Trump's first 100 days: High in executive orders, low in approval ratings

Last Updated Apr 29, 2017 9:37 AM EDT

President Donald Trump has signed more laws and executive orders than recent presidents in his first 100 days, but he hasn't been remarkably more — or shockingly less — successful than most past presidents, according to experts in presidential history.

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"It hasn't been that much different — it's been more controversial more tumultuous because he's not only battling with his political opponents, whoever he perceives to be his political opponents, he's battling with the press," said Richard Benedetto, an adjunct journalism professor at American University who covered four presidents as a White House reporter.

Mr. Trump recently said he didn't think any president has accomplished more in the first 100 days than his administration has, but that's hard to square, presidential historians said. Mr. Trump has signed more pieces of legislation than most recent presidents, but paling in comparison to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Harry Truman. Here's how they stack up:

  • Trump: 28 laws
  • FDR: 76 laws in first 100 days
  • Truman: 55 laws in first 100 days 

The legislation Roosevelt signed included creating the Tennessee Valley Authority, starting massive public works projects to end the Great Depression, establishing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation -- as Politifact notes, 15 of those laws were major pieces of legislation. Not one of Mr. Trump's is a major law:

  • Thirteen of the laws he signed repeal Obama-era regulations, dispensing with them quickly under the Congressional Review Act; 
  • Two of the laws name VA clinics --  one in Pago Pago and another in Pennsylvania;
  • Five are personnel appointments. 

"The notion that he's accomplished a great deal is just obviously not true," said David Greenberg, professor of history and journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. "I don't think there's really any way to say that with a straight face." 

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But critics' claims that he is the least successful president thus far aren't very accurate either, mostly because presidents don't tend to have monumental accomplishments in their first 100 days, Benedetto said. Even when the House, Senate and White House are of the same party, unity can be troublesome. That is where executive orders come in for Mr. Trump, who has signed more than any president in recent history, according to the Federal Register. It's still nothing compared to FDR's 99 executive orders at the height of the Great Depression. 

Mr. Trump's approach to regulatory reform, another marker of his first 100 days, is perhaps the most ambitious since Ronald Reagan. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress rolled back dozens of Obama-era regulations with 37 separate resolutions in the first 10 days of Mr. Trump's presidency during the 115th Congress, the most of any Congress in the 21st Century. 

Whatever his accomplishments — or lack thereof — Mr. Trump's approval ratings, according to Gallup, are the lowest any president has had at 100 days in recent memory.

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Mr. Trump's golf course and Mar-a-Lago outings probably aren't helping, as Mr. Trump is "continuing to lead the life of a mogul," said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center.

Mr. Trump has spent 19 days golfing, compared with the zero days Obama and Bush spent golfing and three days Clinton spent golfing in their first 100 days.

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"In terms of golfing, he far surpasses Obama, Bush and Clinton, who let's face it, were all avid golfers," Perry said, adding that Mr. Trump doesn't seem to care about public perception. 

Days spent golfing or at Mar-a-Lago may seem trivial indicators, but they have more merit than they might appear on face value, Perry said -- especially since during his campaign, Mr. Trump chided Obama for playing so much golf and said he wouldn't have time for such leisurely activities. 

Mr. Trump clearly outpaces his predecessors in terms of the number of days he he has spent away from Washington at a private residence. Mr. Trump has made seven visits spanning 25 days to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, preferring his private club over the closer and ostensibly less-expensive Camp David in Maryland. 

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That isn't to say other presidents didn't get away much -- just not so much in their first 100 days. Bush, for instance, spent a total of 533 days --  nearly a year and a half -- either at his Crawford, Texas, ranch or his parents' home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

But Greenberg said things like days spent golfing or away from the White House matter more to the Washington press corps than the public, and don't correlate with more or less effective presidencies.

"It's the kind of thing that the White House press corps notices because they're the ones traveling or not traveling with him, but in terms of getting work done or translating into accomplishment or lack of accomplishment, I think it's pretty insignificant," Greenberg said.


CBSN Originals recently returned to Erie, Pennsylvania to reconnect with locals who hoped a fresh approach in Washington would bring about change in their struggling home town. Airing on May 21 at 8 p.m. EST, "America | Redefining Hope" looks at how that hope has evolved.

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.