Watching the Republican Congress' first 100 days

WASHINGTON – The 100-day evaluation is a marker in U.S. politics – superficial sometimes, though often a leading indicator. By April 15, 2015, the tone and motivation of the new Republican Congress may be apparent.

Those first 100 days won’t make clear which measures will or won’t pass the 114th Congress; no one can anticipate intervening events over the next 600 days.

By Tax Day, however, there'll be a good sense of whether the year will be shaped only by partisan confrontations or if it will feature a decent dose of principled compromises, too.

The last two months offer no clear guideposts. The Republicans won smashing victories in the midterm elections and moved to dominate the dialogue. Then, with a series of executive actions on immigration, climate change and Cuba, along with a surprisingly productive lame-duck congressional session, President Barack Obama put Republicans on the defensive.

Further damage occurred last week, when it was revealed that Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 3 House Republican, spoke to a blatantly racist group in 2002.

Here are some signs to look for over these next 100 days:

The Democratic-controlled Senate is gone, the dynamics are different, can the White House adjust?

McConnell has to worry about the 24 Republican Senate incumbents up for re-election in 2016, almost half in blue or Democratic states or battlegrounds in the presidential race. Among House Republicans, a greater fear is alienating the right-wing base.

There is a possibility that this year could produce a handful of substantive legislative measures signed by the president and a number of other issues vetoed or sidetracked by Senate Democrats; these would frame issues for the presidential race. It’s an outcome that could benefit both sides.

As likely, if not more so, is that House Republicans, stung by being called obstructionists, will try to force the president into that role. McConnell wants to get things done, though at a recent private dinner with top party strategists, there was a glaring omission: no mention of Obama, without whom little will be achieved.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist.