Presidency of Barack Obama
|44th President of the United States|
January 20, 2009
|Vice President||Joe Biden|
|Preceded by||George W. Bush|
|Born||Barack Hussein Obama II
August 4, 1961
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
|Spouse(s)||Michelle Robinson (m. 1992)|
|Children||Malia (b. 1998)
Sasha (b. 2001)
|Alma mater||Occidental College
Columbia University (B.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)
|This article is part of a series about
President of the United States
The presidency of Barack Obama began at noon EST on January 20, 2009, when he became the 44th President of the United States. Obama's running mate, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, took office as Vice President on the same day. Obama was a United States Senator from Illinois at the time of his victory over Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona in the 2008 presidential election. Obama is the first African American president, the first non-white president, the first president born in Hawaii, and the sixteenth Democratic president.
Obama's first-term actions addressed the global financial crisis and included a major stimulus package, the partial extension of the Bush tax cuts, legislation to reform health care, a major financial regulation reform bill, and the end of a major US military presence in Iraq. Obama also appointed Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court; Sotomayor is the first Hispanic American to serve on the Supreme Court. Following the 2010 elections, in which Republicans took control of the House, Obama and Congressional Republicans engaged in a protracted stand-off over government spending levels and the debt ceiling.
Obama was elected to a second term on November 6, 2012, making him the seventeenth person to win two United States presidential elections. In his second term, Obama signed executive orders to limit carbon emissions and protect many illegal immigrants from deportation, and negotiated a thaw in relations with Cuba and a multilateral agreement on the nuclear program of Iran. Obama and Congressional Republicans continued to grapple over government spending and other issues, but Obama did sign a major bipartisan bill that reduced the role of the federal government in K-12 education. Obama also presided over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other legislation passed in his first term. Obama's second term saw most US soldiers withdraw from Afghanistan, though the United States currently plans to keep soldiers in Afghanistan until at least 2017. Obama's presidency is set to end on January 20, 2017, when the 45th president is expected to take office.
- 1 Major legislation and treaties
- 2 Transition period and inauguration
- 3 First 100 days
- 4 Personnel
- 5 Policies
- 5.1 Economy
- 5.2 Ethics
- 5.3 Foreign policy
- 5.4 Science, technology, and the environment
- 5.5 Social policy
- 6 Elections
- 7 Approval ratings and other opinions
- 8 Evaluations by academic professionals
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Major legislation and treaties
Transition period and inauguration
The presidential transition period began following Obama's election to the presidency on November 4, 2008. The Obama-Biden Transition Project was co-chaired by John Podesta, Valerie Jarrett, and Pete Rouse. During the transition period, Obama announced nominations for his Cabinet and administration. In November 2008, Congressman Rahm Emanuel accepted Obama's offer to serve as White House Chief of Staff. Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009, succeeding George W. Bush. Obama officially assumed the presidency at 12:00 noon, EST, and completed the oath of office at 12:05 pm, EST. He delivered his inaugural address immediately following his oath. In administering the oath, Chief Justice John G. Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully" and erroneously replaced the phrase "President of the United States" with "President to the United States." On January 21, Roberts readministered the oath to Obama in a private ceremony in the White House Map Room, based on what White Counsel Greg Craig described as an "abundance of caution".
First 100 days
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Within minutes of taking the oath of office on January 20, Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, issued an order suspending last-minute federal regulations pushed through by outgoing President George W. Bush, planning to review everything still pending. In his first week in office, Obama signed Executive Order 13492 suspending all the ongoing proceedings of Guantanamo military commission and ordering the detention facility to be shut down within the year. He also signed Executive Order 13491 – Ensuring Lawful Interrogations requiring the Army Field Manual to be used as a guide for terror interrogations, banning torture and other coercive techniques, such as waterboarding. Obama also issued an executive order entitled "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel", setting stricter limitations on incoming executive branch employees and placing tighter restrictions on lobbying in the White House. Obama signed two Presidential Memoranda concerning energy independence, ordering the Department of Transportation to establish higher fuel efficiency standards before 2011 models are released and allowing states to raise their emissions standards above the national standard. He also ended the Mexico City Policy, which banned federal grants to international groups that provide abortion services or counseling.
On January 29, Obama signed a bill for the first time in his presidency; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which revised the statute of limitations for filing pay discrimination lawsuits. On February 3, he signed the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIP), expanding CHIP's health care coverage from 7 million children to 11 million children. On March 9, 2009, Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, and in doing so, called into question some of George W. Bush's signing statements. Obama stated that he too would employ signing statements if he deems upon review that a portion of a bill is unconstitutional, and he has issued several signing statements. Obama also signed a law raising the cigarette pack tax by 62 cents.
Perhaps the most important action of Obama's first 100 days was the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to address the Great Recession. After much debate, ARRA was passed by both the House and Senate on February 13, 2009. Originally intended to be a bipartisan bill, passage of the bill thorough Congress relied largely on Democratic votes. No House Republicans voted in favor of the bill, though three moderate Republican Senators did vote for the bill. The $787 billion bill combined tax breaks with spending on infrastructure projects, extension of welfare benefits, and education. Obama signed the act into law on February 17, 2009.
