President Biden’s first 100 days are almost at an end, which means it’s time for the Post Pundit Power Ranking to arise from its slumber like so many cicadas. The crew is back (with some new faces) to assess how the president has performed out of the gates in a few key areas: presidential leadership, the pandemic, the economy, foreign policy and, well, everything else. Each of our columnists assigned Biden an overall letter grade from A+ to F; his average comes at the end.
We also asked you, the readers, to grade Biden. Over the past few weeks, just shy of 800 of you partook, sharing your thoughts on why he was acing the first part of his term (224 of you), flunking it (a lonely 23) or hovering somewhere along the middle of the curve. Selections from your comments are interspersed among our writers’ ratings, and your average also comes at the end, along with a readers-plus-columnists super-score.
Read on for the report card!
Biden during the campaign said he was fighting “for the soul” of the country, essentially promising to provide empathetic, kind, sane and inclusive leadership. He has largely accomplished that through his effective expressions of shared grief and the emphatic denunciation of racism — including his heartfelt response to the guilty verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial.
Biden has mostly ignored his disgraced predecessor and refused to rise to the culture-war bait dangled by right-wing media. If anything, he has sometimes not been emphatic enough in denouncing Republicans who continue to fan the Big Lie about a stolen election, stir hysteria about immigrants or seek to apply a double standard to women of color.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) grouses that Biden does not tweet enough! Well, that — and a return to weekends without news — are pluses in my book.
Biden ran on the naive proposition that his relationships on Capitol Hill could usher in a new era of bipartisanship. But with Republicans predictably refusing to negotiate in good faith, Biden and Democrats have been going it alone.
The inability to bridge the divide prompted the White House to try redefining bipartisanship. Now they insist, bizarrely, that something doesn’t need GOP votes to count as bipartisan, only widespread public support. Biden’s endorsement of tweaking filibuster rules, a reversal, was a tacit acknowledgment that he hasn’t been able to break the polarization fever.
To Biden’s credit, he has lowered the temperature of the national discourse and kept his promise to govern with an eye toward being a president “for all Americans.” The president could play hardball on infrastructure, for instance, by saying red-state senators won’t get desired projects unless they back the bill. But he’s not. And Biden shouldn’t trim his sails because of his narrow majorities. The present crises call for boldness.
Biden has pleasantly surprised me with his ability to move the boundaries of the national debate on virtually any topic. … At the same time, he shrewdly does not go so far left that he can’t bring the rest of the country with him. Biden is shifting how people think about several issues in a way that only happens once every few decades. — Vikram K. in West Hartford, Conn.
After campaigning on promises of unity, Biden so far recognizes Republicans only as one would acknowledge shoulder lint. He signed a $1.9 trillion “relief” package that rivals the New Deal and Great Society programs after strict party-line votes and seems prepared to accept the same path for another $2 trillion in a package that twists the definition of “infrastructure” beyond recognition.
Biden’s decision on the Afghanistan troop withdrawal presented an opportunity to acknowledge a rare area of consensus with his predecessor. Instead, he complained he “inherited a diplomatic agreement” that was “perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself,” pointedly refusing to mention former president Donald Trump by name — but making sure to play up a courtesy call with former president George W. Bush. It was petty. Hyper-partisanship and petulance became the norms with Trump, but Biden promised to be different.
E.J. Dionne Jr.
Perhaps I’m grading on a curve set very low by Biden’s predecessor — and maybe I’m just an easy grader. But I think Biden deserves an A for maintaining focus on the nation’s two top priorities, beating the virus and restoring the economy (even if the messy Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause temporarily complicated things).
He’s also redefining the country’s political and philosophical assumptions. He’s arguing that energetic government is the solution to many of our problems, not the problem itself. His programs unite the middle class and the poor. He’s insisting that bipartisanship isn’t defined by the preferences of a conservative GOP congressional caucus but by the interests of rank-and-file Republicans. After Trump, a majority wanted a different tone at the top. Biden is delivering that. And all the wings of his often-fractious party think he’s listening to them.
“Bidenism” is now a thing — not something many expected.
