Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017. President Trump has followed the example set by his predecessors signing a number of executive orders in his first few days in office. Some of them reversed the executive orders of President Barack Obama, and some of them were original to his own agenda. His campaign and Inaugural Address have given the American people and the world an understanding of the legislative agenda the president hopes to achieve in his “first hundred days” in office.
Before President Franklin D. Roosevelt, most presidents spent the first few months getting acclimated to the office with some notable exceptions. George Washington had to establish precedents for presidential etiquette and governing constitutionally, while Abraham Lincoln faced the grave crisis of secession as seven states left the Union between his election and Inauguration and four more would secede soon after. Most presidents, however, faced a less dramatic introduction to the office.
But, President Roosevelt faced an unprecedented economic crisis when he assumed office. The Great Depression left the nation with greatly depressed industry and farming, and more than twenty percent of workers unemployed. In his Inaugural Address, Roosevelt promised, “The nation asks for action, and action now.” With large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Roosevelt proposed a large number of bills that Congress passed, and he duly signed. Roosevelt helped to control the legislative agenda of Congress as the nation’s presidential “chief legislator.” Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act, Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. By late July, Roosevelt announced the end of the “crowding events of the first hundred days.” Contemporaries and historians took up Roosevelt’s theme of measuring a president’s success in the first term by the amount of legislation Congress passes in the first hundred days.
Most future presidents tried to set and achieve an agenda quickly in the first hundred days. President Lyndon B. Johnson proposed the Great Society programs after his re-election in the first hundred days of his first full term after he succeeded the assassinated John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan started his push to introduce tax cuts during his first hundred days. George W. Bush won passage of the No Child Left Behind, and William J. Clinton introduced a comprehensive health care reform proposal.
There are several reasons why presidents have followed FDR’s example and attempted to win their major pieces of legislation in the first hundred days. First, presidents usually come to office with a relatively high approval rating and seek to take advantage of it before those numbers decline. Second, presidents who have won a large electoral mandate feel that the American people have given them a “mandate” to implement their agenda. Third, presidents can have sympathetic majorities of their own party in one or both houses of Congress. They want to get their legislative agenda before suffering often typical losses in mid-term elections.
In this eLesson, students will learn the executive branch and how new presidents establish their vision and agenda for the United States. They will explore the constitutional role of the presidency and the relationship with the Congress after elections and inaugurations.
Directions: Break your students up into groups of 4-5 members. Have them select a president. Have them choose one of their group members to represent this president. The other students in the group are presidential advisors. Have the students answer the first few questions about their administration. Explain that complicated answers will create more realistic and interesting scenarios.
- What is your political party affiliation?
- What was your electoral margin of victory in the Electoral College? (At least 270 out of 538 electoral votes)
- What is your approval rating on Inauguration Day?
- Does your political party have a majority in the House? In the Senate? Both?
- Are there any crises affecting the United States domestically or around the globe?
Next, have students decide they will seek to accomplish in the first hundred days.
- Do you have an administration with a large agenda of programs and activist government or an administration that takes a slower approach to policy?
- Do you feel a mandate to push for a large agenda with a lot of programs? Did you win by a narrow victory and feel constrained in your agenda?
- How will the situation of the country (state of the economy, world affairs, etc.) affect your agenda?
- What important issues shaped your campaign promises? Do you think that your margin of victory, the composition of Congress, and the tone of the country will allow you to achieve the goals of your agenda in the first hundred days? What resistance might you encounter from the people or Congress?
- What advantages do incoming presidents have to shape the vision of the country? What challenges do they face?
- Should presidents try to follow FDR’s approach to the first hundred days? Explain your answer.
- How has your understanding of the role of presidents during the first hundred days of their administrations grown as a result of considering the questions from your group discussion?