May 13, 2021

Podcast: An Overview of the Biden Administration's First 100 Days in Office

Eyes on Washington Podcast Series - The First 100 Days of the Biden Administration
Rich Gold, Devin Barrett, Ron Klein, Jim Davis, Tom Davis, Tom Reynolds Headshots

In the final episode of our Public Policy & Regulation Group's "The First 100 Days of the Biden Administration" podcast series, Practice Group Leader Rich Gold and Public Affairs Advisor Devin Barrett invite four former Congressmen from both sides of the aisle to recap the start of the new presidency. Ron Klein, Jim Davis, Tom Davis and Tom Reynolds provide a general overview of what the Biden Administration has accomplished so far through several different lenses. This bipartisan panel looks at tangible successes based on what campaign promises President Biden made, notable achievements in the context of COVID-19 and how the accomplishments of this administration stack up to those of prior administrations at the same 100 day milestone. Each attorney also designates a letter grade to the Biden Administration's first 100 days as a whole and provides a brief prediction as to whether the infamous infrastructure bill, a recurring roadblock in previous presidencies, will see the light of day in Congress. 


Podcast Transcript

Rich Gold: Welcome to our Holland & Knight Eyes on Washington podcast with a review of the first 100 days of the Biden Administration. We are very pleased to have you all joining us, and we've got four former members of Congress here with us today, Ron Klein and Jim Davis from the Democratic side. I guess we'll call that the left right now. And Tom Davis and Tom Reynolds from the right hand side, or at least the moderate middle right hand side to the right hand side. And I'm very lucky to be joined by Devin Barrett with us today from Holland & Knight as well. So we wanted to kind of take a look at the Biden Administration, what the first 100 days looked like, how it compared to previous administration beginnings, obviously, including the Trump and Obama Administrations, and then what we have to look forward to moving forward based on those first 100 days. So, Devin, let me let me kick it over to you to kind of get started on the Q&A and we'll go from there.

Biden's First 100 Days vs. Previous Administration's First 100 Days

Devin Barrett: It's great to be here with all of you guys. Kicking off with the first part, how does this administration's first 100 days compare to past administrations? Obviously looking at the most immediate, you have the Trump Administration comparison, but looking back to the Clinton Administration, Bush Administration, what are your guys perspectives on that and how it compares to past administrations?

Rich Gold and Devin Barrett Zoom Screenshot

Jim Davis: I'll start by saying that I think the most easy comparison is to the first term of President Obama, where he inherited a huge economic mess, regardless of who you want to give credit or blame to. But I think the better analogy is that President Biden came in almost akin to a wartime president. The COVID was raging, we were behind and in disarray in terms of vaccine distribution and public safety, not to mention the free fall in the economy. And I think as we discuss it today, regardless of our views, a lot of the focus has been on exactly those two issues, that it really has been a laser focus.

Tom Davis: First of all, in terms of being wartime, the war was basically on its way out when President Biden came in because we had the vaccines set, we had preliminary approval from the areas, the economy starting to open up. But he has, I think, taken a victory lap on moving his CARES package through the Congress on a party line vote, but moving it through. I think he gets credit for what he was elected to do, and that is move us to the next step on COVID and CARES and getting us into opening up the economy again. He's also had extensive use of executive orders. We've seen this now exceeding each new president coming in, putting more and more executive orders. Most of these canceling out executive orders that President Trump had done, so when President Trump took out the pen President Biden has now used the eraser on things from the Paris Climate Accord, the XL Pipeline, gender in the military and the like. In short, he's done what he said he would do. And so I think from that extension, he's had a pretty good 90 days in terms of executing what he said he would do. There are political ramifications of this downstream, I think he's got a tough 90 days ahead, but I think for the first 90 days, he gets good marks.

