President Biden's Campaign Promise Tracker: Where Things Stand

Published on: Oct 29, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
President Joe BidenDesign: theSkimm | Photo: Getty Images

 On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden officially became POTUS. And since 2020 was a year of many crises, he entered the White House with a number of emergent issues to deal with (think: COVID-19, a declining economy, racial and social injustice, police brutality, climate change, and more). On the campaign trail, he pushed to unite the country during a divisive time, vowing to be a president for everyone – not just for blue or red states. He also campaigned on making the US a world leader and restoring relationships with allies.

As of late October, Biden’s approval rating sits at 43.7%, according to FiveThirtyEight. That’s higher than former President Donald Trump’s rating at that point in his term (37.3%), but lower than former Presidents Barack Obama (52%), George W Bush (85.7%), and Bill Clinton (46.2%).

Almost a year after Biden took office, we’re checking in on how he has held up with some key campaign promises. We’ll monitor his progress and update this page throughout his first term in office.

COVID-19

Get the virus under control
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

This is a broad promise – but it became a big part of his campaign in 2020 as the pandemic took hold in the US. And has since killed more than 740,000 people. In office, Biden made battling COVID-19 a priority. Including hitting his goal of 200 million vaccine doses administered within his first 100 days and signing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package into law in March, which included details like $1,400 direct payments to many Americans and extending unemployment benefits.

But the admin missed its goal of having 70% of US adults partly vaccinated by July 4th. And didn’t reach that milestone until August. States with less strict mask and vaccine rules haven't exactly helped the admin, either. Plus, variants have also thrown a wrench in getting the pandemic under control.

In September, Biden unveiled a six-part plan requiring vaccinations for nearly 100 million Americans. The plan includes those working in the private-sector, federal gov, health facilities, and schools. Learn more about the plan and employee vaccination mandates, here.

But the virus isn’t fully under control yet, as variants – especially the delta variant – are still spreading across the country. He also promised to...

Implement a nationwide mask mandate
This Biden campaign promise has been completed.

In June 2020, then-candidate Biden said he “would do everything possible" to make wearing masks in public mandatory. And added that he would work with governors and mayors, and ask Americans to step up, to make that happen. While a number of states still have mask mandates today (like New York and Washington), some like Arizona, Florida, and Texas have either gotten rid of theirs or never implemented one in the first place. But Biden did sign executive orders to require masks on federal grounds and transportation (think: planes, trains, busses, and ships). And gov officials extended that requirement until next year.

Rejoin the World Health Organization
This Biden campaign promise has been completed.

In July 2020, Trump notified the UN that the US would cut ties with WHO (the org that’s worked to coordinate a global effort to combat COVID-19). The former president accused WHO of not being aggressive enough with China and of being too slow to respond to the pandemic. To withdraw, the US had to give a one-year notice – so the move wasn’t set to take effect until July 2021. Meanwhile, as a candidate, Biden vowed to rejoin the org on his first day in office. Shortly after being inaugurated, he sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General, retracting the US’s decision to leave.


Environment

Rejoin the Paris climate deal
This Biden campaign promise has been completed.

Back in 2015, world leaders agreed on a plan to limit the rise in global temps and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in 2017, Trump announced his plan to pull the US out of the deal because it negatively impacted US businesses and workers. Biden said he would rejoin the Paris climate deal on his first day in office – and he made that happen (through an executive order).

Put the US on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

As part of his campaign, Biden pledged to “lead the world” in addressing climate change by “the power of example.” As president, Biden has…

  • Signed an executive order directing cabinet secretaries to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. 

  • Proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that, in part, could boost the number of electric vehicles on the road and build a clean energy grid.

  • Pledged to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Talk about a way to celebrate Earth Day. 

  • Announced plans to increase wind farms along the US’s coastline (think: Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Maine). The goal: to develop clean, renewable wind power energy by 2025.

Health care and reproductive rights

Create a public health insurance option
This Biden campaign promise is awaiting action.

Biden was serving as VP when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. And during his presidential campaign, he released a plan that’s since been dubbed the Affordable Care Act 2.0. It includes a public option, which means people could get gov-backed health coverage, even if they have access to private insurance. (Note: this isn’t the same as Medicare for All, aka signing the whole country up for the same health insurance provider: the US gov.) But so far it seems that the admin hasn’t made moves on this front.

Codify Roe v. Wade
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

In 1973, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling protected a woman’s right to an abortion. But in the past few years, a number of Republican-led states passed restrictive abortion laws in an effort to overturn SCOTUS’s ruling. On the campaign trail, Biden said that he would work to make Roe v. Wade the “law of the land.” And right after they were sworn into office, Biden and VP Kamala Harris said they were “committed” to enshrining abortion rights into law – and they’ll need Congress’s help to do it. In September, the House said ‘on it.’ And passed legislation that would codify abortion rights protections. But it’ll likely hit roadblocks in the Senate.


