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High Tempo: Assessing the Pace of the Trump Presidency

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
Image: President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn after returning to the White House, April 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn after returning to the White House, April 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.Olivier Douliery / Pool via Getty Images

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

The pace of the Trump presidency

It’s Day 85 of Trump’s presidency. And as busy as each news cycle has been, sometimes it may feel more like Day 885. It’s not just you: Trump is plowing through some — but not all — of the most dramatic headlines of a new presidency at a faster clip than his predecessors. (The big exception? A seminal legislative win.) From Neil Gorsuch, to the health care debacle, to Syria, to the speculation about a West Wing inner circle shakeup, it’s been a very quick tempo. Here’s where Trump stands in comparison to Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on some of the milestones — good, bad and ugly.

First Supreme Court Justice confirmed

  • Trump – April 7, 2017 (Day 78)
  • Obama – August 6, 2009 (Day 199)
  • Bush – September 29, 2005 (Day 1714 – second term)
  • Clinton – August 3, 1993 (Day 196)

First major legislative defeat

  • Trump – House calls off vote on health care bill – March 24, 2017 (Day 64)
  • Obama – Senate votes overwhelmingly to block Obama’s plans to close Gitmo – May 20, 2009 (Day 121)
  • Bush – Senate scales back Bush’s tax cut plan by $450 billion – April 6, 2001 (Day 77)
  • Clinton – Senate abandons Clinton’s jobs and spending bill – April 21, 1993 (Day 92)

First major legislative victory

  • Trump – TBD
  • Obama – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“Stimulus bill”) – February 17, 2009 (Day 29)
  • Bush – Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (“Bush tax cut”) – June 7, 2001 (Day 139)
  • Clinton – Family and Medical Leave Act – February 5, 1993 (Day 16)

First high-profile U.S. military operation targeting a foreign nation

  • Trump - U.S. missile airstrike on Syrian airfield – April 6, 2017 (Day 77)
  • Obama – U.S. and allies open assault against the government of Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi – March 19, 2011 (Day 789)
  • Bush – U.S. and British aircraft bomb Iraqi radar and anti-aircraft sites near Baghdad – February 16, 2001 (Day 28)
  • Clinton – U.S. missile airstrike on Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters in retaliation for an apparent plot to assassinate former President Bush – June 26, 1993 (Day 158)

Yes, the circumstances for each president were different as they arrived in office. And it’s particularly tricky to draw parallels on the foreign policy front, where each president inherited a complex world with plenty of existing entanglements. (Our list doesn’t include the early counterterror operations and more minor skirmishes each president had to deal with earlier in their tenure.) But still, Trump has managed to pack a legacy-making victory (his Supreme Court nomination), a damaging legislative catastrophe (health care), a series of major national security decisions and a pretty spectacular array of palace intrigue stories into his first 100 days.

All eyes on North Korea

And speaking of high-stakes decisions, we’re heading into Easter weekend with signs pointing to a possible North Korean nuclear test within days. NBC’s investigative team reports that the U.S. could launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons if North Korea reaches for the nuclear trigger. “Intelligence officials told NBC News that the U.S. has positioned two destroyers capable of shooting Tomahawk cruise missiles in the region, one just 300 miles from the North Korean nuclear test site,” NBC reports. “American heavy bombers are also positioned in Guam to attack North Korea should it be necessary, and earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group was being diverted to the area.”

We don’t know how the famously unpredictable North Korean regime will react, and the U.S.’s move risks provoking a much wider conflict. On the other hand, dissuading North Korea from a nuclear demonstration this way would be a first. “It's a feat that we've never achieved before,” a senior intelligence official tells NBC News, “but there is a new sense of resolve here.”

The “Mother of All Bombs”

As there were after Trump’s Syria strike last week, there are some important questions remaining in the wake of the U.S. move to use a GBU-43, nicknamed the "mother of all bombs," against ISIS in eastern Afghanistan yesterday. Asked about the strike, Trump said: “Everybody knows exactly what happened. So — what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing, and frankly that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.” NBC’s Courtney Kube reports that Trump didn’t need to personally authorize the strike, since the military already had authorization for ISIS strikes in Afghanistan from the Obama era. But did Trump specifically encourage this kind of move? Why this weapon? What does “total authorization” mean? And of course, this decision targeted ISIS, but it’s hard not to see how it’s not also a message to North Korea as well.

Shutdown Watch

Here’s your end-of-the-week reminder that the current government spending bill expires on April 28. And shutdown politics just got a bit more interesting, with Democrats saying they will insist on including funding for a key Obamacare subsidy program in the next spending bill — just a day after Trump threatened to nix the program entirely and likely fatally undermine the law. There are plenty of potential stumbling blocks between now and shutdown deadline day, and the fight over health care will make the path to a funded government even more complicated.

Trump’s Day

The president is in Mar-a-Lago for the weekend and has no public events planned.

What were other presidents doing on April 14?

  • Barack Obama delivers a speech defending his administration’s moves to shore up the economy
  • George W. Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, says the administration “isn’t disengaging from anywhere” around the world
  • Bill Clinton addresses a summer jobs conference in suburban Virginia
  • George H.W. Bush and congressional leaders announce a deal for a $28 billion deficit-reduction plan
  • Ronald Reagan welcomes Columbia astronauts home from their space voyage
  • Jimmy Carter scraps a plan to send $50 tax rebates to Americans due to a better-than-expected economic recovery