Branaa, lecturer at Paris 2 Panthéon Assas and specialist in American politics, returns for CNEWS to Joe Biden’s first year, between hopes and frustrations.
After four years of heightened tensions under President Donald Trump, Joe Biden has inherited the particularly difficult mission of reconciling the country. Where are we a year later? Is American society still so fractured?
Donald Trump is not responsible for the deep fractures of America but he blew on the embers for four years. His supporters have become his fans, and his adversaries, his enemies. Whatever may be said, it is a strategy that has aroused a strong interest in politics among Americans. The November 2020 election resulted in a historically high turnout with 158 million voters. But the tension became so strong that we came to scenes of violence, of which the assault on the Capitol was the climax.
Today, I would say that the fever has gone down but the disease is still there. We see in the polls that Americans have a desire for appeasement, including those who voted for Donald Trump. But for now, the wounds are still raw.
What are Joe Biden’s main successes so far?
Besides the gigantic recovery plan of 1.900 billion dollars, its greatest achievement is undoubtedly the plan on infrastructure. It is not a small law. It must be understood that the American infrastructures are in a disastrous state. The roads are riddled with potholes, the bridges are in danger of collapsing, the internet coverage is totally uneven, people are poisoning themselves because of the lead pipes… It’s a huge construction site on which previous presidents their teeth are broken.
Other major projects have on the contrary remained a dead letter, such as the socio-environmental plan “Build Back Better” and two other major electoral reforms which remain blocked in the Senate…
“Build Back Better”, which notably provides for free kindergarten for all or even improved health coverage, is a plan pushed by the left wing of the Democratic Party. The text remains blocked in the Senate where the centrist and progressive Democrats disagree on the terms and the height of the financing of the plan. Senator Joe Manchin is often referred to as the culprit, but the problem is much deeper and very revealing of the ideological division of the Democratic Party. On the one hand, we think economy and employment, on the other we think social and societal.
“Joe Biden gives the impression of a president who cannot mobilize his troops”
Is the Senate Joe Biden’s main obstacle?
Yes. Joe Biden is put in difficulty by the Republicans who use the “filibuster”, a technique of parliamentary obstruction which amounts to imposing a super-majority of 60 votes out of 100 instead of 51 to pass a text of law. Biden is tempted to scrap that rule but centrist Democrats are not in favor of it. They fear that this will benefit the Republicans the day they have a majority. Here again, we observe a real ideological difference between democrats who want to preserve a tradition of parliamentary compromise and more radical democrats who would like to force their way through.
Joe Biden therefore risks being disappointed?
Joe Biden is an “old-fashioned” politician who will always seek compromise and discussion. But this is not to everyone’s taste. During the Democratic primary, Kamala Harris criticized him for having worked with segregationist elected officials in the 1970s. This controversy showed that for many Americans, the issue of the election was not simply to drive Donald Trump from the to be able to. It was also to restart the political pendulum from right to left.
Indeed, the Democrats lined up behind Joe Biden’s message of unity, but many had Bernie Sanders’ program in mind. Let us remember that during the primary, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said about Joe Biden: “if we were in another country, we would not be in the same party”.
As a result, Joe Biden gives the impression of a president who cannot mobilize his troops and who is unable to pass his reforms because of the Senate. There was impatience, today there is dissatisfaction and, if it doesn’t move, beware of rejection.
“For many Americans, the government doesn’t have to dictate their day-to-day lives”
What is Joe Biden’s health record?
Joe Biden promised to rid the country of Covid-19 but he did not anticipate that the vaccination campaign would end so abruptly. His goal of celebrating America’s “independence” from Covid-19 on National Day was not achieved. Although he mobilized all the means at his disposal (vaccines, tests, masks, etc.) from the start of his presidency, Joe Biden no longer appears today as the protective father of the nation.
The vaccine has become a very strong political object. Republicans oppose Biden by rejecting the vaccine and any health measures that come from the federal state. We come back to an old opposition between the federal power and the power of the States. For many Americans, the government does not have to dictate their daily lives because the Constitution does not give it the power to do so.
Joe Biden’s popularity rating fluctuates between 40 and 42% approval according to opinion poll institutes?
His popularity plummeted in early June, when he failed to pass his electoral reforms and when the divisions of his party on “Build Back Better” burst. The debacle in Afghanistan only made matters worse.
On what subjects will the Midterms be played, the mid-term elections which take place next November?
In addition to health developments, the economic situation will be decisive. Unemployment has certainly fallen prodigiously to 3.9% after one year, which no one would have bet. But inflation has exploded and reached 7% in 2021, unseen since 1982. The most modest Americans will see their savings melt away and their purchasing power drop. Joe Biden must therefore find a solution very quickly.
For the moment, things are off to a bad start for the Democrats, who give the image of a party more concerned with its internal affairs than with the problems of Americans. Things could improve if Biden manages to get his laws passed and the economic landscape clears up.