Did Joe Biden meet his Day One promises?

The new US president has much more to do than can be achieved with a simple swipe of a pen.


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Presidential candidates love to make promises about what they'll do on "Day One". To promise that something will get done on Day One means that it's so important to the candidate that within hours of being inaugurated, he'll get to it. 

Day One promises are often unfulfilled on Day One however, if they are fulfilled at all. Sometimes, that's because the promise involves Congress, which may or may not be moved to help the president out. For Joe Biden, this is likely to become evident as he tries to keep his pledge to remove Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the the wealthiest – the top 0.1 percent – which he cannot do without the legislative branch.

[Hear more from Emily on the World Review podcast]

But some Day One promises are kept. Or at least they did in President Biden's case this week, which saw him sign 15 executive orders and two directives. He rejoined the Paris Agreement and rescinded the travel ban that Trump had enacted against several Muslim-majority countries. He did, as promised, rejoin the World Health Organisation (naming Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the nation, head of the US delegation). He cancelled the Keystone XL oil and gas pipeline, and halted both construction of the border wall with Mexico as well as Trump's expansion of immigration enforcement within the United States.

The reality, though, is that Biden's big Day One promise was a plan of action to get the pandemic under control. On Wednesday (20 January), he did sign an executive action asking Americans to wear masks for 100 days and requiring masks in federal buildings and on federal lands. On day two, he signed further initiatives, this time trying to ramp up vaccination and testing. But his administration is also learning how little there is by way of a pre-existing plan to work with; the Trump administration's vaccine distribution plan was reportedly non-existent.

Perhaps more significantly, the first day was marked with signs of schism between centre and left, and left and right. Biden paused student loan payments; some, like Jacobin publisher Bhaskar Sunkara, were quick to point out that a pause is not a cancellation. Biden spoke about unity; the right was quick to argue that Biden putting his policies in place was not in keeping with his call for unity. Some Republicans in Congress are already saying that the $1.9trn dollar Covid relief package Biden wants to pass is too much money.

All of which is to say that Biden did some of what he could do on Day One, but that he and the country still have much farther to go, and much more to change than can be accomplished with a simple swipe of a pen.

[See also: Can Joe Biden restore America?]

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor. 

She co-hosts our weekly global affairs podcast, World Review

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