Mark Curtis's blog

Sunday Political Brunch: The 100 Day Myth -- April 30, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) -- I've been preaching against the "100 Day" benchmark for weeks, to no avail. I've argued that the standard is a historically-meaningless media creation, so I got curious about some of the Presidents in my own lifetime and what they accomplished during their first 100 days in office. Let's "brunch" on that this week.

“Win 100 for the Gipper” - I'm not going in any chronological order here; it's just random. I remember President Reagan's first 100 days for two things. First, the American hostages in Iran were released the day of Reagan's Inaugural. It was not so much Reagan's doing (although I think Iran feared him more), but it was a way for Iran to rub President Jimmy Carter's nose in the dirt. Then, on day 70 of his first term, Reagan was the victim of a near-fatal assassination attempt. His gritty survival gave him the appearance of being tougher and stronger. He became "The Teflon President" because nothing would stick. It remained his legacy from that point forward.

"Clinton-Trump Connection" -- No, I'm not comparing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump here, I'm talking Bill and Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump. The Clintons pressed to pass their 1993 health care reform bill in the first 100 days by steamrolling certain Congressional leaders who were key players on the health issue. It not only missed the 100-day target, it completely failed by that fall. My point is that President Trump's attempt to change health care reform – in either direction - is not without precedent.

"Help Wanted: Attorney General" -- One of the toughest assignments for President Clinton in 1993 was finding an Attorney General. Just two days after taking office, Clinton abandoned his first nominee - Zoe Baird - after it was revealed she and her husband had hired an illegal immigrant housekeeper and nanny and had not paid their social security taxes. Federal Judge Kimba Wood was then nominated for AG, but it soon surfaced that she also had an immigrant nanny (though, unlike Baird, Wood had paid the employment taxes.) But the damage was done, and Wood withdrew. Clinton finally settled on Dade County, Florida, State Attorney Janet Reno, who took office on day 51 of the Clinton term.

"Our Long National Nightmare Is Not Over" -- When he was sworn in to succeed President Nixon on August 9, 1974, President Gerald Ford said, "Our long national nightmare is over." Just 22 days later, Ford issued a pardon to Nixon; and Ford’s political nightmare was just beginning. Ford faced a heavy public backlash, and just over two years later was voted out of office. While the pardon helped defeat his reelection bid, the public mood changed dramatically by the time of Ford's death. Most Americans - and even former critic Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) - conceded that Ford had done the right thing after all by putting Watergate behind us.

"Obama's 100" -- Perhaps the biggest achievement of President Obama's first 100 days was passage of his multi-billion-dollar economic stimulus plan known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was approved by Congress on Obama's twenty-second day in office. On the other hand, Obama issued an order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in his first 100 days, but it remains open to this day.

"Bush II" - The first 100 days of George W. Bush's administration were relatively quiet. Just weeks after taking office, he addressed a joint session of Congress to lay out his plan for drastic tax cuts, which were approved by June. Certainly, the biggest event in the Bush Presidency came when Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001. Everything after that date changed, which is why I argue the first 100-day benchmark means almost nothing. A crisis renders an arbitrary time frame - well - meaningless.

"Trump's Invitation" - The "First 100 Days" was created by reporters in 1933, after President Franklin Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression. The public (and the press) wanted results, and wanted them fast. Every President since then has had to deal with this silliness. As much as Trump supporters might try to minimize the importance of the benchmark, he invited a good bit of its pressure upon himself by making promises to do a lot in his first three-plus months in office. Sometimes you reap what you sow!

“Trump’s Biggest Success” – Neil Gorsuch is now Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. President Trump may serve four years in office - or eight years, if reelected. But Justice Gorsuch is just 49 years old. He could be handing down Supreme Court decisions for the next 30-plus years. The fact that remnants of the “Reagan Court” are a factor all these years later tells you the impact of a successful court appointment.

“Trump’s Biggest Failure” – One word: "immigration!" Sadly for Mr. Trump, it’s his signature issue. His Executive Order on a travel ban was overturned by the courts, and his new Executive Order is awaiting a judicial ruling. His Executive Order to strip federal funding from self-proclaimed “sanctuary cities” is also tied up in the courts. And, the fact that he had to temporarily punt on his 1.5-billion-dollar request in Congress to start a Mexican border wall is another setback. Yes, all three of these issues can be reversed, so they are not dead yet; but things are not trending his way on immigration so far.

“Why All This Matters” – While I believe the “100 Day” benchmark is an artificial one created by the press - one in which any President has little time to accomplish much - I do believe it has one significant benefit. It is a time during which a President can set the tone for the administration. It’s kind of a road map of, “Here’s where we’re going!” But it does allow for course corrections if there are mistakes, and even political defeats. Often the better benchmark is the midterm election – two years into a Presidential term – when the public gets to send an electoral “report card” to Congress and the President.

