Joe Biden’s lousy first month

Joseph R. Biden Jr. became the forty-sixth President of the United States on January 20, 2021. It has been, give or take a day, one month since then, and if you ask Biden’s voters how they think the first month went you’ll get two very different responses.

One group, relieved from the stress of the Trump administration, will praise Biden as a return to normalcy. They might concede that little has happened beyond rolling back most of the Trump administration’s harshest ‘victories’, but they won’t see this as bad per se. Biden had to deal with the second impeachment of Donald Trump, which diverted the Senate’s attention from legislative priorities. He had to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and has, to his credit, has ramped up vaccine purchases and says most, if not all, Americans will be able to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

The other group is less charitable. Here are their concerns.

Where’s COVID relief?

During the November election – and during the Georgia runoff election that followed – Democrats hammered Republicans on relief, insisting that Americans needed better relief efforts from their federal government. Progressives rallied behind $2,000 monthly checks while the party agreed, basically unanimously, that at least one more $2,000 check should be dished out. Republicans agreed to a paltry $600 in December.

What followed with the Democratic victory in Georgia was a little game of semantics. Were the promises for $2,000 checks on top of the $600 already authorized or was it for $1,400 to make the total $2,000?

Either way, neither check has come.

Where’s minimum wage?

Throughout the campaign, Biden took a bold stance on minimum wage. By the election, Biden was publicly championing a $15 per hour federal minimum wage. The $15 wage was even written into the COVID relief bill currently making its way, slowly, through Congress.

It’s unlikely a $15 minimum wage was really going to come. But it might have cleared the way to raise the wage to $10 or more (the current federal minimum wage is $7.25).

Now, Biden says, he’s not going to fight for a minimum wage hike in his first 100 days: “Doesn’t look like we can do it,” despite controlling both houses of Congress.

How about immigration?

The Biden administration has issued new rules on ICE detentions and deportations. The rules would require the agency, formally known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to prioritize actual threats to the United States when deciding whom to arrest, detain and deport.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the new rules don’t go far enough, though. The rules allow ICE to continue deportations and give the agency wide latitude in determining whether someone is a threat. “The priorities use sweeping and overbroad presumptions of threat that have for decades resulted in biased profiling and harmful immigration consequences for Black and Brown people, including Muslims. The priorities presume that all recent border crossers are threats, in total contravention of President Biden’s commitment to ensuring that people seeking asylum are treated with dignity,” Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Thursday.

How about student debt relief?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been aggressive about getting Biden to wipe away up to $50,000 in loan debt per student through executive action. Biden has said he could do one-fifth of that but not all of that.

Biden’s rationale was that eliminating that much debt requires “that I say to a community, ‘I’m going to forgive the debt — tens of thousands of dollars of debt — for people who have gone to Harvard and Yale and Penn.” But most students in the U.S. have around $35,000 in student debt regardless of whether they attended public or private universities. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities said Biden was way off: Harvard students have a median debt of $10,000, meaning they’re the ones who are mostly likely to benefit from Biden’s limited relief, while median public student debt is nearly three times higher.

It’s unclear if this means Biden would veto a bill that okayed higher debt relief, but such a bill is unlikely to pass if Congressional Democrats don’t believe the president supports it.

What exactly are Biden’s priorities?

The Biden administration took office with a promise to “build back better.” But in the first third of his presidency’s first one hundred days, it isn’t obvious what he’s building back.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been conducting listening sessions and meeting with stakeholders, but there has been no real infrastructure announcement. Health and Human Services has no confirmed secretary yet. Maybe the administration’s boldest move has been at the Pentagon, where newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a major review of racism and extremism in the military. That’s a good step at one agency, but there are many more there and elsewhere if we’re going to build back better.