First 100 days of the second term will lay groundwork for rest of this presidency

We’re at that time again in the presidential calendar when people offer up their analysis of the first 100 days of a president’s term. 

Granted, there are 45 of 48 months left and constant and unexpected shifts of events can drive politics and agendas. One only need look at the events in Boston and the subsequent political maneuvering surrounding immigration reform efforts to understand how outside events can drive the Washington narrative.

In fact, a snap judgment of the president’s 100 days of his second term doesn’t do justice to the complex political landscape facing this administration. Neither does it reflect the reality that great legislative feats in the first 100 days are the exception rather than the rule. Enactment of the deal to avoid the fiscal cliff was more a denouement from the preceding Congress than an achievement of the 113th. The better gauge would seem to be whether the president has successfully used the first 100 days to lay the groundwork for success through his second term in office.

In that regard, the president has a mixed record. But here are some guidelines for making a successful legacy-building second term.

First, build on the achievements of the first term. Continuing progress on healthcare, financial reform and gay rights, among other items, is crucial. In this regard, nothing is more important than making the sweeping revamp of the healthcare system a success.

Second, seize the moment. Gun control and immigration reform were not at the top of the president’s agenda during the first term. Newtown changed that on gun control. Always a daunting lift, the president exerted tremendous effort to get a bill out of the Senate, only to be rebuffed by a Republican-led defeat on a compromise background check amendment. Even though the outcome was disappointing, the effort was worth it.

On immigration, the election results created a new political reality for Republicans. Suddenly, immigration was doable and leapt to the top of the agenda as something that most observers felt was achievable. Investing political capital here makes political sense and is good policy.

Third, try to achieve a grand budget deal. This may be the most difficult of all the items facing the president, yet would do the most to cement his legacy. The president’s budget shows he is serious about trying to restart negotiations with Republicans. By including items such as chained CPI and cuts in Medicare, the president indicated his willingness to take on core Democratic constituencies in his quest for a “grand compromise.” The inclusion of revenues signaled that any deal would require give from both sides. Importantly, the budget was not a line-in-the-sand proposal that would have served as a template for campaigning in the 2014 election cycle. Yet it received a chilly reception by Republicans because of the inclusion of tax increases. 

While the administration has been content to let the tax-writing committees take the lead, comprehensive tax reform offers another opportunity for the president. 

Fourth, solidify the gains of the Democratic Party in recent elections and complete the transformation of the national electoral landscape. For Democrats, what is good policy is also good politics. Immigration reform, support of gay marriage, a grand bargain on spending and revenue that closes the gap on deficits, support for gun control provisions that enjoy overwhelming support — all these are issues that appeal to many people who voted for the president. Importantly, they are also issues that expose stress lines within the Republican Party.

Fifth, continue the efforts to fix the trust deficit between the two parties. The sustained effort by the president to engage with Republicans in the Senate and the House needs to continue. While it is unlikely that major policy breakthroughs will occur at these sessions, there is such a trust deficit between the parties that conversation and relationship building are fundamental to success.

All of this won’t be achieved at once. Success in one area will have to happen before it can be achieved in another. 

Immigration stands out as the best chance for that first success to occur. If the Senate can work through immigration reform in a way that shows that bipartisan compromise leads to results, then the prospects for resolving other tough issues brighten. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said as much earlier this month when, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he indicated that the key to a bipartisan “grand bargain” on the budget that includes both entitlement and tax reform is: “Can we solve immigration?”

Crawford is a senior government relations advisor at King & Spalding. Prior to that, he was chief of staff to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.