Following his inauguration, Obama and the Senate worked to confirm his nominees to the United States Cabinet. Three Cabinet-level officers did not require confirmation: Vice President Joe Biden, who Obama had chosen as his running mate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who Obama chose to retain from the previous administration. Obama described his Cabinet choices as a "team of rivals," and Obama chose several prominent public officials for Cabinet positions, including former Democratic primary rival Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Obama nominated several former Clinton administration officials to the Cabinet and to other positions. Most nominees were confirmed by the end of January, including Ray Lahood, one of two Republicans to serve in Obama's initial Cabinet. Eric Holder and Hilda Solis won confirmation in February, and Ron Kirk was confirmed in March. Gary Locke won confirmation as Commerce Secretary on March 26, after Bill Richardson and Republican Senator Judd Gregg both withdrew their names from consideration. Former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius, the second choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services after the withdrawal of Tom Daschle, won confirmation on April 28 in a 65-31 vote.
In 2010, Peter Orszag became the first Cabinet-level officer to step down; he was replaced by Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew. Later in 2010, Emanuel stepped down from his position in order to run for Mayor of Chicago. After Pete Rouse served as interim Chief of Staff, Emanuel was succeeded by former Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, who in turn was replaced by OMB Director Jack Lew. In 2013, Dennis McDonough succeeded Lew (who replaced Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury), and McDonough eventually became the first Chief of Staff to serve for longer than two years. In 2011, Gary Locke became the first executive department head to leave office, as he succeeded Jon Huntsman as Ambassador to China. Gates stepped down as Defense Secretary in 2011, and was succeeded in turn by CIA Director Leon Panetta, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Clinton stepped down in 2013, and was succeeded by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry. In his second term, Obama appointed two young Democratic mayors to his Cabinet: Anthony Foxx succeeded Ray Lahood as Transportation Secretary in 2013, while Julian Castro succeeded Shaun Donovan as HUD Secretary in 2014. Eric Holder stepped down in 2015, and was succeeded by Loretta Lynch after a lengthy confirmation process. Arne Duncan announced that he would step down in 2015, leaving Tom Vilsack and Vice President Biden as the final remaining original members of Obama's Cabinet.
Notable non-Cabinet positions
- Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
- Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Special envoy to the Middle East
- Director of National Intelligence
- Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
1Appointed by George W. Bush in 2006 to a five-year term
2Appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 to a ten-year term
3Includes time spent as Counselor to the President
United States Supreme Court
Obama appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
Obama's presidency saw the continuation of battles between both parties for the confirmation of judicial nominees. In 2009, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy criticized Republicans for stalling judicial nominations, and Democrats continually accused Republicans of "stalling" nominees throughout Obama's tenure. After several nomination battles, Senate Democrats in 2013 reformed the use of the filibuster so that it could no longer be used on executive or judicial nominations (excluding the Supreme Court). Republicans took over the Senate after the 2014 elections, giving them the power to block any judicial (and executive) nominee. Obama's judicial nominees have been significantly more diverse than those of previous administrations, with more appointments going to women and minorities.
Upon entering office, Obama focused on handling the global financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession. On February 17, 2009, Obama signed into law a $787 billion economic stimulus bill that included spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals. The tax provisions of the law temporarily reduced taxes for 98 percent of taxpayers, bringing tax rates to their lowest levels in 60 years. The Obama administration would later argue that the stimulus saved the United States from a "double-dip" recession. Obama asked for a second major stimulus package in December 2009, but no major second stimulus bill passed. Obama also launched a second bailout of US automakers, possibly saving General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy at the cost of $9.3 billion. For homeowners in danger of defaulting on their mortgage due to the subprime mortgage crisis, Obama launched several programs, including HARP and HAMP. Obama re-appointed Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in 2009, and appointed Janet Yellen to succeed Bernanke in 2013. Short-term interest rates remained near zero for much of Obama's presidency, and the Federal Reserve did not raise interest rates during Obama's presidency until December 2015.
There was a sustained increase of the U.S. unemployment rate during the early part of the administration, as multi-year economic stimulus efforts continued. The unemployment rate reached a peak in October 2009 at 10.1%. Unemployment steadily fell during the Obama administration, and by October 2015, the unemployment rate was at 5.1%. However, the recovery from the Great Recession was marked by a lower labor force participation rate, with economists attributing the lower participation rate partially to an aging population and people staying in school longer. The recovery also laid bare the growing income inequality in the United States, which the Obama administration highlighted as a major problem.
GDP growth returned in the third quarter of 2009, expanding at a 1.6% pace, followed by a 5.0% increase in the fourth quarter. Growth continued in 2010, posting an increase of 3.7% in the first quarter, with lesser gains throughout the rest of the year. Overall, the economy expanded at a rate of 2.9% in 2010. The country's GDP consistently grew by about 2% in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. However, median household income (adjusted for inflation) fell to $53,600 in 2014, down from an inflation-adjusted $57,400 in 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession.
Wall Street reform
Risky practices among the major financial institutions on Wall Street were widely seen as contributing to the subprime mortgage crisis, the financial crisis of 2007–08, and the subsequent Great Recession, so Obama made Wall Street reform a priority in his first term. On July 21, 2010, Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the largest financial regulatory overhaul since the New Deal. The act increased regulation and reporting requirements on derivatives (particularly credit default swaps), and took steps to limit systemic risks to the US economy with policies such as higher capital requirements, the creation of the Orderly Liquidation Authority to help wind down large, failing financial institutions, and the creation of the Financial Stability Oversight Council to monitor systemic risks. Dodd-Frank also established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was charged with protecting consumers against abusive financial practices. On signing the bill, Obama stated that the bill would "empower consumers and investors," "bring the shadowy deals that caused the crisis to the light of day," and "put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all." Some liberals were disappointed that the law did not break up the country's largest banks or reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, while many conservatives criticized the bill as a government overreach that could make the country less competitive. Under the bill, the Federal Reserve and other regulatory agencies were required to propose and implement several new regulatory rules, and battles over these rules continued throughout Obama's presidency. Obama also signed the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which created new rules for credit card companies.
