Video: First 100 days

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updated 5/2/2005 9:03:47 PM ET 2005-05-03T01:03:47

President Bush has reached an important milestone— the end of the first 100 days of his second term. Not that many presidents have had second terms, and not that many have had terrific first hundred days. 

It’s a benchmark that dates back to FDR. In 1933, while facing the Great Depression and massive unemployment, FDR said that he would introduce drastic new policies in a hundred days. He did, and the term “First Hundred Days” stuck.

Second term 100 days in history
But at the start of his second term, Roosevelt’s ambitious efforts to pack the Supreme Court were ridiculed and rejected, thus beginning the “mixed” report card for presidents in the first hundred days of a second term.

In the modern era, Ronald Reagan wanted to focus on tax cuts and a new partnership with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Eventually, Reagan made progress with both. But in 1985, Reagan’s Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan was forced to resign and stand trial on fraud charges. And then, the Reagan White House announced a trip to a German military cemetery with the president making a controversy over Nazi guards even worse. The cloud over this was soon overshadowed by damage from the Iran contra scandal. In violation of congressional law, the Reagan White house had authorized payments to the rebels in Nicaragua. The scandal dominated Reagan’s second term.

President Clinton’s second term was dominated by the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment. But Clinton’s first hundred days were a success.  The Clinton White House focused on a budget deal with the Republican-led Congress that combined tax cuts and reductions in spending. And at the end of the hundred days, with the stock market booming and unemployment low, Clinton balanced the budget even sooner. But there were signs of trouble for his presidency in other ways. The Whitewater investigation was gaining steam... and that meant new energy for independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

What about President Bush?
So what does the hundred day benchmark mean for President Bush?

The president’s plan for Social Security is floundering, and historians point to his political position. The president’s approval rating stands at 45 percent, far below where Presidents Clinton and Reagan were at the same point in their second terms.  Complicating matters for President Bush is that his entire agenda is exceptionally ambitious.

But, historians note that without any brewing scandals or long-term distractions, President Bush has something of an advantage over his predecessors as he pivots from the first 100 days to the rest of his second term. 

David Shuster reports for Hardball, which airs weeknights, 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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