The First Hundred Days by David Montgomery

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I hate to become predictable, but it is hard to resist commenting on President Trump’s first 100 days on the occasion of his first 100 days. To start, my standard of excellence is not how many new policies a President puts in place but whether he does right with the opportunities he faces. In my moments of wishful thinking, I even imagine congratulating a President for doing nothing because nothing needed to be changed.

Unfortunately, this was not the case for President Trump. He inherited the slowest recovery from recession on record, diminished support for law enforcement, foreign policy that disheartened all who depend on American strength and support, international crises, a Supreme Court vacancy, a broken system of health insurance, regulatory overreach, taxes that were driving corporations to countries that tax smarter, and a monstrous budget deficit.

He also had majorities in the House and Senate, a thoughtful and well-respected Speaker of the House and a Senate Majority leader showing unexpected backbone. This nominally favorable legislative setting raises the curve for grading his accomplishments.

Might as well get the easy ones out of the way. Supreme Court choice: A+. Justice Gorsuch was a pre-eminent Appeals Court Judge and is a man of impeccable professional integrity and character. His judicial philosophy derives from respect for statutory law and the Constitution as written, demonstrated by the fact that out of some 2700 decisions he rendered, only one was overturned. The predictable opposition had only one message: progressives expect Supreme Court justices to make decisions based on their political and social agenda rather than the written law, and Judge Gorsuch adhered to the law. Justice Gorsuch was very clear on that, when he commented that any judge who is happy with the outcome of every case he tries is a bad judge. The law may not always give the victory to the most sympathetic party in the case, and the correct decision may have consequences down the line that the judge abhors, but Justice Gorsuch understands that his job is to understand and apply the law not to create it.

Cabinet: A. My friend Bill Rolle has already written about this in the Spy and said it well. President Trump’s cabinet is the first in a long time chosen entirely on the basis of merit. His appointees are all distinguished leaders, mature, experienced, and proven. Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Sessions, and Administrator Pruitt stand out because they have responsibility for the most critical issues facing the nation and they are doing an absolutely superb job. Taking each in turn, these four have allowed battle field commanders to do their jobs, restored assertiveness in relations with other countries, supported rather than tore down police, and moved knowledgably to review harmful regulations.

I am not very happy with the Secretary of Commerce, I give him a D- in economics, but I don’t think we need a Department of Commerce in the first place. I am ecstatic about Ambassador Haley at the UN. I didn’t think anyone could top Ambassador Bolton but she does, by a mile.

Foreign Policy: A- because nobody can do better than that. In addition to having a Secretary of State who actually puts our national interest first and does not mince words with Russia and others who oppose us, President Trump’s unique combination of tweets and personal relationships seems to be succeeding. He signals his position on global issues very effectively. He appears to have succeeded in gaining some common ground with China on the clear and present danger of North Korea while at the same time vigorously opposing China’s imperial ambitions in the South China Sea. All the worries about his susceptibility to Putin’s charms should have been put to rest by his condemnation of Russia’s role in Syria. That is the right kind of reset.

Candidate Trump’s apparent isolationism was a clear negative to me during the primaries. As President, the challenges that he has faced and no doubt the good advice of Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson seem to have convinced him that American national security requires active, if self-interested, leadership of the free world.

And it is such a refreshing change to have a President who acts when required rather than threatening and then backing down. Note the contrast between meaningless redlines versus cruise missiles to get a message to Assad in Syria. The revelation that it was the battlefield commander who was empowered to decide whether to use the MOAB bomb in Afghanistan showed that he and Secretary Mattis understand delegation and fight to win.

Regulatory Policy: A. President Trump may have been a candidate whom no one gave any chance to win, but he was ready to roll on regulatory overreach. By the time he took the oath of office, the Executive Orders needed to reduce the burden of regulation were all ready to sign. His use of Executive Orders to minimize the burden of regulations is the mirror image of his predecessor’s determination to use Presidential authority to impose regulations where Congress did not act, and differs only in that President Trump is helping rather than hurting the economy. The Republican Congress has assisted greatly in this endeavor by use of the Congressional Review Act to undo some of the most burdensome of the midnight regulations issued just before President Trump took office.