Obama's presidency saw an extended battle over taxes that ultimately led to the permanent extension of most of the Bush tax cuts. Those tax cuts were set to expire during Obama's presidency since they were originally passed using a Congressional maneuver known as reconciliation, and had to fulfill the long-term deficit requirements of the "Byrd rule." During the lame duck session of the 111th Congress, Obama and Republicans wrangled over the ultimate fate of the cuts. Obama wanted to extend the tax cuts for taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year, while Congressional Republicans wanted a total extension of the tax cuts, and refused to support any bill that did not extend tax cuts for top earners. Obama and the Republican congressional leadership reached a deal that included a two-year extension of all the tax cuts, a 13-month extension of unemployment insurance, a one-year reduction in the FICA payroll tax, and other measures. However, some liberals opposed the deal, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led an eight-hour filibuster against the compromise tax proposal. Obama ultimately persuaded many wary Democrats to support the bill, but not all; of the 148 votes against the bill in the House, 112 were cast by Democrats and only 36 by Republicans. The $858 billion Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which The Washington Post called "the most significant tax bill in nearly a decade", passed with bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress and was signed into law by Obama on December 17, 2010.
Shortly after Obama's 2012 re-election, Congressional Republicans and Obama again faced off over the final fate of the Bush tax cuts. Republicans sought to make all tax cuts permanent, while Obama sought to extend the tax cuts only for those making under $250,000. Obama and Congressional Republicans came to an agreement on the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which made permanent the tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000 a year (or less than $450,000 for couples). For earnings greater than that amount, the income tax increased from 35% to 39.6%, which was the top rate before the passage of the Bush tax cuts. The deal also permanently indexed the alternative minimum tax for inflation, limited deductions for individuals making more than $250,000 ($300,000 for couples), and permanently set the estate tax exemption at $5.12 million (indexed to inflation), though it increased the top estate tax rate from 35% to 40%. Though many Republicans did not like the deal, the bill passed the Republican House because the failure to pass any bill would have resulted in the total expiration of the Bush tax cuts. In 2015, Obama signed a major tax bill that permanently extended several tax credits, including the Child Tax Credit, the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the research and development tax credit, and five tax credits for charitable donations.
Budget and debt ceiling
US government debt grew substantially during the Great Recession, as government revenues fell and Obama largely eschewed the austerity policies followed by many European countries. US government debt grew from 52% of GDP when Obama took office in 2009 to 74% in 2014, with the most of the growth in debt coming between 2009 and 2012. In 2010, Obama ordered the creation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (also known as the "Simpson-Bowles Commission") in order to find ways to reduce the country's debt. The commission ultimately released a report that called for a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Notable features of the report included a cut in military spending, a scaling back of tax deductions for mortgages and employer-provided health insurance, and a raising of the Social Security retirement age. The proposal never received a vote in Congress, but it served as a template for future plans to reduce the national debt.
After taking control of the House in the 2010 elections, Congressional Republicans demanded spending cuts in return for raising the United States debt ceiling, the statutory limit on the total amount of debt that the Treasury Department can issue. The 2011 debt-ceiling crisis developed as Obama and Congressional Democrats demanded a "clean" debt-ceiling increase that did not include spending cuts. Though some Democrats argued that Obama could unilaterally raise the debt ceiling under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, Obama chose to negotiate with Congressional Republicans, which resulted in the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The act raised the debt ceiling and provided for spending cuts, and established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to propose further spending cuts. Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner attempted to negotiate a "grand bargain" to cut the deficit, reform entitlement programs, and re-write the tax code, but the negotiations eventually collapsed due to ideological differences between the Democratic and Republican leaders.
In October 2013, the government shut down for two weeks as Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a budget. House Republicans passed a budget that would defund Obamacare, but Senate Democrats refused to pass a budget that defunded Obamacare. Meanwhile, the country faced another debt ceiling crisis. Ultimately the two sides agreed to a continuing resolution that re-opened the government and suspended the debt ceiling. Months after passing the continuing resolution, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through 2014. In 2015, after John Boehner announced that he would resign as Speaker of the House, Congress passed a bill that funds the government and suspends the debt limit until 2017.
Lobbying reform and campaign finance
Early in his presidential campaign, Obama stated that lobbyists "won't find a job in my White House", but softened his stance later in the campaign. On January 21, 2009, Obama issued an executive order for all future appointees to his administration, which stated, no appointee who was a registered lobbyist within the two years before his appointment could participate on matters in which he lobbied for a period of two years after the date of appointment. Three formal waivers were initially issued in early 2009, out of 800 executive appointments: By March 21, 2009, at least thirty officials appointed by Obama had been lobbyists in the past five years. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington criticized the administration, claiming that Obama retreated from his own ethics rules barring lobbyists from working on the issues about which they lobbied during the previous two years by issuing waivers. In 2015, Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post noted that the Obama administration had avoided "conflict of interest" scandals that previous administrations had experienced, in part due to the Obama administration's lobbyist rules.
In part due to a major Supreme Court ruling, Obama's presidency saw a growth in role of independent expenditures in elections. Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was the first to forego the public financing since the program's establishment in 1976, allowing the campaign to raise and spend an unlimited amount of money. In the 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court curtailed the Federal Election Commission's ability to restrict independent expenditures. In the wake of Citizens United, Super PACs and other outside spending groups became increasingly important, and the number of donations with limited or no disclosure increased. Though Obama initially opposed Super PACs, he ultimately consented to allowing a Super PAC to spend money in support of his campaign. Obama called for new disclosure requirements and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, but neither passed Congress.
