“TAKING EXECUTIVE ACTION: In office, President Trump has accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other president since Franklin Roosevelt.”
 White House news release, April 25

Though President Trump has declared reviews of a president’s first 100 days to be ridiculous, his White House appears determined to demonstrate that the president’s term so far has been historic. For instance, a news release popped into our inbox titled “President Trump’s 100 days of Historic Accomplishment,” specifically citing the number of executive orders signed by Trump.

This a flip-flop for Trump, who before he became president used to complain about the use of executive orders by former president Barack Obama.

But the White House math is also wrong. Let’s investigate.

The Facts

This is what the White House statement said.

TAKING EXECUTIVE ACTION: In office, President Trump has accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other president since Franklin Roosevelt.
• President Trump will have signed 30 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Obama signed 19 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President George W. Bush signed 11 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Clinton signed 13 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President George H.W. Bush signed 11 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Reagan signed 18 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Carter signed 16 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Nixon signed 15 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Johnson signed 26 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Kennedy signed 23 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Eisenhower signed 20 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Truman signed 25 executive orders during his first 100 days.
• President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed nine executive orders during his first 100 days.

The curious thing about this is that Roosevelt is listed as signing only nine executive orders. The American Presidency Project, a website maintained by the University of California at Santa Barbara, shows Roosevelt as signing 3,721 during his presidency, for an average of 307 a year.

In reality, Roosevelt signed 99 executive orders in his first 100 days, or more than three times Trump’s tally. But only nine of those orders are displayed on the website, said John T. Wooley, a UCSB professor who helps run the site. (The actual orders can be found on the website of the FDR library.) It’s apparent that not all of the executive orders are listed because there are gaps in the numbers. (h/t to professor Peter A. Shulman who first pointed this out on Twitter.)

“We have the complete text of EOs ONLY starting with Truman, so counts of our docs prior to 1945 are incomplete,” wrote Wooley in an email. “It’s wonderful to be relied on by the WH; sorry they were confused — and maybe didn’t read all of our explanatory notes. Bad for both of us.”

It turns out the website FiveThirtyEight back in January also made the same error, which is in part where the White House got its information. Julia Azari, a professor at Marquette University who wrote the article, said that she will correct the article. The American Presidency Project also added a “special note” at the top of the page on executive orders.

A White House official acknowledged the count for Roosevelt’s executive orders was wrong. But he asserted that despite the mistake, the general point is correct because the news release said that Trump has signed more executive orders than any president since Roosevelt.

While the news release says that Truman signed 25 executive orders in his first hundred days, the actual number is 57, if you count from when Truman took office after Roosevelt’s death in 1945. The White House official said that the figure was based on Truman’s first full term, after he was elected in 1948. That’s the same standard as used by FiveThirtyEight.

“I used elected terms because that’s what matches with the congressional sessions,” Azari said.

(As we have noted before, the counting of executive orders is a pretty useless exercise. Not every executive order carries the same weight, and sometimes unnumbered presidential memorandums may be more consequential.)

The Pinocchio Test

This is obviously a major error in a news release and the White House should issue a corrected news release, either with the right number or Roosevelt’s name removed. As we noted before, Roosevelt remains the gold standard for presidential action in the first 100 days, even for executive orders.

But the White House admitted a mistake, so that’s a start. So we won’t issue Pinocchios. The important thing is to correct the record.

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"In office, President Trump has accomplished more in his first 100 days than any other President since Franklin Roosevelt.”
in a news release
Tuesday, April 25, 2017