Where executive action cannot undo regulations now in place, as appears to be the case of the Clean Power Plan, Administrator Pruitt is respecting the law and moving aggressively with new regulatory proceedings and legal strategies to make changes. Secretary Tillerson is taking a reasonable approach to agreements we have entered into on climate change, favoring continued participation while retracting unrealistic and tactically unwise commitments made by his predecessors.

Immigration: Overall C, with a range from A to F. I agree with the policies in the Executive Orders issued by President Trump. Every nation has a right to decide who should enter, and it is a serious national security risk to accept inadequately vetted entrants from countries where we know terrorists are being trained to attack the U.S. I am appalled that activist judges would block the President from exercising his fundamental responsibility to protect the country from this risk, but he gets an A for trying.

At the same time, I agree that the first Executive Order was badly drafted and that ICE agents were not properly trained to carry it out. That created temporary inconvenience for a number of travellers and gave President Trump’s critics an opening they exploited immediately. Bad execution hurt the Presidency. F on implementation.

It is a slow process, but facts show that we are making progress in securing our borders to make sure that criminals as well as terrorists are excluded. President Trump is moving as he promised to use the leverage he has available to stop local governments from protecting criminals who are in the country illegally, and I cannot see why “sanctuary cities” should be given any more respect than was the University of Mississippi when President Eisenhower used the power of the Federal government to end segregation. Catch and release has ended, and realistic steps are being taken to have adequate enforcement and judicial resources to expel criminals convicted of serious crimes other than illegal entry.

The President appears to be making progress on his campaign promise about a wall, despite the continued opposition of editorial cartoonists. Given Mexico’s poor governance, which political correctness seems to demand we ignore, I cannot see a better solution to preventing entry of criminals, drugs and terrorists and putting the coyotes and their human trafficking out of business. Where I part company is that I am convinced it is both economically beneficial and consistent with American values to do away with all of our current immigration quotas. After securing the borders so that our immigration policy is enforceable, we should accept every entrant who can demonstrate a clean record, no ties to terrorism, ability to support himself or herself, and willingness to assimilate into a single American identity.

That is the other reason for my low grade. The President, any President, should be explaining that properly vetted immigration is beneficial to the economy and essential to American exceptionalism, not denigrating people based on their national origin. He is too prone to give in to the labor union propaganda that immigrants take away American jobs. Immigration from the Americas is our best hope for sustained economic growth and for growth in the congregations of our churches.

Health care and tax reform: Incomplete. Who knew that the big problem in Congress would be among Republicans rather than across the aisle? What a change in having a President who wants to sit down with opposing factions to work out a deal, rather than sitting in his ivory tower at 1600 Pennsylvania while lesser beings do their messy work. As I write, it appears that despite the dire predictions and my own lecturing of the Freedom Caucus, there is a compromise health care bill coming up, and prospects that the House and Senate will be able to move a tax reform bill thereafter.

If that happens, we will have to give substantial credit to President Trump as well as Speaker Ryan for working effectively with all parts of the Republican Party. It is bad enough that we have an ideologically gridlocked Congress, in which Democrats are driven by the belief that their billionaire progressive contributors will replace them if they compromise in any way.

It would be a disaster if Republicans were also so ideologically divided that they could not govern, but it appears that the President and the Speaker may be providing an example of how apparently irreconcilable factions can be convinced that half a loaf is better than none. And who better than President Trump to wave the half a loaf in the air and brag about getting the whole thing?

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Tom Steele says:

    Where to start? At the beginning, I guess.

    Foreign Policy: Tillerson is hamstrung by Jared Kushner running a shadow foreign policy apparatus out of the West Wing. Follow the money.

    Cabinet: You’ve got to be kidding me. Betsy DeVos’ sole qualifications are, in order, her money and her dedication to killing public education; that’s it. Tillerson’s selection has more to do with his ties to Russia and Russian oil. Pruitt’s only qualification appears to be his opposition to the very existence and mission of the EPA, and his decisions so far have done nothing but emphasize that fact. Carson at HUD – are you kidding me?

