Has it been one hundred days? Does it matter? There is the context:
The idea of measuring an American president by the accomplishments of his first 100 days in office goes back to 1933 and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dash to staunch a banking crisis and pull America out of the Great Depression.
In a July 24, 1933, fireside chat, he assessed the early months of his administration.
“I think that we all wanted the opportunity of a little quiet thought to examine and assimilate in a mental picture the crowding events of the hundred days which had been devoted to the starting of the wheels of the New Deal,” Roosevelt said.
He had signed a record 15 major pieces of legislation in those first 100 days.
And then there was June 12, 2017:
During an unusual Cabinet meeting Monday morning, President Trump returned to a theme that he has embraced from the outset of his tenure: People don’t understand just how much he has done.
“I will say that never has there been a president – with few exceptions; in the case of Franklin D. Roosevelt, he had a major depression to handle – who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” Trump said, “between the executive orders and the job-killing regulations that have been terminated. Many bills; I guess over 34 bills that Congress signed.”
That’s not exactly so:
Trump signed 24 executive orders in his first 100 days. He signed 22 presidential memoranda, 20 presidential proclamations, and 28 bills. About a dozen of those bills rolled back regulations finalized during the last months of his immediate predecessor Barack Obama’s presidency using the Congressional Review Act. Most of the other bills were small-scale measures that appoint personnel, name federal facilities or modify existing programs. None of Trump’s bills are considered to be “major bills” – based on a “longstanding political-science standard for ‘major bills.’“ Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that “based on a legislative standard” – which is what the first 100 days has been judged on since the tenure of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who enacted 76 laws in 100 days including nine that were “major.”
Or so says the presidential historian. The Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus sees this:
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised that in his first 100 days he would repeal Obamacare, build a wall on the border with Mexico and persuade Congress to pass term limits.
None of those things happened, but Trump did outdo former holders of the office in one regard: producing unshirted chaos.
The headstrong new president imposed a ban on immigrants and travelers from Muslim countries, but it was quickly reversed by federal courts. He stripped federal funding from sanctuary cities, but that, too, was quickly challenged. His national security advisor resigned amid a scandal over secret contacts with Russian officials.
Soon enough, however, Trump disavowed his own self-proclaimed three-month deadline as a “ridiculous standard,” while at the same time insisting: “I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days.”
It doesn’t matter. There’s a new guy in charge. His first one hundred days went rather well. Stuff got done:
Biden, too, pledged quick action. He promised to deliver 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in his first 100 days; when that proved too easy, he doubled the goal to 200 million (and reached it).
He promised COVID relief, and managed to push a massive $1.9-trillion bill through Congress without a vote to spare. He has proposed a $2.3-trillion infrastructure plan. And his approval in public opinion polls stands at about 54%, a higher level than his predecessor ever touched.
If Biden were simply being compared with his immediate predecessor, he’d be declared the winner of the 100-day race.
But he’s not the real winner:
For all Biden’s unexpected boldness, his record doesn’t reach Rooseveltian standards. FDR passed 15 major pieces of legislation in his first 100 days; Biden has passed exactly one. More important, while Biden’s relief bill is enormous in terms of dollars, most of its emergency provisions are only temporary. Unlike FDR’s New Deal laws, its programs – notably the family tax credit that promises to cut child poverty in half – won’t last a single generation unless the president persuades Congress to extend them.
So there’s still work to do, but McManus points out that at least this guy works at what he said he’d do, even if that angers those on the left and right edges of things:
The new president’s energy has focused relentlessly on four priorities – the pandemic, the economy, climate change and race relations. Other Democratic priorities – immigration reform, gun control, a $15 minimum wage – have received moral support, but not much more. That narrow focus is one of the reasons for Biden’s success (unlike Trump, whose attention span was notoriously short), but it has produced frustration among progressives who hoped for more help.
Those who hoped Biden would produce a renaissance of bipartisanship have been disappointed too. The president has held affable meetings with Republican senators, only to opt for bills that could be passed without them. He’s made a hard-nosed choice that passing bills comes first; bipartisanship comes second.
In short, get stuff done. Those worried folks will get over their specific worries when good stuff actually gets done. And of course this takes time:
FDR’s most memorable achievements didn’t come in his first 100 days of emergency measures. The bills that established Social Security and the National Labor Relations Board weren’t passed until after his first midterm election, when he helped elect nine more Democrats to the Senate.
If Biden can emulate that trick, he might begin to qualify for Roosevelt’s league – but not until then.
But so far so good. Mark Murray, a senior political editor at NBC News, looks at the polling data:
As President Joe Biden nears his 100th day in office, slightly more than half of Americans say they approve of his job performance. Biden gets his highest marks on handling the Covid-19 pandemic and his lowest on the situation at the southern border.
Those are the results of a new national NBC News poll, which also found a public that’s largely supportive of Biden’s top legislative priorities; more optimistic about defeating the pandemic; and more bullish about the country’s direction than it was back in January.
Yes, there’s something about getting useful and perhaps quite necessary things done that perks people up, or at least most people:
According to the poll, 53 percent of adults say they approve of Biden’s job as president – including 90 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of independents but just 9 percent of Republicans – while 39 percent of all respondents say they disapprove.