Foreign policy

Rejoin the Iran nuclear deal
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

In 2015, the US, Iran, and five other countries agreed to lift heavy economic sanctions imposed on Iran in exchange for the country's agreement to curb its nuclear weapons program. In 2018, Trump took the US out of the deal, saying it doesn’t go far enough to prevent the Middle Eastern country from building a nuclear weapon. In an op-ed in 2020, Biden said Trump “recklessly” ditched the agreement, and said the US would rejoin it under his presidency “if Iran returns to strict compliance.” In early April 2021, talks started between world leaders to revive the deal. During his first UN General Assembly speech, Biden said that the US would rejoin the deal if Iran did the same. But officials aren’t holding their breath. As of Oct 2021, Iran agreed to return to the negotiating table. But any agreement still appears to be a long way off.

End “forever wars” in Afghanistan and the Middle East
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

The US's entanglements in the Middle East have led to America's longest-ever war: Afghanistan. The US has also been involved in Yemen’s seven-year civil war, which has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Before moving into the White House, Biden pledged to end wars that have cost the US “untold blood and treasure.”

In Feb 2021, he said the US would halt its support for Saudi Arabia-backed efforts in Yemen. But the Biden admin reportedly has a new $500 million military contract with Saudi Arabia – prompting accusations the admin is contradicting its previous statement. And in August 2021, the US officially pulled out of Afghanistan. It ended the nearly 20-year war – fulfilling a promise made by two of his predecessors: Trump and Obama. But it was a chaotic exit that had many allies raising their brows: The US-backed Afghan gov and forces quickly collapsed. The Taliban re-took the country as thousands tried to board evacuation planes heading to the states. And women’s rights in Afghanistan have continued to deteriorate.

Psst…Want to know more about the Afghanistan War? We Skimm’d it here.

Immigration

Work with Congress to set up a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

To try to fulfill this promise, Biden has intro’d legislation to Congress that would give an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US a pathway to citizenship. In March, the House voted on two immigration bills that would provide a roadmap for some – including DACA recipients – to become citizens. But the Senate has yet to take them up. In September, Senate Dems tried adding a pathway to citizenship as part of a $3.5 trillion spending package. But were denied by the Senate parliamentarian. And so far, the situation at the border has only become more complicated. Which leads us to...

End prolonged migrant detentions
It's unclear where things stand with this Biden campaign promise.

The Trump admin moved to detain migrant families indefinitely. And Biden had pledged more humane treatment at the US-Mexico border. But there’s been a surge of migrants under Biden’s presidency – largely driven by the international perception that a Biden admin win would make entering the US easier. Since taking office, his administration has tried to speed up the detention process for migrant families. But the influx has made it hard to move migrants out of these facilities. NPR previously reported that some kids have been held for 10 days or more. But the number of unaccompanied migrant children dropped by more than 80% in the following months. 

But overall, Biden has continued to use some Trump-era immigration tactics. Including a measure that uses and COVID-19 as an excuse for deportations. And though he tapped Harris to be the point person on immigration at the border, it’s unclear what progress is being made in getting the border under control.

Undo Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries

This Biden campaign promise has been completed.

In 2017, Trump issued a travel ban against a number of Muslim-majority countries over fears of potential national security threats. The ban went through multiple iterations, and was eventually upheld in 2018 by the Supreme Court – restricting travel from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen (plus North Korea and Venezuela). Biden promised to end the “vile” Muslim ban on his first day in office. And he officially repealed it on Inauguration Day.


Gun control

Ban assault weapons
This Biden campaign promise is awaiting action.

Assault rifles have been used in a number of deadly shootings in recent years, from Newtown, CT in 2012 to Parkland, FL in 2018 and beyond. Biden has called gun violence in the US a “public health epidemic.” In April 2021, he announced a number of executive actions to tackle the issue, but none included a ban on assault weapons. Instead, he’s repeatedly called on Congress to handle that.

Require background checks for all gun sales
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

In 2017, researchers from Harvard and Northeastern Universities found that one in five gun owners obtained a firearm without a background check. And according to Everytown for Gun Safety, federal law doesn’t require background checks for unlicensed sellers (think: online or at gun shows). As part of his pledge to implement gun safety policies, Biden said he would work to require background checks on all sales of guns. In March, the House passed legislation that would require background checks for all gun buyers – but the Senate hasn’t taken it up yet.

Economy

Repeal certain tax cuts that Trump approved
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

In 2017, Trump and Republicans in Congress worked together to pass the largest tax overhaul in decades. Biden believes the cuts favor the wealthy and corporations. He promised not to raise taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 but said he’d raise the top individual income tax rate as well as the corporate tax rate. In October, the White House laid out its revamped plans for the admin’s nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better spending package. And explained how to fund it. On the drawing board: creating a new minimum tax on major corporations, and revamping the tax system used by international corporations. However, it leaves key parts of Trump’s 2017 tax cuts (like the corporate tax rate). TBD how the plan plays out in Congress.

