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Mostly high marks for the White House in year’s first half from Virginia Tech’s Karen Hult

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Approaching the six-month mark of the first year of the Biden administration, Virginia Tech political expert Karen Hult gives the president generally high marks for early accomplishments on the domestic and foreign front.

Leadership (A)

“President Biden has changed the tone and lowered the temperature of public discussion. He has striven to speak in generally inclusive and positive terms, while also explicitly criticizing unacceptable actions and behavior.  He is performing expected presidential roles that had been neglected.  For example, being ‘consoler in chief’ in places like Surfside, serving as a global spokesperson for democracy, holding constructive and collegial meetings with U.S. allies and Republican members of Congress, having daily intelligence and national security briefings.”

Pandemic (B-)

“The administration had early hiccups in distributing vaccines. It still at times struggles with communicating consistent guidance to individuals, employers, state and local governments and recognizing differences in the willingness and ability to be vaccinated among differing groups and various parts of the U.S.”

Economy/Jobs (B+)

“The administration succeeded in getting the American Rescue Plan through Congress, with economic help for –among others– the unemployed, households with children, businesses, and state and local governments. Although the economy in many parts of the country has been improving, this is helping channel spending to a broad range of recipients and geographic and policy areas that need help.”

Foreign Policy (A-)

“The Biden administration is seeking to reclaim the position of the U.S. as a key global leader and to begin to restore trust in the U.S.  Examples include rejoining the WHO and Paris Climate Accord, and announcing new emission targets at the virtual climate summit. President Biden also has talked or met individually with numerous leaders of other countries, including both allies and rivals.”

“The President also took quiet initiatives to persuade Netanyahu to declare a unilateral Gaza cease fire, and the administration is trying to reopen discussions over the likely defunct agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons and with North Korea.  Although he extended the date, Biden has moved forward with the previous administration’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.”

Immigration (C+)

“Following the initial flurry of executive actions and policy changes that reversed or redirected those of the Trump administration, the Biden administration has struggled in its handling of ongoing pressures, especially at the southern border of the U.S.  A difficult transition along with personnel vacancies contributed to sluggish planning for and reaction to the numbers of individual migrants, including minors, and migrant families trying to enter the U.S. and waiting in Mexico to have asylum claims heard.”

“A range of other difficulties have emerged as well. Examples include the insufficient and inadequate HHS shelters for unaccompanied minors that are being addressed but remain concerns; the belated formal increase in numbers of refugees to be admitted into the U.S.; difficulties in developing guidelines to refocus ICE enforcement and deportation activities.”

Infrastructure (B) *Incomplete

“Biden has refocused attention on the myriad deficiencies in U.S. physical infrastructure, from highways, public transportation, and airports to aging school buildings, the electric grid, and public water systems. He also has usefully expanded ‘infrastructure’ to include what many see as another ‘public utility’ –broadband and internet access– as well as to the infelicitously labeled ‘human infrastructure.’”

“As with other initiatives that require legislation and large expenditures, these face considerable headwinds in Congress. The recent ‘compromise’ over a scaled down more traditional infrastructure bill may be a path forward. Yet the president’s initial ‘misstatement’ that such legislation would need to be paired with a broader infrastructure package and possible resistance from both progressive Democrats and more oppositional Republicans are likely to complicate passage of such a bill.”

The next 6 months

“President Biden’s biggest challenge in the next 6 months will be keeping congressional Democrats and public supporters working together despite their differences in pursuit of shared policy goals. The cliché ‘Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good’ may well be on a sticky note on the President’s desk.”

Professor Karen Hult teaches political science at Virginia Tech and its Center for Public Administration & Policy, with expertise in the U.S. Presidency and organizational and institutional theory. She serves on the advisory board to the White House Transition Project. 


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