Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, it became a tradition to take the measure of a new president by sizing up his first 100 days in office.
Today, perhaps reflecting our obsession with speed, the candidates for president are proposing a new timetable: one day. To hear the 2016 contenders talk about their plans for their first day in office, you have to wonder what’ll be left for Day Two. You also have to wonder if they understand that Congress, and sometimes the courts, get to have a say.
Donald Trump, for example, says he would seal the borders to keep out illegal immigrants the minute he takes office. Trump also promises to declare China a currency manipulator. That, he says, would force China to the negotiating table. Perhaps, but it would also require the U.S. to begin the process of imposing duties on Chinese goods, a move that could provoke China to retaliate. Voila, a full-blown trade war might dominate Trump’s first 100 days, or even his entire presidency.
Ted Cruz would also break some glass on Day One. First, he says, he would “rescind every illegal and unconstitutional action taken by Barack Obama.” ….
After lunch, Cruz would direct the Internal Revenue Service to put an end to the persecution of religious liberty, followed by canceling the Iran nuclear deal. Finally, Cruz would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
On his first day, Marco Rubio also plans to rip up the Iran nuclear agreement, followed by reimposing sanctions. (Before he dropped out of the Republican race, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin outdid everyone when he said “I may have to bomb Iran” in his first 24 hours as president.)
Jeb Bush, on the other hand, wouldn’t tear up the nuclear deal on Day One. Instead, he would be busy withdrawing Obama’s executive orders, seeking to repeal Obamacare and otherwise trying to lift regulatory burdens off business’s back. Being the moderate in the 2016 bunch, however, he also says he would be inclined to focus on proposals that have bipartisan support (still awaiting word on what those are).
Rand Paul has a more modest day planned, at least so far. He would shut down the National Security Agency’s collection of cellphone and other communications data, or what he calls the “illegal spying program.”
Carly Fiorina says she would make two phone calls: one to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assure him of continued U.S. support and the second to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, to demand the right to make unannounced and unfettered inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites. (Maybe her national security adviser will explain that the ayatollah doesn’t take calls from the president of the U.S.)
Lindsey Graham said in March that he would use the military to keep Congress in Washington until it lifted spending caps on the Pentagon’s budget. He meant it as a joke (I hope).
The 2016 Democrats’ first-day plans are less ambitious, as far as we know. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, would merely sign an order that “moves us as a nation” to a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2050, such as by extending tax credits for wind and solar power.
What would Hillary Clinton do on her Day One? She isn’t saying, but if she is elected, we know what someone will try to do to her. Representative Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, promises to start impeachment proceedings on her first day in office for high crimes and misdemeanors committed while using a private email server as secretary of state.
Such hand-on-the-heart pledges aren’t unique to this election cycle. In 2012, Mitt Romney fashioned an entire [media] advertising campaign around his Day One, vowing that “President Romney” would immediately approve the Keystone pipeline, introduce measures to cut taxes and also begin replacing Obamacare.
But in real life, most presidents’ first full days are relatively ho-hum. Obama, for example, reported for work at 8:35 a.m. on Jan. 21, 2009, whereupon he read the note left behind by his predecessor, George W. Bush, attended a prayer service, met with economic advisers and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and presided over the swearing-in of Cabinet members. He also spoke by phone to Middle East leaders and signed an executive order barring White House employees from lobbying.
As we know, Obama didn’t close the military prison at Guantanamo, as he promised to do if elected president. If he could do things over, though, he would close the detention center on Day One, Obama told a Cleveland seventh-grader in March.
President George W. Bush took a more leisurely approach on his first day. He had coffee with his parents, took supporters on a tour of his new digs, saw that the carpet and sofas in the Oval Office were changed, and otherwise “spent most of the day getting accustomed to his surroundings,” the New York Times reported.
That may not have been the whole story, though. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, told his memoirist in 2004 that Bush had planned “on day one” to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (and would use the Sept. 11 attacks nine months later as justification). So maybe presidents really do plan to start wars on their first day.