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Covid, immigration and voting rights: Checking in on Biden's year-one promises

Biden promised his campaign for president to tackle a wide range of issues in his first year in office.
President-elect Joe Biden gestures to the crowd after he delivered remarks in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 7, 2020, after he was declared winner of the election.
President-elect Joe Biden gestures to the crowd after he delivered remarks in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 7, 2020, after he was declared winner of the election.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden while running for president made a long list of promises for his first year in office, many of them tied to reversing the policies of his predecessor and getting control of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly a year into his presidency, Biden has followed through on a number of his campaign-era pledges — such as recommitting the U.S. to the Paris climate pact — but has faced many setbacks when it comes to issues like Covid-19 and voting rights.

Here is a look at some of the promises Biden made and his progress toward keeping them.

Covid-19 relief and vaccinations

Biden achieved his goal of administering 100 million Covid shots within his first 100 days in office, but his vaccination efforts have since hit a wall.

Roughly 28 percent of American adults are still not fully vaccinated against Covid, and the Biden administration, combating a wave of misinformation, has struggled to convince the remaining holdouts to get a shot. The lagging vaccination rate has created pockets of opportunity for the coronavirus to continue to spread, complicating the president’s Covid response.

After shying away from mandating vaccines, Biden changed course in September, issuing two executive orders requiring federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated and requiring private companies with over 100 employees to either mandate vaccinations or implement regular testing. Both of those rules have faced pushback from Republicans and Democrats and are being held up in federal court.

Despite the difficulty the president has encountered in vaccinating the American public, he has been able to keep most K-8 public schools open, and he followed through on his campaign promise to provide Covid economic relief. In early March, Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, delivering stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and funding to increase vaccine distribution.

The Covid pandemic largely defined the president’s first year in office and will likely be a major feature of his second year, as the omicron variant spreads rapidly around the country.

Rollback of Trump-era policies

Biden promised to dismantle President Donald Trump's legacy and roll back policies starting on his first day in office.

Just hours after he was inaugurated, Biden signed executive orders halting funding for the construction of Trump's southern border wall, reversed the ban on U.S. entry from largely majority-Muslim countries and reversed environmental deregulation, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

While Biden largely kept his promise to quickly undo some of his predecessor's actions, he has been criticized for allowing some Trump-era policies to continue, especially when it comes to immigration.

Biden was heavily criticized earlier this year after announcing he would preserve a Trump-era limit on the number of refugees admitted to the United States, ultimately reversing course to raise the cap to 125,000, as he had promised during his campaign.

Many Democrats and immigration advocates have also taken issue with the president's decision to keep in place Trump's Title 42 policy, a public health order that allows the U.S. to expel migrants seeking asylum, as well as the Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" policy, which requires migrants seeking asylum to wait outside the U.S. for their immigration court hearings.

Biden has given little indication that he plans to revoke Title 42 anytime soon, but administration officials have said they intend to eventually end the "Remain in Mexico" program. The administration ended the program earlier this year, but a federal judge ordered it to be reinstated after Texas and Missouri sued over the rescission.

Voting rights, police reform

Biden promised during his campaign to protect voting rights and said that as president he would pass legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act.

But at least 19 states have passed restrictive voting laws this year, and legislation to reverse those changes has stalled in Congress.

Voting rights advocates have criticized the president for not making access to the ballot a higher priority, especially ahead of a midterm elections year. While Biden has argued that Republican-led efforts will make voting more difficult for Black and Latino communities — calling the new laws "the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War" — his actions, advocates say, have not matched his rhetoric.

The president has faced similar criticism when it comes to the promises he made to tackle police reform in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

Biden abandoned his plans earlier this year to establish a commission to address policing practices, and instead he urged Congress to pass legislation that would improve such practices. The House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March, but the bill lacked enough Republican support to clear the Senate. Months of bipartisan discussions eventually collapsed in September.

Voting access and police reform are top legislative priorities for Democrats, and the inability to get either measure across the finish line has exasperated many, especially Black voters who played an important role in helping Biden win the White House.

Re-establish the U.S. as a global leader

A major focus of Biden's campaign was improving the United States' standing on the world stage after Trump's isolationist approach to foreign policy.

Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change and the World Health Organization, restoring ties that had been cut by Trump. He also followed through on his commitment to bring together world leaders for a virtual conference on climate change, and he hosted more than 100 countries for a virtual summit on democracy.

By September, the president — who promised during his campaign to end "the forever wars" — had pulled U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, effectively ending America's longest war. The withdrawal, however, was marked by chaos in the final days, which made Biden the subject of bipartisan criticism.

Although Biden has struck a different tone compared to his predecessor, foreign policy analysts have said Biden's approach to some foreign policy issues carries echoes of Trump’s "America First" mantra.

Close European allies, for example, grew frustrated with Biden earlier this year over his decision to keep in place Trump-era Covid travel restrictions. Those relationships were further strained following the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, with some allies saying they should have been more closely consulted on the drawdown.

France also accused Biden of acting like Trump after Paris was pushed out of a lucrative, strategically important submarine deal with Australia.