The final frenzy at the White House began Monday, with a private reception for conservative news publications, a tariff on softwood lumber imports from Canada and the late-night debut of a website highlighting President Trump’s “First 100 Days” achievements.
It continued Tuesday in the form of an executive order designed to help farmers and ranchers, an assurance that construction will begin soon on a wall along the nation’s southern border — “The wall’s going to get built,” the president said — and media briefings by senior administration officials who gave their takes on Trump’s successes.
And by Wednesday, the White House plans to unveil its tax plan, which would cut the corporate tax rate drastically, to 15 percent.
Trump has called Saturday’s 100-day marker — a remnant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s initial flurry of legislative action — an “artificial” construct, and he is not incorrect. Yet the kinetic energy emanating from the West Wing, which at times borders on frenetic, reveals a White House eager to cross the threshold with some tangible wins.
The whirlwind of activity this week seems aimed at demonstrating forward momentum from a young administration criticized for a lack of signature legislative achievements — a sense that doing something, anything, is better than the perception of stagnation.
As the president himself quipped Tuesday afternoon, preparing to sign his latest executive order: “It’s a lot of words. I won’t bother reading everything.”
Trump is under considerable pressure, some of it self-imposed, to deliver. From funding construction of the border wall to spurring $1 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next decade, the president has implemented zero of the 10 major pieces of legislation he promised as a presidential candidate for his first 100 days in a contract with American voters.
Only one bill has been introduced in Congress — an ill-fated measure to scale back President Barack Obama’s health-care law that culminated in an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Trump’s own party. White House officials and several Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that they were nearing a deal to try again, though details were sparse.
In many ways, Trump, more than any modern president before him, runs his White House like a television drama, believing that sometimes projecting an image of energy and progress is as important, if not more so, than the reality.
But Peter Wehner, a former official in the George W. Bush White House who is now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said no administration can bluff its way through four years.
“You have to produce,” Wehner said. “Ultimately the achievements will matter. You can spin and you can sell and you can put things in bright neon lights, but when everything is said and done, presidents are judged on their results.”
The Trump White House has produced some accomplishments already, from regulatory rollbacks intended to promote economic growth to the successful installation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.
“We see a president that’s working at breakneck speed and somebody who’s going as fast as he can in the confines of the law, running through that punch list of promises he made during the campaign,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, said Tuesday.
But on his largest promises — those boomed from campaign trail stages and enshrined in his voter contract — Trump has fallen short, a gap in signature legislative triumphs that has sent the president and his aides scrambling to notch victories, some of them more tenuous and less substantial than others.
Out of 60 promises from Trump’s voter contract, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker finds that five have been kept, five have been broken and 36 others have had no action at all. The remainder have either been launched or are in limbo.
Asked about Trump’s failure to implement many of the key items in the contract, which he unveiled in October, Marc Short, the White House director for legislative affairs, said the administration had, in some ways, run up against the inherently slow-moving federal bureaucracy.
“There are certain promises that you need to work with House and Senate leadership on, and it’s a process,” Short said in a morning meeting with reporters. “I think on the House side, obviously, the health-care legislation took longer than we would have wanted, but we’re excited as to where that stands today, and we think we’ll get that completed.”
Short said the administration was not backing down on its commitment to its early promises but added, “Perhaps the timetable was ambitious.”
Still, in the run-up to the 100-day mark, the administration has become a whirling dervish of activity.
In a memo Tuesday that contained a number of factual inaccuracies — including a claim that Roosevelt signed only nine executive orders, rather than the actual 99, in his first 100 days — the White House boasted of the president’s “historic accomplishment,” citing the 13 Congressional Review Act resolutions, the 28 laws, and the 30 executive orders that Trump has implemented or passed.
The president’s team has also deployed Cabinet secretaries throughout the country to tout what they say are Trump’s robust successes. And Saturday, the president will headline a 100-day political rally in Harrisburg, Pa.
But even as Trump sought to project strength, a federal judge in San Francisco delivered a new setback Tuesday, blocking the administration’s plans to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities,” those that refuse to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans largely defended the president, with some seeking to separate his domestic achievements from his foreign policy moves as they reflected on what Trump has and has not achieved so far.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had dinner with Trump on Monday night, said he was pleased with Trump’s national security team and praised the cruise missile strikes the president launched in Syria. But he sized up Trump’s domestic agenda differently. “Obviously, it’s been stalled,” McCain said.
However, McCain partially blamed members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus for thwarting the effort to overhaul Obama’s Affordable Care Act last month, echoing a criticism Short had offered more gently earlier in the day.
“We’ve learned that the House Republican Party, to its credit, is enormously diverse in its opinions, but that also sometimes creates larger challenges in bringing them together on a big legislative issue,” Short said, reflecting on lessons his legislative-affairs team had learned in the failed health-care effort.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally, faulted Congress for the president’s lack of domestic accomplishments.
“Congress has to pass bills for him to sign them into law,” Collins said. “If there is a frustration, it’s really aimed at Congress, not the president.”
For congressional Democrats, who have waged a full-fledged war against much of the president’s agenda, there is some relief that he has not delivered on many of his promises, most notably his vow on the ACA, also known as Obamacare.
But Democrats are also trying to blame Trump for what he hasn’t accomplished. They argue that while he campaigned on a populist platform, vowing to help average Americans, he has instead spearheaded efforts that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the working class.
In some ways, Trump’s blustery two-step leading up to Saturday is simply the repackaging of a strategy he learned as a real estate developer — a technique he described in “The Art of the Deal” as “truthful hyperbole.” In the 1987 book, he chronicled creating an aura of success before he’d actually achieved it — such as when he ordered his Atlantic City construction crews to dig up dirt on one side of a site to simply deposit it back on the other, in order to present a sense of progress.
But Warren Tompkins, a longtime Republican strategist based in South Carolina, said that at some point, voters will demand evidence of signature legislation.
“Our problem is people voted to give us the keys to the bus, and we’ve forgotten how to drive,” Tompkins said.
Amid Trump’s struggles, even the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library felt emboldened this week. On Monday, the library posted a tweet noting the laws and executive orders President Carter had signed in his first 100 days, before ending with the most devastating statistic of all — Carter’s approval rating of 63 percent.
Trump, the least-popular new president in modern times, has an average approval rating currently hovering in the low 40s.