Ron Klein and Jim Davis Zoom Screenshot

Ron Klein: It's Ron Klein. We'll just go Democrat, Republican, Democrat, Republican for a second here. So I'll just pick up a little bit a little bit of what Jim Davis said. And that is whether they call a wartime president, whatever it may be. I would say the big difference this time around is he inherited not only the COVID problem, the economy obviously struggling, but a really deeply divided country. I mean, when Obama won, obviously, it may have been disappointing to a lot of people that he won and a lot of people were happy about it. But it was a little more of a slightly more normal environment at that time. Partisanship was, of course, already pretty much in place. But this is extraordinary. I mean, the election was set up as a very, very hard partisan edge. The country, even our personal relationships, are frayed because of people's views one way or another on Donald Trump. So, he probably was the only guy who could come in and beat Donald Trump because he had sort of a grandfatherly sort of, hey, 'let's come together,' and he was authentic. He had lived the life and behaved a certain way over the years in a bipartisan way, I'm sure we're going to talk about that in a minute, but I think he really came in and won a close election on that basis. I think to Tom and Jim's point, the first 100 days is all about expectations. And although it may be an artificial timeline line that's put out by the media or by candidates or opponents or whatever it is to measure, he set this up as his 100 days was going to be 100 million shots and ended up being 215 million. It's all about trying to get things back to normal. People are, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, they want to get back to normalcy. And this is not a flip the switch on or off kind of 'oh we hit a certain point it's all normal again,' it's not. It's going to take time and may even take years for us to get back to what we have pre-COVID. I think he does get reasonably good marks for promising certain things on that level and begin to get the economy with the bill and check some people's pockets back up and running.

Tom Reynolds: I just want to put out a little bit of a comparison between the Clinton Administration, which started late in putting together their pieces for the transition just based on the president's superstition of measuring the drapes. And so he really had a mess that kind of launched his 100 days, the Bush Cheney with Cheney as vice president, but also ahead of the transition had a pretty organized approach, adding Andy Card, who had been in Bush 41's administration. Obama's organization under Podesta was a good structured organization and it helped launch Obama's 100 days. When you look at Trump, it was unorganized. It was lay, it shifted gears. And so when you now look at the Biden Administration, I think it's the best of all of them. It was organized. It was very disciplined. And if you look, both Democrats and Republicans have given high marks to what had been a starting early transition that just launched him for the one 100 days. There were 1,100 political appointees sworn in on day one. And I think Tom Davis talked about the executive orders that were 42 executive orders in the first 100 days, which exceeded even Trump who was 33 and Obama who signed 19 and George Bush who signed 11. So, he has been able to launch that with a signature item of what he was able to do on the COVID package earlier in the start of his administration.

Tom Davis and Tom Reynolds Zoom Screenshot

Notable Accomplishments and Shortfalls as of Day 100

Rich Gold: So let me ask you guys on the sort of what got done, what didn't get done, what do you think is sort of most powerful in the accomplishments column and what most concerns you or where do you think sort of the biggest fall short is so far?

Jim Davis: I think you've got to go to the vaccine distribution, Rich, and working with this White House after the election, they inherited a system they may not have necessarily set up, that each governor had a lot of prerogative and they stuck with it and sort of soldiered through it. And the statistics speak for themselves today, particularly among the most vulnerable populations in terms of vaccination rate. Still a lot left to be done, a lot of the harder stuff that needs to be done. But, it's contributed to saving lives, quality of life, and certainly affected the economy. So I think that's what I would give them a lot of credit for. And I would also say there's been a level of discipline by President Biden, both personally and as president that nobody had ever seen before. Now, on the down side to Ron Klein's point, this president clearly campaigned to bring the country together, and that is going to be a Herculean task. I think Washington is the last place you'll see bipartisanship. I think you'll see it sooner among mayors, governors and citizens. And the other area I would cite to you, is the problem at the border, which I know that Tom Reynolds and Tom Davis are going to talk about. I do believe that, that problem has been worse than Biden Administration anticipated. They knew it was going to be tough. They've inherited some things they're having to deal with. But I think that has been a big challenge and will continue to be a big challenge in terms of the president's focus and his agenda.

This president clearly campaigned to bring the country together, and that is going to be a Herculean task. I think Washington is the last place you'll see bipartisanship. I think you'll see it sooner among mayors, governors and citizens.

Rich Gold: Tom or Tom, thoughts?

Tom Reynolds: One of the things I've noted that this president did during his campaign, his advisers tracked his promises that he made as a way to formulate an early agenda for him. And so as he entered office, they viewed the coronavirus the most important that would be judged: vaccinations, school reopenings and mask mandates. But he's got a long list of other promises and what he has outlined that he'd like to get done. Much, as Tom Davis said, in this next 100 days, that will be telling what happens and many presidents have been plagued over the summer of their first year in office. So he's got climate change, gun control, tax policy, ending the foreign wars, which he's put on the mark now for September and immigration, as Jim you alluded to.

