Biden’s 50-day mark to coincide with relief bill win
President Biden will mark the 50th day of his presidency Wednesday on the verge of his first significant legislative accomplishment as the House moves to pass his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan.
Biden appears well on his way to checking off key goals for his first 100 days in office. He has quickly unraveled key policies of his predecessor by way of executive action, the country has administered tens of millions of vaccine doses, and major school systems are set to return to in-person learning over the next month.
“He has done exactly what he promised that he’d do, and in most cases, done it faster and better” than expected, said Matt Bennett, executive vice president for the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way.
Biden’s first 50 days have been consumed by the coronavirus pandemic and attempts to blunt both the virus and its economic fallout. The House is poised to pass Biden’s coronavirus relief package on Wednesday, sending it to the president’s desk for his signature. The administration hopes to have stimulus checks out to many Americans by the end of the month.
“Whenever you involve Congress, there is going to be negotiation, there’s going to be change. But he’s getting a package through that is exactly like he’s promised,” said Bennett.
Biden on Wednesday is expected to host an event at the White House with company leaders from Johnson & Johnson and Merck to recognize the collaboration between the two competitors to quicken delivery of the former’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine. Biden is expect to announce plans to secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, according to a White House official.
“There are limited options for legislative movement and a country yearning for COVID relief, so that seems to be priority one, two and three right now,” said one former Biden adviser.
Still, Biden will encounter significant challenges in the second half of his first 100 days as he looks to take steps toward marshalling through further legislation to boost the economic recovery, rebuild infrastructure, address climate change and repair the immigration system. Much of his legislative agenda faces an uncertain fate in the 50-50 Senate.
Beyond policy matters, Biden’s first 50 days have been marked by a return to normalcy and order at the White House. There are no rogue tweets in the middle of the night from the president’s account and far fewer administration leaks to the media. The press secretary holds regular weekday briefings and Biden rarely strays from the script when he appears in public, often doing so in controlled environments.
At the same time, Biden is facing pressure to hold his first press conference, after waiting notably longer to do so than his predecessors. The White House says Biden will take questions from the press for an extended period by the end of March, and administration officials have defended the delay by noting Biden has been focused on addressing the pandemic.
“I think he wants to normalize presidential communications and, in some ways, he’s going in the opposite direction” of Trump, said Julian Zelizer, a professor of political history at Princeton University. “We don’t hear much from him. I think his belief is quieter is better right now.”
Biden has done much of his work behind the scenes, engaging with elected officials and other stakeholders to confront multiple crises he has had to manage since taking office Jan. 20.
The White House has also used its initial actions to convey the sense that Biden is getting right to work; his array of early executive actions far outpaced those of previous presidents.
“I think it’s been a big 50 days for a president who many people were skeptical could act in bold fashion,” said Zelizer.
Biden has been aided by setting largely achievable goals. Experts questioned whether his desire to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days was ambitious enough, and indeed the country is slated to surpass that goal in the next couple weeks.
But the administration has offered mixed messaging on the reopening of schools, at first setting a low bar by stating that one day of in-person learning would qualify as reopening. Biden later clarified he wanted to see in-person learning resume five days a week. New York City and other major cities are now planning to send kids back to classrooms by mid-April at the latest.
Biden has sought to manage expectations on the pandemic and regularly underscores the need to wear masks and social distance, an approach public health experts say has been a welcome change from the previous administration.
“He promised to lead with the science, and he has,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University. “He’s conveyed all the right messages from the White House itself.”
Biden said in an NBC News interview after the election that he wanted to send an immigration proposal to Congress in his first 100 days. He accomplished that on his first day in office, but the bill was introduced by lawmakers weeks later and passage appears unlikely anytime soon, if at all.
The president also made good on his promises to roll back a host of Trump-era orders and initiatives by rejoining the Paris climate accords and World Health Organization, halting construction of the border wall and ending the so-called travel ban on Muslim-majority nations.
But there are challenges on the horizon, many of which were laid bare in recent days. Biden’s relief proposal has made its way through Congress along partisan lines, and calls have increased among Democrats to do away with the filibuster in the Senate in order to avoid seeing the president’s agenda stonewalled by Republicans.
Democrats are cognizant of the limitations of their majority in Congress, but they note that there is still one more opportunity to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a major bill without GOP support. That would require Biden to keep all Democratic lawmakers on the same page, which could prove exceedingly difficult when tackling agenda items such as raising the minimum wage.
The ongoing surge of immigrant children at the southern border has also threatened to overwhelm the new administration. White House press secretary Jen Psaki was peppered with questions Tuesday about the topic, but she declined to divulge how many migrants are being held in government facilities or deem it a “crisis.”
And while Biden has secured legislation to address the pandemic, the public health crisis will remain atop his priorities. The administration projects the U.S. will have enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May, but officials need to overcome hurdles to distributing vaccines and addressing concerns of those who are hesitant to receive them while ensuring Americans continue to follow public health guidelines as the country inches toward herd immunity.
“The more people are vaccinated, and the more fed up people are with restrictions, I think that he’s going to have a hard time using the bully pulpit to get people to behave safely and a hard time getting governors to open up safely,” said Gostin.
Updated at 11:31 a.m.