Obama promised that he would run the "most transparent" administration in US history, with mixed results. On taking office, the Obama administration said that all executive orders, non-emergency legislation, and proclamations would be posted to the official White House website, whitehouse.gov, allowing the public to review and comment for five days before the President signs the legislation, but this pledge was twice broken during Obama's first month in office. On January 21, 2009, by executive order, Obama revoked Executive Order 13233, which had limited access to the records of former United States presidents. Obama issued instructions to all agencies and departments in his administration to "adopt a presumption in favor" of Freedom of Information Act requests. These actions helped the rate of classification fall to record lows during the Obama administration. In April 2009, the United States Department of Justice released four legal memos from the Bush administration describing in detail controversial interrogation methods the CIA used on prisoners suspected of terrorism. The Obama administration also introduced the Open Government Directive, which encourages government agencies to publish data and collaborate with the public, and the Open Government Partnership, which advocates open government norms. However, Obama continued to make use of secret memos and the state secrets privilege, and continued to prosecute whistleblowers.
The Obama administration has been characterized as much more aggressive than the Bush and other previous administrations in their response to whistleblowing and leaks to the press, prompting critics to describe the Obama administration's crackdown as a "war on whistleblowers." Several people have been charged under the previously rarely used leak-related provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917, include Thomas Andrews Drake, a former National Security Agency employee, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department contractor, and Jeffrey Sterling. Others prosecuted for leaking information include Shamai Leibowitz, a contract linguist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst, James Hitselberger, a former contract linguist for the US Navy in Bahrain, and Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for the US Army whose trial received wide coverage. Most notably, Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA, was charged with theft and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information to columnist Glenn Greenwald. Snowden's disclosures provoked wide array of reactions; many called for Snowden to be pardoned, while others called him a traitor.
Obama inherited a war in Afghanistan, a war in Iraq, and a global "War on Terror" launched by President Bush in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Obama called for a "new beginning" in relations between the Islamic world and the United States, and he discontinued the use of the term "War on Terror" in favor of the term "Overseas Contingency Operation." Obama pursued a "light footprint" strategy in the Middle East that emphasized special forces, drone strikes, and diplomacy over large ground troop occupations. However, American forces continued to clash with Islamic militant organizations such as al-Qaeda, ISIL, and al-Shabaab under the terms of the AUMF passed by Congress in 2001. Obama also advocated for nuclear non-proliferation and successfully negotiated arms-reduction deals with Iran and Russia. Though the Middle East remained important to American foreign policy, Obama pursued a "pivot" to East Asia, focusing the US's diplomacy and trade in the region. Obama was the first president to visit India twice, and the administration played a role in encouraging elections in Myanmar. In 2015, Obama described the Obama Doctrine as: "we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities."
The relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu was notably icy, with many commenting on their mutual distaste for each other. On taking office, Obama appointed George J. Mitchell as a special envoy to the Middle East to work towards a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Mitchell made little progress before stepping down in 2011. In March 2010, Secretary of State Clinton criticized the Israeli government for approving expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu strongly opposed Obama's efforts to negotiate with Iran and was seen as favoring Mitt Romney in the 2012 US presidential election. However, Obama continued the US policy of vetoing UN resolutions calling for a Palestinian state, and the administration continued to advocate for a negotiated two-state solution.
Iraq and Afghanistan
During the 2008 presidential election, Obama strongly criticized the Iraq War, and Obama withdrew the vast majority of US soldiers in Iraq by the end of 2011. On taking office, Obama announced that US combat forces would leave Iraq by August 2010, with 35,000-50,000 American soldiers remaining in Iraq as advisers and trainers, down from the roughly 150,000 American soldiers in Iraq at the start of 2009. Though Obama considered leaving a force of a few thousand soldiers in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda and support the Iraqi government, Iraqi leaders requested that US soldiers withdrawal from Iraq. By the end of December 2011, only 150 American soldiers remained to serve at the US embassy. However, in 2014 the US began a campaign against ISIL, an Islamic extremist terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria. By June 2015, there were 3500 American soldiers in Iraq serving as advisers to anti-ISIL forces in the Iraqi Civil War.
While Obama drew down troops in Iraq, he increased the US military presence in Afghanistan early in his presidency. On taking office, Obama announced that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be bolstered by 17,000 new troops by Summer 2009, on top of the roughly 30,000 soldiers already in Afghanistan at the start of 2009. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen all argued for further troops, and Obama dispatched additional soldiers after a lengthy review process. Obama also appointed Richard Holbrooke as the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2012, the US and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership agreement in which the US agreed to hand over major combat operation to Afghan forces. That same year, the Obama administration designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally. In 2014, Obama announced that most troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016, with a small force remaining at the US embassy. In September 2014, Ashraf Ghani succeeded Hamid Karzai as the President of Afghanistan after the US helped negotiate a power-sharing agreement between Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. On January 1, 2015, the US military ended Operation Enduring Freedom and began Resolute Support Mission, in which the US shifted to more of a training role, although some combat operations continued. In October 2015, Obama announced that US soldiers would remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, as roughly 10,000 soldiers would remain in Afghanistan into 2016, with that force eventually dropping to 5500 soldiers by 2017. Obama argued that the remaining troops were necessary to support the Afghan government in the civil war against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIL.
