You get the sense that perhaps Senator Amy Klobuchar has gotten annoyed at all the ink her colleague and rival Elizabeth Warren is receiving for the breadth and depth of her policy proposals. So the Minnesotan’s campaign has now tossed out a list of 137 things she plans to do in the first 100 days of her presidency. The odds are high that she will refer to that number more than once during the upcoming 2020 candidate debates.
What the list has in sheer volume it lacks in one important respect: prioritization. And while Klobuchar has tried to focus on initiatives she can (at least arguably) take as president without congressional action, some items, including the many that involve funding levels for this or that worthy federal program, will require legislation (e.g.: “Propose landmark legislation that drives our changing economy forward and provides opportunity to all Americans”). As one of the candidates who still supports the Senate filibuster (though she’s professed to be open to a change of position if Republicans systematically obstruct a future Democratic president), Klobuchar is vulnerable to the charge that she lacks a “plan to enact her plans,” as Ezra Klein put it in an interview with Warren about her strategy for implementing her ambitious policy vision.
That includes an idea for how a new president will get legislation through a Congress full of pitfalls ranging from committee chair turf prerogatives to intraparty divisions of opinion to opposition party obstruction to ambivalent public opinion. “I’ll propose it” or even “I’ll fight for it” won’t necessarily get the job done, as the last two Democratic presidents could tell you. But a “plan for your plans” also means a strategic sense of how early initiatives can build on each other to mobilize popular and elite support and create genuine momentum. In Warren’s case, she’s clear that her first action would be freezing fossil fuel drilling and mining on public lands, followed by an anti-corruption bill to roll lobbyists and then a wealth tax to create a pool of resources to fund her various spending plans. Whether you think this is a good strategy or not, it is indeed a strategy. At this point Klobuchar, and for that matter other candidates, are less forthcoming about how, exactly, they will generate and utilize political capital in the early days of their proposed presidencies.
Klobuchar’s emphasis on executive actions, most of which would reverse actions taken by the Trump administration, does reinforce her activist credentials, which she needs in a campaign aimed so clearly at claiming a moderate “lane” in a field that is a bit left-heavy. But at the same time, promising in extensive detail to reverse so many Trump executive orders and administration policies and funding decisions without an overarching set of big policy goals creates the impression that her heart’s desire is to restore the pre-Trump status quo ante — a position Joe Biden is already getting heat for embracing implicitly and explicitly.
In any event, a candidate like Klobuchar who is struggling to break into the middle tier of candidates (she’s at one percent in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, and a marginally better 3.2 percent in RCP’s averages for Iowa, the next-door state where she must do well) needs an attention-getting gambit, and the 137-item plan is not a bad way for her to give her campaign some definition. Perhaps the list is so massive as to discourage too much scrutiny of any one or five or ten specific promises. But at some point she needs to show that she understands the realities of Washington and would not lead an administration that slowly sinks into ineffectiveness because it tries to do too much too fast without a blueprint for managing expectations and opposition. That’s true as well of other candidates who haven’t hit double digits in 100-day agenda items.