The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Mitt Romney is recounting a Jim Baker anecdote in which President Reagan ordered Baker, as White House chief of staff, to hold no national security meetings over a hundred day period early in his first term so that President Reagan and his team could focus on the economy... I can't believe the story is true. Or if Reagan did once say what Baker says he said, it was an expression of exasperation after one (presumably unsatisfactory) meeting that neither Reagan nor Baker followed through on. In fact, I'll buy Jim Baker a very good dinner next time he's in Washington if he or anyone else can find a 100-day stretch (or a ten-day stretch) of the Reagan presidency in which President Reagan was involved in no national security meetings.A quantitative analysis of presidential work time during the first 100 days showed that while Reagan put in less time at the office than other presidents, he averaged at least a couple of events a day on diplomacy and military matters.
On several occasions (see below), Baker has discussed the first 100 days of the Reagan administration. He has said that President Reagan had an intense focus on the economy during that period -- no surprise to anyone who was alive at the time -- but I have found no confirmation of the "no national security meetings" claim. Indeed, Baker carefully added the qualification that the president did have other things to do. Apparently Romney or his staff inaccurately recalled what Baker said.
Interview with Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2009:
I think there has been an effort in the Obama White House to concentrate on the economy, but I'm not sure that that concentration and focus has been quite as laser-like and extensive as the focus that we put on it in '81. I can even remember occasions, certainly one occasion -- where we had an early National Security Council meeting. We had determined in our 100-day plan that we were going to focus all of our attention and presidential time and assets to the extent that we could -- I mean we sure had to do other necessary business of the presidency -- but we were going to focus on the president's signature economic program, the spending cuts and the tax reductions, and we did that. And I remember this one NSC meeting in particular where the foreign policy and security officials in the administration were going to consider something and we basically said, 'Hey, wait a minute, not now, not in these first one hundred days, four months, whatever it is, we're going to focus on with laser-like intensity on the economy, the economy, the economy.' And we did that.Interview with Evan Thomas on HBO, June 15, 2006:
I remember the first National Security Council meeting of the Reagan administration in 1981. We had a 100-day plan that we prepared, and it said we’re going to get taxes reduced, we’re going to reduce spending. Our whole focus is going to be economic. And we were—we stuck to that. The first National Security Council meeting we had somebody brought up—I guess the secretary of State at the time—brought up the problems in Central America, where that was the holy grail of the left and the holy grail of the political right in this country—both the left and the right—were the wars in Central America.
MR. THOMAS: Yes.
MR. BAKER: And put the question on the table about whether we should do something about it. And all of the political advisers in the White House were shaking their heads and saying, “Absolutely not.” And of course the president said, “Well, we need to do something about this.” And we said, “No, we have got to concentrate on, initially at least, on getting all this stuff done.” And I think that’s the reason we were successful on the Hill, because we were dealing with a Democratic Congress. Congress was Democratic.PBS interview, 2000:
We had a 100 day plan that revolved around some significant tax reductions and spending cuts. We wanted to concentrate on our economic program for the first 100 days of the Administration. In an early National Security Council meeting the question of Nicaragua. El Salvador came up, I can't remember which it was and there was a suggestion by Secretary of State, Haig at the time that to really deal with that issue, we had to go to the source and going to the source meant, taking care of Cuba and the President's White House advisors all discouraged that because if you're going to have a 100 day plan, it calls for a focus. On an economic program, you ought to keep the focus of the economic program. We did so, in the first 100 days and with very good effect but it was only because we did not let ourselves be diverted into these other areas, such as taking care of Cuba.