    Regulatory Policy: what good is corporate profit at the expense of the environment? Case in point: the proposed gutting of funding for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

    Immigration: total disaster. There’s a reason the judiciary has rejected both of Trump’s proposed bans. What’s more, Sessions – the USAG – doesn’t appear to understand the role of the judiciary and whines about “activist judges on some island in the Pacific”. And the wall? Total feel-good boondoggle and a complete waste of federal funds; it will do nothing to stop immigration. And Mexico will not pay a dime for it – not now, not ever.

    Health Care and Tax Reform: another disaster. The GOP made a lot of political hay knocking it down during the Obama years, but now that they’re in control they’re like the dog that caught the car – what now? Tax Reform seems to consist so far of a lot of flagpole-flying of various proposals, most of which involve more of the same trickle-down nonsense the GOP has been pushing for decades.

    So what are we left with? A President who has signed a lot of EOs but no meaningful legislation, despite the party having complete control of the legislative and Executive branches. And with a looming government shutdown this week, they can’t even pass a budget.

    • Sarah K. Porter says:

      And a president who BASHED EO’s all the way through his campaign, said they reflected an inability to lead, and promised not to use them!!!

  2. mark dellacqua says:

    I will give Paul Ryan credit for doing something redeeming when he abandons his version of Obama Light and get’s onboard
    with the Conservative agenda of repealing Obamcare and replacing it with something that actually works and does what Obama
    said that Obamacare would do, but didn’t: lower premiums, keep your doctor, and keep your plan.
    Since we’re getting rid of federal agencies, don’t stop with the Commerce Department, let’s phase out the Department of Education as well. We already have this agency at the local and state level which is where you need it. At the federal level it’s just a hole you throw money in to with nothing to show for it except for the 20 trillion dollar deficit. Otherwise a good assessment of Trump’s first 100 days.

    Mark Dell Acqua

  3. James Nick says:

    From http://www.gallup.com/poll/203198/presidential-approval-ratings-donald-trump.aspx
    Donald Trump’s Presidential Job Approval Ratings: Most recent weekly average, 40% (Apr 10-16, 2017)
    Average for elected presidents’ 1st quarter 63%

    Barack Obama’s Job Approval Rating, Jan 16-19, 2017, 59% (http://www.gallup.com/poll/116479/barack-obama-presidential-job-approval.aspx)

    From “Paul Ryan Has a Lower Approval Rating Than Donald Trump” – 4/17/2017 http://time.com/4742454/paul-ryan-approval-rating-donald-trump/
    “… According to a new Pew Research study, 29% of Americans approve of Ryan’s performance… Ryan’s ratings are also a drop compared with those for House speakers before him. Rated at a similar time during his tenure, former House Speaker John Boehner had a 36% approval rating…”

    ‘Nuff said!

  4. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    Of course you are pleased as punch. In honor of Earth Day, let’s not get into his dismal record on all things sensible and focus on our planet. The only one we have. He has appointed climate change deniers to key positions, despite facts. They are there because that party is owned by the fossil fuel industry. Trump signed legislation repealing the Stream Protaction Rules which now allow coal mining companies to dump their waste into streams, destroying drinking water sources, increasing flood risks and permanantly polluting streams. He has signed an executive order aimed at the dismantling the Waters of the United States Rule which extended protection to 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands. This repeal will affect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, birds, marine life and food safety. Methane emissions regulations have been thrown out. The word “science” has been removed from the EPAs Office of Science and Technology mission statement. (facts can be so damning!) Car pollution standards have been rolled back from President Obama’s term that would have required car makers to achieve the fuel economy rating of 54.5 miles per gallon.this would have reduced greenhouse gas by 6 billion metric tons. Trump has proposed slashing EPA funds for things like Energy Star, he wants to eliminate funding for the Great Lakees and Chesapeake Bay, and remove funding for Clean Power Plants. He is abandoning Obamas’ Climate Roadmap which includes repealing several regulations for oil and gas extraction from Federal Lands and National Parks. The coup de gras is his giving Dow Chemical, a huge campaign supporter and the company that made Agent Orange, a big win by drastically reducing chemical regulations. Now the chemical Chlorpyrifos, a known carcinogen, is free to be sprayed. This chemical is in the top ten of the most dangerous toxic pesticides and is used on apples, strawberries, tomatoes potatoes, peaches, farms and golf courses. Even very low exposure is proven to effect the brain structure of children; this is extremely dangerous to pregnant woman. Trump handed the Chairman of Dow his pen after he signed this Executive Order.

