Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
22 January 2021updated 28 Jul 2021 6:27am

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.  

By Emily Tamkin

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 He rejoined the Paris Agreement and rescinded the travel ban that Trump had enacted against several Muslim-majority countries.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.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. Sign up directly at The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Sign up directly at Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

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?]

Content from our partners
Why we urgently need a social care workforce plan
Resolving the crisis in children’s dentistry
Planetary perspectives: how data can transform disaster response and preparation