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Does a president’s first 100 days reveal anything about the next four years?

President Biden is nearing a milestone his predecessors have been judged by for decades -- his first 100 days in office. But what does this benchmark reveal about the next four years? Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield walks us through some history-making first 100 days and why they can, at times, be misleading.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    President Joe Biden is approaching his first 100 days in office this week. It's a benchmark every president has been measured by for the better part of a century. But where did it begin and what does it really tell us about how a president will govern? Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield walks us through this presidential milestone.

  • President Franklin Roosevelt:

    This nation asks for action, and action now!

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    It began here. On March 4, 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office at the depths of a savage Depression. And that "bold executive action" he promised began almost immediately.

    Two days after that Inaugural, FDR declared a "bank holiday" stopping a panic that threatened to collapse America's financial structure. Six days later, he gave his first fireside chat to explain what he was doing.

  • President Roosevelt:

    I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Then, with huge Congressional majorities, Roosevelt began to vastly broaden the scope of federal action: a new agency to save family farms…a Civilian Conservation Corps to put people to work planting trees and cleaning rivers; the start of a public works program that would ultimately build dams and electrify rural America.

    Within a hundred days, 15 major pieces of legislation had been passed, and a benchmark for all future Presidents was set.

    But does a President's first 100 days really tell us much about how the next four years will emerge? The answer seems to be a not entirely satisfying: sometimes yes, sometimes no.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    We did learn a lot about Donald Trump's highly unconventional approach to the presidency. The day after the inaugural, he sent his press secretary out to argue that the crowds were much bigger than the visual evidence suggested. Within a week, a travel ban from mostly Muslim nations caused chaos at America's airports—early clues about how his Presidency would evolve.

    But other early signals can be misleading. The ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to overthrow Cuba's Fidel Castro happened just about 100 days into John Kennedy's Presidency. But it may have taught him the value of prudence during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when nuclear war was a real possibility.

    Ronald Reagan found good fortune in his very first hour in office when he was able to announce an end to the Iranian hostage captivity.

  • President Reagan:

    Fifty two. And I just won't call them hostages. They were prisoners of war.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    He almost did not survive to his hundredth day, but his recovery from an attempted assassination helped give him the goodwill to get his major tax program passed, even with a Democratic House of Representatives.

    Sometimes, events themselves completely overshadow a President's first days. George W. Bush presided over a relatively placid world in his first seven months… and then ..the horror of a September morning defined the rest of his days, with wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    So what have we learned from President Biden's first 100 days? Well, one of his goals—200 million vaccinations has been achieved —but as for his ambitious, expansive attempts to expand the scope of the government in areas from poverty to health care to climate change those so far, are intentions. How well he fulfills them? That's up to the next several hundred days.

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