Inside Joe Biden’s Agenda for His First 100 Days
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as President on March 4, 1933, a quarter of Americans were unemployed and multitudes were living in shanty-towns. By the end of his first 100 days in office, he had pushed 15 bills through Congress, revamped the financial and agricultural systems, expanded unemployment relief and laid the foundation for economic recovery.
Nine decades later, another Democrat, Joseph R. Biden Jr., ascends to the White House at a time of extraordinary crisis. A once-in-a-century pandemic has killed more than 400,000 Americans and erased nearly 10 million jobs. The new President has to contend with climate change, a national reckoning on racial justice and a bitterly divided electorate.
As he plots his first months in office, President Biden has been studying Roosevelt’s model. “We are coming to this with a determination to meet these challenges with solutions as big as the problems are,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain tells TIME. “Our goal is to rally the country behind that, mobilize the Congress behind that, start to make the changes we need to make to tackle these horrible problems.”
That mission was reflected in Biden’s opening flurry of executive actions. Within hours of his Inauguration, Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization and rescinded the Trump Administration’s so-called Muslim ban, which restricted immigration from a host of Muslim-majority countries. The moves were intended to telegraph that his presidency would eschew the isolationist tendencies of his predecessor.
Biden’s first three months in office will be about far more than just signaling a shift in tone. Interviews and briefings with more than a dozen aides and outside advisers to the Administration make clear that the new President will be focused on two primary objectives: curbing the spread of COVID-19 and delivering economic assistance to families in need. By April 30, Biden’s 100th day in office, the Administration hopes to have vaccinated 100 million Americans, authorized the Defense Production Act to increase the vaccine supply, and safely reopened the majority of elementary and middle schools.
Biden’s aides and policy wonks—most working remotely, gathering over Google Meet—have been scrambling to line up a battery of policies, regulatory changes and legislative language to roll out within the first week. Programs that Biden can run out of the West Wing, like overseeing orderly vaccine distribution and encouraging Americans to get vaccinated, will require a level of discipline and organization that the White House has not seen in four years.
There are also challenges outside its control. The Biden Administration will be dependent on a fractious Congress to authorize funding for both its vaccine distribution and economic stimulus plans. Biden has urged lawmakers to act quickly to pass a version of the $1.9 trillion relief package he proposed on Jan. 14. But it is not yet clear how much Republican support he can muster. And even with narrow Democratic control of both chambers, the pace of the negotiations may be slowed by the Senate’s impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
The Administration hopes to leverage broad support for economic stimulus to push a progressive agenda, including raising the national minimum wage to $15 and more funding for community health clinics—-policies it says will usher in a long-term recovery. “It is the domestic equivalent of the domino theory,” says former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who served in the role when President Barack Obama took office amid the Great Recession in January 2009.
“If you get COVID under control, you’re gonna get an economy that flips a switch.”
The goal, Klain says, is to manage the multiple crises facing the U.S. in such a way that the nation emerges from a troubled period stronger and more unified. Here’s a cheat sheet on what to expect from the Biden Administration over its first 100 days.
This appears in the February 1, 2021 issue of TIME.