    If this doesn’t make one angry, I am extremely worried for this country.

  5. Briggs Cunningham says:

    OMG…there are soooo many “interesting” thoughts that come to mind about this piece: “…slowest recovery from recession on record…”? That’s quite a spin on the fact that President Obama inherited the Great Recession from another disaster in the White House and managed to turn it around to a healed economy. “…a willingness to assimilate into a single American identity”….really? Which identity is that? “…growth in the congregations of our churches.”? What does that mean and how does that relate to an immigration policy? “…a thoughtful and well-respected Speaker of the House and Senate Majority leader…”? The same Mitch McConnell who re-wrote Senate rules regarding the filibuster after disallowing any hearings for Judge Garland? That’s what you call “backbone?” Whoa, thank goodness the Spy invited a differing opinion writer into its stable so we could see how some view the current disaster in the White House.

  6. David Montgomery says:

    I have fallen a bit behind, so that I am taking this week to respond to comments and will have a new article on Monday. I can’t write an essay on every different point of view, so I will try to address some broad topics and particular points that involve more than personality.

    First, it would be great fun some day to put together a list of the Executive Agency functions we could do without, and there are quite a few. Right now Education is not on my list of agencies to abolish, precisely because Ms DeVos is the Secretary and if true school choice is to have any chance of succeeding, we need her and a Federal presence to deal with state bureaucracies and teachers unions that are determined to block it. I’d even save the scientific and information gathering parts of Commerce, Labor and Energy, and put them together into an Information Administration while we see about the rest.

    Second, I seem to differ from many readers in my conviction that we have to balance the benefits of regulations against their cost, and that most of the regulations issued during the Obama administration failed that test miserably. That is why I applaud actions that rescind those regulations. Some readers seem to have the impression that rescinding a regulation that unjustifiably expands the scope of government moves us back to the nineteenth century of unbridled capitalism. Not at all, it simply puts us back where we were in 2008, which is all of these cases is a far better place to be. Likewise, just because something can be toxic in large enough doses — like acetaminophen — does not mean that its use should be banned in safe doses with proper precautions. Producing more fossil fuels here at home doesn’t even reach that level of concern — the increases in natural gas use made possible by the fracking revolution reduced our greenhouse gas emissions more than all the policies adopted by the EU reduced theirs, and the increases in oil production that Obama’s orders would slow have cut gasoline prices nearly in half.

    What the Executive Order giveth, the Executive Order taketh away. My objection to Obama’s executive orders is that they were his way to get around the fact that the electorate clearly rejected his domestic policies by electing a Senate and House that could stop his socialist agenda. President Trump’s orders were all corrective of executive overreach by the last Administration.

    On key issues like the Clean Power Plan and new car fuel economy standards, the Administration is launching a new rule makings to reconsider those actions, not executive orders to rescind them. And they are both clear examples of regulations whose costs far exceed even the benefits that the Obama Administration assigned to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, the President is working with Congress to deal with Obamacare and tax reform — an incomplete task but one that may still succeed.

    My mind boggles at hearing once again that Obama did a great job with the economy — to avoid filling up this reply with numbers, a typical statistic is that productivity growth has slowed from 2.7% in 2001 – 2007 to 1.1% from 2008 – 2016. The reasons for that are clear — rising taxes and a flood of regulations slowed investment and raised labor costs under Obama.

    And a few words about the last comment in the Chestertown Spy: By an American identity, I mean just what the President meant in his inaugural address — a reflex that answers the question “what are you” by saying “I am an American,” not “I am a ….” — fill in the blank of whatever racial, ethnic, gender, class, regional, or political differentiator the promotion of identity politics leads you to consider yourself. And about church attendance — I thought the relevance to immigration is obvious, it is only immigration from Central and South America that is keeping Catholic and evangelical Protestant Churches growing in the United States. And I am very glad of that.

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