Biden's First Year Report Card
As well as grades for Harris, Schumer, Nancy, McCarthy and Cocaine Mitch.
Joe Biden’s presidency turned 1 year old on Thursday and Washington’s collective sentiment is that its finest moments likely already sit in the rearview mirror.
Biden’s approval rating stands at 42%, a few points better than Donald Trump’s 39% at the same moment in his White House tenure. Trump’s party got walloped in his 2018 midterm, losing 41 U.S. House seats and forfeiting control of the lower congressional chamber. It looks like November 2022 will hold the same result for Biden, at least for his fragile Democratic House. (The 50-50 Senate fight is going to be an incalculable free-for-all and potential bright spot for Dems).
But with election politics soon to take priority over policy — even Biden said this week he wants to get out on the road more, campaign on his record, talk to real folk — it’s a prudent time to take stock of the year that was. What a more efficient way to do so than present a clear-eyed, pithy Report Card of Washington’s #leadership over the past 12 months.
Without further ado, the grades are IN:
President Joe Biden: C
The size of the president’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan signed into law last spring probably contributed to the current inflation spike, but his $1 trillion infrastructure package is a true and rare substantial bipartisan victory. Build Back Better is flagging but TBD and the rapid at-home Covid tests should’ve come sooner, Joe! The man is old, which at times leads to verbal flubs, but he’s still not Trump.
Guest Grader: Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois: C +
“Came into office with a big pile of shit on his plate, but shit on one’s plate also presents a great opportunity. He hasn’t taken advantage of that opportunity. He hasn’t led, he hasn’t explained, and he hasn’t communicated. After the clusterfuck that was Trump, Americans were dying for grown up, competent leadership, and though he’s done some good things, he hasn’t provided, nor communicated that grown up, competent leadership. It’s a shame. But the opportunity is still there.”
Vice President Harris: D
Has the vice president had a genuinely triumphant day since being tapped for the ticket 17 months ago? As VEEP, she’s made news for the wrong reasons, repeatedly fumbling television interviews that have stirred questions about her basic readiness for the job, which is essentially to advocate and do no harm. While Biden’s team has remained stable, it’s Harris who is experiencing the type of turnover commonly linked to a bad boss. It’s not just Pete Buttigieg who is suppressing his grin, it’s Stacey Abrams, Amy Klobuchar and a host of other Democrats lying in wait due to Harris’ naked weakness.
Guest Grader: Andrew Lewis, North Westwood, CA Councilmember: B
“I’d give her a B given the difficulty of governing during the pandemic and a grid-locked Congress. Further, being the first woman and person of color in the VP position comes with a unique set of challenges. She’s done the best she can given the circumstances.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: C+
Schumer doesn’t — and will never — earn the media adulation that Nancy Pelosi does, but let’s be frank: With its esoteric rules and 100 mighty egos, the Senate is a much tougher beast to manage. He failed to keep his caucus completely united by a score of 2, but without moderate Democrats in red states there would be no Senate Majority Leader Schumer. Sometimes it feels like Schumer’s Senate strategy is trapped in Groundhog Day. But someone tell me what more he could’ve done to change the minds of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on voting rights or BBB.
Guest Grader: Waleed Shahid, Justice Democrats spokesperson: D-
“Democrats haven’t had full control of the federal government since 2010. Pelosi has had ten years and Schumer has five years to prepare their caucuses around a legislative agenda upon returning to power. They haven’t delivered on 95% of the things Democrats have been promising voters for a decade and are now in danger of losing the majority for the foreseeable future.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: B+
Hate him or really hate him, the Kentuckian withstood a scattered but consistent attack from the Republican Party’s most powerful figure to keep his 50-member caucus united against Democrats on every critical vote. Except when he tossed a bone to Biden’s infrastructure bill to demonstrate he can still #bipartisanship if the plan is boring, not radical and won’t complicate his path back to power. Even as Trump routinely paddled him, it was hard to find a Republican in office or seeking office who would follow suit and kick McConnell. Even mouthy activists have tempered their complaints. If the burgeoning Republican wave holds, Cocaine Mitch will (narrowly) run the Senate again come 2023.
