The first month of President Trump’s term has been marked by turmoil. What your politics are determines what that turmoil is. For the political left, it has been one gobsmacking outrage after another. For the right, it has been a hounding media blowing up every little Trump tweet and tither into a scandal of Watergate proportions. But if you sift through the silt, you will see that President Trump hasn’t really done much governing at all in his first month.
While Trump was swift to issue a torrent of Executive Orders, he is ahead of the typical president but lags behind President Obama. Trump issued 12 Executive Orders in his first month, Obama had 16. Trump actually takes 3rd place, with Harry S. Truman edging him out by a single order. By comparison, George W. Bush issued 7, Bill Clinton 6.
During his first weeks, President Trump did command the armed forces, ordering a Seal Team hit on an Al Qaeda strong hold in Yemen. President Obama ordered his first Drone strike within a week of his inauguration and in his first year over 50 were executed (on his way to over 500 in his two terms) and inherited the remnants of the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither Presidents Bush nor Clinton engaged in military operations in their first month in office, but Clinton did inherit military involvement in the middle east after the Persian Gulf wars.
Legislatively, during this first month, not a single act was passed by Congress to even offer the President, let alone sign. Technically, Trump did sign a law on his first day in office, but it was a law Congress had passed during his transition to allow a former General to be considered for the Secretary of Defense. Not a single bill has crossed his desk. Consider that in his first month, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and a $787 billion stimulus bill (which technically was worked on by Congress before he took office) and Clinton signed The Family & Medical Leave Act. Trump has claimed that he has “inherited a mess” in the economy and the nation, but if that were so having control of Congress certainly a bill would be in the works? There is not.
President Trump also claimed that his cabinet is taking the long to seat. This could provide cover for why nothing has been accomplished. But Obama’s last cabinet confirmation came at the end of April, Clinton and Bush had cabinet spots that were not finalized until well into March. While Trump had more unconfirmed picks early on than any other president, he also was still in the process of submitting names after he was inaugurated and several key selections faced contentious hearings.
The lack of cabinet selections does not stop the process of governing, as the Immigration Ban was reviewed by the Department of Justice, whose chief was an Obama department holdover.
But as President, the job is not just to issue Executive Orders and sign legislation, it is also to propose legislation. President Bush offered up No Child Left Behind to increase testing in American public schools during his first month. It was signed four months later. Before his first month was out, Bush had also sent a plan for tax cuts to Congress. President Obama was invited to Congress to give a speech to a joint session of Congress a hair outside one month into his first term where he addressed the stimulus bill that had been passed earlier and the framework for what would be rolled out that summer as Obamacare. Trump’s legislative agenda has apparently stalled out of the gates, despite GOP control of both branches.
When election results are close, as they were in 2000 when President Bush won the Electoral College by a hair despite losing the Popular Vote, he chose to spend part of the first month reaching across the aisle to unite the country as best he could. In his first weeks in office Bush met individually with 90 members of Congress, a third of those Democrats. He met with the Congressional Black Caucus, including some who did not feel his election was legitimate. Contrast this with Trump’s Press Conference this past week where he lied about a meeting with Representative Cummings and asked a black reporter to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus for him. Bush also in his first month spoke at Senate and House Democratic retreats. By comparison, Trump spoke at a Republican retreat in Philadelphia and questioned, in his press conference last week, why protesters who opposed Republicans were showing up at Republican congress town halls. “They are not the Republican people that our representatives represent,” he stated, inferring that Republican lawmakers only represent Republican voters.
The achievements that Trump can brag about in month one are small ones: hiring freeze on nonessential federal workers (side note: if they are nonessential, why hire them in the first place?), some reductions of various federal regulations, withdrawal from the TPP agreement and the controversial sweeps to detain and deport undocumented workers. What he had hoped would be a big caret, the Immigration Ban, has been halted by the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court and is allegedly being revamped to be reintroduced in the coming weeks. Ultimately if the ban becomes a popular success down the road, whether it was a first month accomplishment will be debatable.
So as the calendar flips to the second month, President Trump’s first month has certainly captured the attention of a nation, but in reality has been much ado about nothing. Certainly not a month that would dictate claiming President Trump to already be one of the top three presidents in history. So for the political left, chill out. The checks and balances of government work. For the political right, the first month is already gone and there are but 19 more until midterm elections.