On taking office, Obama called for a "reset" in relations with Russia, which had declined following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. While President Bush had successfully pushed for NATO expansion, Obama put more of an emphasis on creating a long-term partnership with Russia. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev worked together on a new treaty to reduce and monitor nuclear weapons, Russian accession to the World Trade Organization, and counterterrorism. On April 8, 2010, Obama and Medvedev signed the New START treaty, a major nuclear arms control agreement that reduced the nuclear weapons stockpiles of both countries and provided for a monitoring regime. In December 2010, the Senate ratified New START in a 71-26 vote, with 13 Republicans and all Democrats voting in favor of the treaty. In 2012, Russia joined the World Trade Organization and Obama normalized trade relations with Russia. However, US-Russia relations declined once Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency. Putin had strongly criticized the 2011 military intervention in Libya, while Russia's intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea led to a strong condemnation by Obama and other Western leaders, who imposed sanctions on Russian leaders. Some members of Congress from both parties called for the US to arm Ukrainian forces, but Obama resisted becoming closely involved in the War in Donbass. By 2015, Russia-US relations were widely regarded as having reached a new post-Cold War low point.
Like his predecessor, Obama pursued free trade agreements, in part due to the lack of progress at the Doha negotiations in lowering trade barriers worldwide. In October 2011, the United States entered into free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. All three deals passed Congress with overwhelming Republican support, while Congressional Democrats were split on the deals. The three agreements had originally been negotiated by the Bush Administration, but Obama re-opened negotiations with each country and changed some terms of each deal. Obama has also promoted two significantly larger, multilateral free trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with several Pacific Rim countries, and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. TPP negotiations began under President Bush, and Obama continued them as part of his "Asia pivot" that seeks to refocus US power in East Asia. The size and scope of the TPP negotiations grew under Obama until it included twelve countries, including Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, and Canada. The Obama administration received heavy criticism from citizen activists and members of the Democratic Party for the lack of transparency in the negotiations and the presence of corporate representatives to assist in the drafting process. After years of negotiations, the 12 countries reached a final agreement on the content of the TPP in October 2015, and the full text of the treaty was made public in November 2015. In July 2015, Congress passed a bill giving trade promotion authority to the president until 2021; trade promotion authority requires Congress to vote up or down on trade agreements signed by the president, with no possibility of amendments or filibusters. Passing the TPP is one of the top remaining priorities of the Obama administration.
Guantanamo Bay detention camp
The Bush administration established the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to hold alleged terrorists in a manner that did not treat them as conventional prisoners of war. Obama repeatedly stated his desire to close the detention camp, arguing that the camp's extrajudicial nature provided a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations. On his first day in office, Obama instructed all military prosecutors to suspend proceedings so that the incoming administration could review the military commission process. On January 22, 2009, Obama signed an executive order restricting interrogators to methods listed and authorized by an Army Field Manual, ending the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques." In March 2009, the administration announced that it would no longer refer to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as enemy combatants, but it also asserted that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges. Many members of Congress strongly oppose plans to transfer Guantanamo detainees to prisons in US states, and the Obama administration is reluctant to send potentially dangerous prisoners to other countries, especially unstable countries such as Yemen. Despite Congressional opposition, Obama has continued to advocate for the closure of the detention camp. The Justice Department attempted to hold a civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Guantanamo detainee, but canceled it due to resistance from Congress.
Killing of Osama bin Laden
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The Obama administration launched a successful operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, a global Sunni Islamist militant organization responsible for the September 11 attacks and several other terrorist attacks. Starting with information received in July 2010, the CIA determined what they believed to be the location of Osama bin Laden in a large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a suburban area 35 miles from Islamabad. CIA head Leon Panetta reported this intelligence to Obama in March 2011. Meeting with his national security advisers over the course of the next six weeks, Obama rejected a plan to bomb the compound, and authorized a "surgical raid" to be conducted by United States Navy SEALs. The operation took place on May 1, 2011, resulting in the death of bin Laden and the seizure of papers and computer drives and disks from the compound. Bin Laden's body was identified through DNA testing, and buried at sea several hours later. Reaction to the announcement was positive across party lines, including from predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and from many countries around the world.
Obama expanded the drone strike program begun by the Bush administration, and the Obama administration has conducted drone strikes against targets in Yemen, Somalia, and, most prominently, Pakistan. Though the drone strikes have killed high-ranking terrorists, they have been criticized for resulting in civilian casualties. The strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, and some former members of the Obama administration have criticized the strikes for causing a backlash against the United States. In 2009, the UN special investigator on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions called the United States' reliance on drones "increasingly common" and "deeply troubling", and called on the U.S. to justify its use of targeted assassinations rather than attempting to capture al Qaeda or Taliban suspects. In 2013, Obama appointed John Brennan as the new CIA Director and announced a new policy that required CIA operatives to determine with a "near-certainty" that no civilians would be hurt in a drone strike. The number of drone strikes fell substantially after the announcement of the new policy.
As of 2015, eight American citizens have been killed in drone strikes, one of whom, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was specifically targeted. The targeted killing of a United States citizen raised Constitutional issues, as it is the first known instance of a sitting U.S. president ordering the extrajudicial killing of a U.S. citizen. Obama had ordered the targeted killing of al-Aulaqi, a Muslim cleric with ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, after al-Aulaqi allegedly shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them. The Obama administration has continually sought to keep classified the legal opinions justifying drone strikes, but it has said that it conducts special legal reviews before targeting Americans in order to purportedly satisfy the due process requirements of the Constitution.