Why not an A+? His dogs bite people. — Clare C. in Gabriola, British Columbia
Leana S. Wen
One hundred days ago, if Biden had predicted that by now the vaccination rate would have hit 3 million a day, that more than 75 percent of those over 65 would have received at least one dose, and that it was already “open season” for every adult American to sign up, we would have said “wow.”
Biden has achieved the “wow.” However: Not prioritizing teachers for vaccination led to a delay in school reopening. Distributing vaccines by population rather than need probably worsened surges in some states. Also, a delay in issuing guidance for fully vaccinated people shut the administration’s window to tie vaccination to reopening policy. The guidance remains so overly cautious that it’s disconnected from people’s everyday reality. And while resuming the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was warranted, not specifically warning women under 50 against it undermines the administration’s argument of prioritizing safety.
Restoring trust in the government’s leadership in public health is key, and the administration still has a way to go.
He’s moved quickly, but thoughtfully to do the best he can, and I respect that and appreciate it as a citizen. I just got my first vaccine today! — Delina P. in Raphine, Va.
Biden’s relief bill included some elements that were not particularly well-targeted, but it also had provisions that were critical for relieving immediate hardship (extended jobless benefits, more generous food assistance, expanded health insurance subsidies) and one potentially transformative policy (the child allowance, which is expected to help slash child poverty in half). More recently, he proposed some long-needed investments in infrastructure and the care economy; it’s hard to assess his record on those ambitions just yet, since the plans will probably change substantially in congressional negotiations. Less visibly, Biden has also set in motion some administrative actions that will reduce hunger and other economic hardship. He deserves praise for these.
But far and away the most important economic development during Biden’s tenure is the accelerating pace of vaccination. The virus is ultimately in charge of the economy, and the faster Americans can be protected from infection, the faster the economy will recover.
I would have given Biden a B+ based on his proposal to hike the corporate tax rate only to 28 percent instead of the 35 percent it was before Trump’s tax cuts, but my surprise at how progressive his agenda has been given his centrist campaigning earns him an A. — Joseph H. in Fort Pierce, Fla.
The economy is so intertwined with the pandemic response that I am not sure how to separate the two. Biden’s efforts to smooth out and speed vaccine distribution — with a big assist from governors and local officials — has been a game-changer. The stock market, which Trump claimed (falsely) is the barometer of the nation’s health, is booming. Meanwhile, the passage of Biden’s economic stimulus package started his presidency with a big win, albeit on Democratic votes alone.
The lessons of the Obama years, in which the administration did not go big enough after the 2008 financial collapse, weighed heavily on Team Biden’s thinking in all of this. One question, however, is whether they overshot the mark. And, of course, there is a big test ahead on infrastructure spending.
Biden’s domestic policy is far to the left of what I had hoped for, but he has been tougher on China and Russia than I expected. Regarding China, Biden has kept Trump’s tariffs and prioritized building a pan-Asian coalition to confront Beijing’s ambitions. On Russia, he has placed tighter sanctions and tried to rebuild ties to our European allies, again with the idea of creating a united front.
These are the right foreign-policy priorities, and as such somewhat offset his otherwise depressing lurch to the left (which, predictably, remains insufficient for the true believers among progressives). Biden will ultimately have to increase the defense budget substantially to make this foreign policy credible, but for now he’s on a good path.
He has addressed the challenges facing the country with clarity and purpose. … My only disappointment as a Cuban American is that he has not reversed Trump’s policies toward Cuba, which he had said he would do. — Armando V. in Westford, Vt.
Biden’s approach to China is a Rorschach test — Republicans think it’s too weak, progressives think it’s too hawkish — but his first steps show significant continuity from Trump’s policy with key early improvements. Asian partners surely appreciate the Biden team’s diplomatic competence and public support for alliances after four years of the opposite. The secretary of state’s mantra to simultaneously cooperate, compete and confront is right, and even as Chinese leaders scolded Biden’s officials at their first meeting in Anchorage, the American diplomats held firm on U.S. values and interests.
