President Biden’s Campaign Promises: Where Things Stand
On April 29, President Joe Biden will mark his 100th day in office. And since 2020 was a year of many crises, he entered the White House with a number of emergent issues to deal with (think: COVID-19, a declining economy, racial and social injustice, police brutality, climate change, and more). On the campaign trail, he pushed to unite the country during a divisive time, vowing to be a president for everyone – not just for blue or red states. He also campaigned on making the US a world leader and restoring relationships with allies.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s approval rating is sitting at 53.9%. That’s higher than former President Donald Trump’s rating at the 100-day mark (42%), but lower than former Presidents Barack Obama (60.9%), George W Bush (57.6%), and Bill Clinton (58.2%).
Now, we’re checking in on how Biden has held up with some key campaign promises. Some experts say 100 days isn’t enough time to get a lot of meaningful work done – so we’ll monitor his progress and update this page throughout his first term in office.
Here’s where he’s at with…
Get the virus under control
This is a broad promise – but it became a big part of his campaign in 2020 as the pandemic took hold in the US, killing around 573,000 Americans. In office, Biden made battling COVID-19 a priority. Including hitting his goal of 200 million vaccine doses administered within his first 100 days and signing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package into law in March, which included details like $1,400 direct payments to many Americans and extending unemployment benefits. But the virus isn’t fully under control yet, as variants are still spreading across the country. He also promised to…
Implement a nationwide mask mandate
In June 2020, then-candidate Biden said he “would do everything possible” to make wearing masks in public mandatory. And added that he would work with governors and mayors, and ask Americans to step up, to make that happen. While a number of states still have mask mandates today (like New York and Washington), some like Arizona, Florida, and Texas have either gotten rid of theirs or never implemented one in the first place. But Biden did sign executive orders to require masks on federal grounds and transportation (think: planes, trains, busses, and ships).
Rejoin the World Health Organization
In July 2020, Trump notified the UN that the US would cut ties with WHO (the org that’s worked to coordinate a global effort to combat COVID-19). The former president accused WHO of not being aggressive enough with China and of being too slow to respond to the pandemic. To withdraw, the US had to give a one-year notice – so the move wasn’t set to take effect until July 2021. Meanwhile, as a candidate, Biden vowed to rejoin the org on his first day in office. Shortly after being inaugurated, he sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General, retracting the US’s decision to leave.
Rejoin the Paris climate deal
Back in 2015, world leaders agreed on a plan to limit the rise in global temps and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in 2017, Trump announced his plan to pull the US out of the deal because it negatively impacted US businesses and workers. Biden said he would rejoin the Paris climate deal on his first day in office – and he made that happen (through an executive order).
Put the US on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050
As part of his campaign, Biden pledged to “lead the world” in addressing climate change by “the power of example.” As president, Biden signed an executive order directing cabinet secretaries to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. And proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that, in part, could boost the number of electric vehicles on the road and build a clean energy grid. Plus on Earth Day, he pledged to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.
Health care and reproductive rights
Create a public health insurance option
Biden was serving as VP when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. And during his presidential campaign, he released a plan that’s since been dubbed the Affordable Care Act 2.0. It includes a public option, which means people could get gov-backed health coverage, even if they have access to private insurance. (Note: this isn’t the same as Medicare for All, aka signing the whole country up for the same health insurance provider: the US gov.) But so far it seems that the admin hasn’t made moves on this front.
Codify Roe v. Wade
In 1973, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling protected a woman’s right to an abortion. But in the past few years, a number of Republican-led states passed restrictive abortion laws in an effort to overturn SCOTUS’s ruling. On the campaign trail, Biden said that he would work to make Roe v. Wade the “law of the land.” And right after they were sworn into office, Biden and VP Kamala Harris said they were “committed” to enshrining abortion rights into law, but it doesn’t look like they’ve taken steps to make that a reality yet – and they’ll need Congress’s help too.