The Obama presidency saw a major thaw in relations with Cuba, which the United States has embargoed since the 1960s following the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Starting in the spring of 2013 secret meetings were conducted between the United States and Cuba, with the meetings taking place in the neutral locations of Canada and Vatican City. The Vatican was consulted initially in 2013 as Pope Francis advised the U.S. and Cuba to exchange prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. On December 10, 2013, Cuban President Raul Castro, in a significant public moment, shook hands with and greeted Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg. In December 2014, Cuba released Alan Gross in exchange for the remaining members of the Cuban Five. That same month, President Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba. Obama stated that he was normalizing relationships because the economic embargo had been ineffective in persuading Cuba to develop a democratic society. In May 2015, Cuba was taken off the United States's list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. In August 2015, following the restoration of official diplomatic relations, the United States and Cuba reopened their respective embassies. The restored ties between Cuba and the US were also seen as a boon to broader Latin America–United States relations, as Latin American leaders unanimously approved of the move.
Iranian Nuclear Negotiations
Iran and the United States have had a poor relationship since the Iranian Revolution and the Iran hostage crisis, and tensions have continued due to issues such as the Iranian nuclear program and Iran's alleged sponsorship of terrorism. On taking office, Obama focused on negotiations with Iran over the status of its nuclear program, working with the other P5+1 powers to adopt a multilateral agreement. Obama's stance differed dramatically from the more hawkish position of his predecessor, George W. Bush, as well as the stated positions of most of Obama's rivals in the 2008 presidential campaign. In June 2013, Hasan Rouhani won election as the new President of Iran, and Rouhani called for a continuation of talks on Iran's nuclear program. In November 2013, Iran and the P5 announced an interim agreement, and in April 2015, negotiators announced that a framework agreement had been reached. Congressional Republicans, who along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had strongly opposed the negotiations, attempted but failed to pass a Congressional resolution rejecting the six-nation accord. Under the six-nation accord, Iran agreed to put limits on its nuclear program and to provide access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, while the US and other countries agreed to reduce sanctions on Iran. The partisan fight over the Iran nuclear deal exemplified a broader disagreement regarding American foreign policy in the Middle East and how to handle adversarial regimes, and many opponents of the deal considered Iran to be an implacably hostile adversary.
The Arab Spring and its aftermath
After a sudden revolution in Tunisia in 2011, protests occurred in almost every Arab state. The wave of demonstrations became known as the Arab Spring, and the handling of the Arab Spring played a major role in Obama's foreign policy. After three weeks of unrest, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned at the urging of President Obama. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi eventually took power from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup d'état, prompting the US to cut off arms shipments to its long-time ally. However, Obama resumed the shipments in 2015. Yemen experienced a revolution and then civil war, leading to a Saudi military campaign that received logistical and intelligence assistance from the United States. The period following the Arab Spring is sometimes called the Arab Winter, as many states experienced violence and government crackdowns.
Syria was one of the states most heavily affected by the Arab Spring, and by the second half of March 2011, major anti-government protests were being held in Syria. Though Syria had long been an adversary of the United States, Obama argued that unilateral military action to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime would be a mistake. As the protests continued, Syria fell into a protracted civil war, and the United States supported the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime. US criticism of Assad intensified after the Ghouta chemical attack, eventually resulting in a Russian-backed deal that saw the Syrian government relinquish its chemical weapons. In the chaos of the Syrian Civil War, an Islamist group known as ISIL took control of large portions of Syria and Iraq. ISIL, which had originated as al-Qaeda in Iraq, eventually challenged al-Qaeda as the most prominent global terrorist group. In 2014, the Obama administration launched air strikes against ISIL and trained anti-ISIL soldiers, while continuing to oppose Assad's regime. In 2015, Russia sent troops into Syria to support Assad, further complicating the multi-sided civil war.
Libya was also strongly affected by the Arab Spring. Anti-government protests broke out in Benghazi, Libya, in February 2011, and the Gadaffi government responded with military force. The Obama Administration initially resisted calls to take strong action but relented after the Arab League requested Western intervention in Libya. In March 2011, international reaction to Gaddafi's military crackdown culminated in a United Nations resolution to enforce a no fly zone in Libya. Obama authorized U.S. forces to participate in international air attacks on Libyan air defenses using Tomahawk cruise missiles to establish the protective zone. Several Arab and European nations also participated in the mission. With coalition support, the rebels took Tripoli the following August. The Libyan campaign culminated in the toppling of Gadaffi regime, but Libya experienced turmoil in the aftermath of the civil war. Obama's intervention in Libya provoked criticism from members of Congress and ignited a debate over the applicability of the War Powers Resolution. In September 2012, Islamic militants attacked an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Republicans strongly criticized the Obama Administration's handling of the Benghazi attack, and established a select committee in the House to investigate the attack.
Foreign and domestic surveillance
The Obama administration inherited several government surveillance programs from the Bush administration, and Obama attempted to strike a balance between protecting civil liberties and tracking terrorist threats, but Obama's continuation of many programs disappointed many civil libertarians. The New York Times reported in 2009 that the NSA had been intercepting communications of American citizens including a Congressman, although the Justice Department believed that the NSA had corrected its errors. United States Attorney General Eric Holder resumed the wiretapping according to his understanding of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008 that Congress passed in July 2008, but without explaining what had occurred. In 2011, Obama signed a four-year extension of some provisions of the Patriot Act. In June 2013 the existence of PRISM, a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007, was leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew. In the face of international outrage, U.S. government officials defended the PRISM surveillance program by asserting it cannot be used on domestic targets without a warrant, that it has helped to prevent acts of terrorism, and that it receives independent oversight from the federal government's executive, judicial and legislative branches. In June 2013, Obama stated that the NSA's data gathering practices constitute "a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people." In 2015, Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which extended provisions of the Patriot Act but ended the collection of bulk telephone records by the NSA.
