The Last One Hundred Days

By Howell, William G.; Mayer, Kenneth R. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Last One Hundred Days

Howell, William G., Mayer, Kenneth R., Presidential Studies Quarterly

A lame duck President might look at his authority to govern in the transition period as if it were a large balloon with a slow leak.... The balloon is ineluctably shrinking with each passing week.... By the end of the year, he will have lost the attention of the permanent government and can accomplish very little.

--James Pfiffner (1996, 5)

As his "long goodbye" in 2000-2001, Clinton was "a whirling dervish of a President who appointed judges, signed treaties, gave campaign-style speeches, issued scads of executive orders, rescinded ethics regulations he had penned in his first term, raised political money, gave dozens of interviews, granted 234 pardons and clemencies, fired an enemy from her government job, negotiated his own plea-bargain agreement, cast aspersions on his successor, installed a crony as head of the Democratic Party, and gave an entire series of farewell addresses in which he essentially said he wasn't leaving at all."

--Carl Cannon (2001, 274)

A curious thing happens during the last one hundred days of a presidential administration: political uncertainty shifts to political certitude. The president knows exactly who will succeed him--his policy positions, his legislative priorities, and the level of partisan support he will enjoy within the new Congress. And if the sitting president (or his party) lost the election, he has every reason to hurry through last-minute public policies, doing whatever possible to tie his successor's hands.

Can he succeed? If James Pfiffner's quote above is any indication, prospects are dim. Defeated at the polls in November and guaranteed political retirement in January, an outgoing president has little ground upon which to advocate for his (someday her) policy agenda. During his final months in office, his public prestige and professional reputation--the ingredients of persuasion, and the purported foundations of presidential power--run empty. Members of Congress have little cause to do a defeated president's bidding; and without them, presidents cannot hope to accomplish anything of consequence. As such, outgoing presidents have little choice but to recognize their plight, gather their belongings, and close the door on their administration.

In our estimation, this misconstrues things. By ignoring important policy options outside of the legislative process, scholars have exaggerated the frailty of outgoing presidents and underestimated the influence they continue to wield. Presidential power does not reduce to bargaining, negotiating, and convincing members of Congress to do things that the president cannot accomplish on his own. Presidents can (and regularly do) act alone, setting public policy without having to rally Congress's attention, nor even its support (Cooper 2002; Howell 2003; Mayer 2001). With executive orders, proclamations, executive agreements, national security directives, and memoranda, presidents have ample resources to effectuate policy changes that stand little chance of overcoming the collective action problems and multiple veto points that plague the legislative process. And having "lost the attention of the permanent government," outgoing presidents have every reason to strike out on their own, set new policy, and leave it to the incoming administration to try and steer an alternative course.

Examples of last-minute presidential actions abound. It was President John Adams's "Midnight" appointments, which Jefferson refused to honor, that prompted the landmark Marbury v. Madison Supreme Court decision. Grover Cleveland created a twenty-one-million-acre forest reserve to prevent logging, an act that led to an unsuccessful impeachment attempt and the passage of legislation annulling the action. Then, in response to the congressional uprising, "Cleveland issued a pocket veto and left office" (Combs 2001, 331). Jimmy Carter negotiated for the release of Americans held hostage in Tehran, implementing an agreement on his last day in office with ten separate executive orders, many of which sharply restricted the rights of private parties to sue the Iranian government for expropriation of their property. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

The Last One Hundred Days


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.