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President Biden’s first year in office has been roiled by a disastrous military withdrawal from Afghanistan, record inflation, record illegal immigration and a COVID-19 death count that has surpassed his predecessor’s.
But despite poor poll numbers and the looming midterm elections, Biden has stuck with his team. In fact, not a single official has been fired or demoted over the series of blunders throughout his first year.
Biden faced widespread global backlash after Taliban insurgents retook Afghanistan in a matter of 11 days, essentially winning the war on Aug. 15 – 20 years after their ouster by U.S.-led forces. On Aug. 26, during the U.S. military’s mass evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, suicide bombers killed at least 183 people, including 13 U.S. service members. The U.S. retaliated by launching two drone strikes against suspected ISIS-K terrorists, one of which ended up killing 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children.
The U.S. military evacuation, which required significant cooperation from the Taliban to complete, ended a day ahead of deadline on Aug. 30, leaving behind hundreds of U.S. citizens and tens of thousands of Afghan allies, despite Biden’s promise days earlier to “get them all out.” The State Department said nearly 500 U.S. citizens have been evacuated in the months following the withdrawal and that a handful still remain today.
Critics immediately demanded that heads roll for the Afghanistan debacle, with calls for the firings of national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
But despite telling Americans after Afghanistan’s collapse that “the buck stops with me,” Biden repeatedly blamed former President Trump and the Afghan military for the country’s swift collapse. While Biden admitted that the Taliban’s takeover had caught the U.S. off guard, he has repeatedly insisted he made the right decision in ending the war and has declined to fire a single official over the pullout.
The Biden administration has only just started recognizing skyrocketing inflation as a problem after downplaying it as “transitory” for months. The consumer price index rose 6.8% in November from a year ago, marking the highest increase since June 1982, when inflation hit 7.1%.
The inflation rate far exceeded projections by Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers by more than twofold. Last month, the council’s chair, Cecilia Rouse, admitted the council “anticipated that the market would be more open” by now and that they failed to “fully appreciate that the supply chain wouldn’t be able to process the elevated demand for durable goods.”
Rouse and the rest of the council have also claimed that Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which appears to be all but dead due to Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition, is a “long-term” investment that would not contribute to inflationary pressures – an argument vehemently rejected by conservatives and many economists.
According to an ABC/Ipsos poll released last month, a staggering two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of inflation, and some commentators have said his Council of Economic Advisers is in desperate need of a shakeup.
Meanwhile, Biden in November reappointed Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who pivoted to tackling inflation just last month, announcing plans to gradually wind down a bond-buying stimulus program and possibly increase interest rates sooner than previously anticipated.
While Biden has seen tanking approval ratings on issues like the economy and inflation, he has typically enjoyed higher numbers on his handling of COVID-19, but that, too, has dropped over the course of the past year. According to the ABC News/Ipsos poll, 53% approve of Biden’s response to the coronavirus, down from 69% when he first took office, with a considerable drop among independents.
Biden repeatedly vowed to “shut down the virus,” but the number of deaths under his watch has surpassed that under Trump, despite the prevalence of vaccinations that did not exist under the former president. Mostly recently, the Biden administration was fiercely criticized on both sides of the aisle over footage of people waiting for hours in long lines to obtain a COVID-19 test and thousands of canceled flights due to testing requirements during the busy holiday season.
Biden had previously promised to fix the testing issues faced by the Trump administration, signing an executive order upon his inauguration in January formally appointing a COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, to handle the administration’s pandemic response, including the distribution of tests. Zients promised to increase testing capacity after the country saw a surge in the summer due to the delta variant, but those efforts fell short. The White House only revealed last month after considerable backlash and the spread of the omicron variant that a plan was in the works to deliver free tests to Americans’ homes after White House press secretary Jen Psaki previously scoffed at the idea.
Biden acknowledged last month that he didn’t do enough about the testing shortage and has since promised to make 500 million tests available free of charge.
Critics have accused the Biden administration of being “reactionary” and implementing policy based on public opinion instead of science regarding the pandemic. Despite the missteps, the president has shown no signs of shaking up the staff on his COVID-19 response team, which also includes Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Multiple Republicans have called for Fauci’s firing after thousands of his emails were made public over the summer, raising questions about why he did not more aggressively pursue the theory that coronavirus could have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China.
Psaki said in June there is no circumstance where she could imagine Biden ever firing Facui, saying the “attacks launched on him are certainly something we wouldn’t stand by.”
U.S. authorities arrested 1.7 million migrants at the southern border for fiscal 2021, the most ever recorded. Republicans have called for the resignation of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the border, but the crisis has also highlighted the shortcomings of Vice President Kamala Harris, whom Biden appointed border czar in March.
During the 2020 presidential election, Biden described “horrifying scenes” at the U.S.-Mexico border of “kids being kept in cages” and federal agents “ripping children from their mothers’ arms” under the Trump administration. Harris, too, accused then-President Trump of “putting babies in cages” and committing “human rights abuse.”
But the “cages,” or chain-link indoor enclosures to hold migrants at the border facilities were built by the Obama administration, under which Biden served as vice president — and they are still being used by the current administration.
After her appointment as border czar, Harris was criticized for not taking a trip to the border for nearly 100 days. She finally traveled to El Paso, Texas, in June for her first visit, hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the migrant border crisis in the Rio Grande Valley, after she repeatedly laughed off questions about whether she would take the trip.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, whose district covers nearly 200 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, told the New York Times last month he had been disappointed by his interactions with Harris, saying, “it doesn’t look like she’s very interested in this.”
The Times reported Harris has privately complained to allies about the difficulties of being in charge of the border. Despite the complaints from Harris and her critics, Biden has so far declined to replace her as border czar.
Some Democratic strategists have voiced frustrations with Biden’s unwillingness to shake things up in his administration amid the poor approval ratings during his first year in office.
“Voters have had enough and the Biden team keeps doubling down,” one Democratic strategist told The Hill last month. “Begs the question, when does Biden stop listening to a team that has tanked his presidency in less than 12 months?”