The First 100 Days: Presidency Defining or Myth?

About the Author: Tom Smith is a part-time third year law student at American University- Washington College of Law. Tom graduated from DePauw University and hopes to work on the hill or in government after graduating law school. 

 

A President’s first 100 days are engrained in the American psyche. Every new President’s 100-day strategy is discussed and dissected in the press with Presidents even taken to announcing their initial plans as their first 100-day strategy. President-Elect Biden is no exception. The Washington Post detailed his “three-point plan to begin defeating the coronavirus pandemic during his first 100 days in office”[1]. NPR asked what Biden’s 100-day plan was mere days after the networks called the election in his favor.[2] The University of Michigan went so far as to announce a list of their experts ready to “discuss the many issues that await president-elect Joe Biden, particularly in his first 100 days in office”[3]. Even the National Catholic Reporter published an editorial offering advice to Biden for his first 100 days in office.[4]

The 100 days was first coined as a benchmark set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 following his inauguration.[5] To help encourage Americans he would handle the Great Depression, Roosevelt announced he would aggressively pursue new polices, which he termed the New Deal.[6] Acting quickly, Roosevelt was able to enact fifteen major bills in his first 100 days, a record which is inconceivable in the era of polarization and gridlock.[7] Despite this self-established measuring stick, many of Roosevelt’s most famous accomplishments came later in his presidency. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, his showdown with the Supreme Court, and his shepherding of the United States through World War II all happened well past the 100 days.[8]

Since Roosevelt, all Presidents have had to face a similar evaluation of their first 100 days, with such an evaluation looming as an indictment or ratification of their entire presidency. Like Roosevelt, many recent Presidents have accomplished big things after their first 100 days. However, unlike Roosevelt many of these same Presidents did not accomplish similar major achievements in their 100 days. These more recent presidents have increasingly passed major legislative achievements after their first 100 days. President Trump’s signature tax cuts passed in December of his first year, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act passed in his second year in office and most of President George W. Bush’s major achievement followed the September 11 terrorist attacks.[9] As noted by Rutgers University Professor of History David Greenberg, the 100 days “benchmark has rarely correlated with the subsequent success or failure of a president’s time in office”[10]. Major legislative achievements have no timing requirements and can be achieved at any point during a presidency.

President-elect Biden faces many crises as he assumes office. His first 100 days may end up being extremely consequential, especially since he will enter office with a majority in both the House and Senate. Many obstacles to success remain, including the Senate filibuster and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but Biden has promised to act quickly and decisively.[11] Despite this, Biden’s presidency is likely to be defined by what he achieves after his first 100 days, if recent history repeats itself. Biden should aim to have a consequential presidency and not make his first 100 days presidency defining. With so much to do it is important that Biden move quickly but remember that not everything needs to be done within the first 100 days. There is too much at stake.

 

[1] Amy Goldstein, Biden lays out plan to combat covid in first 100 days, including requiring masks on interstate buses, trains, The Washington Post (December 8, 2020 3:57 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/biden-covid-100-days-plan/2020/12/08/16e0a47e-3965-11eb-98c4-25dc9f4987e8_story.html.

[2] Elena Moore, Biden’s First 100 Days: Here’s What To Expect, NPR (November 9, 2020 9:00 AM) https://www.npr.org/2020/11/09/932190347/bidens-first-100-days-here-s-what-to-expect.

[3] Nardy Baeza Bickel & Jared Wadley, President-elect Biden’s first 100 days in office: U-M experts available, University of Michigan Vice President for Communications (December 8, 2020), https://news.umich.edu/president-elect-bidens-first-100-days-in-office-u-m-experts-available/.

[4] National Catholic Reporter Editorial Staff, Editorial: Catholic advice for Biden’s first 100 days, National Catholic Reporter (January 4, 2021), https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/editorial-catholic-advice-bidens-first-100-days.

[5] Kenneth T. Walsh, The First 100 Days: Franklin Roosevelt Pioneered the 100-Day Concept, U.S. News & World Report (February 12, 2009), https://www.usnews.com/news/history/articles/2009/02/12/the-first-100-days-franklin-roosevelt-pioneered-the-100-day-concept.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Franklin D. Roosevelt – Key Events, The Miller Center at the University of Virginia, https://millercenter.org/president/franklin-d-roosevelt/key-events (last visited January 14, 2021).

[9] Barack Obama – Key Events, The Miller Center at the University of Virginia, https://millercenter.org/president/barack-obama/key-events (last visited January 14, 2021); George W. Bush – Key Events, The Miller Center at the University of Virginia, https://millercenter.org/president/george-w-bush/key-events (last visited January 14, 2021); John Patrick Pullen, President Trump Has Signed the GOP Tax Bill. Here’s When the Cuts Will Start, Fortune (December 20, 2017, 12:52 AM), https://fortune.com/2017/12/20/gop-tax-bill-cuts-start/.

[10] David Greenberg, The Hundred Days Myth, University of Virginia Miller Center (October 24, 2016), https://millercenter.org/issues-policy/us-domestic-policy/the-hundred-days-myth.

[11] Kate Sullivan, Biden details plan to combat coronavirus pandemic in first 100 days, CNN (December 11, 2020 4:43 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/08/politics/biden-100-million-vaccines-100-days/index.html.

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