As first year ends, Biden faces lengthy checklist of unfinished business, slumping approval

What the president said he'd do — and what he actually did

Updated: December 25, 2021 - 10:37pm

President Joe Biden entered office with an ambitious agenda. He promised the American people that he would unite the country, defeat a pandemic, rebuild the middle class, and make the U.S. a respected force for good around the world.

He finishes the year with a large list of unfinished business, and slumping approval. The Real Clear Politics average of polls show 53% of American disapprove of the 46th president's performance, compared to just 43% who approve.

Here's a checklist of some of the president's biggest promises and where they stand.

COVID-19

Days before the 2020 election, Biden told a rally in Cleveland that the COVID-19 pandemic would end on his watch. "I'm never going to raise the white flag and surrender," he said. "We're going to beat this virus. We're going to get it under control, I promise you."

In June, Biden declared victory over the virus. "On July 4, we're going to celebrate our independence from the virus, as we celebrate our independence of our nation," he said.

Less than a month later, however, the Delta variant of the virus surged across the U.S., and cases continued to pile up. The Biden administration responded at the end of the summer by announcing vaccine mandates for federal workers and contractors, health care workers, and large private businesses. Those mandates have been struck down repeatedly in federal courts, with judges deeming them unconstitutional.

Last week, the Omicron variant accounted for 73.2% of all new COVID-19 infections in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In less than a month, Omicron overtook Delta as the primary COVID-19 variant in the country, causing cases to spike nationwide.

The economy

Biden promised on several occasions, including his inauguration, to rebuild the middle class and revive the U.S. economy. Soaring inflation, including surging gas prices, and the supply chain crisis have dealt a blow to Biden's economic agenda. Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose by 6.8% in November over the previous year, marking the highest annual inflation rate since June 1982.

Recent polling shows the American people overwhelmingly disapprove of Biden's handling of inflation and of the economy more broadly. Most voters say they're concerned about the economy now and moving forward.

Build Back Better

Biden's signature effort to revive the economy, the estimated $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, promised the largest expansion to the social safety net in decades and a historic investment in climate change mitigation. It passed the House a few weeks ago.

But the bill received no Republican support, and finished the year on life support when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced he couldn't support it, leaving Democrats short of the necessary votes for Senate passage.

Infrastructure

Arguable one of Biden's biggest accomplishments occurred when he signed a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last month. Many conservatives derided the legislation for the high price tag, but the signing marked the first bipartisan infrastructure package in at least a generation.

Immigration

Biden entered the White House promising to secure the southern border and tackle immigration challenges that have persisted for decades. Over all 12 months of 2020, during which former President Donald Trump was in office, there were about 550,000 illegal migrants encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Over the first 10 and a half months of Biden's presidency, there have been well over 1.5 million.

A large majority of voters disapprove of Biden's handling of immigration, according to recent polls.

"Forever wars"

Biden promised to end so-called "forever wars" in the Middle East and bring American troops home. He succeeded in ending the war in Afghanistan on Aug. 30, when the last U.S. soldiers left the country after 20 years.

But the withdrawal was marred, as the Taliban seized the capital of Kabul, and took over the country, while the U.S. suffered 13 troop casualties in a bombings and left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies behind.

Unity and bipartisanship

Biden promised to be a unifying force who brought the American people together. That was the key theme of both his inaugural address and his election victory speech. However, both critics and supporters of Biden have noted the country remains deeply divided.

Biden has adopted a hostile tone toward the millions of Americans who haven't received the COVID-19 vaccine. "Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free," he said in September. "This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

Earlier this month, Biden warned "we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated — for themselves, their families, and the hospitals they'll soon overwhelm."

The Biden administration has also taken steps to launch probes against parents who oppose mask mandates and critical race theory at their children’s schools. The Justice Department has expressed concern over such parents intimidating school officials at school board meetings.  

When asked in October whether the FBI should use the Patriot Act to surveil parents upset about their kids' curricula at school board meetings, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said such questions should be directed to the Justice Department.