Ron Klein: Tom, I think that's a good point. Listen, COVID obviously is the big marker and there's a lot of things related it's not just the shots. It's getting schools open. I mean, if you think about what really affects people, voters, families, people are really paying attention, they're not paying attention to politics, it's just how is their life affected, child care to families so that they can go back to work. These are big things that are part of the big bill that passed. It didn't pass on a partisan basis, but it passed and put $1,400 into people's pockets, it's probably provided more stimulus for the economy, you know, rent - people weren't evicted. These are things that really disrupt people's lives, not having cash to buy the necessities, whether it's food or anything else being thrown out of an apartment - more stability. I think, it's not a headline story, but it's certainly something that people pay attention to. I think the climate issue, climate and making climate an economic issue as opposed to what all of us, as members of Congress have been through forever, it's either you do something the environment and it's bad for the economy, or you do something for the economy and it's bad for the environment. That's a ridiculous conversation, but it's been the conversation forever and he's now talking about it. And saying, 'hey, we can do things that are good for the climate that create jobs, jobs that are based in the United States.' That's real and I think that's something that he put on the top order. But I think in terms of immigration, he didn't inherit it, but it certainly is not a good thing and I don't think they're properly prepared for it.

Tom Davis: I would just say that he promised to get COVID resolved. He is, I think, going beyond expectations on that. He inherited a good situation. And you've got to remember that Operation Warp Speed made a lot of this available. But I think he's exceeded expectations, starting with the distribution, buying more vaccine and now putting the country in a situation where we can help other countries with it. So I think he gets very high marks on that. And if there was one overarching issue in the campaign, it was probably that, that elected him outside of the fact that I think people were tired of Donald Trump in their living rooms and just wanted a change and get somebody else and get no drama around it. I think the border has been a real problem for him. I think he's been ideologically divided in terms of some of the things that need to be done there, give him his base. He's done a good job in uniting the Democratic base, which has been very disparate. The media has talked a lot about the fissures in the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has the same fissures and you've got to unite that before you can govern. And so he has been able to keep them united at this point, even as the country remains divided. Now ahead of him he's got this infrastructure bill. I think he's got some possibilities there to get a piece of that done in a bipartisan way. I don't think he can continue to move through on a party line vote in a number of these issues. There's too many complications with taxes and the environment.

I think he's exceeded expectations, starting with the distribution, buying more vaccine and now putting the country in a situation where we can help other countries with it. So I think he gets very high marks on that.

Infrastructure Outlook

Devin Barrett: You guys have kind of brought this up, looking at some of the accomplishments that the administration has taken on so far, but kind of pivoting to Congress what measures or revenues do you guys think Congress is going to be able to move to, especially as you're building upon what the administration has already done, but some of the gaps are shortfalls we're seeing in the context of immigration or infrastructure or climate. What do you guys see is happening moving forward?

Tom Davis: Let me start if I can, on infrastructure. It's been the bugaboo for several presidencies, they have just not been able to move it through since President Obama moved the party line infrastructure revitalization bill through in the first days of his administration. There have been attempts to do that. Number one, they brought back earmarks. This makes it attractive to get members to vote for this. You have a huge gap right now on what is defined as infrastructure. I think that will be refined. But if you go back to the bricks and mortar and those kind of basic things, I think there will be Republican buy-in and some of them will vote for some revenue increases. I think he's more likely, than not, to be able to get an abbreviated bill through on a bipartisan basis and then maybe come back if he thinks he can put the votes together and do it through the reconciliation party line process. But although America needs it, we've wanted it for a long time, Presidents haven't been able to get this through in over a decade and it's badly needed. So I think the table is set for him if he's willing to compromise. The White House has signaled they are, for at least a part of that. I think that's going to be the next battle through Congress. There are a number of Republicans now that have said they'll step up and vote for some revenue enhancement measures if we keep it, if we define infrastructure more narrowly, as traditional infrastructure: highways, bridges, those kind of things.

You have a huge gap right now on what is defined as infrastructure. I think that will be refined. But if you go back to the bricks and mortar and those kind of basic things, I think there will be Republican buy-in and some of them will vote for some revenue increases.

