What have we learned from President Trump’s first 100 days?

Politics

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we turn back to the political fight brewing over government funding, health care and tax reform, as President Trump nears his 100th day in office.

For all that, it's time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR, who joins us tonight from Chicago.

And welcome to you both.

So, 100 days, we're coming up on it this Saturday.

Amy, during the campaign, the president said he was going to get a lot done during those first 100 days. But then, just a few days ago, he was saying it's a ridiculous standard.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Right, an arbitrary standard.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what is it? How important is it? How much attention should we give it?

AMY WALTER: Yes, it's a very good question.

You know, normally, president, especially — first-term presidents start off in their first few months in office with this reservoir of goodwill. Think of it like having a bank account that you're flush with cash. And so you spend that money down and that goodwill down over the course of your presidency to get things done.

President Trump is starting in a very different place. He has got to find a way to fill that reservoir because, right now, it's empty. He's sitting at anywhere between 40 percent and 42 percent approval, the lowest for any president at this point in his tenure, for a first-term president in his tenure.

And so the question which, Judy, I feel like we have been asking since the day he that won this election is how does he fill that reservoir because, right now, he hasn't done a particularly good job of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Tam, you not only cover Washington. You cover the American people. You hit the road. How do you sense the importance of this measurement, this 100 days?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: It is an arbitrary measure.

It is based on, you know, the Roosevelt administration had — FDR's administration had incredible accomplishments. But that was done with Congress, and a lot of it didn't originate from the White House.

One historian I talked to last week said that even Roosevelt wouldn't have meet the standard. And yet every president is held to this standard. The problem with President Trump is that he made big all of these very promises, and specifically labeled it as his 100-days plan that he was campaigning on.

That said, as the talk of 100 days heated up last week, I was chatting with a Trump voter who said to me, you know, in my machine shop, when we get somebody new, we don't expect them to be able to do everything on the first day.

And I think that there are a lot of Trump voters out there I have heard from who say, you know, give him a chance. There's a very steep learning curve when it comes to running the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, it is like everything else. So much of this is in the eye of the beholder.

AMY WALTER: Well, that's exactly right.

And I think the learning curve thing is very important. Remember, this is the first president we have elected in our time who has never held political office and who's never had military office. Right? This is a big learning curve. And the people around him has a learning curve and Congress has a learning curve.

Most of the Republicans in Congress have never worked with a Republican president before. So, structurally, though, that's first this president I think has time to sort of right the ship.

The first 100 days to me not as important as the next 100 or 200 or 400 as we get closer to the midterm elections. Structurally, his advantage is that this as a president who has all levers of power in Washington. They have the House. They have the Senate.

So, while I agree that there is a learning curve and people are going to cut them some slack, saying you're few, get some notches, take some time before you can put some notches on your belt, at some point, if you have all the levers of power and you're still not able to get anything done, I think that's going to be a problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Part of what you have been both have referring to, Tam, is he's raised expectations himself.

And I have been hearing analysts in the last few days, and reading them, saying he needs to lower expectations. But we do have a sense, don't we, coming out of these first three months of what kind of presidency this is going to be? Don't we? Haven't we learned something from this?

TAMARA KEITH: We have certainly learned how President Trump operates. He operates on sort of an ad hoc basis, that the White House, that Oval Office is very open, that he brings people in, that he is very available, that he does — for all of his talk of the lying media and the fake news, he does a huge number of interviews, where he's more available than past presidents.

But what we don't know is if that is how he will govern for the rest of his term. He talks about being a very flexible person. And we with simply don't know if that flexibility means that he will change again.

You know, like President Clinton started off with a very rough first 100 days. People widely described it as disastrous. Ultimately, he changed chiefs of staff and changed the way he ran his White House, and then, having lost the Congress, cooperated with Republicans in Congress and got some things done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Amy, presidents do learn from their mistakes, don't they?

AMY WALTER: That's the goal.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY WALTER: Right.

And to Tamara's point about President Clinton, he did — that was a rough 1993. And in 1994, it's not just that he had a bad midterm election. His party lost control of the House, for the first time in 40 years.

And so, to me, what I'm looking at in terms of the number is not just where he is, President Trump is in comparison to where other presidents were in their first 100 days. But when I look at the number where he is now, at 40 or 42 percent, and look at where other presidents were close to their midterm elections who were at 40 percent or 42 percent, they lost lots of seats in Congress.

In many cases, they low control of Congress. So it is imperative for him to start getting some wins. Structurally, he has the ability to do it, but now he has got to start delivering.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And he has got to make up some ground.

AMY WALTER: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tam, we did note that you're in Chicago. President Obama was there today to make his first sort of public presentation since leaving office. So, what did you see?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, what I saw is a post-president who is trying his best to not talk about his successor.

He was on stage with six young people who are active in — sort of civically active. And he said that he believes that a big part of his post-presidency will be to try to figure out how to get the next generation involved in public life and giving back and in politics.

He talked about concerns about people simply not voting or becoming cynical. But what he didn't talk about was President Trump. So, for those people who were hoping that President Obama would come back into public life and join the resistance, that doesn't appear to be how he plans to spend his post-presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sounds like he is holding off.

AMY WALTER: Yes.

Well, there's a great irony, of course, in President Obama as a face of the resistance. We talked throughout the Obama era about the so-called Obama coalition voters. But guess what? Those voters, who included a lot of young people, only turned out for one Democrat, and that was Barack Obama.

They didn't turn out in midterm elections. They didn't turn in the way that Democrats had hoped for Hillary Clinton. Will they then turn out for another Democrat is the big question.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of Democrats are holding their breath, crossing their fingers, or whatever people do when they're hoping.

Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you both. See you next Monday.

TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.

AMY WALTER: You're welcome.

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