Joe Biden’s first year: Covid, climate, the economy, racial justice and democracy – The Guardian – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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One year ago on Thursday, Joe Biden took the oath of office as the 46th president at the US Capitol in an inauguration ceremony devoid of the usual crowds due to pandemic restrictions.

Biden identified four crises facing America: the coronavirus, the climate, the economy and racial justice. He could have added a fifth: a crisis of democracy in a divided nation where, just two weeks earlier, the Capitol had been overrun by insurrectionists.

How has he fared on all five counts?

Coronavirus

Biden took office pledging to lift the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, which he called “a raging virus” that “silently stalks the country”. And there was a period of his presidency when it appeared he had.

Last summer vaccination rates soared as the virus receded and the economy rebounded. Touting the administration’s progress at an Independence Day celebration, Biden declared that the US was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus”.

But then came the arrival of the Delta variant, followed by the extremely transmissible Omicron variant. Biden rushed once again to restrict travel but it did little to slow the spread. In recent weeks, Covid-19 cases have reached record levels. Deaths are rising nationally and the number of Americans hospitalized with the disease is higher now than at any previous point during the pandemic.

Long lines to obtain Covid tests and low availability of at-home tests have sparked criticism of the White House’s preparedness, while shifting guidelines and muddled messaging from federal public health officials left a disease-weary public confused and frustrated. Public confidence in Biden’s handling of the pandemic has dropped significantly, weighing down his overall approval ratings.

Biden responded by ordering 1bn at-home coronavirus tests and is requiring private insurance companies to cover the cost of up to eight of these tests a month. Biden also announced plans to make “high-quality” masks available to Americans free of charge and deployed military medical units to help hospitals overwhelmed by a shortage of staff and beds. Leveraging the Defense Production Act, the administration is working with pharmaceutical companies to increase the supply of antiviral pills.

A Covid testing site in Los Angeles this week. The Omicron variant has set back progress made in tackling the coronavirus.
A Covid testing site in Los Angeles this week. The Omicron variant has set back progress made in tackling the coronavirus. Photograph: Joe Kohen/Rex/Shutterstock

More than 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, with nearly 77 million receiving a booster shot. Efforts to improve vaccination rates continue to be undermined by partisanship and misinformation. And a ruling by the supreme court this week blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a vaccine-or-test mandate for large businesses, though it allowed a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers to take effect.

In response to the latest wave, the Biden administration has shifted its rhetoric – and its expectations. Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said the Omicron variant would “find just about everybody”, warning that the unvaccinated risk far worse outcomes.

Climate

In his inaugural address, Biden promised to heed the planet’s “cry for survival” by marshalling an unprecedented response to the climate crisis. But his ambitious plans have since collided with the reality of an evenly divided Senate, where a coal-state senator’s opposition has thwarted major pieces of the president’s climate agenda, with potentially dire consequences for the planet.

At the international talks in Glasgow last year, Biden pledged the US would slash its greenhouse gas emissions in half compared with 2005 levels by the end of this decade. But failure to enact the president’s Build Back Better legislation would make it nearly impossible for the US to meet that target.

The roughly $2tn proposal would amount to the nation’s largest ever investment in combatting climate change and contains a suite of tax incentives, grants and other policies that would grow the green energy sector and invest in sustainable vehicles and public transport services. Without it, the Biden administration would be forced to rely on a raft of environmental regulations and rules


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