LYNN NEARY, host:
This Wednesday will mark the 100th day President Barack Obama has been in office. The president has taken on his job at a tough time in history. The economy is in a recession, the country's involved in two wars. And yet he remains popular. This week NPR will be airing stories each day that measure the president's progress in key areas against the goals he set for this presidency.
The series is called Benchmarking Obama. And joining us now from KQED in San Francisco to talk about it are NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson and senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Good to have you both with us.
MARA LIASSON: Good to be here.
RON ELVING: Good morning, Lynn.
NEARY: Mara, let's start with you. I mean, there's been so much said already about this milestone in the media. But, really, what is the significance of the 100 days?
LIASSON: At the White House they say it's like one of those Hallmark holidays. Everybody feels compelled to celebrate it, but it really has not meaning. I mean, it stems from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had this storied 100 days of frenzied activity to deal with the Great Depression.
But I really think it was given new life by Bill Clinton, who explicitly promised to have the most active and productive 100 days since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Barack Obama has never mentioned the word 100 days. He's never set that as a benchmark for himself. But since we are caught up in the unavoidable frenzy of the 100 days, it's a time to take stock, even though as a kind of metric it's, I think, meaningless.
NEARY: Well, Ron Elving, what are some of the issues that NPR is going to focus on in these stories that we're going to hear this week about the 100 days, the first 100 days?
ELVING: We're going to look at what the president set out to do with respect to the recession, try to recreate jobs, try to create more economic activity and what he has tried to do with respect to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second day, we move on to health care and to the specific problem of dealing with the financial industry, the banks. How do you rescue the banks?
Third day, Wednesday, we move on to rebranding and reproduction. That's maybe a little bit more obscure. But how has the president begun to rebrand America to the world? And of course that gets into the torture memos, so-called, that we have been talking this past week. And it also gets into a lot of the domestic issues such as abortion, stem cell research that mattered a great deal to people in the election.
And then, before we're done, we get to education, we get to environment, climate change, global warming. And finally, we're going to talk about that enormous federal budget.
NEARY: What about the overall trajectory of this administration? Is there a consensus on how the president is doing at this point?
LIASSON: I think there is, actually, which is that he has had an incredibly active first 100 days. I mean phenomenally so. And they started even before he was inaugurated. He was lobbying Congress to pass that last half of the TARP bailout funds, the last $350 billion dollars. He was actively lobbying Democrats to pass it before he became the president.
He's been able to effectively use the tools of the presidency probably better than a lot of people thought he would, since he had absolutely no experience running anything, except for a campaign, which was pretty efficient and well run. But I also think the census is that that the 100 days is too soon, in other words, to really measure how successful he's going to be. You know, he does have approval ratings but not much higher than other presidents at this point in their terms.
But I think there also is a census that the hard work is still ahead of him. I mean, the real test is going to be can he pass health care and energy? Can he bring the Iraq War to a relatively stable close? Can he succeed in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Can he get the European allies to do all those things that he wants them to do but so far they haven't done, even though they seem to really like him?
NEARY: And at the 100 days, as you said earlier, Mara, if there's nothing really meaningful about that, then is there a milestone in general that we can look at, to make some kind of judgment about how the president's doing overall?
LIASSON: Well, the end of the congressional session. That would be…
ELVING: The end of the congressional session this year will be crucial. Then, of course, the end of the second congressional session in 2010 leads us right into the congressional elections of 2010. And that will be perhaps the most important test for Barack Obama. But one more note to add, while his team has not been particularly interested in using this as a moment or as a milestone, they've realized that everyone else is talking about it, so they might as well, too. And they have scheduled the president's next primetime news conference…
LIASSON: That's right.
ELVING: …to correspond with the night of the 100th day. That'll be Wednesday night and, of course, NPR will take you there.
LIASSON: And then the afternoon, before then, he's going to hold a 100th day town hall meeting. So they're leaving no stone unturned on the hallmark holiday that they sneer at. They're pulling out all the stops to celebrate it, too. And to make sure we celebrate it in the correct way, according to them.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Well, thanks to both of you for joining us.
ELVING: Thank you, Lynn.
LIASSON: Thank you, Lynn.
NEARY: Ron Elving is NPR's senior Washington editor. And Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. And they joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco. NPR will be airing the Benchmarking Obama series on MORNING EDITION and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED this coming week.
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