President Joe Biden formally launched his bid for reelection this week, an announcement that follows an exceptionally productive first few years. Since his election in 2020, Biden has gotten quite a lot of policy done, though major Democratic priorities like immigration reform, voting rights, and police reform are still on the table.
Compared to his predecessors, Biden’s first two years were “among the most productive of any president in the past half century,” per a November analysis by the Atlantic. Biden has shepherded several massive bills through Congress, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which contained substantial Covid-19 relief; the Inflation Reduction Act, which included historic investments in clean energy and health care; and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contained significant funds for roads and bridges. Additionally, he’s used executive action in an attempt to cancel student debt, pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession, and appointed a new wave of judges at a rapid pace.
Presidential historians tell Vox that Biden has seen more landmark bills passed than Donald Trump at this point in his presidency, and is on par with the legislative achievements made under Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
“He has passed a number of important pieces of legislation, and not only did he pass them but he did it with a very narrow legislative majority,” says Tevi Troy, a presidential historian at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
But Biden’s robust legislative record hasn’t necessarily translated to public support. Currently, his polls are still middling to poor, with 42 percent of people approving of the job he’s done and 54 percent disapproving, according to a FiveThirtyEight polling aggregator.
Experts said that the disconnect between Biden’s legislative productivity and his popularity is likely due, in part, to the fact that inflation is still high. Although unemployment remains low, inflation is still at 5 percent (higher than the Fed’s target of 2 percent). Inflation is an issue that directly affects people’s daily lives and expenses. Additionally, many of the programs in the bills Biden has passed will be rolled out over the next few years, so their effects aren’t fully evident yet. The IRA, for example, will reduce some prescription drug costs, but it doesn’t begin doing so until 2026.
Biden continues to outperform Trump in a head-to-head matchup, however. (Trump also remains historically unpopular.) And the party’s successes in the 2022 midterms suggest that Democrats’ messaging — which included a defense of reproductive rights and touting of their recent policy wins — has had some effect. Ultimately, experts say, a president’s productivity speaks to their ability to deliver on the campaign promises they’ve made, though the concrete impact of these bills will matter as well.
Biden “is launching his reelection campaign with a highly substantive policy record,” says Meena Bose, a political scientist at Hofstra University.
What Biden has accomplished
Below is a rundown of some of Biden’s policy achievements, as well as executive actions he’s been able to do on his own.
- American Rescue Plan: The $1.9 trillion bill contained significant Covid-19 relief as the administration sought to combat the pandemic in 2021. It included $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans, an expanded child tax credit that had a notable impact on child poverty rates, enhanced unemployment insurance, and state and local aid. In the wake of its passage, there have been concerns from some economists that the bill was too large and contributed to inflation.
- Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill: The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill was a historic investment in the country’s infrastructure, including new funding for water pipes, trains, roads, and high-speed internet.
- Inflation Reduction Act: The Inflation Reduction Act contained $485 billion in spending and $790 billion in offsets that would cover that spending. The legislation includes a substantial investment in clean energy tax credits, as well as a new policy that enables Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with the goal of lowering the costs of a handful of expensive drugs.
- CHIPS Act: The $52 billion CHIPS Act is dedicated to bolstering US semiconductor manufacturing, and contains measures to subsidize or expand new facilities.
- Gun safety: This bipartisan bill fell short of more ambitious reforms, like an assault weapons ban, but it included funding for states to implement “red flag” laws, more screening for gun buyers under 21, and a crackdown on illegal guns.
- Respect for Marriage Act: The Respect for Marriage Act officially repealed the Defense of Marriage Act and guarantees that all states will recognize same-sex marriages, providing important federal protections if the Obergefell ruling were overturned.
- Electoral Count Reform Act: The ECRA specifies the vice president’s role in the counting of electoral votes, and makes it harder for lawmakers to challenge the outcome of a presidential election, in an effort to prevent a repeat of the January 6 riot.
- Judges: As of the start of 2023, Biden had confirmed 100 judges including 30 circuit court nominees, 69 district court judges, and one Supreme Court justice. That surpasses Trump’s record at the same point in his presidency, though he’ll have to keep up the pace to surpass Trump’s four-year record.
- Executive actions: Biden has pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law, and taken a number of executive actions. These actions include a rollback of Trump policies like the travel ban, limited efforts to strengthen background checks for guns, and an attempt to cancel some student loan debt, which has been challenged in court.
What Biden has yet to accomplish
There are several key priorities that Democrats have failed to advance due to disagreement within their party and opposition from Republicans. These bills are even less likely to pass in the near term since Republicans have retaken the House.
These gaps are also especially concerning because they deal with proposals that have a major impact on voters of color, including Black, Latino, and Asian American voters, and women.
- Voting rights: Democrats’ attempt to approve filibuster reforms in order to pass voting rights legislation ultimately failed given opposition from Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. A voting rights proposal that most Democrats supported, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would have restored part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required certain states to seek federal approval before implementing restrictions on voting.
- Police reform: Attempts to find a bipartisan compromise on police reform have stalled in Congress. Democrats have pushed measures to curb qualified immunity protections for police, which reduce their legal liability when police officers commit harms. Republicans have balked at addressing qualified immunity, however.
- Immigration reform: Talks about a bipartisan immigration deal, including a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, have yet to turn into passable legislation, in part because the two parties disagree on investments in border security.
- Reproductive rights: The Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would supersede state restrictions and guarantee the right to an abortion, has been unable to pass — largely due to opposition from Manchin and the filibuster.
- Paid leave and child care: Though elements of the sweeping Build Back Better bill were incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act, several policies were stripped out to win Manchin’s support. They include a federal paid leave program, child care subsidies, and an extension of the expanded child tax credit.