Assessing the First 100 Days: Productive or ‘Silly’?

During the first 100 days of a new president’s administration, the press focuses on the early accomplishments as a signal of the president’s future success.

The “100-day race is silly,” said former Sen. Trent Lott at the biennial CQ/Roll Call Election Impact conference on Capitol Hill Nov. 10. Nevertheless, panels of Congressional reporters, political strategists and key staffers focused on what significant actions might be done by next April.

The agenda includes federal infrastructure jobs, health care and immigration enforcement. But underlying everything will be the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice that Republicans seem determined will be philosophically close to the late Antonin Scalia.

Although the election was highly contentious, the results in Congress were almost status quo, panelists agreed. Republicans maintained their majorities in both the House and the Senate, although the margins between the parties were narrowed. Any significant legislation still will require bipartianship to pass. But panelists agreed that the presumed new Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is an avid dealmaker who will work well with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Fixing America’s withering infrastructure could be the easiest first lift for the new Congress. It is seen by both parties as a way to create jobs and enhance business. But an aggressive federally subsidized infrastructure program could come with an unexpected consequence now, acceptable to a new president, a businessman: greater tolerance for deficit spending.

“That could lead to a permanent suspension of the debt ceiling,” panelists agreed. Bipartisan enthusiasm for creating jobs could also lead to tax reform, possibly including a tax holiday to encourage repatriation of American taxable enterprises abroad.

Yet those reforms will take time — so will promised changes to the U.S. health care payment system. While all parties agree that something will be done about Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act), it will take months of negotiation to determine if and how it or pieces of it should be repealed, reformed, amended and/or replaced, some sooner than later.

For President-elect Donald Trump, the easiest campaign promises to keep involve immigration enforcement, for which the executive branch is solely responsible. Presidents have broad powers to institute — or rescind — executive orders and actions for their executive departments without the approval of Congress. This can arguably be seen as Trump’s biggest comfort zone.

It is likely that within the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump will keep his promise to end Obama’s orders called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans). Those executive orders not only deferred the possible deportation of some six million immigrants, they gave them work permits and the legal status for a driver’s license. Trump will probably end the deferments with a stroke of a pen. Whether or not he immediately will deport the now unprotected and known unauthorized immigrants remains to be seen.

Every president also has broad emergency powers to restrict entry into the country of persons considered to be a threat. Trump could issue a promised executive order to temporarily ban and implement extended vetting of Muslims from countries deemed to be terrorist sources.

Building a wall would require some budgetary maneuvering. Funds would probably be quickly available for more technology and a virtual wall.

But all these programs are complicated with broad impacts on individuals’ lives. They’ll probably take more than 100 days. “What’s the rush?” Lott asked.

That’s particularly true of the inevitable appointment of a new justice to the Supreme Court. President-elect Trump issued a preliminary list of prospects during his campaign. All are conservatives, most are already acceptable to Republicans. It remains to be seen how strongly the minority Democrats will resist.

Needing 60-plus votes in the Senate to approve a new Supreme Court justice, the Democrats could use procedural moves to delay the votes. But they can’t delay a conservative nominee for four years. It is probable that the Senate will remain in Republican hands through the 2018 elections. If Democrats block the approval of a justice too long, Republican senators could do what Democrats did in 2013: the “nuclear option.” In 2017, Republicans could end the 60-vote rule for Supreme Court justices. Most of the CQ panelists did not think that would happen and that the ultimate result of this election is the institution of a conservative court, possibly for the next decade or more.

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