Biden’s Slow Start?

What's taking him so long?

President Joe Biden walks along the Colonnade of the White House Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, en route to the Oval Office.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

President Biden has been in office 34 days but Sam Stein at POLITICO is none too pleased with how he’s doing so far, noting that he’s behind some of his predecessors in some key metrics.

[J]ust nine Biden cabinet nominees have been confirmed so far (two today!), compared to 14 for Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency and 15 for Barack Obama.

Biden compares poorly by other measures, too. Obama had signed a signature bill into law (the Lilly Ledbetter Act) before February; Biden signed one too, of slightly lesser reach: a waiver to allow his Pentagon chief to serve. Obama’s stimulus package was passed on Feb. 17; Biden’s Covid relief bill is on track to reach his desk by March 14. Obama delivered a speech before a joint session of Congress on Feb. 24; Biden is unlikely to deliver one until March. Even Biden’s address before the Munich Security Conference came later than his first Obama era one — Feb. 7 back then, Feb. 19 this year.

The last one is stupid; the conference is scheduled when it’s scheduled. And, as Stein concedes, Biden has been playing with one hand tied behind his back.

Biden’s operating with different variables than Obama was. His party didn’t get control of the Senate — that pesky little thing — until early January after the Georgia runoffs. And because Democrats have such a slim majority, they chose to use reconciliation to pass his Covid relief bill, which meant the process would move slowly. Then there were the misadventures of Trump, whose administration delayed the transition process as long as politically tenable, and who got himself impeached once more before leaving office. That too took up more time in the Senate.

The fate of Biden’s presidency, in short, has often not been in his control.

When it has been, he’s moved swiftly, including a blitz of executive actions that’s dwarfed anything Obama did. But we’re past that phase now.

That really understates the handicap.

Not only did Obama and Trump both have majorities of both Houses of Congress from the get-go, they enjoyed the cooperation of their predecessors. Trump did everything he could to gum up the transition and yet Biden rolled out a superb team of nominees without incident. But the Senate refused to even begin hearings during the transition period, needlessly stalling the confirmation process.

Beyond that, as important as getting people in place and getting laws signed is, neither was the most pressing job for this president—restoring normalcy and trust in the office. We weathered an attempt to steal the election and an incredibly botched rollout of the COVID vaccines. While the degree to which his administration had to “start over” on the latter was highly exaggerated, he has gotten us back on course.

He has a 50-50 Senate and at least one if not two members of the Senate Democratic Caucus who are not sure votes. That means he’s not likely to pass a lot of landmark legislation in his first 100 days. But I’ll happily take four years of competence and decency over signature legislation.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. KM says:

    Wait- what’s taking *Biden* so long? All that crap is stuff for Congress, not the Executive to accomplish. Biden’s been busy AF signing EOs and reinstating meaningful items Trump tossed out the window in his 100 days. The man’s not taking “executive time” to scream at a TV for god’s sake.

    Sam Stein is just looking for some shit to stir. It’s not POTUS’s job to get laws passed, after all. I’m taking solstice in this being the biggest thing they can gripe about Steady Joe…. well, that and the fact his elderly dog that had just come in from outside looked “unpresidential”. They’re so mad he’s not a complete dumpster fire they can only whine other people haven’t done enough to give him more accomplishments in 100 days!

    Also: Trump made “Acting X” a thing rather than going through Congress to get it done right. Should we go back to that to keep up the metrics? Which norm does Mr Stein want to see upheld, anyways?

  2. Scott says:

    I have a pretty good long memory and I remember this from the humorist Dave Barry in a column of his back in 1993:

    It started: ” One month into the failed Clinton Administration….”

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Comparing Obama’s first month to Joe’s is apples v. oranges. Not only did the former one block the transition, Moscow Mitch refused to hold hearings on Biden cabinet appointees, IIRC, Obama had 5 confirmations before 1/20. Dems also held 60 seats in the Senate and let’s not forget that Obama’s stimulus package was weak tea, having been watered down to get conservative Dems on board to avoid the filibuster. That paltry stimulus contributed greatly to the Dem’s drubbing in 2010.

    This is an example of a writer, on deadline and bereft of ideas, simply stirring the pot for 1200 or so words.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    This is an example of a writer, on deadline and bereft of ideas, simply stirring the pot for 1200 or so words.


  5. JohnMcC says:

    @Sleeping Dog: It was good for a blog post though.

  6. Kathy says:

    Have we learned nothing? Only Democrats have agency. and among Democrats, only the highest ranking has agency. It’s naturally ALL Biden’s fault and it will always be. Strop trying to be fair.

  7. Gustopher says:

    I’ve gotten used to measuring time by horrific scandals and massive news stories rather than days. By that measure, an enormous amount done in almost no time.

    Logically, I know that weeks have passed, but all that marks the time is an impeachment trial, and maybe a nominee who uses Twitter too much. Oh, Republicans filibustering the organizing resolution — that was special.

  8. Sleeping Dog says:


    And we and @James got a deserving hippy to punch. Good Times!

  9. Scott F. says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    This is an example of a writer, on deadline and bereft of ideas, simply stirring the pot for 1200 or so words.

    I take the frustration of the typical political writer as a very good sign.

    34 days into Trump’s term, we were already knee-deep in easy-to-report stories about clearly demonstrable lies (e.g. inauguration crowd size) and scandals emerging from Trump’s transition (Flynn, back-doors to Russia) and his cabinet nominees (DeVos anyone?).

    Competency isn’t easy to report, so the less imaginative writers are left to make stuff up. That’s as clear as signal as possible from Beltway media that Biden is winning.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    Given the (perceptive) article you wrote, James, you might consider slightly changing the title to “Biden’s Slow Start!?”

  11. Bill says:

    Biden’s slow…..end of story.
    Feeble old men don’t like to leave their comfort zone.

  12. David S. says:

    @Bill: Thank you for sharing your personal experience.

  13. Jax says:

    @Bill: Or their golf courses.

  14. Turgid Jacobian says:

    “But the Senate refused to even begin hearings during the transition period, needlessly stalling the confirmation process.”

    No, not “the Senate.” Mitch McConnell decided they shouldn’t, and his committee chairs played along. It was specific people.

  15. Bill says:

    @David S.: Not mine, I work every day and don’t need anyone to cope with daily life…and I’d never expect a doting old man to be able to run the country anywhere aside from into the ground.
    But here we are, covering for the Potus.

  16. Tom Maguire says:

    I agree. Little things like a slim Senate majority, an insurrection and an impeachment would slow anyone.