President Trump likes to brag about how much his administration has accomplished, regularly touting that he’d done more than any past president so early in his tenure. That’s not really true, unless you either include executive orders — which any president can sign at any time for whatever reason — or use “more” in a loosely defined way to include less tangible successes.
The most common metric for measuring a president’s accomplishments is by tallying how much legislation he’s signed into law. And by that standard, Trump isn’t seeing much success at all.
In fact, his signing of new sanctions against Russia on Wednesday morning was the first new legislation he’s signed in more than a month. He went all 31 days of July without signing any bills. For those hoping to see a reduction in what the government does, like many members of Trump’s party, that’s not a sign of improvement: It takes signed legislation to undo laws that are on the books. (See: Obamacare.)
It’s not unprecedented for a president to go a month without signing a bill (or otherwise enacting one). Barack Obama did it last August, according to data from GovTrack. But it’s uncommon. Since 2002, last August and this July were the only months in which no new bills were signed. Before that, months without new legislation tended to be December and January, when Congress was mostly away from the Capitol. (Of course, Congress is usually away from the Capitol in August, too.) Since 1973, no other July had seen no new legislation.
What makes Trump’s 33-day drought particularly unusual, of course, is that his party controls Congress. The last time a president had his party running the show in the House and Senate but still didn’t sign any new laws was in January 1994, under Bill Clinton. (We’re excluding January 2001, since George W. Bush was only president for 11 days.)
You’ll notice a pattern above: More legislation is signed into law shortly before a congressional or presidential election than at other points in a Congress. That wasn’t really the case under Obama, as the number of bills signed into law hit new lows. Regardless, it’s more common for there to be spikes in new legislation later in a Congress.
Will that hold true for Trump? Who knows. So far, though, the story of his presidency hasn’t been of an outsider businessman swooping in to close deals. It’s been of a president new to legislating who can’t get his team lined up to pass new bills. If that changes, perhaps he can leverage his party’s control of the House and Senate to start putting wins on the board.
If it doesn’t, his claims to being particularly successful will seem even more hollow.