Biden’s biggest accomplishments and failures in his first year as president

President Joe Biden.

Biden had an eventful first year as president but enters his second year with several problems.
His approval rating has taken a hit over his handling of the pandemic and approach to the economy. 
He has major achievements under his belt, but a big piece of his agenda is stalled in the Senate.

President Joe Biden entered office on the heels of a deadly insurrection at the Capitol after the country spent four years under President Donald Trump.

His presidency began amid one of the toughest moments in US history, with Americans heavily divided and the country in the middle of a devastating pandemic. Biden’s first year in office was always going to be a challenge, but this did not deter him from setting lofty goals. 

During the first several months of his presidency, Biden hit the ground running with a big COVID-19 relief package and heavy focus on the vaccine rollout.

He enjoyed a strong approval rating during that period — but the honeymoon didn’t last. By summer, his numbers were dropping, and Biden faced particularly heavy criticism over his handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal. The president has struggled to rebound since, and a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations linked to a highly infectious variant didn’t help matters.

Biden’s approval rating stands at roughly 42%, according to FiveThirtyEight‘s analysis of polls. The site, which takes numerous polls into account and ranks them, said surveys indicated about 52% of respondents disapproved of the job he was doing.

Here are Biden’s biggest accomplishments and failures as president so far, gauged by their overall influence and the general response from Congress, the public, and the world.

Accomplishment: COVID-19 reliefBiden signs the American Rescue Plan on March 11.

Biden in March signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package — the American Rescue Plan — one of the largest economic relief measures in US history. It was the first major legislative accomplishment of Biden’s presidency. 

The legislation included funding for vaccine distribution, $1,400 direct payments to eligible Americans, bolstered unemployment benefits, expanded the child tax credit, and billions of dollars to help schools, colleges, and universities reopen. 

The president pushed the legislation through Congress without the support of Republicans, but with polls showing strong approval among US voters. 

Accomplishment: Millions of Americans vaccinatedBiden receives a third shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on September 27.

When Biden came into office, less than 1% of the US population was fully vaccinated. He pledged that 100 million shots would be administered in his first 100 days. 

A year later, and roughly 63% of the US population is fully vaccinated. More than 526 million doses have been administered.  

While a significant portion of the population remains unvaccinated — and the US continues to trail much of the world in terms of vaccination rates — this is by no means due to a lack of access. The vaccine has been heavily politicized and misinformation has been rampant, with many Republicans refusing to get the shot. 

“At the end of the day, the proof is in the results,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told PolitiFact around the time Biden hit 100 days in office. “More than half of the population having had at least one shot means they’ve been extraordinarily successful.”

Accomplishment: Infrastructure billBiden with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Biden in November had another major legislative accomplishment when he signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — into law. 

As Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported, the law injects federal money into America’s aging public-works system to repair roads and bridges, renovate ports, and expand broadband access, as well as replace every lead pipe in the US.

Accomplishment: Low unemployment rateFederal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as Biden nominates him for a second four-year term on November 22.

The US unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in December, marking a pandemic-era low, even as the economy added far fewer jobs than expected. 

That said, economists worry that that the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 could slow the economic recovery, and there are ongoing concerns about the labor participation rate (61.9%). “We don’t have a strong labor-force participation recovery yet,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in mid-December.

Accomplishment: Number of federal judges confirmedBiden appointed a historic number of judges in his first year.

Biden has seen over 40 federal judges confirmed in the Senate since his inauguration, appointing more to the bench in his first year than any president since Ronald Reagan

The president has been applauded by progressive groups for prioritizing diversity in terms of his nominees. “President Biden is going above and beyond and setting new, historic trends for what our judiciary can and should look like,” Christopher Kang, chief counsel at the group Demand Justice, recently told NPR.

A recent analysis from Alliance for Justice found almost 75% of Biden’s nominees have been women, while nearly 65% have been people of color. Comparatively, 189 of the 226 judges (about 83%) appointed under President Donald Trump were white and only about one-in-four were women, per Pew Research Center.

Failure: Afghanistan withdrawalBiden speaks about the situation in Afghanistan on August 26.

Though Biden’s decision to pull all remaining troops from Afghanistan was initially met with strong approval among US voters, his handling of the withdrawal led to bipartisan criticism in Washington. It also coincided with his approval rating dropping below 50% for the first time since Biden entered the White House. 

The withdrawal was disastrous for the US and Biden, occurring in concert with the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan for the first time since 2001 after the initial US invasion. The Biden administration was forced to publicly admit that it miscalculated the pace at which the Taliban would take back the country, after previously expressing confidence in the Afghan military. 

The pullout led to desperate scenes at the Kabul airport, with thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country. Amid the chaos, ISIS-K staged a devastating attack that killed 13 US service members and 170 Afghans. The US responded with drone strikes, including one that mistakenly targeted an aid worker — killing 10 civilians, including seven children. The Biden administration apologized for the strike after a top general previously described the drone attack as “righteous.”

Failure: Build Back Better dead in the waterSen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia speaks with reporters at the US Capitol on December 15.

Biden entered office with a lofty agenda on an array of issues, but he’s struggled to garner the necessary support from congressional lawmakers for some of his biggest plans — including members of his own party. 

The president’s signature legislation, the Build Back Better Act, has stalled in the Senate. This is largely thanks to moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin, who’ve repeatedly expressed the view that the $1.75 billion climate and social spending bill would be too expensive. With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Biden needs every Democrat in the upper chamber to support the bill for it to pass. 

The legislation is now on the back burner for the foreseeable future, as Democrats turn to focus on issues like voting rights.

Failure: InflationGas prices at a station in San Diego on November 9.

Economists have long debated over how much credit or blame presidents should get for the state of various aspects of the economy. Whether it’s fair or not to pin soaring inflation on Biden, polling suggests that voters are pointing the finger at the president over rising prices. 

In December, the US inflation rate hit its highest level in roughly forty years

As Biden hits the one-year mark, a majority of Americans (65%) say the president isn’t paying enough attention to inflation, per a new CBS News poll. Similarly, 58% of Americans said he’s not paying enough attention to the economy. 

Frustration with inflation and pessimism about the economy are emerging as significant political problems for Biden as he heads into his second year — and could prove to be a major headache for Democrats as they to maintain control of Congress in the midterm elections later this year. 

Failure: US vaccination rate lags and COVID-19 tests in short supply as Omicron spreadsProtesters at Boston City Hall on December 20.

The US made huge strides in terms of vaccine availability and getting shots into the arms of a vast portion of the population over the past year, but millions of Americans still remain unvaccinated. 

Biden has struggled to combat misinformation on vaccines and overcome Republican obstinance on the issue. As a result, the US lags behind many other countries in terms of its vaccination rate. The US has a lower vaccination rate than any other country besides Russia, per a Morning Consult tracker of 15 countries. 

As the highly contagious omicron variant spreads across the US at a blistering pace, public health experts continue to underscore that unvaccinated people remain especially at risk and are contributing to hospitals being overwhelmed. 

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have hit record levels in recent days, and the Biden administration has rushed to address criticism over a lack of available testing as omicron spreads. Biden campaigned on getting the pandemic under control, and his approval has taken a hit amid the omicron surge. A recent Quinnipiac poll found 55% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s response to the pandemic. 

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