It has not been an easy year for President Joe Biden. His party struggled—and so far failed—to pass a signature piece of legislation in the form of the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, inflation has reached a 40-year high, and his approval rating is underwater.
However, the president’s first year has not been all doom and gloom.
In fact, since taking the oath of office on January 20, Biden has had considerable achievements, including passing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
Some of the Biden administration’s accomplishments may not have grabbed headlines or could have been forgotten over the course of a turbulent year, while good economic indicators have sometimes been crowded out by inflation and issues in the supply chain.
As 2021 draws to a close, here are seven of Biden’s achievements this year.
1. Fighting Climate Change
One of Biden’s very first acts as president was to rejoin the Paris climate accord which former President Donald Trump had left.
That decision not only put the U.S. back in line with the majority of the world’s nations but also helped place the Biden administration at the center of efforts to tackle global climate change.
Biden has repeatedly stressed the need to curb climate change by transitioning to clean energy, though there have disappointments in the administration’s approach. For example, the U.S. did not sign up to a pledge to end the use of coal power announced at COP26
However, in November the president unveiled a 100 country pledge to cut emissions of the greenhouse gas methane by at least 30 percent by 2030 and joined another agreement to end and reverse deforestation.
On December 10, the Biden administration ordered U.S. government agencies to stop financing carbon-intensive fossil fuel projects abroad.
2. Judicial Appointments
While former President Trump’s high-profile appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court are still making headlines, Biden has been quietly making a series of appointments to the federal courts.
The president has seen 40 federal judges confirmed so far—the most of any president in their first term since the late Ronald Reagan in 1981, and twice as many as Trump appointed during his first year.
Of those, 80 percent are women and 53 percent are people of color, helping the white, male dominated judiciary more reflect the country.
The effect on the federal judiciary could have long-term significance, especially as the lower courts are seen as proving grounds for future Supreme Court nominees.
3. The AUKUS Submarine Deal
Though it caused significant anger in the French government, the AUKUS submarine deal between the U.S, U.K. and Australia can be viewed as a strategic success in efforts to confront China in the Pacific Ocean.
Under the terms of the deal, the U.K. and U.S. will assist Australia in developing nuclear-powered submarines, as well as deepening cooperation a number of technological matters. Australia will also reportedly consider hosting U.S. bombers.
China, which many in the U.S. political establishment view as a rising threat, has frequently behaved aggressively toward Australia and the deal can be viewed as part of long-term U.S. strategy in the region. AUKUS may also be seen as an answer to some of Biden’s critics who have argued he’s been weak on China.
However, the ultimate effects of AUKUS on the relationship between the U.S. and China remain to be seen.
4. Pausing Federal Executions
Former President Trump ended a 17-year pause on federal executions and 13 people were put to death between July, 2020 and January, 2021. Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, has reinstated the pause.
In July, the Department of Justice imposed a moratorium on federal executions while it carries out a review of policies and procedures. While Biden cannot prevent executions at the state level, a federal pause restores the status quo before Trump came to office.
The Biden campaign also pledged « to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow, » and though no legislation has yet been forthcoming, it is very unlikely the president will permit federal executions to resume.
5. Transgender Service Members
During his first week in office, Biden issued an executive order to end a ban on openly transgender people serving in the U.S. military. That restriction had been put in place by Trump.
Though Biden’s decision was not as high profile as the repeal of the longstanding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy under then President Barack Obama in 2010, the measure is seen as a significant step for transgender rights.
6. Reuniting Migrant Families
One of former President Trump’s most controversial policies involved a zero-tolerance approach to undocumented migrants crossing into the U.S. through the southern border; policy that has been linked to an estimated 5,500 children being separated from their families.
Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office to reunite the separated families and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Thursday that 100 children had now been reunited with their families, while 350 further reunifications are in progress.
However, around 1,150 children are still unaccounted for and the administration is facing problems in the process arising from issues including missing records and the large number of cases.
7. Jobs, Wages and GDP
While many Americans remain pessimistic about the U.S. economy amid inflation that’s hit a 40-year high, Biden’s first year in office has seen considerable improvements in jobs and wage growth.
The unemployment rate fell to just 4.2 percent in November—a 21-month low and jobless claims fell to their lowest levels since 1969 in early December.
Initial jobless claims for the week ending December 18 stood at a seasonally adjusted 205,000, largely unchanged from the previous week. This is below pre-pandemic levels and appears to indicate a strong labor market.
Wages and salaries paid by private businesses also rose 2.4 percent after inflation from January to October, while disposable income grew 3 percent.
Americans are also expected to receive the largest pay increase in over a decade next year, while U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose by a revised annual rate of 2.3 percent in the third quarter, beating the previously estimated 2.1 percent.
While it remains to be seen how the new Omicron variant will affect the economy, broad indicators are positive heading into 2022.
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