The Atlantic Daily: The Highs and Lows of Biden’s First Year

Here’s what went well … and what didn’t.

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President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden is ending his first year in office on a decidedly sour note. The coronavirus pandemic that he promised to crush is once again raging out of control; inflation is dampening the economic recovery; and the combination of the two has Biden’s approval ratings upside down. To top it off, Senator Joe Manchin dumped a heaping of West Virginia coal in the president’s Christmas stocking by coming out against his signature Build Back Better plan, dooming its chances of passing without a major rewrite.

Yet for all of Biden’s recent struggles, he accomplished quite a lot in 2021. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan sent $1,400 stimulus checks to millions, and its monthly payments to families have been hailed as a transformative anti-poverty program. Congress’s enactment last month of the president’s bipartisan infrastructure package represents the biggest investment in the nation’s public works in a generation.

Here’s a rundown of the president’s first-year highs and lows.

The highs

  • A $1.9 trillion COVID-19-relief package that helped families—and states and cities—weather the financial hardship caused by the pandemic

  • A relatively smooth rollout of the major COVID-19 vaccines that offered protection to more than 200 million people and provided at least a brief return to normalcy

  • A $1 trillion infrastructure law that won Republican support and made substantial progress on an issue that had vexed presidents of both parties

The lows

  • The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan that ceded the country to the Taliban, cost the lives of U.S. troops, and left many Afghan allies to fend for themselves

  • The resurgence, first in summer and then in late fall, of the coronavirus pandemic, which—while largely out of Biden’s control—made the president’s springtime celebration seem sadly premature

  • Failure to win Senate backing of his $1.75 trillion Build Back Better economic plan, which had already been cut in half from its original size

If Biden had a tough job this year, the stakes will be even higher in 2022, when his party’s slim majorities will be on the line.

An Orca whale swims underwater.

What to read if … you or a loved one tested positive for a breakthrough COVID infection:

The science writer and editor Yasmin Tayag explains what to do next.

What to read if … you’re looking for fresh entertainment to close out the year:

Our culture team rounded up the best books, best TV, and best movies of 2021. Happy reading and watching.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Swim with orcas (virtually, of course).

A break from the news:

The future of work is a 60-year career.


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