Jim Davis: Let me agree with plenty of what Tom Davis just said. I think the key is going to be how you pay for this bill, but that is a much tougher issue than what you put in the bill. I think President Biden will probably achieve some unanimity moving the country forward on broadband, for example, being treated as infrastructure, whereas five or 10, 15 years ago, we would not thought about that as core infrastructure. But I think the defining aspect of this next bill, the American Jobs Plan and the balance that has to be struck in the White House is, to what extent are you willing to reduce the size and impact of the bill in return for building unity? And this will be a game of inches and it ultimately is about the size of the bill and what goes into the bill and President Biden's ability to negotiate, frankly, one by one with key senators like Senator Toomey, Senator Portman and others who desperately need infrastructure for their states and can go home and defend a tax increase that they may have voted to as a tax cut and promised in the past. So this is what the summer is going to be about. And this will be a test of President Biden's ability to both work with his colleagues in the Senate and also ultimately produce something that is impactful in terms of people's lives, which is one of the promises he made to deliver during these next two years,

Tom Reynolds: I often think about the phrase 'Presidents propose and Congress disposes.' And what we're seeing has been outlined by my colleagues as to what the president has put out, the dialogue going among Democrats and Republicans. Everybody wants infrastructure. Nobody wants to pay for it. We have not seen Ways and Means or Senate Finance clearly come forward with their ideas of how to pay for what is roughly four trillion dollars on the table for consideration. We have seen good dialogue with Senator Capito as the lead in dialogue with the Biden Administration on infrastructure, but is closer to what Tom Davis outlined as more traditional infrastructure that we would relate to bridges, roads and other infrastructure items. And so we've got a long ways to go and I think this debate is going to go quite a while because we have not even seen leadership of the majorities in the House and the Senate lay out how they're going to tackle this. Is this going to be one bill is it going to be multiple bills? What about the debt ceiling? How is this all going to get packaged into the name of some sort of an infrastructure bill or jobs program? And so we've got a long ways to go. Congress is not unified even on this Senate Democratic majority, to have 50 votes for whatever options reconciliation could do, let alone looking at how we're getting to the fact of a compromise, because what the Republicans have put out is far less than what the Biden Administration would like to see done on infrastructure.

Everybody wants infrastructure. Nobody wants to pay for it... We've got a long ways to go and I think this debate is going to go quite a while because we have not even seen leadership of the majorities in the House and the Senate lay out how they're going to tackle this.

Ron Klein: Well, first, I want to point out that you have two Democrats and two Republicans who get along famously at Holland & Knight, first of all, and obviously have a lot in common the way we're even presenting our answers here. But I guess maybe the operative word is former members, as opposed to the current people that can't seem to find their way together. I think what's been said is correct. This is complicated. The transportation infrastructure bill has always been roads and bridges because half the Congress, the Republican side in the past, had signed this Grover Norquist - we can't raise taxes or fees no matter what. We couldn't even raise the gas tax five cents. I mean, I'm not sure anybody would even know when ExxonMobil raises it or lowers it five, six, seven cents one way or another. But we couldn't even do that as a matter of policy to pay for this stuff. And now we've moved on in many ways beyond just gasoline because we can be electric cars and that's going to impact how much revenue could even be raised by the gas tax, so those are factors that have to be paid for. I think where Biden has taken the conversation, which I think is the right way to go, is this isn't just about roads and bridges and airports and rail. That is all part of it and we all understand that. But it is about, I think some already said this, broadband, and it's broadband in rural areas. You've got a coalition of urban cities that don't have access to broadband, totally exposed by COVID, where kids had to be at home. They couldn't they couldn't even access a computer or couldn't even access Internet services. So inner city and large parts of our country which have no rural broadband. So that's a nice fit where you bring probably many Republicans, Democrats together on common ground on that. How about hardening of utilities? What happened in Texas and all over the United States? These are big infrastructure issues that really keep our economy going, whether it's training people or getting them to work every day. So I think those are big issues. The tax piece of it, how much they paid for, what kind of numbers they use, whether it's just corporate tax or individual income taxes for people who earn over $400,000, how they play that out is obviously a long ways to go. But I think there will be pieces of the American Family Act - could be childcare, could be earned income tax credit - I think there will be some bipartisan pieces that come together here eventually. I think Jim said game of inches and it is, but hard fought negotiations coming. I think the country is ready for it.

Rich Gold: Why don't we try and get down to the granular. Five second answers here. So if we go down the road here, give me a grade: ABCDF for the first 100 days and then give me a prediction, are we going to get an infrastructure bill here? Let's leave aside the scope scale and what pays for it in the next one 100 days. So let's start out with Tom Reynolds. What's your grade and what's your prediction?

