Why Joe Biden’s next 100 days pose a tougher political test

The US president has so far pursued bold, popular policies. But he now needs to effect less popular change in areas such as immigration. 

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The US president, Joe Biden, crossed the 100-day mark this week. Biden, as my colleague Nicu Calcea charts, has had a prolific 100 days, signing more executive orders, memoranda and proclamations than any of his three predecessors. His swift handling of the coronavirus pandemic has also been particularly noteworthy: over 200 million vaccine doses were given out in the first 100 days and his $1.9trn Covid-19 relief stimulus was passed by Congress. 

The new president has got a lot done, and with two major pieces of legislation, the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, unveiled, he has made clear he intends to do more. Still, as the historian Stephen Wertheim noted in my piece on how progressives now view Biden, the areas where he has been bold - such as pushing relief for Americans through Congress and announcing a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan - have broad support among Americans. 

That's not a bad thing. In fact, it's good that Biden is breaking from Washington orthodoxy, and Republican and centrist talking points, to take action that Americans want him to take. For example, no Republicans voted for what they saw as the "wildly expensive" Covid relief plan, but most Americans, who it turns out want their government to help support them in times of crisis, were in favour.

Yet as spring turns to summer, things are going to get harder. Insofar as Biden ever had a grace period with Americans, it's over. Getting Americans vaccinated was a logistic feat, but reopening the country will be too. And the issues on which the president has moved more slowly — such as immigration — will increasingly demand attention. 

There will be matters, like increasing the refugee cap, on which Biden will risk pushback from some Americans. He reportedly hesitated to increase the cap because of political optics, which means that thousands of people who could receive shelter in the US are stuck in perilous limbo because of what Republicans might say. 

There will be occasions, in other words, where the right thing and the clear popular thing are not necessarily the same. 

In the next 100 days, Biden may be forced to choose between what's right and what already has broad support. It is not an exaggeration to say the fate of the country depends on him choosing the former.

[See also: For US progressives, Joe Biden has both suprised and disappointed]

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor. 

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

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