Congressman and Jackson School affiliate faculty member Jim McDermott sat in his new office at the University of Washington tapping away at a keyboard and trying to make headway on the talk he is to present Tuesday.
McDermott’s Tuesday speech to the UW community, titled “Behind the Scenes: The President’s First 100 Days,” covers what would seem like an easy topic for the retired congressman, who spent 14 terms representing Washington state’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his time in Washington, D.C., McDermott served with four American presidents through their full terms in office.
“I’m sitting here, and it’s overwhelming trying to write it,” he said on Thursday, a few days before his talk is scheduled. “All the norms I’m accustomed to are blown, gone away.”
“The first 100 days” is a term coined by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that refers to a measure of a president’s success at a time his political power and influence are strongest. Typically, McDermott would discuss a president-elect’s campaign promises, a feasible timeline for getting those promises through Congress and the process of political compromise. The incoming presidency of Donald Trump has upended those norms McDermott is accustomed to and has also made it difficult to predict the success or failure of Trump’s first 100 days.
The issue boils down to power — who has it, and how it’s welded, McDermott said. “I don’t work for the president as a congressman. I work with him. And this guy thinks of us as his employees: ‘You will go out there and do this.’”
The balance of power may be subtle, McDermott said, but it’s there, and the president-elect’s refusal to recognize Washington’s political norms may add roadblocks to the path of realizing his campaign promises.
“What you’re going to see is a lot of foot-dragging, and you’re seeing it already,” McDermott said. He expects many of Trump’s promises to take a while getting through Congress, if they get through at all. The promised health care repeal, which has seen preliminary action in Congress, may take as long as April as lawmakers hem and haw over alternatives and timelines. As for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico: “Do you think he’s going to have his wall built,” McDermott asked, “and the Mexicans agree to pay for it?”
Tuesday’s public discussion kicks off a six-week symposium led by McDermott for graduate students at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. The symposium will track the opening weeks of Trump’s presidency, allowing students to explore the complexities of a new president taking office and to analyze early policy decisions and their implications. “I’m hoping to set the framework in the first talk, and we’ll follow it down the road,” McDermott said.
The Tuesday talk is open to the public and begins at 7 p.m. in Room 220 of Kane Hall, with a reception and light refreshments to follow. The event is sponsored by the University of Washington’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and Center for Global Studies.