Science, technology, and the environment
Energy and the environment
In his presidency's first year, Obama took several actions to raise vehicle fuel efficiency in the United States. A January 2009 executive order directed the Department of Transportation to raise fuel efficiency standards incrementally to 35 miles per US gallon (15 km/L; 6.7 L/100 km) by 2020, while another executive order directed the Environmental Protection Agency to allow individual states to set stricter tailpipe emissions regulations than the federal standard. In May 2009, Obama announced a plan to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy national standards for gasoline mileage, by creating a single new national standard that will create a car and light truck fleet in the United States that is almost 40 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016, than it is today, with an average of 35.5 miles per gallon. Both environmentalists and auto industry officials largely welcomed the move, as the plan raised national emission standards but provided the single national efficiency standard that auto industry officials group had long desired. Obama also signed the "cash-for-clunkers" bill, which provided incentives to consumers to trade in older, less fuel-efficient cars for more efficient cars. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $54 billion in funds to encourage domestic renewable energy production, make federal buildings more energy-efficient, improve the electricity grid, repair public housing, and weatherize modest-income homes.
Oil and gas production boomed during the Obama presidency. The increase in oil production was driven largely by a fracking boom driven by private investment on private land, and the administration took a largely neutral role in this development. The Obama administration played a larger role in offshore drilling. In May 2010, Obama extended a moratorium on offshore drilling permits after the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which is generally considered to be the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Following the disaster, Obama began a federal investigation and formed a bipartisan commission to review the incident. The administration also imposed new rules on offshore drilling equipment. In 2015, Obama opened up a portion of the Atlantic Coast for oil drilling. Later that year, Obama signed a major tax and spending bill that lifted a 40-year-old ban on exporting oil, while also extending tax incentives for renewable energy production.
During Obama's presidency, the battle over the Keystone XL Pipeline became a major issue, with advocates arguing that it would contribute to economic growth and environmentalists arguing that its approval would contribute to global warming. The proposed 1,000 mile pipeline would have connected Canada's oil sands with the Gulf of Mexico. Because the pipeline crossed international boundaries, its construction required the approval of the US federal government, and the US State Department engaged in a lengthy review process. President Obama vetoed a bill to construct the Keystone Pipeline in February 2015, arguing that the decision of approval should rest with the executive branch. It was the first major veto of his presidency, and Congress was unable to override it. In November 2015, Obama announced that he would not approve of the construction of the pipeline. On vetoing the bill, Obama stated that the pipeline played an "overinflated role" in US political discourse and would have had relatively little impact on job creation or climate change.
Obama has taken several steps to combat global warming, but has been unable to pass a major bill addressing the issue, in part because many Republicans and some Democrats question whether global warming is occurring and whether human activity contributes to it. Following his inauguration, Obama asked that Congress pass a bill to put a cap on domestic carbon emissions. After the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, Obama sought to convince the Senate to pass the bill as well. The legislation would have required the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and by 83 percent by the middle of the 21st century. However, the bill was strongly opposed by Republicans and never came up for a vote in the Senate, which requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. A separate effort led by Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham also failed to come to an agreement on a climate bill that could pass the Senate. Between 2010 and 2015, the US dramatically lowered its dependence on coal, which emits more carbon than other sources of power, including natural gas. Obama imposed regulations on soot, sulfur, and mercury that encouraged the transition from coal, but the falling price of wind, solar, and natural gas energy sources also contributed to coal's decline. In 2013, Obama announced that he would bypass Congress by ordering the EPA to implement new carbon emissions limits. The Clean Power Plan, unveiled in 2015, seeks to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025.
Obama's campaign to fight global warming has found more success at the international level than it has in Congress. Obama attended the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which drafted the non-binding Copenhagen Accord as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The deal provided for the monitoring of carbon emissions among developing countries, but it did not include Obama's proposal to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. In 2014, Obama reached an agreement with China in which China pledged to reach peak carbon emission levels by 2030, while the US pledged to cut its emissions by 26-28 percent compared to its 2005 levels. The deal provided momentum for a potential multilateral global warming agreement among the world's largest carbon emitters. Many Republicans criticized Obama's climate goals as a potential drain on the economy. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, nearly every country in the world agreed to a landmark climate deal in which each nation committed lowering their greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement created a universal accounting system for emissions, requires each country to monitor its emissions, and requires each country to create a plan to reduce its emissions. Several climate negotiators noted that the US-China climate deal and the EPA's emission limits helped make the deal possible.
In July 2009, Obama appointed Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, to be administrator of NASA. That same year, Obama set up the Augustine panel to review the Constellation program. In February 2010 Obama announced that he was cutting the program from the 2011 United States federal budget, describing it as "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation." After the decision drew criticism in the United States, a new "Flexible path to Mars" plan was unveiled at a space conference in April 2010. It included new technology programs, increased R&D spending, a focus on the International Space Station and contracting out flying crew to space to commercial providers. The new plan also increased NASA's 2011 budget to $19 billion from $18.3 billion in 2010. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 implemented many of Obama's goals. The Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, and NASA relied on the Russian space program to launch its astronauts into orbit. During Obama's presidency, NASA designed the Space Launch System and developed the Commercial Crew Development and Commercial Orbital Transportation Services to cooperate with private space flight companies such as SpaceX. Obama's presidency also saw the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Science Laboratory.