Guest Grader: Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio: E
“I grade Mitch McConnell as continuing to try to block everything that would move the country forward. If you grade McConnell based on his goal, and his goal was to stop Joe Biden from doing much of anything, you have to give McConnell certainly an E for effort.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: A-
What can you say, Pelosi nails her votes. What’s been more surprising than the united Republican opposition to Biden’s major legislative ticket items is the nearly lockstep support of Democratic House members — even those who skated into the caucus on the anti-Trump wave of 2018. On Build Back Better — Biden’s most expensive and polarizing policy — she lost just a single member, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine. All her other moderates walked the plank. On the sweeping John R. Lewis Freedom to Vote Act, she suffered zero defections. For what Pelosi lacks as a communicator, she makes up for as calculator. Is she still around in a year when Democrats are likely shoved back into minority status?
Guest Grader: A former Democratic congressman from the Midwest, who insisted “do NOT use my name”: A -
“A speaker must round up 2018 votes in the 223 member Democratic caucus. The House has passed and sent approximately 300 bills to the Senate where nothing gets done. Will Rogers was right, he does not belong to an organized party, he is a Democrat! Will Rogers never met Nancy Pelosi.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy: B
Just as Schumer can’t match Pelosi’s hype, McCarthy doesn’t receive the strategic accolades that regularly shower McConnell. Still, the Californian is more likely to helm a majority in a year than Mitch. Much like Pelosi, he’s kept his 212 member caucus together, except on infrastructure, where 13 Republicans bucked him. He’s somehow been able to manage the more … ahem… colorful personalities in his caucus (Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene), without inciting a threat to his leadership post.
Guest Grader: David McIntosh, Club for Growth President: A
“People are going to be surprised by that but he’s stood up a conservative opposition to Pelosi and brought conservatives into it. We’re going to watch next year to make sure his leadership team actually has a conservative in it. We don’t see Kevin as a strong philosophical conservative but he’s been a very good leader to bring conservatives into the process and essentially done a great job of standing up a contrast to Nancy Pelosi.”
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain: B+
With his ubiquitous Twitter and television presence, Klain has proven himself suited for the age where no part of government is shielded from the media lens. He gets that Twitter is real life, in it remains where political reporters camp out for at least 65% of their day, combing over feeds for ideas and themes. Sure his detractors are grumbling, but besides the legislation he’s shepherded, the most important Klain accomplishment has keeping the Biden White House drama-free with stable personnel and few bombshell leaks.
Guest Grader: Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers”: How The White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency": B
“The real test comes now, as he and Biden ramp up for a brutal midterms test. But if you press me, I'll give Klain an overall B for the first semester (year). That's based on an excellent first six months (A), creating more jobs than any other first-term president, vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans, getting 94 percent of schools opened, passing the ARP, slashing childhood poverty, etc. The second six months were a lot rockier (C), from Afghanistan to the Delta variant to inflation to failing to pass BBB. So averaging those two grades = "B."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki: B
Following the Trump administration’s sheer disdain for the press, this was always going to be en easy upgrade in the minds of the reporting class. Psaki appears to get a rush out of sparring with conservative reporters, but her comebacks haven’t always been sterling. Notably, #PsakiBombed when she mocked the idea of sending free Covid tests to the homes of Americans — an idea the administration embraced just weeks later. On many (or most) questions, she dodges direct answers or simply repeats what the president has already said. It isn’t scintillating. It’s just boringly normal.
Guest Grader: Jason Miller, former Trump spokesman : Lower than an F?
“Does it go lower than an F? Putting President Biden in the position of defending every problem facing Americans the night before the one-year anniversary of his term was an unmitigated disaster, and much more than a minor incursion into guaranteeing Joe Biden’s defeat. Conventional Washington thinking said, ‘hold a press conference to change the headlines.’ To that end they were very successful.”