Tom Reynolds: I think the president got an A for the first 100 days based on the organizational aspect of what he put out. I do not believe we will see legislation that is passed by the Congress and signed by the president in the next 100 days. As we look at his jobs program, this is going to go far into the later in the year.

Ron Klein: I would give him an A for execution for the first 100 days. I mean, not everything is perfect, but I think it was extremely well orchestrated, well organized good job on that. I do think we're going have an infrastructure bill that's not going to be what's out there on the table right now, it's going to be some scaled down version. It may pass by reconciliation eventually and it may go all the way toward the end of the year and get bottled up with an appropriations bill or whatever else. But I do think we're going to do it.

Tom Davis: I give him an A-. I think on the organizational side, what he said he'd do and what he's done, he's done very, very well with very few hiccups outside of the border, which I think has gotten away from him. I think we're going to get an infrastructure bill. I think it will be scaled down. I think it will be phase one. And the Democrats can come back if they want, with a different kind of infrastructure bill and have their vote and campaign on it. But it's not likely to go through on a party line. 

Jim Davis: Another A. I just want to say one more time, we're seeing a remarkable level of discipline from both this president and the way the White House, the administration is running. And I believe that will continue. So that's why I also agree with Tom Davis and Ron Klein that more likely than not, we will see an infrastructure bill before the August recess.

The Biden Administration's 100 Day Report Card

 

Overall Grade

Infrastructure Bill?

Tom Reynolds

A

No

Ron Klein

A

Yes

Tom Davis

A-

Yes

Jim Davis

A

Yes

 

Status Update: Staffing and Other Political Appointments

Devin Barrett: All right. So I guess we can end on big picture staffing with the agencies and action that he's taken. Do you guys see any shortfalls, at least from the staffing perspective? Where you're not seeing some appointments go through or just things some slow down as far as appointments or anything in the space - trade, foreign affairs or anything like that?

Jim Davis: I'd say a couple of things. Discipline means making trade-offs. I think one of the trade-offs has been the State Department. This administration is running a little behind on ambassadorship appointments, because it has not been a higher priority than getting Treasury together to work on tax proposals, getting DOT together to work on transportation issues, also dealing with the COVID. I also think this is an area where the president is going to be very hands on in terms of making personal decisions. We haven't talked about it much today, but this is also a very significant priority for this president, which is to reengage globally as far as being part of a leader with our allies and finding ways to start working with countries we ignored or repudiated in the past.

Tom Davis: I would just say for the president, he's got to be thankful he's got 50 Democrats in the Senate or this transition would have been much, much more difficult moving his appointees through. He would have been subject to a lot of vetoes by the Republicans. As a result, they've gotten a number of bipartisan votes on their nominees. I think they're moving those through really pretty quickly, given the change in rules and everything that you've got going on.

Ron Klein: I think that one thing we didn't really point out, but it's worth pointing out, is he promised a diverse cabinet, a cabinet with a lot of different backgrounds and experiences; he got it. He followed through on that. It's not just a question of putting different faces or backgrounds on it, it's talented people. I think he accomplished that and he showed that you can do that and I think that's a positive thing for the country. He said it was going to look like the country. It does. Now, those are the top people in the cabinet, the secretaries and other positions. I think he's got a long way to go, as all presidents do. There's a lot of positions to fill, but I think it's correct to say that if they require political confirmations and you have 50 votes, which is not a lot to spare, but for the most part, you can move it along at a pace.

Tom Reynolds: As he gets the confirmations done, I think we're going to see what he can do in the courts. We're going to see some judicial nominees coming forward and the Senate looking to try to confirm those to begin to put a Democratic aspect to the courts under the Biden Administration. I think that'll start moving and the continuation of the other appointments. And to Jim's point on the State Department. This president wants to go back to a more traditional career ambassadorships with some political appointments, but less than what the Trump Administration did. I think he's sorting through that as he continues to rebuild the State Department in the vision he wants it in the global matters.

Rich Gold: On behalf of myself and Devin Barrett, I want to thank Ron Klein, Jim Davis, Tom Reynolds and Tom Davis for joining us today, giving us their perspectives as former members of Congress on the first 100 days and the pathway going forward on infrastructure and taxes. Thanks for joining us today and join us again soon on our next Holland & Knight Eyes on Washington podcast.

For more on Biden's First 100 Days in office, listen to the previous four podcasts in the series covering Healthcare Priorities and Landscape, the Digital Economy and Tax and COVID-19 Vaccinations.

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