President Biden’s first 100 days in office have been aggressive on policy, but subdued on style.
Biden, a 78-year-old former vice president and centrist senator who was far from the first choice of most progressives in the 2020 Democratic primary, has gone big on policy, seeking to reshape the economy and social safety net amid a historic pandemic.
He’s sought to undo former President Trump’s agenda, issuing executive actions from Day One to do away with his predecessor’s wall on the southern border and travel ban, among many other issues.
While pushing a vaccination effort to open the economy and end the pandemic, he’s also been aggressive with legislation, winning passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and setting up measures on infrastructure, child care, free community college and other issues that would total more than $3 trillion.
But while Biden’s governing approach has been assertive, his style has been much more relaxed, particularly compared to his predecessor’s stream-of-conscious social media musings and impromptu sessions with reporters.
With semiregular speeches, few news interviews and no unscripted tweets, Biden has fashioned himself the foil of the previous president.
“He’s a fairly calm, rational person and he is a thoughtful person and he just is the antithesis, I think, of Donald Trump in terms of persona and style,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “I think that has come across and calmed the country.”
Polls suggest it has so far, as Biden’s honeymoon is ongoing judging by his approval ratings.
Sixty-four percent of American adults approve of Biden’s handling of the coronavirus and 65 percent support the $1.9 trillion relief package he signed into law in March, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
A slimmer 52 percent majority of adults approve of Biden’s job overall — higher than Trump at this point in his presidency but lower than his other predecessors.
“The only issues that have really mattered in the last 100 days are the pandemic and its effects on the economy,” said veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “President Biden has focused most of his attention on those problems and has made substantial progress on both.”
“That said, there are numerous other issues lurking beneath the surface, not the least of which is he ran as a unifying candidate who would govern in a bipartisan way and he has governed by pushing a purely partisan agenda through a very narrow partisan majority in Congress,” Ayres continued. “History suggests that following that course of action creates a backlash in the next midterm election.”
Biden campaigned as a moderate who could work with Republicans to get things done but has not been able to get GOP lawmakers behind his proposals.
Democrats were happy that Biden, recognizing the urgency of the moment, didn’t wait for Republicans to come around to support the coronavirus relief bill before passing it with only Democratic support using budget reconciliation.
“Going in, my concern was that he was going to spend too much time negotiating with Sen. [Mitch] McConnell, at a time when cutting deals with Sen. McConnell was impossible,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “I am absolutely convinced that if the Republicans were serious, they would find a willing negotiating partner in the president and his team, but he’s not willing to waste time while they play political games.”
But using the same strategy again carries political risk for the president.
The Post-ABC poll found that 60 percent of adults say they would rather see Biden try to win support from Republicans by making major changes to his proposals, versus 30 percent who would prefer he try to enact his ideas without major changes even if it means not getting GOP support.
Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure and climate package last month and is on the cusp of proposing another $1 trillion in spending on child care, education and paid family leave that he is proposing to pay for with tax hikes.
He’ll either need to find a way to pass them with GOP support — which would require significant change — or get Democrats behind their own package.
“Historically, there is a narrow window usually in the first year of a four-year presidency to get stuff done. After that, it gets a lot tougher,” said Manley.
Still, Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, argued that Biden is in a better position than past Democratic presidents to successfully “go big” in his first term because of the popularity of the relief proposal. Former presidents have been forced to enact policies that have been unpopular, he argued, noting President Obama’s bailout of banks in 2008.
“Joe Biden is going into this passing a rescue package that everyone loves and so, he still gets a few more bites at the apple of going big because his first big plans didn’t expend capital, it gained capital,” Kessler said.
Biden will push forward on his legislative agenda while his administration works toward increasing the uptake of coronavirus vaccines and communicates guidance on public health practices for those who are vaccinated.
“We certainly believe we’re still going to be at war at the virus and there is more work to be done to get the virus under control, to meet people where they are, to get people vaccinated who may not be confident in the efficacy at this time,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.
He’s also been saddled with a challenge he didn’t foresee: the wave of young migrants at the southern border. Republicans are trying to exploit Biden’s perceived weakness on the border to gain ground against Democrats in the midterms.
A recent Fox News poll found that 35 percent of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s handling of border security and 34 percent approve of his handling of immigration, while slim majorities disapprove of the president’s work on either issue.
“It has proved to be an issue that even this administration is finding difficult to manage,” said one Democratic strategist. Biden has “got to think about A, how to manage it humanely, and B, not have any swift reaction that would upset moderate to conservative voters.”
Via The Hill