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Evaluating Trump's First 100 Days With A Former White House Staffer


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Scott Simon is away. Donald Trump is fast approaching his 100th day as president. That's a milestone that's long been used to evaluate a young administration's successes and setbacks. Thomas Mack McLarty knows this as well as anyone. He was Bill Clinton's first chief of staff in 1993. He joins me now. Welcome to our program.

THOMAS MCLARTY: Linda, delighted to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: Now, take us back to your first 100 days in the White House. Candidate Clinton told Americans that he would have the most productive first 100 days of any modern president. So when did reality set in?

MCLARTY: Immediately.


MCLARTY: I think it does for every president, Linda. Once you're sworn in as president, the somber responsibilities of the office are squarely before you.

WERTHEIMER: Now, within those first few months, first lady Hillary Clinton took on health care reform but didn't get anywhere. Your budget director criticized the president - your own budget director - for picking the wrong battles, meaning health care. Did you feel at this point that you had a coherent message going, you were just missing on some cylinders?

MCLARTY: Linda, I think we had our share of foibles and slips. I think, in our case, the Republicans had been in the White House for 12 years, so there was a lot - that was a big change. I think, though, I would probably reconstruct history I think a little more specifically in a different way. We focused on our economic plan. That's what is really critical in any administration is to sequence your legislative agenda and your priorities. And then we passed the North American Free Trade Agreement because it had a time limit on it in the fall, and then health care was I think, perhaps, introduced at the end of the first year but really didn't come into full swing until 1994. And then about September, I believe, is when it look liked health care would not pass.

WERTHEIMER: The big blow up on gays in the military began shortly after the election before you were even in the White House. And it ended in a battle between the Joint Chiefs, Republicans in Congress and conservative Democrats. Those were certainly some of the most colorful days in your early part of your administration.

MCLARTY: Social issues always have a lot of emotion in them. But the real point in the first 100 days - it's very easy for a president to get thrown off his message and his agenda. Not only do you have issues like the one you just cited, which was a distraction, it was controversial, but I think even more fundamental is you're always going to have some UFOs. And I don't mean foreign objects or aliens. What I mean is unforeseen occurrences as we've seen with the sarin gas in Syria. In our case, we were confronted with North Korea shortly after the first 100 days. President Trump is now being confronted with it. So you have all of these issues that you have to deal with. But all the while, you're trying to keep your eyes on the proverbial prize and move your agenda forward.

WERTHEIMER: So what would you say to your counterpart and the Trump administration, what would you say to them about looking out for this early period?

MCLARTY: I think they have to really be focused on their agenda. The loss on health care for the Trump administration was a big setback. So I think they've got to steady the ship. I think every president comes to grips with reality of governing. You have more information, so you have to tack and change and be flexible, but you have to do that in a way that you communicate with your constituency and the American public more broadly. And I would also hope that there's some possibility for bipartisan cooperation. We've certainly had that lacking in a number of years now. So that would be my advice and counsel.

WERTHEIMER: Mack McLarty was President Bill Clinton's first chief of staff. He now runs a consulting firm, McLarty Associates. Thank you so much.

MCLARTY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.