POLITICS
04/25/2017 04:44 pm ET

The "100 Days" Milestone For Presidents Is Dumb

It's arbitrary, and presidents often get more done in the next 100 days.

WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump recently dismissed what he called “the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days,” even as the White House issued a press release Tuesday touting his executive actions and the absurd claim he had “accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt.”

Trump has in reality had a poor start compared to recent predecessors. He has signed no landmark bills into law, despite his party’s full control of Congress, and he failed to fulfill a 100-day score card he signed during the campaign.

But Trump is right about the arbitrary nature of the milestone.

“It is a totally artificial measure,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University. “Some presidents are good in the first 100 days. FDR was the best. Some don’t get a lot of legislation, and Trump will be the one people point to. But it doesn’t indicate what will happen next or what will be successful. There is plenty of time to get things done.”

Indeed, while pundits place a lot of emphasis on the start of a presidential term as an indicator of its success, often the next 100 days (and the 100 days after that) are filled with as many, if not more, accomplishments.

Barack Obama, for example, notched some notable legislative wins early on: the massive fiscal stimulus package and the Lilly Ledbetter Act, to name two. But his landmark health care legislation didn’t become law until 14 months into his presidency.

Bill Clinton’s presidency, by contrast, had a rough start. While he managed to get a budget through Congress, he suffered many missteps, including a faltering search for an attorney general and a failed effort to pass a stimulus package. Ultimately, he was able to right his presidency and win a second term.

“He ended up being re-elected and being very popular,” Zelizer said. “I think it is a mistake to think because [a president’s first 100 days] didn’t have a lot of legislation that you might not have it down the road.”

Clinton, of course, would have preferred that things had gone differently in those early months. His 1993 budget and the passage of the assault weapons ban as part of the 1994 crime bill are largely cited as major factors in the Democratic Party’s massive midterm election losses. But this also illustrates how administrations aren’t truly shaped by their first 100 days. Governance ― including matters of immense political consequence ― often happens afterward.

Here are some notable examples of previous administrations’ major accomplishments beyond the first 100 days:

 

Barack Obama

May 20 -  Obama signed into law the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, two measures focused on reforming the housing finance system after the 2008 recession.

May 26 - Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the first justice of Hispanic heritage.

June 4 - Obama gave a major speech in Cairo, in an attempt to repair U.S. standing abroad.

June 17 - Obama signed a memorandum extending certain benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

June 26 - Obama signed the “Cash-for-Clunkers” bill into law.


George W. Bush

June 7 - Bush signed a legislative tax cut of $1.35 trillion over 10 years.

July 12 - Bush unveiled his plan to enable seniors to buy prescription drugs at reduced prices.

August 1 - House voted to approve a Bush-backed ban on human cloning.

August 9 - Bush signed an executive order allowing limited stem cell research.

 

Bill Clinton

May 20 - Clinton signed into law the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, otherwise known as the “Motor Voter” law, which made it easier for millions of Americans to register to vote by allowing registration at the same time they get a driver’s license.

August 10 - Senate narrowly approved Clinton’s deficit reduction plan, which slashed the deficit in half. It also extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by three years.

August 10 - Congress approved an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, giving a tax cut to 15 million of the neediest American workers.

August 10 - Clinton created nine “empowerment zones” to spur local community planning and to encourage private investment in distressed communities.

August 10 - Clinton unveiled his childhood immunization initiative, designed to ensure that all children in the U.S. receive vaccinations.

 

George H.W. Bush

June 5 - Bush suspended the sale of American weapons to China following the Tiananmen Square massacre.

August 9 - Bush signed into law the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989, providing billions of dollars to prop up troubled savings and loans institutions.

 

Ronald Reagan

July 1 - Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, the first woman justice to be named to the court.

August 4 - Congress passed Reagan’s tax cut bill, slashing rates by 25 percent over three years.

August 5 - Reagan signed an executive order that began firing more than 11,000 striking air-traffic controllers who were in violation of his order to return to work.

 

Jimmy Carter

August 4 - Carter established the Department of Energy.

 

Richard Nixon

July 20 - Nixon made the longest distance phone call in history to astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the moon.

July 25 - Nixon announced the Nixon Doctrine (also known as the Guam Doctrine), which maintained that the U.S. would support its friends and allies with economic and military aid rather than with ground troops.

 

Lyndon Johnson

July 2 - Johnson signed The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

John F. Kennedy

May 25 -  Kennedy gave a speech before a joint session of Congress in which he challenged America to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

 

Dwight Eisenhower

July 27 - Eisenhower fulfilled a campaign promise, negotiating an end to hostilities in the Korean War and establishing the 38th Parallel as the boundary between North and South Korea.

 

Harry Truman

August 15 - Japan surrendered, ending World War II.

September 2 - The Japanese Instrument of Surrender was officially signed in Tokyo.

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