Rejoin the Iran nuclear deal
In 2015, the US, Iran, and five other countries agreed to lift heavy economic sanctions imposed on Iran in exchange for the country’s agreement to curb its nuclear weapons program. In 2018, Trump took the US out of the deal, saying it doesn’t go far enough to prevent the Middle Eastern country from building a nuclear weapon. In an op-ed in 2020, Biden said Trump “recklessly” ditched the agreement, and said the US would rejoin it under his presidency “if Iran returns to strict compliance.” In early April 2021, talks started between world leaders to revive the deal.
End “forever wars” in Afghanistan and the Middle East
The US’s entanglements in the Middle East have led to America’s longest-ever war: the one Afghanistan, which is well into its 19th year. The US has also been involved in Yemen’s six-year civil war, which has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Before moving into the White House, Biden pledged to end wars that have cost the US “untold blood and treasure.” In Feb 2021, he said the US would halt its support for Saudi Arabia-backed efforts in Yemen. And two months later, he announced plans to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks – moving to fulfill a promise made by two of his predecessors: Trump and Obama.
Work with Congress to set up a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
To try to fulfill this promise, Biden has intro’d legislation to Congress that would give an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US a pathway to citizenship. In March, the House voted on two immigration bills that would provide a roadmap for some – including DACA recipients – to become citizens. But the Senate hasn’t taken up the legislation yet.
Undo Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries
In 2017, Trump issued a travel ban against a number of Muslim-majority countries over fears of potential national security threats. The ban went through multiple iterations, and was eventually upheld in 2018 by the Supreme Court – restricting travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen (plus North Korea and Venezuela). Biden promised to end the “vile” Muslim ban on his first day in office. And he officially repealed it on Inauguration Day.
End prolonged migrant detentions
The Trump admin moved to detain migrant families indefinitely. And Biden had pledged more humane treatment at the US-Mexico border. But there’s been a surge of migrants under Biden’s presidency – largely driven by the international perception that a Biden win would make entering the US easier. Since taking office, his administration has tried to speed up the detention process for migrant families. But the influx has made it hard to move migrants out of these facilities. NPR previously reported that some kids have been held for 10 days or more. In March, Biden tapped Harris to be the point person on immigration at the border. It’s unclear where things stand with this promise as of today.
Ban assault weapons
Assault rifles have been used in a number of deadly shootings in recent years, from Newtown, CT in 2012 to Parkland, FL in 2018 and beyond. Biden has called gun violence in the US a “public health epidemic.” In April 2021, he announced a number of executive actions to tackle the issue, but none included a ban on assault weapons. He instead called on Congress to handle that.
Require background checks for all gun sales
In 2017, researchers from Harvard and Northeastern Universities found that one in five gun owners obtained a firearm without a background check. And according to Everytown for Gun Safety, federal law doesn’t require background checks for unlicensed sellers (think: online or at gun shows). As part of his pledge to implement gun safety policies, Biden said he would work to require background checks on all sales of guns. In March, the House passed legislation that would require background checks for all gun buyers – but the Senate hasn’t taken it up yet.
Repeal certain tax cuts that Trump approved
In 2017, Trump and Republicans in Congress worked together to pass the largest tax overhaul in decades. Biden believes the cuts favor the wealthy and corporations. He promised not to raise taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 but said he’d raise the top individual income tax rate as well as the corporate tax rate. In April 2021, the Biden admin announced a proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. That same month, the American Families Plan was unveiled – and to help fund it, Biden proposed reversing part of Trump’s tax cuts by increasing the top income tax rate from 37% to 39.6%. Biden will need Congress’s backing to make this happen.
Raise the national minimum wage to $15/hour
Biden has supported upping the minimum wage across the country to $15/hour, and according to his campaign site, he helped get states and local jurisdictions to increase their minimum wages (including in NY) as VP under the Obama admin. Since then, Biden tried to get the wage hike included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed in March. But the Senate parliamentarian said ‘that can’t happen‘ because it goes against certain rules around the budget reconciliation process. In the meantime, Biden has signed an executive order raising the min wage for federal contract workers to $15 an hour.