Biden’s job rating is higher than Donald Trump’s was at this same point in time in the poll (40 percent approve, 54 percent disapprove), but it’s lower than Barack Obama’s was at 100 days (61 percent approve, 30 percent disapprove).
Among registered voters in the new poll, Biden’s job rating stands at 51 percent who approve, 43 percent who disapprove.
The president gets his highest marks on handling the pandemic (69 percent approve), on dealing with the economy (52 percent approve), on uniting the country (52 percent approve) and on race relations (49 percent approve).
Those who disapprove seem little more than resentful of this guy, of all people, fixing real problems, and Murray adds anecdotal evidence of what really may be going on here:
“I think I just like how he’s handling the Covid crisis more than Trump did,” said one Democratic poll respondent from Iowa.
But Biden’s lowest scores come on dealing with China (35 percent), handling the gun issue (34 percent) and dealing with border security and immigration (33 percent).
“He opened floodgates for illegal immigration,” said one female Trump voter from Texas.
And by a 55-to-34 percent margin, respondents believe that Biden has returned the country to a more typical way that past presidents have governed the country.
“I don’t have to think about what Joe Biden is doing every day,” said a North Carolina man who voted for Biden. “The best thing about Joe Biden is I don’t have to think about Joe Biden.”
That, in an odd way, covers the full range of responses here:
Forty-six percent of Americans say the Covid-19 relief bill he signed into law in March is a good idea, versus 25 percent who call it a bad idea, with another 26 percent who don’t have an opinion.
And 59 percent say his infrastructure plan – which would upgrade roads and bridges, expand broadband access and pay to care for the elderly and disabled – is a good idea, while 21 percent disagree; 19 percent don’t have an opinion.
By party, 87 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 21 percent of Republicans support Biden’s infrastructure plan.
In short, the country is deeply divided, but not at all evenly divided. Biden is not Trump, and that should worry Republicans:
What’s more, 56 percent of respondents say they feel more hopeful when looking at Biden’s leadership and plans for the country, compared with 42 percent who say they feel more doubtful…
Democrats hold a 5-point advantage in congressional preference, with 47 percent of registered voters preferring a Democratic-controlled Congress, and with 42 percent preferring Republicans in charge.
And former President Donald Trump’s favorable/unfavorable rating in the poll is 32 percent positive, 55 percent negative, while Biden’s score is 50 percent positive, 36 percent negative.
It’s definitive. Trump is over. This is Biden’s time. And there’s that second poll:
President Biden nears the end of his first 100 days in office with a slight majority of Americans approving of his performance and supporting his major policy initiatives, but his approval rating is lower than any recent past presidents except Donald Trump, with potential warning signs ahead about his governing strategy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
That’s a bit darker than the NBC poll, but not all that dark:
Overall, 52 percent of adults say they approve of the job Biden is doing, compared with 42 percent who disapprove. At this point in his presidency four years ago, Trump’s rating was nearly the reverse, with approval at 42 percent and disapproval at 53 percent. Overall, 34 percent of Americans say they strongly approve of Biden’s performance, compared with 35 percent who strongly disapprove.
Biden receives the highest marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with 64 percent of adults – including 33 percent of Republicans – giving him positive ratings. His approval rating for his handling of the economy stands at 52 percent. But 53 percent say they disapprove of the way he has dealt with the immigration situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, a problem that has vexed his administration for much of its first months.
And in this poll, Biden is told to stop bypassing the Republicans who are doing anything they can to make sure he fails even if the country fails:
Although his first sizable initiatives enjoy majority support, the poll also finds that by 2 to 1, Americans say that Biden should be willing to make “major changes” to his proposals to win Republican support, rather than trying to enact proposals without making major changes and getting no backing from congressional Republicans.
Okay, include those out to ruin you, and stop doing all this stuff too:
In another caution for the president, a slim majority of Americans – 53 percent – say they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned that Biden will do too much to increase the size and role of government. Overall, Americans are almost evenly split on whether they favor a smaller government with fewer services (48 percent) or a larger government with more services (45 percent).
That finding does, however, represent a shift in public opinion that existed between 1992 and 2012, when at least half favored smaller government.
The times they are a changing, but Ronald Reagan is not quite dead yet. He’s dying very slowly. Or maybe he’s a zombie now:
The poll also shows a record divide between the parties in views of Biden ahead of the 100-day mark, with 90 percent of Democrats approving of his performance compared with 13 percent of Republicans. Biden’s approval among fellow Democrats is six points higher than Trump’s rating was among Republicans four years ago, while the two presidents’ ratings among those in the rival party are identical (13 percent). Among independents, Biden’s approval rating of 47 percent is nine points better than Trump’s 38 percent four years ago.
But none of this is all that good:
Although Biden’s approval rating is notably higher than Trump’s was at this point four years ago, support for his job performance – which is a net positive of 10 points — ranks far below other past presidents.
