President Biden’s Midterm Report Card
Two years into his presidency, Joe Biden gets mixed grades on domestic and foreign policy, leadership, and crisis management.
We’ve reached the midway point of President Joe Biden’s first term.
Two years ago, when his Administration began, the challenges facing the new president were enormous. Biden took office in the most deeply-divided country since the Civil War; he was forced to confront the deadliest and scariest global pandemic in a century; he inherited an unpopular seemingly endless war in Afghanistan; he was burdened with record deficits and the highest national debt in American history. Biden moved into the White House following the outright hostility of his predecessor only two weeks after a violent insurrection and the attempted overthrow of American democracy.
President Biden has successfully managed many of these problems with extraordinary leadership. But he also has a blemished record with multiple failures that are impossible to ignore.
Here are my grades on Biden’s successes and failures after two years:
Budget / Fiscal Responsibility: C
Federal appropriations are the subject of constant debate in Washington. However, federal spending gradually and inevitably increases each year with inflation, population growth, and greater public needs. When President Biden took office the national debt was $28.3 trillion (up 35 percent under Trump). After two years, it’s now $31.2 trillion (up another 11 percent). Biden deserves criticism for not pushing harder to rescind Trump’s disastrous tax cuts passed in 2017, which exploded the national debt to an all-time high and produced no lasting economic benefits for most Americans. READ MORE
The immigration issue has been a rusty tin can kicked down the road for decades by multiple administrations. Appalling neglect and partisan politics have created a colossal mess. The real victims here are immigrants themselves, both illegals who suffer inhuman conditions and hardships as well as those who intend to enter the U.S. legally who are delayed by a flood of other applicants and asylum seekers. To be clear, Biden didn’t create this problem which has been percolating for a very long time. However, his apparent inconsistencies and failure to try to revise and modernize immigration policy have made a serious problem far worse. Muddled messaging while ignoring problems on the southern border won’t make them go away. The only positive that saves the Biden Administration from a grade of “F” was his executive order rescinding the absurd travel ban on majority-Muslim nations which proved discriminatory and counterproductive. READ MORE
Foreign Policy: A-
President Biden can rightly claim several impressive foreign policy achievements. While the collapse of Afghanistan’s government was indeed messy (revolutions usually are messy), he kept his promise to get out of an unstable situation where victory and long-term stability simply weren’t possible. The Administration also successfully evacuated more than 130,000 Americans and its allies during the crisis, avoiding what could have been a far more deadly catastrophe. Moreover, Biden’s artful diplomacy in the Russian-Ukrainian war and his quick response bolstering NATO’s unmistakable unity has exceeded even the most optimistic projections (most analysts thought Russia would win the war easily and NATO might disintegrate — while the opposite has happened). The North Korean threat is more stable now. China has domestic problems of its own and hasn’t been near as aggressive on the global stage since Biden took office and showed that foreign commitments would be kept. Little progress in the Middle East has been the only blemish on what is otherwise a very impressive two-year resume. Admittedly, Biden’s reputation as a leader is enhanced by following a predecessor who was a daily clown show. READ MORE
This grade will be controversial. But let’s remember that rising inflation and higher energy prices in 2021-22 were a global trend. It was also inevitable given so much widespread recalibration following the worldwide COVID shutdown, the interruption of manufacturing and supply lines, and other macroeconomic factors beyond the control of any Administration (while oil companies and other industries made record profits). In short, Biden inherited a mess. Fortunately, a painful recession may have been avoided. Inflation is now coming down. Gas prices are dropping. Wages are up. And, unemployment is at a record low. Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act and the Inflation Reduction Act into law, which included provisions such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices (Big Pharma and Republicans fought hard against this). Yes, this was a rough stretch. But it could have been far worse (recall George Bush’s disastrous economic meltdown of 2008 enabled by free-market capitalists which took a decade to recover from). READ MORE
Domestic Infrastructure: A
This may go down as the Biden Administration’s single biggest accomplishment (aside perhaps from saving democracy and protecting free and fair elections). America’s domestic infrastructure has been crumbling for decades due to a lack of funding and outright neglect, which has enormous ripple consequences for the economy, transportation, communications, and public safety. In fact, the conditions of many federal roads, bridges, railways, and other essentials are embarrassing. Biden made this a top priority and a federal bill was passed and signed into law which will help finance massive improvements to roads, railways, airports, waterways and water systems, and broadband communications — which will benefit every American (and create more good jobs for years to come). READ MORE
Communications / Messaging: D+
President Biden and his supporters have been poor communicators. Every Administration needs persuasive advocates in order to get things done. That requires gaining public support and changing the opinions of opponents and those who are undecided. Biden deserves criticism for his gaffes and errors (which were expected given his history and age — even those who voted for him knew this would happen). But the far bigger problem is Biden’s incapacitation as an effective communicator. Aside from a few cabinet secretaries (Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin has been particularly effective and always on point), Biden’s team isn’t moving the needle on public opinion. His approval ratings hoover around the 40-45 percent mark, about the same as his predecessor. While Vice President Kamal Harris may have been a good pick politically, she’s also been a zero as an asset to this Administration. That simply shouldn’t have happened. The Biden Administration deserves a subpar, if not failing grade on messaging and persuasion. READ MORE
Social Policy: B+
Credit the Biden Administration for standing up for gay rights and gender equality, women’s reproductive rights, diversity in appointments and hiring, and other progressive initiatives. Moreover, Biden softened (and in one case — reversed) his lifelong position on drug legalization, and even pushed to decriminalize federal laws on marijuana. READ MORE
Criminal Justice: B
Two significant wins for the Biden Administration include (1) Signing into law the first meaningful gun control legislation in 30 years and (2) An executive order phasing out for-profit federal prisons (Trump had reversed Obama’s attempt to end the practice of corporations profiting off the prison system). Biden has also artfully maneuvered the delicate fine line between reforming an outdated criminal justice system and its inequitable practices and maintaining the confidence and support of law enforcement. However, the current classified documents controversy is deeply problematic for this Administration and Biden personally (and potentially disastrous if not managed transparently and honestly). This grade could change depending on what develops in the next few weeks and months. READ MORE
Health and Welfare: B
More Americans now have health coverage than at any time in history. More Americans also support universal government-managed health care than ever before. Republicans desperately tried to gut health care for tens of millions of Americans (thanks to the late Sen. John McCain for being the exception, thus saving countless lives). Biden successfully expanded the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). He’s also signed legislation to reign in the excessive profiting of Big Pharma. Biden’s management of the COVID mess also merits praise, as agencies were properly funded, stimulus checks were sent out to most Americans, and we somehow got through the worst healthcare crisis of our lifetimes (hopefully). READ MORE
Environment / Climate Change: A-
Credit the Biden Administration for rejoining the Paris Climate Accords UNFCCC), thus bringing the United States back into the 21st Century of developed nations willing to debate, discuss, and act on the seriousness of man-made global warming. Biden has acted strongly and effectively on renewable clean energy. He’s been a “New Deal” and “Great Society” president for environmentalists and the preservation and protection of natural resources. Biden also suspended construction on a pipeline (that would have had little or no benefits for America’s long-term energy needs), which came at a deleterious political cost, but was in fact the right decision. The only criticism that can be leveled at the Biden Administration was not acting more aggressively to convert from dirty to clean energy. However, this was admittedly tough to do while gas prices were skyrocketing and oil companies were making obscene profits while waging a counteroffensive PR war. READ MORE
PRESIDENT BIDEN’S REPORT CARD — OVERALL GRADE: B-