A year ago today, Rhode Island was called for President Joe Biden right as polls closed, before virtually any votes had been tabulated. According to official results, Biden garnered 59.4% of the vote statewide and 80.4% in Providence.
Rhode Islanders chose Biden en masse. Now, nearly one year later, some residents have their share of concerns.
A significant portion of the over 150 residents interviewed for this story said that they had not kept close tabs on the Biden administration in the news. Still, many expressed a wide array of grievances with Biden’s presidency, ranging from his failure to pass the Build Back Better plan to his handling of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and vaccine mandates. But many residents said they approved of the Biden presidency considering the political climate he inherited.
As Biden approaches the one-year mark, his approval rating continues to decline. According to polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight, the president’s approval rating has sunk from roughly 53% at the beginning of his presidency to 43% over the past several days .
“He’s doing as best as he can with this (political) climate,” said Onna Moniz-John, a 73-year-old East Providence resident.
For a number of Rhode Islanders who were interviewed, Biden’s handling of macroeconomic conditions — and the progress his administration has made on domestic economic policy — are of interest. Eleven residents interviewed noted their disapproval of Biden’s approach to handling inflation, specifically referencing recent high gas prices.
In October, gas prices hit seven-year highs in Rhode Island, with an average cost per gallon of $3.26 across the state, according to AAA Northeast.
Lyndsay Drew, a 50-year-old e-commerce manager from Warwick, said she was “thrilled” about the expanded child tax credit, one of Biden’s signature policies implemented in March’s stimulus package . Under the expansion, parents receive up to $300 per month per child.
“As a mother, I only wish that it had started sooner,” she said. “Trying to figure out work and raising a family in this country is insane, if not borderline impossible.”
Still, Biden’s other two signature policies have stalled in Congress. A “hard infrastructure” plan, passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, has yet to pass the House. And a still-gestational investment in climate change and the social safety net, projected to cost roughly $1.75 trillion, faces staunch opposition from Republicans and has been slowed by concerns raised by moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-A.Z.).
Jack Cicilline, an 83-year-old criminal defense lawyer and the father of Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI01), said he was disappointed that the bills have yet to come to fruition.
“Everyone wants the infrastructure bill,” he said. “It puts people to work, stimulates the economy, and now he can’t get it passed.”
Lilnil Novus, a 55-year-old from Providence, also said infrastructure was one of his top priorities. “As a truck driver, I want (Biden) to work on fixing bridges in Rhode Island,” he said.
Biden also made education a key part of his platform — including the cancellation of $10,000 in student loan debt per person. But again facing Congressional opposition, Biden has only canceled debt for narrow groups, such as victims of for-profit college fraud.
“There’s been no movement,” said Bradley Difoggio, a 34-year-old small-business owner in Providence who graduated from Lesley University in Massachusetts 12 years ago and still owes roughly $64,000 in loans. “I’ve done the best that I can. But it’s at the point where I still owe just as much principal as I did eight years ago.”
Other declared priority areas during Biden’s campaign — namely, tackling the pandemic and climate change — drew mixed reviews.
“He promised a lot of switches over to renewable energy and he hasn’t made that a priority as much as he said he would,” said Olivia Hodge, a 20-year-old Providence resident. “I feel like there’s a lot of greenwashing, where it seems like they are doing a lot of work on the forefront but they are not doing a lot of work where it matters.”
“We live in Rhode Island,” said Sophie Wang MD’XX, a 24-year-old medical student who lives in Providence. “We’ll be one of the first places in the U.S. to notice ” climate change.
Much of the Biden administration’s plan on climate has been tied up with domestic policy packages and have since been stalled by opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats.
Controlling the pandemic has also proved challenging. While the summer’s wave of cases fueled by the Delta variant has started to subside, it remains to be seen if another wave will follow this winter. And vaccinations have plateaued, with only 58% of the country fully vaccinated — though Rhode Island is one of the most vaccinated states in the country, with 78.3% of all residents with at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the R.I. Department of Health.
In September, Biden announced new regulations mandating that private businesses with more than 100 workers require vaccinations or weekly testing.
Justin Ragosta, a 20-year-old from Cranston who plans to go into health care, said that he agreed with the decision and hoped Biden would “stay consistent.”
Rhode Islanders broadly support vaccine mandates. According to a survey from the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States conducted in September, 64.6% of Rhode Islanders “approve” or “strongly approve” of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
But for a minority of Rhode Islanders, the vaccine mandates represent an infringement on personal liberties.
“They want everybody to get immunizations, which is good. But I don’t believe in forcing them,” said Ruth Hills, an 81-year-old Rhode Islander.
Biden’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan also drew criticism from a number of residents.
“There are who-knows-how-many U.S. citizens and Afghan citizens with green cards still stranded there,” said 72-year-old Cranston resident Kevin Gible, who described Biden’s first year as a “trainwreck.”
Others, such as Ragosta, said that Biden did the best he could have given the circumstances. “Regardless of how we left Afghanistan, it was not going to be a clean exit, and I believe that what he did, he did it the right way,” Ragosta said.
A vocal handful of Rhode Islanders interviewed said that they missed former President Trump. Of that group, almost all said they identified as Republicans.
But a significantly larger group noted that for all of Biden’s shortcomings, and all of the problems he has yet to fix, they were still relieved about one thing: that Trump no longer occupies the Oval Office.
“The best thing is (that) he’s not Trump,” said M. Charles Bakst ’66, a retired Providence Journal political columnist. “Whatever shortcomings or disappointments there are, I thank God that Trump is not in the White House.”
Nakina Barron, 43, said she thought Biden would likely need all four years to “clean a huge mess up.”
“After the last administration, I just didn’t expect Joe Biden to come in and fix everything,” she added.
“I no longer feel… existential dread whenever I hear about the president,” added Robert Sucsy, a 26-year-old who lives in Providence.
“He hasn’t made me feel like he hates me,” said Cynthia Matthews, 23, a frontline worker who is Black. “Trump did.”
With reporting from Ben Ackerman, Akshay Amesur, Spencer Barnett, Anthony Bishop Gylys, Casey Chan, Marina Du, Magdalena Del Valle, Zachary Federman, Livia Gimenes, Faith Griffiths, Grace Holleb, Maya Laur, Izzy Lazenby, Cecilia Martin Garcia, Michelle Liu, Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal, Amiri Nash, Zara Norman, Caroline Parente, Ingrid Ren, Jordan Roller, Janek Schaller, Saloone Singh, Jacob Smollen, Andrew Sojka, Will Steinfeld, Madeleine Tremblay, Joseph Vandermillen and Anik Willig as part of Professor Tracy Breton’s ENGL 1050: “Journalistic Writing” course.