Obama was 43 points net positive near the end of his first 100 days. George W. Bush had a net positive of 31 points. Bill Clinton, at net positive 20 points, was the lowest of the six presidents who preceded Trump, who was a net negative 11 points. Ronald Reagan had the best rating, a net positive of 54 points, followed by George H. W. Bush at 49 points and Jimmy Carter at 45 points.
Biden’s ten points net positive isn’t that impressive, but it is net positive. That may be the best he can do these days. David Lauter is the Los Angeles Times’ senior Washington correspondent and sees why:
Throughout the 2020 campaign, pollsters in both parties said Joe Biden was well known, but not known well: Voters knew him as a former vice president and longtime senator but had only a rough sense of what he stood for.
As his presidency nears its 100th day, the blank spots are filling in. The resulting image is one that most observers did not expect based on Biden’s largely centrist, four-decade record.
“A couple of months before the election, did I think he would be a transformational president? I would have laughed at that idea,” said Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher.
“I would have been mistaken.”
No one expected this:
Biden has governed in these opening months as a progressive – significantly to the left of his three Democratic predecessors on the issue of government’s role in society. With proposals such as expanded aid to families to cut child poverty nearly in half, a sharp cut in U.S. emissions of gases that warm the climate, and a major increase in spending on domestic programs, he’s gone well beyond what prior Democratic administrations backed.
“Government doing something for people… that was an idea that was disabled,” said Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. “He’s trying to bring it back.”
That set off the alarm bells:
Republicans have accused Biden of a bait-and-switch.
“He promised to work across the aisle – to work with Republicans in Congress. But so far, those words have been completely empty promises,” Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the vice chair of the Republican conference in the House, said on Wednesday, kicking off a series of GOP speeches criticizing the administration.
To their publicly expressed frustration, Republicans have had little success with that line of attack. They’ve gotten more traction by focusing on the administration’s troubled handling of an upswing of mostly young migrants trying to cross the southwestern border.
But even that might not work, because the new guy is so damned positive about everything:
Biden’s activism amounts to a strategic bet that flips an idea that guided the last two Democratic presidents. Both Presidents Obama and Clinton were acutely aware of the risk of overreaching – alienating centrists by pushing plans seen as going too far. Biden has adopted the opposite view – that troubled times have made voters more open to activist government.
“I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help,” Biden said in a White House speech a couple of weeks after the inauguration. “The way I see it, the biggest risk is not going too big… it’s if we go too small.”
Republicans have no good answer to that. What can they say? Go small! Take no risks! No, you can’t have nice things!
That won’t cut it, not now:
The pandemic appears to have made many voters more supportive of government action, Democratic strategists say. Biden is a “Democrat who believes in the art of the possible, and what’s possible would have been a lot lower in normal times,” Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said.
But Biden also has an ability to put forward progressive ideas in a way that strikes centrist voters as nonthreatening, said Belcher.
“You cannot underestimate how comfortable Uncle Joe is for a lot of people. They give an old, white guy the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
And there’s that other issue:
Instead of Democratic infighting, it’s the opposition that remains divided.
“He’s governing in a very liberal way” but has “benefited from a big leadership vacuum in the Republican Party,” Republican strategist Alex Conant said of Biden. “We’re seeing Republicans spending a lot of time attacking each other, not the administration.”
In fact, Biden may be the only game in town:
The Republican Main Street Partnership, a moderate GOP group that has supported efforts to repudiate the party’s fringe before, is making its pitch in the fight for the future of the party with new plans to spend $25 million on congressional races this cycle
The group is also releasing its post-election examination of the 2020 cycle to members and allies – an assessment that lays out its argument for a post-Donald Trump GOP as a party that can harness the frustration of some voters while attracting suburban and minority voters in the process.
That’s the plan:
“The Republican Party is not dead. We have a chance to come back stronger than ever if we give the voters what they are looking for,” Sarah Chamberlain, Main Street’s executive director, told NBC News in an interview.
Chamberlain pointed to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as well as the controversy surrounding Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., as two serious issues threatening to derail the party.
“We had the Jan. 6 situation, now we have the congresswoman from Georgia, we have House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy flying down to see Trump. I get a lot of questions from voters around the country about: ‘What’s happening? Where is my party?’”
Even though Trump lost his re-election bid, many Republicans saw a silver lining in November’s election results as the party narrowed the Democratic House majority with swing-seat wins, leading to hope voters were open to distinguishing between Trump and other Republicans.
But then Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to halt the Electoral College certification in an attack where five lost their lives. Virtually all Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans blamed the attack on the president himself, and the House voted to impeach Trump over it. Shortly after, 147 Congressional Republicans voted to object to the Electoral College certification.
And now Republicans are facing pressure to punish freshman Rep. Green for espousing conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric.
They must punish her but they can’t. She’s the party now. And that’s that:
Democrats have quickly moved to marry the two controversies to define the GOP. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running TV and digital ads Tuesday accusing Republicans of refusing to stand up to extremists by not voting to impeach Trump.
“Trump may have been malignant, but now it’s metastasized,” DCCC chairman and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney said Tuesday on “Morning Joe.”
“If they want to deny the pandemic or throw out the election, they certainly cannot be trusted with power.”
Has it been one hundred days? Does it matter? It has. And it does.