STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
As President Trump nears a milestone, ending his first hundred days in office, some of our listeners have questions, questions like these.
LOUIS DE GRUY: Hello. My name is Louis De Gruy in Dayton, Ohio, and I actually have two questions for you. My first question - when did people start using the first 100 days of a term as a benchmark for a president? And my second question - is the president's productivity during the first 100 days an accurate indicator for productivity during the rest of the term? Thank you very much. Bye.
INSKEEP: You're welcome, Mr. De Gruy. And we have just the person to ask. Each week, you Ask Cokie, Cokie Roberts, about politics and how the government works.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So when did this hundred days thing start?
ROBERTS: Well, it started with Franklin Roosevelt. He came in in the depths of the Depression with people just desperate for something, and he knew that and said it in his inaugural address.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: This nation is asking for action and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.
ROBERTS: And he did. He - in those first hundred days, he called Congress into a special session that lasted just about a hundred days and passed 15 major, major pieces of legislation that essentially changed the role of the federal government in American life. And Congress was willing to do anything that he wanted because they were desperate. Will Rogers joked that Congress just waved at bills as they flew by rather than passing them.
INSKEEP: But there's the other question there from Mr. De Gruy - is that first hundred days a good indicator for how well a president is doing or has done?
ROBERTS: Well, obviously, it's different for different presidents. It was a predictor for FDR and then Lyndon Johnson, who also expanded the government with his Great Society. But John Kennedy was saddled with the Bay of Pigs fiasco in his first hundred days. So even though we know it's not always indicative, it's - the president is just stuck with it. And the main reason for that is because we consider it a honeymoon period. This should be his peak of ability to get something through the Congress, and it can be all downhill from there.
So presidents know they have to deal with it. On his hundredth day, George W. Bush invited all 535 members of Congress to lunch. And Barack Obama had a primetime news conference to tout his accomplishments.
INSKEEP: They're always trying to promote the hundred days, which leads to our next question.
BETHANY: This is Bethany from Indianapolis, Ind. Which presidents are thought to have had the most successful first 100 days?
ROBERTS: Well, I'd say FDR still holds the trophy. But Ike affected a prisoner exchange - President Eisenhower - with North Korea, which set the groundwork for the armistice ending the Korean War. And LBJ knew that the Congress was going to be sympathetic following the assassination of President Kennedy, so he pushed civil rights and the war on poverty. And even Kennedy - even though we look at his first hundred days as something of a disaster, at the time, the public did not see it that way. They rallied round him after that Bay of Pigs disaster and gave him an 83 percent approval rating versus only 5 percent who disapproved. I think those are numbers that President Trump would kill for.
INSKEEP: Oh, I would think just about any president would.
INSKEEP: We have one more question here. Let's listen.
KYLE PERKINS: Hi. My name is Kyle Perkins from Syracuse, N.Y. And I was wondering, given that President Trump seems to idolize the late President Ronald Reagan, how does President Trump's first a hundred days compare to President Reagan's? Thanks.
ROBERTS: Well, I covered Reagan's first 100 days, and it was a whirlwind. You didn't even know where to be in the Capitol on any given day. He had the American hostages released on his Inauguration Day.
INSKEEP: Oh, from Iran - that's right.
ROBERTS: Yes. So it was - it just gave him even more impetus. And then of course, the most dramatic thing was he was shot. But that also raised his popularity among the public. But you know, Ronald Reagan had for years had a very simple philosophy that he had articulated over and over again about a smaller government. And he proposed massive tax cuts, massive budget cuts and massive defense spending increases. And much to the amazement of a lot of people, he got them all through in that first year. Donald Trump has just never had that kind of philosophy. And so other than talking about the border wall, he hasn't talked about something specific that he really wants done.
INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much.
ROBERTS: Good to be with you.
INSKEEP: We've asked Cokie once again on this Tuesday morning. And you can Ask Cokie how politics and the government work by emailing us at email@example.com or by tweeting us with the hashtag #AskCokie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.