The promises Joe Biden made as a candidate fall roughly into two categories: those easy to carry out in his first days in the Oval Office, and those that will be exceedingly difficult no matter how long he tries. Because many of President Donald Trump’s initiatives were accomplished by executive order, Biden can undo them with the stroke of a pen. But his bolder ideas face uphill battles in the U.S. Senate, where his fellow Democrats will hold the narrowest majority possible. Here’s a partial tally of his goals.

Climate and Energy

Biden would reshape how America powers itself in the name of fighting global warming, an epic conversion requiring a $2 trillion down payment over his four-year term. It would surely be a heavy lift to get through Congress, even if he argues that it’s a good way to stimulate the economy. Biden’s climate agenda drives his approach to energy issues. He has vowed to ban new oil and gas permits on public land and water. Many planned oil, gas and mining ventures -- even those on private land -- face heightened risk of rejection or longer approval times.

• Rejoin the Paris Agreement on global warming. Trump withdrew the U.S. from this pact, through which almost 200 countries have pledged limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

• Kill the Keystone XL pipeline, the TC Energy Corp. project proposed to ferry 830,000 barrels of crude daily from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska.

• Make the U.S. electricity system carbon-free by 2035, meaning if there are any emissions, they will be captured. That will require much more solar and wind power and a revamp of the electrical grid. Coal and natural gas still produce more than 60% of U.S. electricity.

• Make the U.S. economy reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This promise relies on tougher fuel-efficiency standards accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. To make them run, Biden would install 500,000 public charging outlets.


Trump redirected billions of dollars to upgrade barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, made it harder to gain asylum in the U.S. and barred immigration by citizens of 12 countries. Biden calls immigration “an irrefutable source of our strength” and can tweak policy on his own. But his more ambitious plans would require the approval of Congress, which hasn’t passed a major immigration law since 1986.

• Undo Trump’s country-specific immigration bans, restrictions on asylum-seekers and expansion of the public-charge rule, which denies legal-resident status to immigrants deemed likely to need government assistance for things such as food.

• Stop spending on the U.S.-Mexico border wall and direct funds instead toward higher-tech border enforcement.

• Raise to 125,000 the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. in 2021. That’s up from Trump’s cap of 18,000 in 2020, and from the target of 110,000 for 2016, the year before Trump became president.

• Increase the number of employment-based visas beyond the current annual cap of 140,000.

• Restore protections blocking deportation of 660,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, a group known as Dreamers.

• Create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.


Biden would raise taxes on several fronts to finance his domestic agenda but says only people earning $400,000 or more would pay a higher amount. His best chance to implement his tax-hike plan would likely be if Democrats win big in the 2022 congressional midterm elections, increasing their majorities in the House and Senate.

• Raise the top federal income tax rate to 39.6%, where it was before Trump and congressional Republicans cut it to 37% starting in 2018. This top rate would apply to income beyond $400,000 (more for married couples filing jointly).

• Raise the corporate tax rate to 28%. Trump and congressional Republicans slashed it to 21% from 35%.

• Impose a minimum annual tax on U.S. companies equal to 15% of profits reported to investors to prevent companies from using legal tax breaks to reduce their tax bill below that level.

• Enact a payroll tax of 12.4% on income earned above $400,000 to boost the solvency of the Social Security system and expand benefits. Currently, only wages up to $137,700 are taxed to fund the Social Security program.

• Tax capital gains as ordinary income, which would almost double the current 20% rate on stock trades and real estate deals for people earning more than $1 million a year. This would effectively eliminate the so-called carried interest tax break enjoyed by private equity managers.


As a senator, Biden had a hand in adopting mandatory background checks for gun sales, which exist to this day, and a ban on certain semiautomatic weapons, which expired in 2004. The gun rights lobby, despite recent turmoil in its ranks, remains a potent political force.

• Create federal grants to encourage more states to enact “red flag” laws allowing family members or police to ask a court to temporarily remove firearms from people exhibiting violent behavior.

• Require more FBI criminal background checks. Biden would stop exempting private sales unless the transaction is between close family members. He also wants to allow the government 10 days, up from three, for the checks to be carried out.

• Resurrect the semiautomatic weapons ban and another on high-capacity magazines. This time, Biden says, manufacturers wouldn’t be allowed to skirt the law “by making minor changes that don’t limit the weapon’s lethality,” as was commonly done to undermine the effectiveness of the ban from 1994 to 2004.

Health Care

Roughly 20 million Americans have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The measure became law in 2010 without the support of any Republicans in Congress. The Trump administration eliminated a financial penalty for noncompliance and cut funding for programs that help sign people up. Biden says he would protect what remains of the law, and expand it.

• Eliminate the earnings cap on Obamacare tax credits that subsidize the purchase of health insurance. The cap currently limits the benefit to those making up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

• Lower the eligibility age for Medicare, government health insurance for the elderly, to 60 from 65.

• Offer a “public option” insurance plan run by the federal government that Americans could consider alongside private plans.

Foreign Relations

Biden sees the U.S. “at the head of the table, leading the world to address the most urgent global challenges.” Under Trump, the U.S. retreated from its historic leadership role, creating a vacuum that China tried to fill. Biden vowed to recommit the U.S. to multinational institutions, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

• Revoke Trump’s plan to quit the World Health Organization.

• Revive the 2015 multinational deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Trump scorned it as one-sided. Biden says the U.S. would rejoin if Iran returns to compliance with its terms.

Tariffs and Trade

Don’t expect a swift reversal of Trump’s “America First” policy. Biden pledged on his campaign website, “There is no going back to business as usual on trade.”

• Re-evaluate Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods. Biden said he would work with U.S. allies, with the goal of exerting “collective leverage” to force China to change its economic practices.

• Get input from labor and environmental groups in any trade negotiations. This would include any potential revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which proceeded without the U.S. (and with a new name) after Trump withdrew in 2017.

Education and Child/Elder Care

Biden’s $775 billion plan to offer universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, plus improved child care and elder care, is premised on Congress passing Democratic bills that haven’t gotten through before.

• Forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt per American. This appears to be something Biden could do on his own, though it would be expensive -- $390 billion, by one measure.

• Raise Social Security benefits for people over the age of 78, for those with low income and for widows and widowers.

• Guarantee 12 weeks of paid leave from work for new parents or those caring for an ill family member. An employee on leave would get two-thirds of his or her pay, up to $4,000. The bill Biden supports would fund this by increasing the payroll tax paid by employers and workers.

• Make two years of community college tuition-free for all, and all public colleges and universities tuition-free for students whose family incomes are below $125,000.

Other Domestic Policies

Biden’s promised union members he’d be the “strongest labor president you’ve ever had.” While serving as vice president, he got out ahead of President Barack Obama in publicly supporting same-sex marriage.

• Extend existing civil rights laws to ban discrimination in employment, housing and other areas against LGBTQ Americans.

• Give the 21 million Americans who work for the federal government and state governments the right to unionize, which currently exists only in some states.

• More than double the federal minimum wage in stages to $15 by 2026, up from $7.25, where it was set in 2009.

• Spend $50 billion in his first year to repair roads, highways and bridges.

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