In depth

What has Biden done as president?

A comprehensive guide to what Biden has — and hasn't — accomplished

President Biden is running for a second term. In a video released April 25, Biden announced his official re-election campaign, asking Americans to let him "finish this job."

The announcement, while widely anticipated, remains in contrast to Biden's messaging at the start of his bid for office in 2019, when he and his team hinted he may be a one-term president. They cast him as a "transition" figure — a leader who could nullify the extremes of the previous administration, and demonstrate to the public that Donald Trump was an historical aberration in comparison to Biden's own overwhelming sense of normalcy. The plan, at least according to advisers at the time, was to work on delivering a single term of course-correction policies, and then allow a new crop of Democratic leaders to take the reins. 

As a campaign slogan, "finish this job" may not have the aspirational simplicity of Barack Obama's "Hope" or the blunt nationalism of Trump's "Make America Great Again," but it does offer a compelling proposition to voters; it is at once a reminder of what the Biden administration has already done, as well as a promise of more to come. So what has Biden accomplished during his first term in office, and perhaps more importantly, what does he have left to offer? 


Providing COVID-19 relief: The American Rescue Plan was the Biden administration's first major legislative victory. It channeled nearly $2 trillion into a pandemic-stricken nation, with much of the funds committed to direct payments to the public, extended unemployment benefits, childcare costs, and ways to buoy local governments still reeling from effects of COVID. 

Investing in infrastructure: The $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastrucure Bill committed more than $100 billion to fixing roads and bridges alone. In addition to billions targeting electic vehicle sales and proliferation, upgrades to the country's railway networks, and fixes to the electrical grid and other portions of the vast network of power infrastructure, the bill also featured a $65 billion budget line to expand broadband access to rural and low-income communities. All told, estimates suggest the bill could help create 660,000 jobs by 2025, thanks to $550 billion total in new government spending. 

Combating the climate crisis: Essentially a pared-down version of Biden's initially-proposed "Build Back Better" agenda, the benignly named Inflation Reduction Act featured a host of investments in clean energy and climate change mitigation efforts. It also boosted the Internal Revenue Service's auditor corps, and extended subsidies that were set to expire for the Affordable Care Act. The IRA established a new 15 percent corporate tax rate for companies with incomes over $1 billion. 

Reshaping the judiciary: Capitalizing on the Democrats' Senate majority, the Biden has prioritized judiciary reform. The administration has outpaced the three previous administrations while placing more than 100 new judges — many of them women and/or people of color — on the bench at both the appellate and, in the case of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Supreme Court level. 

Strengthening gun control: Following the 2022 mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, President Biden shepherded and signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first congressional gun control action since the 1990s. The bill included bolstered red flag laws and mental health resources, extended background checks, and expanded the so-called "boyfriend loophole" to ban firearm purchases for anyone convicted of domestic violence, regardless of their marital status with the victim. The White House then built upon the legislation with a series of executive orders and administration policies designed to further strengthen background checks making them "as close to universal" as possible "without additional legislation" while providing resources, funding, and direction for existing gun laws and regulation. 

Cementing same-sex marriage rights: Prompted in part by concerns that a conservative-majority Supreme Court could undo protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, the Biden administration in late 2022 signed into law federal the Respect for Marriage Act — a bill that repealed the Clinton administration's Defense of Marriage Act and compels both the federal government and individual states to recognize same-sex unions conducted in places where they are legal, should the court someday overturn the precedent set by Obergfell v. Hodges.


Immigration reform: Despite making it one of the tentpole issues of his early days in office, Biden has largely constricted his focus on reforming the country's immigration system, telling Congress in 2021 that "if you don't like my plan, let's at least pass what we all agree on." Since then, the White House has avoided significant immigration legislation, instead supporting a patchwork of related executive actions rather than publicly pushing for major congressional action

Abortion protections: After initially responding to the Supreme Court's anti-abortion ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson by calling for voters to elect Democrats in the then-upcoming midterm elections, Biden disappointed many on the left by reacting to his party's ahistoric electoral showing with a sense of helpless resignation. Admitting that there weren't "enough votes" for congressional action to codify abortion access after all, Biden was asked during a press conference in mid-November whether the public could expect movement on the legislative front, saying: "I don't think they can expect much of anything." 

Voting reform and filibuster reform: Biden urged Congress during his 2021 State of the Union to "act now" and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act. If signed into law, the act would both strengthen the initial 1965 Voting Rights Act, and make certain local election law changes subject to federal approval. Faced with Senate opposition, Biden eventually widened his call for voting reform to include the requisite filibuster reform that would enable the VRA act to pass with a simple majority, rather than a 60-vote margin. Biden's call was ultimately stymied by fellow Democrats Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and now-independent Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona, each of whom rejected any filibuster reform. 

Yet to Finish

The president has yet to roll out his full re-election agenda for a second term in office, but his campaign launch video hints at the major themes he plans to revisit should he win again. 

Countering MAGA extremism: From the very first shot of his campaign launch video, featuring rioters attacking the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, to the invocation of "MAGA extremists" working to cut social security and grant tax breaks for the wealthy, it's clear Biden sees his 2020 campaign call for normalcy as not having been enough to counter growing right-wing extremism. "When I ran for president four years ago, I said we were in a battle for the soul of America," Biden explained, linking his past campaign to this new one, adding, "we still are."

"The right to vote and civil rights": While never expressly saying how he plans to tackle threats to both voting access and broader civil rights, Biden's campaign video strongly invokes imagery of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s to convey a sense of continuity between the efforts of John Lewis, and the administration's ongoing — if as of yet unsuccessful — effort to further codify protections thereof.

Passing the torch: For as much as Biden's campaign launch has been about linking the past with the present, it also focuses to a significant degree on Vice President Kamala Harris, who has polled as one of the most unpopular veeps in recent history and has faced calls to be dumped from the administration entirely. As Biden's launch video makes clear with its conspicuous shots of Biden and Harris standing both side by side and Harris campaigning on her own, the vice president is not only firmly a part of the campaign and — if victorious — second term in office, she is the president's clear choice as the successor he envisioned her to be in 2020.


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