Make two years of community college tuition-free. And make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students whose families earn less than $125,000
In February, first lady Jill Biden said the White House is going to “make sure that everyone has access to free community college and training programs.” And on April 28 2021 – the day before Biden’s big 100-day milestone – his admin introduced the American Families Plan, which would one: cover two years of community college for every American. And two: provide subsidized tuition to students whose families earn less than $125,000 and who are enrolled in HBCUs or or other minority-serving institutions. Now it’s up to Congress to pass the package.
Provide universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to institute universal pre-K. He said that high-quality pre-kindergarten is “a major financial, logistical, and emotional burden” for families. And unveiled a $775 billion economic plan that would include the measure. Under the American Families Plan announced in April 2021 (see: above), the Biden admin plans to invest $200 billion in universal pre-K for any child who’s three or four years old. But it’s still TBD if Congress will pass the bill.
Wipe out $10,000 in federal student loans
As the price of college has gone up, so have student loans. As of 2020, Americans owe about $1.7 trillion in student loans. And data from the Education Department shows that canceling $10,000 in federal student loans per borrower would completely wipe out the debt for 15 million borrowers. During the campaign, Biden backed forgiving $10,000 in these loans. And earlier this year, in an attempt to follow through on it, he asked his education secretary to prep a memo looking at whether he can legally cancel as much as $50,000 in federal student loans.
Criminal justice and policing
Implement police oversight commission
In May 2020, George Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. And since then, calls for police reform have only grown louder. Last year, then-candidate Biden called for the country to take “real action” to stop police brutality against Black Americans and pledged to create a national police oversight commission within his first 100 days in office. But in April, the admin started backing away from that promise. His domestic policy council director said the commission “would not be the most effective way to deliver” on this issue at the moment – adding that the admin will instead focus on getting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through Congress and to the president’s desk.
Decriminalize marijuana use and expunge cannabis convictions
More than a dozen states have legalized recreational marijuana. And according to the ACLU, Black people are nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though both groups use it at about the same rate. Biden doesn’t support legalizing it on a federal level – but he’s pledged to decriminalize marijuana and expunge any cannabis convictions. (PS: here’s the difference between legalizing and decriminalizing). It doesn’t look like the admin has made any moves on this issue though.
Provide families with up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave
The US is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t offer paid parental leave. And while the Family Medical and Leave Act provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year, it doesn’t require employees to be paid while on leave. Biden has said 12 weeks of paid leave can help families stay afloat during tough times. And the American Families Plan, which he introduced in April 2021, would create a national paid family and medical leave program. The fine print: it would guarantee 12 weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness leave by the program’s 10th year. And it would give workers three days of bereavement leave per year starting in the program’s first year.
Enact the Equality Act
The Equality Act is a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to things like jobs, housing, education, and public spaces. While campaigning, Biden said he would make this a legislative priority during his first few months in office – and that he hoped to sign the bill into law within his first 100 days. The House passed the bill in February, but as of April 2021, the Senate has yet to vote on it.
Reverse Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military
In 2017, Trump announced that transgender people would be barred from serving “in any capacity.” The former president attributed the ban in part to the “tremendous medical costs” for the military – even though a RAND Corporation study from the year prior showed that costs “would likely be a small fraction of the total force and have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs.” Meanwhile, Biden campaigned on overturning the controversial ban. And in his first few days in office, he signed an executive order to follow through on his promise.
Like senators, House reps, and local lawmakers, Americans elect presidents to work for them and the good of the country. Presidents may not always be able to accomplish everything they want to in office – let alone in their first 100 days – but the people who put them in the White House can hold them accountable to live up to their promises and pledges.
Skimm’d by Maria Martinolich and Kamini Ramdeen