Raise the national minimum wage to $15/hour
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

Biden has supported upping the minimum wage across the country to $15/hour, and according to his campaign site, he helped get states and local jurisdictions to increase their minimum wages (including in NY) as VP under the Obama admin. Since then, Biden tried to get the wage hike included in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed in March. But the Senate parliamentarian said 'that can’t happen' because it goes against certain rules around the budget reconciliation process. In the meantime, Biden has signed an executive order raising the min wage for federal contract workers to $15 an hour.

Education

Make two years of community college tuition-free. And make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students whose families earn less than $125,000
This Biden campaign promise is incomplete.

In February, first lady Jill Biden said the White House is going to “make sure that everyone has access to free community college and training programs." And on April 28 2021 – the day before Biden's big 100-day milestone – his admin introduced the American Families Plan, which included, one: Covering two years of community college for every American. And two: Providing subsidized tuition to students whose families earn less than $125,000 and who are enrolled in HBCUs or or other minority-serving institutions. But the plan hit major roadblocks in Congress. Their names: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). So in October, Biden hit the ‘restart’ button and intro’d a new version of his social spending package. And while it’s $1.75 trillion, it doesn’t include free community college.

Provide universal pre-K for three- and four-year-olds
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to institute universal pre-K. He said that high-quality pre-kindergarten is “a major financial, logistical, and emotional burden” for families. And unveiled a $775 billion economic plan that would include the measure. Under Biden’s new plan (see above), $400 billion would go toward providing free universal pre-K for any child who's three or four years old. And making child care more affordable. Time will tell if Congress moves on this version.

Wipeout $10,000 in federal student loans
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

As the price of college has gone up, so have student loans. As of 2020, Americans owe about $1.7 trillion in student loans. And data from the Education Department shows that canceling $10,000 in federal student loans per borrower would completely wipe out the debt for 15 million borrowers. During the campaign, Biden backed forgiving $10,000 in these loans. Earlier this year, in an attempt to follow through on it, he asked his education secretary to prep a memo looking at whether he can legally cancel as much as $50,000 in federal student loans. But any findings have yet to be released. Meanwhile, Biden has been taking a different approach – canceling nearly $10 billion in student loans for defrauded students, Americans with disabilities, and public workers.

Criminal justice and policing

Implement police oversight commission 
This Biden campaign promise is incomplete.

In May 2020, George Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. And since then, calls for police reform have only grown louder. Last year, then-candidate Biden called for the country to take “real action” to stop police brutality against Black Americans and pledged to create a national police oversight commission within his first 100 days in office. But in April, the admin started backing away from that promise. His domestic policy council director said the commission “would not be the most effective way to deliver” on this issue at the moment – adding that the admin will instead focus on getting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through Congress and to the president’s desk. But that’s yet to happen.

Decriminalize marijuana use and expunge cannabis convictions
This Biden campaign promise is awaiting action.

More than a dozen states have legalized recreational marijuana. And according to the ACLU, Black people are nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though both groups use it at about the same rate. Biden doesn’t support legalizing it on a federal level – but he’s pledged to decriminalize marijuana and expunge any cannabis convictions. (PS: here’s the difference between legalizing and decriminalizing). In July, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) proposed a bill to legalize marijuana, expunge the records of nonviolent cannabis offenders, and remove fed penalties on cannabis. But Congress still hasn’t taken action on the measure.

Social issues

Provide families with up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

The US is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t offer paid parental leave. And less than 25% of US workers have access to paid family leave. (The Family Medical and Leave Act provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year, but doesn’t require employees to be paid while on leave.) Biden has said 12 weeks of paid leave can help families stay afloat during tough times. And in April 2021, he announced a plan to create a national paid family and medical leave program. Which would have guaranteed 12 weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness leave by the program's 10th year. But in October, Biden scrapped the plan after facing pushback from lawmakers. So, at least for now, the US remains in a bad spot.

Enact the Equality Act
This Biden campaign promise is in progress.

The Equality Act is a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to things like jobs, housing, education, and public spaces. While campaigning, Biden said he would make this a legislative priority during his first few months in office – and that he hoped to sign the bill into law within his first 100 days. The House passed the bill in February, but as of April 2021, the Senate has yet to vote on it.

Reverse Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military
This Biden campaign promise has been completed.

In 2017, Trump announced that transgender people would be barred from serving “in any capacity.” The former president attributed the ban in part to the “tremendous medical costs” for the military – even though a RAND Corporation study from the year prior showed that costs “would likely be a small fraction of the total force and have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs.” Meanwhile, Biden campaigned on overturning the controversial ban. And in his first few days in office, he signed an executive order to follow through on his promise.

theSkimm

Like senators, House reps, and local lawmakers, Americans elect presidents to work for them and the good of the country. Presidents may not always be able to accomplish everything they want to in office – let alone in their first 100 days – but the people who put them in the White House can hold them accountable to live up to their promises and pledges.

Updated October 29 – Updated to reflect changes to different campaign promises

Skimm'd by Maria del Carmen Corpus, Maria Martinolich, and Kamini Ramdeen


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