What’s your grade for President Trump on his first 100 days in office? A, B, C, D, or F? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media. LLC

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

Sunday Political Brunch: Political Odds and Ends

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – Congress is coming back to Washington, D.C., this week after a two-week recess or, as the members call it, “a district work period.” Many in the public and the press call it a “vacation,” but for many Senators and Representatives it’s a busy time to meet with constituents across districts and states. Having been a staffer for two members of Congress, I can tell you it’s mostly work, not play. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Coal in Your Stocking” – Sometimes in the world of politics, a local or regional issue will go national. That will happen this week, when the Coal Miners Protection Act is up for a final vote in the House and Senate. The bill would provide health insurance for 23,000 retired miners who lost coverage after their coal company employers went bankrupt. The legislation mostly affects Appalachian States (see photo above), but coal is mined in places such as North Dakota, Illinois, and Wyoming, too. A controversial inclusion to pay also for workers’ lost pensions will stir opposition and debate, especially in non-mining states. That provision is likely to fail.

“Not All Politics is Local” – Yes, this issue hits close to home in West Virginia, where I work now; but it also raises concerns about “who” pays for “what” at the federal level. The issue with the pensions revives worries about what happens in other industries. If Chrysler closes and goes bankrupt, should taxpayers have to pay for its worker pensions, too? Coal supporters say their pensions will be paid for by monies from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, but what about other industries with no such revenue stream? This issue is likely to expand, not to go away.

“It’s Not a Trump Referendum” – Much was made this week about a special election in Georgia to fill the seat of former Representative Tom Price (R-GA), who is now President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also once held this seat, so it’s a reliable Republican stronghold. But this week, an upstart Democrat named Jon Ossoff won with 48 percent of the vote, against a field that included 18 candidates, including many Republicans who split the vote. Since he did not win a majority, Ossoff must now face former Secretary of State Karen Handell (R-GA) in a two-person runoff election. It’s a new race.

“What’s Trending Matters” – The national press and a lot of politicos on both sides of the aisle obsess about these races, which are truly minutia. One race does not a trend make. Maybe Democrat Ossoff will ultimately win; maybe Republican Handell will save the seat for her party. It’s a net-sum gain of zero for both parties. This Georgia Congressional district is just one of 435 nationwide. How can either side claim it as a bellwether for Trump in 2018, or for any other outcome? You want a trend? In the 1994 midterm election, Republicans gained 54 seats in the U.S. House and took the majority for the first time in 40 years. In 2006, Democrats won 31 seats and took back control with the first female Speaker of the House in charge. Both elections made history.

“Throw Up My Hands” – As much as I preach against reading too much into one single election - or a few elections – I am swimming against the media tide. Later this year, New Jersey and Virginia will both elect new Governors – the only two states to do so in an odd-numbered election year. In the past, these elections have produced such notables as the states’ two current chief executives: Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA). Both their wins were attention-getting; yet, neither of their wins moved the national political needle an inch. Whoever wins this year in the Garden State or in the Old Dominion State will be interesting, but will not signify a trend.

“On the Other Hand” – Virginia remains a notable state to watch, though. The once solid red state from 1964 to 2004 has gone blue in the past three Presidential elections. It’s truly an important swing state with 13 Electoral College votes. I say this because in the field of Democratic Presidential possibilities, I am handicapping Senator Mark Warner (D-VA). The once-Governor-turned-U.S. Senator has a resume similar to that of recent Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). I think Warner has White House potential, more so than Kaine. Keep watching!

“Proof of My Point” – Speaking of special elections – where a lot of political viability is in play – we had another recent result in Kansas. Republican Ron Estes was elected to the House of Representatives to replace former Representative Mike Pompeo, who is now CIA Director. Again, there were hopes a Democrat would win the seat – in a so-called Trump referendum – but the issues were mostly local, and national politics was not the determining factor.

“Why Does This Happen?” – As much as I hate political hype and handicapping, it’s part of our election culture. Whenever I speak to Rotary Clubs and other groups, the first question is always, “Who is going to win?” Then audience members tell me how much they hate how we overdo polling in the media (and I’m not saying I disagree with them). You can’t win!

“Kim Jong Un-Done” – I’ll be honest. It is frustrating and sad to me as a U.S. citizen (as well as a reporter in the free press) to watch what is happening in North Korea. Dictator Kim Jong Un threatens to launch a nuclear missile attack on the United States or on other closer targets; yet his missile launches have so far been disastrous.However, I worry that - sooner or later - he’ll get it right and at least hit a target closer than San Francisco – say South Korea. What’s the proper response? What should President Trump do, and will we have a united U.S. response? I believe we may be days away.

“Why All of This Matters?” – Yes, the next significant election – as far as trends are concerned – is November, 2018. That’s a long way off. A lot of big decisions – whether on Obamacare or North Korea – will come well before then and could be big factors in the outcome. Something which today may not be a factor, tomorrow might be!

What worries you the most right now? Just click on the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: tristateupdate.com.

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