But good messaging and competence are only prerequisites for good strategy. We still don’t know how Biden will address Beijing’s internal repression and external aggression without triggering conflict. There’s a fight brewing inside the administration over the tariffs and sanctions Trump bequeathed, which are both leverage and an irritant in the relationship. Meanwhile, Xi Jinping is not waiting for Biden’s seemingly endless strategy review to advance China’s interests worldwide.
“There are some days when we need a hand,” Biden said in his inaugural address. “There are other days when we’re called on to lend one.” The United States under Biden, however, seems as inward-looking as ever when it comes to helping the world’s most vulnerable.
As rich countries gobbled up coronavirus vaccines, Biden pledged $4 billion to global vaccination programs. But more critically, the president has yet to agree to a World Trade Organization waiver to temporarily set aside intellectual property rights for vaccines so that low- and middle-income countries can ramp up their production. Meanwhile, Biden initially decided to keep refugee admissions at Trump’s abominably low levels — a frustrating reversal of his campaign promises to raise the admission cap. Only withering criticism made him reconsider.
It is a historic tragedy that, so far, vaccine nationalism and distorted immigration politics are keeping Biden from more humanitarian policies. The world is calling on the United States to lend a hand.
I’m impressed with his focus on climate change and racial and environmental justice. … Finally, I feel very confident that someone with experience and competence is taking tangible action. — David P. in Arlington
Like gentlemen of old-school D.C., Biden talks softly and wears brass knuckles. Assisted by a stellar team of Beltway veterans, the president jammed through Congress a $1.9 trillion gift box to his constituencies; allies like Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are expensive. He even convinced the media it was covid-19 relief.
But Biden hasn’t charmed Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) into either abandoning the filibuster or embracing reconciliation on steroids. He has also been embarrassed by China’s representatives in Anchorage and is floundering back to a shadow Iran deal while losing Trump’s momentum for Middle East peace. His embrace of the incendiary rhetoric of “Jim Crow 2.0” — nonsense on stilts — insults the people who actually lived through segregation. This kind of explosive rhetoric is needed to calm his woke base, but the center rebels, and already is sliding back to the red camp.
I wish he would push harder for gun control legislation. As a student, I still feel very vulnerable on campus and am worried about going back in person in the fall because of the risk of gun violence. — Kate C. in Sacramento
There’s no doubt that it’s a relief not to wince every time we see the president on television. But we should be careful not to give Biden too much credit just because he’s not Trump. Biden’s handling of the pandemic — vaccinations running ahead of schedule and a robust covid relief package — has been mostly excellent (though the administration should do more to help other countries access vaccines). His infrastructure package is a good start but not nearly large enough, particularly if he wants to fulfill his pledge to cut emissions in half by 2030. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is long overdue, but otherwise the administration seems to buy into tired establishment foreign-policy thinking. Big health-care reforms have gone missing in action. And while Trump’s cruelest immigration policies thankfully have been reversed, conditions at detention centers remain troubling. Overall, a fine start, but plenty of room for improvement.
Immigration has been largely botched. Should have seen the surge coming, should have either slowed it or ramped up to handle it. — Ward M. in Knoxville, Iowa
No other president has inherited such a daunting array of problems with such a slim congressional majority. Mostly, Biden has nimbly maneuvered challenges — credit for rescue plan and no points off for lack of bipartisanship. His appointments combine diversity with quality and experience, including a little-noticed slate of judges. Perhaps pushed by the left, but without going too far, he’s set a surprisingly bold agenda and is not looking like the caretaker president we might have expected. Newly disciplined and crisper in his speech, he’s been a calming, not inflaming, presence; imagine Trump on the Chauvin verdict.
The biggest disappointment is leaving Afghanistan, a hard but wrong choice. Additional points off for self-inflicted wounds — why not have a news conference earlier, or open up detention facilities? Even more points off for the refugee cap mishandling. But the biggest worry ahead is whether this first 100 days will be the best grade of his presidency, because things only get harder from here.
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Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you next time the rankers are needed, or in 17 years once the average soil temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit — whichever comes first. Until then!