What will Donald Trump accomplish in his first 100 days in office? And does it matter?
Presidents have been measured by their first 100 days ever since Franklin Roosevelt successfully used the early days of his first term to radically change the role of government in depression ravaged America. FDR pushed 78 bills through Congress in his first 100 days, more than triple the average of his successors. Ronald Reagan, for example, got just nine pieces of legislation enacted in his first 100 days; George W. Bush, seven; Barack Obama, 11.
Political experts attribute the lower level of achievement to changes in Congress, where leadership has been weakened, making it harder for a House Speaker or Senate Majority Leader to push through legislation championed by a President from his party. The hyper-partisanship currently dominating America also makes it hard to pass lots of laws in short order.
Trump, like his predecessors, could also use Executive Orders, to quickly undo existing policies or impose new measures. Lyndon Johnson is the king of Executive Orders, using 26 in his first 100 days. Barack Obama issued 19.
So, what does all this mean for President Trump’s early days? It’s a mixed bag. Trump is nominally a Republican and the GOP now controls both houses of Congress. But some of Trump’s centerpiece initiatives, like building a wall on the border with Mexico and imposing tariffs on foreign trade partners, are at odds with traditional Republican values of lower spending, less government and free trade. This could mean opposition and horse-trading, which might slow the legislative process and dilute some of the new President’s proposals.
Trump’s status as the least-popular incoming President in 30 years may also create obstacles as some GOP lawmakers try to support their new President without alienating too many constituents. A significant misstep or controversial statement by one of his cabinet members, many of whom lack government experience, could also gum up the works.
All that said, here are five areas where we could see significant action in Trump’s first 100 days:
The Supreme Court. Trump will almost certainly move very quickly to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia almost one year ago. GOP Senators blocked President Obama’s nominee for months arguing that a lame duck President should not be allowed to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Democrats will no doubt try a similar move, especially if Trump nominates an especially conservative judge. But Trump will eventually win approval for his choice.
Affordable Care Act. The Republican-controlled Congress has already begun dismantling Obamacare, as Trump promised he would. However, complete elimination of the ACA would leave about 11 million Americans without health insurance. Thus there is mounting agreement it should not be fully scrapped until GOP lawmakers have a replacement plan ready for enactment. GOP leaders have offered no timetable for creating that plan.
The Wall/Immigration Policy. Trump continues to press for a wall along the Mexican border and continues to insist Mexico will pay for that mammoth undertaking. But his team recently asked Congress to pay for the project upfront with Mexico eventually reimbursing the U.S. It’s not clear how that will play with fiscal conservative Republicans, who are looking to cut federal spending, not increase it.
Trump may very well issue Executive Orders to start action on his promise to deport 2 million criminal aliens and otherwise crackdown on illegal immigration.
Tax Cuts. Trump has promised significant reductions in both personal and corporate income taxes. However, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence has indicated that piece of the Trump agenda might be on hold until later this year. This might reflect a desire by Administration officials to make sure they have their act together before taking on an always complicated and controversial issue.
Trade. The new President could act very quickly on this issue. He opposes the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and could withdraw the U.S. from negotiations with the stroke of a pen. He is also a vocal critic of the long-established North American Free Trade Agreement. Exiting that deal would be more controversial and complicated. It’s certainly not likely to happen in the first 100 days. Similarly, Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on China and other allegedly “unfair” trade partners would likely face lots of opposition and controversy and are unlikely to come up in these first days.
Bottom line on Trump’s first 100 days? Look for lots of action, some rookie mistakes, and a level of accomplishment on par with recent Presidents. But even if he gets just to that average level, things will start to look a lot different in Washington, DC.