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What’s the actual state of the union? What Biden did — and didn’t do — in the last year

A look at Biden’s record on Ukraine, China, the economy, abortion and more ahead of his third address to Congress

Published |Updated
Leah Askarinam, Maggie Severns, Tom Nagorski, Dave Levitan, Lauren Morello, Khaya Himmelman, Kevin Carey, Matthew Zeitlin and Justin Rood

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SOTU Biden 360 Overview

By Leah Askarinam - Senior Editor, Maggie Severns - Influence Reporter

The State of the Union is a chance for Joe Biden to boast about what he’s accomplished, pin blame on others for what he hasn’t and set his political agenda for the coming year.

Ahead of the State of the Union, which Biden will deliver before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Grid selected items that have long been on Democrats’ wish list, major financial investments and issues that poll as top-of-mind for Americans — and looked at what did and didn’t get done, taking the framework he was working within into account.

A solid conservative majority controls the Supreme Court, which overturned the national right to abortion since the last State of the Union address. Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Still, Biden can point to specific policy achievements, including passing a signature piece of climate legislation and marshaling bipartisan support for aid to Ukraine. From the White House, Biden also forgave $10,000 in student loan debt for many adults.

SOTU Biden 360 Thesis


While Biden often struggled to push his agenda, it’s undeniable that there’s been monumental change in America in multiple areas. Some of that has resulted from the Biden administration pushing its agenda on issues like higher education and marriage equality, and some of it has involved reactions to events around the world.

Here’s how Grid reporters see the last year from foreign policy to the economy, climate, healthcare and marriage equality.

Ukraine Lens

An unexpected crisis — and some unexpected wins

By Tom Nagorski - Global Editor

It happens to virtually every American president: an overseas crisis upends U.S. foreign policy or adds a huge, unexpected item to the foreign policy inbox. For Joe Biden, it’s been the war in Ukraine. And in many ways, this crisis has brought surprising results.

As a political matter, meanwhile, the U.S. response to the war has done something else: It’s taken the focus off a foreign-policy debacle that preceded it — the chaotic and deadly American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. (More on that below).

China Lens

A punishing year for the U.S.-China relationship

By Tom Nagorski - Global Editor

For all the tensions over Taiwan and human rights, these were concrete U.S. actions that will hurt China. And they made the third “moment” that much more important — because it carried glimmers of hope for the US-China relationship. After meeting Xi Jinping at the November G-20 gathering in Bali, Indonesia, Biden gave a news conference at which he sounded conciliatory and optimistic. Equally important, the Chinese sounded a positive tone as well.

Among other things, Biden reassured Xi that the U.S. still maintains its “One China” policy — i.e., in no way supporting an independent Taiwan; and the two sides agreed to a reboot of collaboration on climate change and “global financial, health and food stability.” It was noted that Xi - who until then hadn’t left his country because of the pandemic - was willing to shake hands with Biden, who came to Bali nursing a cold.

Climate Lens

Biden’s signature legislative achievement

By Dave Levitan - Climate Reporter

Abortion Lens

Biden meets Dobbs with a push for medication abortion

By Lauren Morello - Science Editor

The second year of the Biden administration overlapped with the end of federal abortion rights.

The Supreme Court’s June 2022 verdict in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upended the long-standing national right to abortion, quickly fracturing access nationwide. The Biden administration has countered by working to expand access to medication abortion.

Medication abortion has its limits: The FDA says abortion pills can only be used through the tenth week of pregnancy. And some states have attempted to ban the pills outright — even though the FDA says they are safe and legal — or require doctors to dispense them directly to patients, in violation of FDA rules.

Border Policy Lens

A year of Title 42 will-they-or-won’t-they drama

By Khaya Himmelman - Reporter

Higher Education Lens

A roundabout way to deliver on a progressive promise

By Kevin Carey - Special Contributor

Observers think there’s a good chance the six-member Conservative majority will nullify Biden’s loan scheme. Combined with his free community college plan falling victim to the Manchin-Sinema Build Back Better bloodbath of 2021, that would seem to leave the president with no gains on a signature domestic policy issue: solving the crisis of college affordability and student loan debt.

The new debt forgiveness plan is all the more important given two difficult events on deck for later this year: the Supreme Court’s probable decision to ban affirmative action for Black and Hispanic students and the resumption of mandatory student loan payments after more than three years of suspension due to the pandemic. A great deal will be riding on Biden’s ability to manipulate the complex machinery of federal regulation to solve a problem that Congress can’t or won’t address.

Economy Lens

Biden’s biggest move has been … inaction

By Matthew Zeitlin - Domestic Economics Reporter

What’s noteworthy is how Biden has let the Fed do its work.

Afghanistan Lens

Progress at a snail’s pace

By Tom Nagorski - Global Editor, Justin Rood - Investigations Editor

In the case of Afghanistan, a trauma for the Biden administration still lingers — as does a dangerous limbo for tens of thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to serve the U.S. and were left behind in the chaos of the American withdrawal.

“Helping these Afghans is more than a priority for us,” Blinken said soon after the fall of Kabul in August 2021.

Eighteen months later, progress has come — but at a snail’s pace.

“It’s leaving people trapped in Afghanistan,” Jeff Phaneuf, a director at the advocacy group No One Left Behind, told Grid. “The backlog very much remains, despite minor improvements.”

Marriage Equality Lens

Same-sex marriage: getting ahead of the Supreme Court

By Maggie Severns - Influence Reporter

The Respect for Marriage Act overturned the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and requires states to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in other states, giving same-sex couples the option to have a recognized marriage even if their state banned the practice in the future.

The new law highlighted how Biden, who signed it in December, has evolved with his views of same-sex marriage over time. He had voted for DOMA as a senator but later helped pave the way for Democrats’ embrace of gay marriage when, as vice president in 2012, he publicly said he was “absolutely comfortable” with the concept — a comment that put him at odds with the Obama administration and reportedly nudged former President Barack Obama publicly embrace gay marriage.

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