Trump White House touts achievements but downplays 100-day expectations
In the closing weeks of his campaign last year, Donald Trump laid out what he called a “100-day contract” with voters — an ambitious flurry of administrative and legislative steps that he vowed would start the process of “draining the swamp” and protecting American workers.
With many of those promises as yet unfulfilled or abandoned, President Trump and his aides scrambled Monday to present a glowing picture of vast accomplishment even as they downplayed the significance of the 100-day deadline looming Saturday.
Trump isn’t the first president to try to balance high expectations against harsh reality in the first months of a new administration. But the traditional temporal benchmark has become a case study for what the news cycle has come to mean in the Trump era.
The media — and cable news, especially — love a good round-numbered milestone, and Trump is a voracious consumer of cable news. So Trump’s aides are contributing to a spectacle that they simultaneously dismiss as meaningless, knowing it is a priority for their boss as he juggles bold campaign pledges against the difficulty of heading the vast U.S. government.
Cabinet officials and other surrogates are being dispatched across the country to talk up the administration’s early doings, boasting as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did on Sunday of Trump fulfilling his promises at a “breakneck speed.”
The president will be busy in Washington all week, signing executive orders and presenting what he has repeatedly promised will be a “big announcement” on tax reform Wednesday.
His aides cautioned Monday that Trump simply “will be outlining principles for tax reform” and not a detailed proposal to spur congressional action.
As several new polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s performance so far, he also will speak in venues to constituencies that have graded him more favorably.
On Monday, it was a reception with conservative media. On Friday he is set to address the National Rifle Assn.
And on Saturday night, Trump will hold a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pa., less than 50 miles from Gettysburg, where he made his 100-day compact with voters in October.
It promises to be the administration’s most active public outreach effort so far — all in service of what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday called an “artificial deadline” for evaluating Trump’s achievements.
As Spicer parried with reporters at his televised briefing, he acknowledged there was something of a circular aspect to all this.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that hasn’t lodged a request to say, ‘We’re writing a story on the 100-day mark, we’re doing this on the 100-day mark,’ and so, you know, we want to make sure that we answer your questions as truthfully as possible and as thoroughly and comprehensively,” he said.
Asked to identify successes, Spicer repeatedly pointed to a reduction in the number of people caught crossing the border illegally, more than 30 executive orders that Trump has signed, and the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.
A pair of White House officials laid out similar themes at a 40-minute briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which sits beside the White House, one of several such briefings scheduled this week.
The two staffers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters, pointed to what they said were accomplishments in three areas: safety and security, prosperity and accountability.
They promised detailed online fact sheets later in the week, along with “a social media component.” They downplayed Trump’s failures to keep promises like securing Mexican funding to build a border wall or getting the GOP-led Congress to pass healthcare or any other major legislation, and the repeated refusal by federal courts to let the administration bar visitors from mostly Muslim countries.
Nor did they acknowledge Trump’s flip-flops on an array of foreign policy issues, from NATO (it’s no longer obsolete) to Russia (he now calls for maintaining sanctions) to the Iran nuclear deal (his administration confirmed last week that Tehran is continuing to honor its commitments.)
They cited poll numbers showing Trump has maintained support with most of the voters who put him in office, blaming media coverage on other poll findings that showed his overall approval numbers are historically low for a new president during his early honeymoon period.
When asked about Trump’s numerous promises for his first 100 days that have not been met, the officials recast them as ongoing “top-line priorities.”
“The 100-day metric is mostly media-driven,” one official said. “In our view, we’re here for eight years.”
Complicating the milestone week is the most mundane and basic of governing tasks: passing a spending bill in Congress to keep the government running.
The White House has asked Congress to add billions of dollars to a stopgap spending bill to start construction of a wall along the Southwest border and other border security efforts, a request that even fellow Republicans are wary to grant.
Unless the House and Senate approve a temporary funding measure by midnight Friday, the government would shut down for the second time in four years — this time in a capital where Republicans control all branches of government.
Although the 100-day measuring stick is often disparaged as arbitrary, research has shown that presidents have more ability to achieve goals they set early in their terms, said Julia Azari, a political science professor at Marquette University in Wisconsin.
“One of the more important pieces of the narrative presidents have is their claim to represent change, and they lose that the longer they’re in office,” she said.
Asked by the Associated Press on Friday whether he should be held accountable for meeting the goals of his “100-day contract,” Trump hedged.
“Somebody put out the concept of a 100-day plan. But yeah. Well, I’m mostly there on most items,” Trump said. “But things change. There has to be flexibility.”
Spicer offered a more positive spin in his news conference Monday.
“We feel very good about what we’ve done as we head up to this first hundred days,” he said. “I think you’re going to continue to see a lot of action and a lot of results going into the second hundred days, the third hundred days, you know, all the way through.”
For more White House coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.