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Biden Approaches The 100-Day Mark Of His Presidency

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden is getting close to the 100-day mark of his presidency. NPR's Mara Liasson has been asking what those days have revealed about him.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The first thing to understand about the Biden presidency is it's not in your face. Biden doesn't try to generate a thousand headlines or dominate the Twitter narrative. Here's what he said at his only solo press conference so far.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's about just, you know, getting out there, putting one foot in front of the other and just trying to make things better for people.

LIASSON: Biden stays deliberately low-key as he pushes an ambitious agenda on the economy, racial justice and climate. And so far, he's succeeding, according to several traditional ways of judging a new president. His job approval ratings are in the mid-50s, the stock market is booming, and just one of his Cabinet nominees failed. Plus, about a third of American adults are vaccinated - a pretty good record so far, says political scientist George Edwards.

GEORGE EDWARDS: In terms of competence and governing, whether or not you like the particular policies of the president, we have to give him pretty high marks.

LIASSON: His record isn't flawless. He's struggled to get a hold of the crisis on the southern border. But Biden has gotten one big piece of legislation passed - the COVID relief bill - and he's got another big one in the works. Most presidents are pretty transparent. They tell you what they want to get done and often how they plan to do it. Joe Biden is no exception.

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BIDEN: Successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they're doing.

EDWARDS: So he's not taking on everything at once. He's not trying to take on the filibuster at once, gun control at once, immigration at the same time. Instead, he's working on infrastructure, which is a bill that has more probability of success than these other measures which are going to be more controversial.

LIASSON: And so far, his party is on board with this. Even though Biden has a smaller Democratic majority in Congress than either of his Democratic predecessors, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, he's achieved something they couldn't; Biden is keeping both wings of his party happy at the same time. He has a 90% approval rating among Democrats. That's higher than Donald Trump ever had with his party. Moderate Democrats say they're thrilled with Biden's pro-growth plans, like increasing the child tax credit, and says Harvard historian Annette Gordon-Reed, progressives are pleasantly surprised.

ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Economic transformation, stimulus - those kinds of things. This is a progressive agenda. He has won over Democrats who just thought, no, no, no, no, he's not a person who we could really live with, and now are completely taken with him.

LIASSON: So Democrats love him, and so far, Republicans don't seem to hate him. By this time, President Obama had the Tea Party to contend with. Donald Trump had the giant Women's March. But it's hard to see signs of the anti-Biden grassroots movement. George Edwards says that's because there isn't one.

EDWARDS: The fact is that the Republicans spent more time talking about Dr. Seuss than they did criticizing Joe Biden. Well, that in itself is astonishing.

LIASSON: Another reason Biden's been successful is that he came into office at a time when a bunch of crises on race, climate and economic inequality have put the American political consensus up for grabs. Richard Norton Smith is a historian who mostly writes about Republican presidents.

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Joe Biden understands that there are unique circumstances that have come about, partly because of COVID, partly because of Donald Trump, partly because of a deeper underlying shift of public attitudes away from the Reagan consensus that government invariably is not the solution to the problem, but the problem.

LIASSON: Americans are now open to activist government in a way they haven't been for a generation. That shows up in the polls. Not only are Biden's infrastructure proposals popular, but the way he plans to pay for them, with tax hikes on corporations and wealthy individuals, also has majority support. This big shift is reflected in Biden's language, says Eddie Glaude, chair of the African American Studies Department at Princeton.

EDDIE GLAUDE: I think what he's been trying to do is to kind of get us to orient ourselves to each other differently, to try to imagine ourselves as a genuinely multiracial democracy. So we see that with regards to the way in which he's trying to talk about policing, the way in which he's trying to talk about not just the social safety net but a general infrastructure of care. So I think he's trying to shift from the age of Reagan to something else.

LIASSON: That something else - you could call it a new, new deal - is at heart an effort to show that liberal democracy can still work. Here's Biden after a meeting with the prime minister of Japan.

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BIDEN: We're going to work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century. We can deliver for our people in the face of a rapidly changing world.

LIASSON: One hundred days is an artificial construct, but it's a chance to give a new president a preliminary report card. It doesn't mean Biden will be successful in the long run. The infrastructure bill could crash and burn. COVID could take off again, so could inflation. But so far, the first few months in office has shown Joe Biden to be an effective chief executive.

Mara Liasson, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.