As President Biden marks his 100th day in office this week, Virginia Tech political expert Karen Hult says the 100 days’ marker by which pundits and others assess U.S. presidents is both problematic and inevitable.

“A president’s first 100 days may be too short and too long a period for first assessments. It’s too short given the complex, difficult, and frequently contentious nature of the problems a new president confronts,” says Hult. “100 days is too long given the urgency of necessary government response, high and typically unrealistic public expectations, and relentless and ideologically-charged media attention.”

That said, Hult points to the following accomplishments to-date.  

  • Biden’s most notable accomplishments to-date are his efforts to take control of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, from appointing a response coordinator on January 20 to naming and relying on scientific experts and public health professionals in making decisions, and directing activities to achieving more than 200 million vaccinations by day 92.  

  • The Biden administration proposed and secured passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, designed to assist the unemployed, renters, homeowners, the food insecure, small businesses, state and local governments, and others in coping with the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

  • The President’s initial actions in the executive branch point to significant changes in policy direction and to some degree in government action. On Inauguration Day alone, the President committed the U.S. to rejoining the WHO and the Paris Climate Accord and reversed the exclusion of undocumented residents from Census data. Biden has sought to stop construction of the southern border wall, and he ended the National Emergency his predecessor declared. Of the 40 executive orders President Biden has signed since the Administration began, 19 revoke existing orders in areas like enforcement of environmental regulations and gun policy.
  • The Biden administration has sought to redirect public conversation to ways to address numerous economic needs and demands and to better position the U.S. in the global economy, through the Build Back Better initiative. For example, with the proposed American Jobs Plan, Biden has turned renewed attention to the nation’s aging infrastructure and sought to broaden the focus beyond traditional emphases – e.g., highways, bridges, airports, and railroads -- to concerns such as the electric grid, expanded and updated access to broadband, “smart” buildings, and renewable energy production. The proposed American Family Plan focuses on what some call “human infrastructure,” addressing child care, pre-K and community college education, and paid family leave.
  • Internationally, President Biden has worked to reengage with U.S. allies, especially in Europe, Asia, and North America. Returning to the Paris Accords and hosting the recent virtual global summit on climate change were efforts to reestablish U.S. legitimacy and leadership, as was the striking pledge to cut greenhouse emissions by 50% by 2030. The President also restored the visibility of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among the United States, Japan, India, and Australia (the Quad). Meanwhile, Biden has been clear about U.S. concerns with Russia’s involvement in cyberattacks, U.S. elections, and threats to Ukraine.     
  • Biden has tried to “reduce the temperature” of public debate, with far fewer tweets and interviews on cable television. He has returned to the image of presidents as “consolers in chief.” For example, visiting Texas after the failure of the state’s electric grid and meeting with local Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders officials in Atlanta after the mass shooting in several massage parlors.  

Reflecting back at his campaign promises, Hult says probably the most criticism would be directed at the Administration’s efforts in immigration policy.

“President Biden has signed executive orders that preserve DACA and overturn the travel ban that targeted Muslim-majority countries. He also has proposed immigration legislation with a path to legalization,” says Hult. “Yet the Administration has responded slowly to the increased numbers of unaccompanied minors at the southern border, and it continues to struggle in processing and housing both the minors and those seeking asylum.”

“Others are frustrated with the lack of broader policy initiatives to address both systemic racism in policing and gun violence,” says Hult. “Meanwhile, conservatives and some Democrats express reservations about proposed spending and tax increases the President is proposing.”

Hult says some of his greatest challenges ahead, as noted in his inaugural address, are the ‘cascading crises: … the virus, climate change, growing inequality, racism, America’s global standing, and an attack on truth and democracy’ remain at the forefront. “All of those will persist, with making progress on responding to climate change arguably the most important and among the most difficult.”

“More concretely, to reach goals through legislation, the President confronts a Congress with narrow Democratic margins in both chambers, polarized parties, the inability to pass non-budgetary legislation in the Senate without 60 votes, and differences among Democratic “progressives” and “moderates.” As the 2022 midterm elections draw ever closer, these constraints will tighten,” says Hult.

Hult says the current political polarization outside government is both reflected in and reinforced by geography (rural/small towns-cities versus larger metropolitan areas), fewer competitive seats in Congress and state legislatures, and wealthier, more ideological funders remains a challenge. Social (and other media) help amplify hostility and divisions among groups and spread misinformation.    

About Hult
Virginia Tech political science professor Karen Hult serves on the advisory board to the White House Transition Project. She teaches political science at Virginia Tech and its Center for Public Administration & Policy, with expertise in the U.S. Presidency and organizational and institutional theory.

Schedule interview
To schedule an interview with Karen Hult, contact Shannon Andrea at sandrea@vt.edu or by phone at (703) 399-9494.