The 100th day of President Joe Biden’s tenure is Thursday, April 29th, and with this rather arbitrary milestone comes media hype and articles from journalists and experts assessing how the new president has fared so far (a tradition that I given myself) in the past).
The 100-day concept is based on a certain story (Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first to use this framework to brag about his early New Deal achievements), and Biden himself planned his first major address to Congress, to agree with it. However, this limit has no significant ramifications, and the focus on it does not seem to align with the nature of the modern presidency.
The conventional wisdom about the meaning of the 100 days goes something like this: When a new president takes office, he begins a “honeymoon” phase, during which he is very popular. There is a time limit, however, as presidents tend to see a decrease in approval rating if they stay in office. Hence, time is of the essence. The new president should hurry to get as much off of his agenda as possible before the honeymoon ends as it will be harder for him to do so later.
However, there are some problems with this analysis. For starters, in our age of polarization, the approval surge for the president’s honeymoon isn’t that obvious anymore – Biden isn’t really getting one, and neither is Trump. (Neither does George W. Bush.)
Second, since the FDR’s presidency, it has been quite rare for major laws to be passed in the first 100 days. In times of crisis, both Biden and Obama managed to get big stimulus packages through quickly, but most of the other legislative achievements for presidents fell outside the 100-day window. The real deadline here is likely to be the 2022 mid-term elections, which are still a long way off.
When it comes to executive action, there is no real reason why the president’s important achievements have to “come” in the first 100 days, and in fact, historically, they have often come later. This is in part because presidents tend to turn to the executive branch when hopes of major legislative victories are thwarted.
It is really silly to judge the President’s performance after such a short period of time. The only appropriate grade is “incomplete”.
The president’s honeymoon has been canceled
For most of the mid-to-late 20th century, there was a common pattern in approval rates for new presidents: they often started out very popular. Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter started with approval ratings in the high 60s or low 70s. Others – Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush – got smaller or later. Still, the belief that a new president would normally get a honeymoon was well founded.
But that has changed. Only one of the last four presidents – Barack Obama – started with an approval rating north of 60 percent per FiveThirtyEight tracker. Donald Trump’s approval was in the 1940s for his entire first 100 days, and George W. Bush (who took office after the controversial 2000 election) had approval ratings in his lower to mid 1950s.
Biden’s approval rating is roughly the same as that of George W. Bush – it is currently 54 percent. But significantly, his rate of disapproval at this point is higher than that of any modern president other than Trumps (though Bill Clintons was close to around the 100th day). This probably reflects the polarization – it is just more difficult now for a new president to capitalize on the doubt from the other side. (In fact, in the months after September 11th, George W. Bush was the only president of the 21st century to achieve 70 percent approval over an extended period.)
It’s still possible that this will be the high water mark for Biden’s popularity – his approval rating has been stable, but his disapproval rate has increased by about 5 points since he took office. But the broader point is that he didn’t start with one particular honeymoon that gave him widespread popularity.
Big legislation takes longer in modern Congress
The assumption that the first 100 days are a unique opportunity to get things through Congress is also made difficult by the fact that key laws take longer in practice.
The original 100-day concept, as worked out by the FDR, specifically dealt with important bills that Congress had passed in response to the crisis of the Great Depression. Helpfully, Democrats came in with massive majorities in Congress (311 of 430 house seats and 58 of 96 Senate seats). And they actually managed to get a number of key bills passed (though Roosevelt’s own role in dictating this agenda has been overrated).
In any case, the FDR was an exception – no subsequent president has repeated something like this in the 100 days. In general, we’ve since seen that the best a new president can expect before April is the passage of a major emergency spending bill and perhaps a few smaller bills. One reason is that much of the Senate’s time is eaten up to validate the presidential nominations, but it’s also that serious reforms seem inherently time-consuming.
For example, the signed business and tax laws by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump only became law for Trump after the first 100 days (May for Bush, August for Reagan and Clinton, December). Obama only signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010 (14 months after taking office). A 100-day count for Lyndon Johnson is made difficult by his unexpected rise to the presidency in November 1963, but the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lasted more than 100 days after that, and most of its major Great Society bills were not passed until 1963 adopted summer and autumn 1965.
In contrast to the FDR, Biden has the closest possible Senate majority and also a fairly narrow house majority. He also has to deal with the routine use of the filibuster in the Senate, which means a majority of 60 votes is required to move almost all of the bills forward. He has the American rescue plan as a legislative achievement on his behalf, but it is too early to say as to whether he will be able to pass anything further.
The presidents’ key executive actions often come later in their terms of office
As I took stock of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, I said he may have missed his “best chance to transform America” and argued that his government agenda was “in tatters” because of the courts’ “Muslim ban.” “and the efforts of the GOP to lift blocked Obamacare had perished. In a broader sense, I pointed out that Trump had embraced the Republican establishment’s trade and foreign policy and failed to shake up partisan dynamics by supporting infrastructure reform.
In retrospect, a lot of it thinks of it, but there were certain areas where Trump at least somehow learned from his mistakes. He drew up a limited version of the travel ban that was blessed by the Supreme Court in 2018. Eventually he empowered economic advisers who were more willing to wage trade wars. He finally set the US on the course for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.
The common thread here is that these were policy changes that Trump could make through the executive branch. While his administration in general continued to be a mess, at least during his presidency he got a little better at getting what he wanted from his candidates.
It was also only a few years after his presidency that Barack Obama really began to push the boundaries of executive policy making. This was partly out of frustration with his inability to put priorities behind the Republican house. But the numerous executive measures that a president announces at the beginning of his term of office are often low-hanging fruits. Further follow-up actions require more consideration – if sloppily worked out, the courts can dismiss them – and often happen later.
When it comes to war, peace, and foreign policy in general, the timetable is even less predictable – George W. Bush’s first 100 days were largely irrelevant to his legacy because his presidency was shaped by his response to 9 /. 11. Overall, however, there is no deadline for the 100th day on which the President can exercise executive power, as he will have that power for the entire term of office. The only justifiable “note” for Biden is currently: incomplete.