- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

Presidents predictably receive effusive praise from their party for their performance after their first 100 days. But George W. Bush is getting exceptionally high marks from some prominent Democrats for his managerial skills and the people he has picked to run the government.
When I asked Leon Panetta, who was President Clintons White House chief of staff, what he thought of Mr. Bushs first three months, he delivered a surprisingly glowing appraisal of the way the president has handled himself in office.
"I think he gets high marks for the style of his presidency, the way he has conducted the presidency, for the organization and discipline of the White House operation and for the experienced people he has brought in," Mr. Panetta told me.
When I spoke with him, Mr. Panetta did not think Mr. Bush was doing enough to reach out to Democrats to move his legislative agenda through a closely divided Congress. But that was before Mr. Bush announced last week that he was ready and willing to cut a deal on his tax-cut plan. It was then that he resumed his own hands-on, private negotiations with key Democrats who have signaled that they can support a large chunk of Bushs $1.6 trillion plan, perhaps close to $1.4 trillion of it.
Mr. Panetta has good reason to look at Mr. Bushs first few months with some admiration, because he painfully remembers the steep learning curve Mr. Clinton went through in his first year or two in the White House. Mr. Panetta had been asked to take over as chief of staff job in order to bring some discipline and maturity to Mr. Clintons youthful, inexperienced staff.
Another Democrat giving Bushs executive skills high marks is William Galston, the veteran Democratic Leadership Council policy strategist who was Mr. Clintons chief domestic-policy adviser in the early days of his administration.
"I give him an A for management," Mr. Galston told me.
"The administration of the White House staff and the executive office of the president seem to me to be carried out with a high degree of professionalism, efficiency and discipline," he said.
"Bush has staffed his administration with people who have served in the White House previously. That has enabled them to achieve a level of sure-footedness in the day-to-day administration that exceeds that of the previous administration in the beginning," he said.
"These are people who understand how the machinery of the executive branch works," he said.
This is high praise indeed from two prominent Democrats who, as they watch the Bush presidency develop, must be thinking back to those early frantic months in the Clinton White House, when their agenda seemed to be spinning out of control, and each week seemed to bring another misjudgment or policy disaster from the travel-office scandal, to the military disaster in Somalia, to the tales of drug use among the adolescents running around in the West Wing.
Mr. Bush, on the other hand, came in with a seasoned crew, many of whom have served in the White House or have prepared for most of their lives for their present assignments.
Mr. Bushs vice president, Dick Cheney, has been White House chief of staff and defense secretary. Andrew Card, the presidents chief of staff, has worked as deputy chief of staff and as transportation secretary. Colin Powell stepped into the post of secretary of state after having been the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a White House national security adviser. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld is in his second tour of duty at that post. Hes older, wiser and at the top of his game.
Other top advisers have been there, done that. Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, was a top adviser in the previous Bush White House. Economic adviser Larry Lindsey worked in both the Reagan and Bush administrations, and was a governor of the Federal Reserve.
To coin an old sports term, this is a very deep bench.
The tradition of grading a presidents first 100 days goes back to Franklin Roosevelts first three months in office. The country had been sinking into the Great Depression, and Roosevelt promised to take emergency action to get America back on its feet. Todays economic and political situation is unlike the one that Roosevelt faced, but we still give each new president a 100-day job review, even though it is now very difficult to get anything through Congress in so short a time.
"No modern American president has passed a major piece of his package in the first 100 days, save one. That was Bill Clinton, who signed the Family Leave Act. It had won congressional approval the previous year, though," said Mr. Bushs political adviser, Karl Rove.
Still, Mr. Bush is on the brink of passing his tax cut. He has submitted a relatively tight-fisted budget to slow spending growth. His defense modernization proposals are nearing completion. He will soon announce his Social Security reform commission. His education reforms are moving through Congress. Gone is the incendiary, poisonous rhetoric that used to flow back and forth between the White House and Congress. Mr. Bush is working closely with Democratic brokers, such as Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, to hammer out a tax-cut deal. The process is working and moving forward. Gridlock is dead.
But a more comprehensive evaluation of Bushs presidency is yet to come. The report card he gets during the August recess, after the next three months of legislative wrangling, will be a much more important measure of his leadership as the nations chief executive.


Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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