Obama took steps to promote various technologies and the technological prowess of the United States. The number of American adults using the internet grew from 74% in 2008 to 84% in 2013, and Obama pushed programs to extend broadband internet to lower income Americans. Over the opposition of many Republicans, the Federal Communications Commission began regulating internet providers as public utilities, with the goal of protecting "net neutrality." Obama launched 18F and the United States Digital Service, two organizations devoted to modernizing government information technology. The stimulus package included money to build high-speed rail networks such as the proposed Florida High Speed Corridor, but political resistance and funding problems stymied those efforts. In 2008, Obama set a goal of having one million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015, and 400,000 electric cars had been sold by the end of 2015. In January 2016, Obama announced a plan to invest $4 billion in the development of self-driving cars, as well as an initiative by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop regulations for self-driving cars. That same month, Obama called for a national effort to develop a cure for cancer, with the effort led by Vice President Biden.
Cybersecurity emerged as an important issue during Obama's presidency. In 2009, the Obama administration established United States Cyber Command, an armed forces sub-unified command charged with defending the military against cyber attacks. Sony Pictures suffered a major hack in 2014, which the US government alleges originated from North Korea in retaliation for the release of the film The Interview. China also developed sophisticated cyber-warfare forces. In 2015, Obama declared cyber-attacks on the US a national emergency. Later that year, Obama signed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act into law.
Drugs and criminal justice reform
The Obama administration took a few steps to reform the criminal justice system at a time when many in both parties felt that the US had gone too far in incarcerating drug offenders. In October 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a directive to federal prosecutors in states with medical marijuana laws not to investigate or prosecute cases of marijuana use or production done in compliance with those laws. On December 16, 2009, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, which repealed a 21-year-old ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs. In August 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize non-medical marijuana. Though any use of marijuana remained illegal under federal law, the Obama administration generally chose not to prosecute those who used marijuana in states that chose to legalize it. However, some liberals and libertarians criticized Obama for continuing or even expanding the war on drugs, particularly in regards to medical marijuana.
In Obama's second term, a bipartisan coalition of Senators came to an agreement on a potential criminal-justice reform bill. Reforms in the proposed legislation include a reduction in the length of federal mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, give judges more discretion in overriding mandatory minimum sentences, and limit the applicability of three strikes policies. Obama strongly supports the legislation.
During his presidency, Obama and the Supreme Court both contributed to a huge expansion of gay rights. In 2010, Obama extended full benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. In 2014, Obama issued another executive order prohibiting discrimination against employees of federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. On December 22, 2010, Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which ended the military's policy of disallowing openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the United States Armed Forces. In May 2012, Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, shortly after Vice President Joe Biden had also expressed support for the institution. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, and Obama personally congratulated the plaintiff. Obama also supported the passage of ENDA, which would ban discrimination against employees on the basis of gender or sexual identity for all companies with 15 or more employees, and the similar but more comprehensive Equality Act. Neither bill has passed Congress. On the international stage, Obama has advocated for gay rights, particularly in Africa.
Health care reform
Once the stimulus bill was enacted, health care reform became Obama's top domestic priority, and the 111th Congress passed a major bill that eventually became widely known as "Obamacare." Health care reform had long been a top priority of the Democratic Party, and Democrats were eager to implement a new plan that would lower costs and increase coverage. In contrast to Bill Clinton's 1993 plan to reform health care, Obama adopted a strategy of letting Congress drive the process, with the House and Senate writing their own bills. In the Senate, a bipartisan group of Senators on the Finance Committee known as the Gang of Six began meeting with the hope of creating a bipartisan healthcare reform bill. In November 2009, the House passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act on a 220-215 vote, with only one Republican voting for the bill. In December 2009, the Senate passed its own health care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA), on a party-line, 60-39 vote. Both bills expanded Medicaid and provided health care subsidies, while establishing an individual mandate, a ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and health insurance exchanges. However, the House bill included a tax increase on families making more than $1 million per year (or $500,000 for individuals) and a public option, while the Senate plan included an excise tax on high-cost health plans.
The 2010 Massachusetts Senate special election victory of Scott Brown seriously imperiled the prospects of a health care reform bill, as Democrats lost their 60-seat Senate super-majority. The White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi engaged in an extensive campaign to convince both centrists and liberals in the House to pass the Senate's health care bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In March 2010, after Obama announced an executive order reinforcing the current law against spending federal funds for elective abortion services, the House passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The bill, which had passed the Senate in December 2009, did not receive a single Republican vote in either house. On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the PPACA into law. The New York Times described the PPACA as "the most expansive social legislation enacted in decades," while the Washington Post noted that it was the biggest expansion of health insurance coverage since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Both houses of Congress also passed a reconciliation measure to make significant changes and corrections to the PPACA; this second bill was signed into law on March 30, 2010. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became widely known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or "Obamacare."
The Affordable Care Act faced considerable challenges and opposition after its passage, and Republicans continually attempted to repeal the law. The law also survived two major challenges that went to the Supreme Court. In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, a 5-4 majority upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, though it made state Medicaid expansion voluntary. In King v. Burwell, a 6-3 majority allowed the use of tax credits in state-operated exchanges. The October 2013 launch of HealthCare.gov, a health insurance exchange website created under the provisions of the ACA, was widely criticized, though many of the problems were fixed by the end of the year. By 2015, the number of uninsured Americans had dropped from 20.2% of the population in 2010 to 13.3% of the population, though Republicans continued to oppose Obamacare as an unwelcome expansion of government. Many liberals also continued to push for a single-payer healthcare system or a public option.
Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan pursued K-12 education reform through the Race to the Top grant program and the use of waivers for the No Child Left Behind Act. Race to the Top gives money to schools that meet certain reform goals, and the program helped encourage the adoption of more rigorous academic standards and new teacher evaluation systems. The program encouraged (but did not require) adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Obama has also advocated for universal pre-kindergarten programs, and two free years of community college for everyone. Through her Let's Move program and advocacy of healthier school lunches, First Lady Michelle Obama focused attention on childhood obesity, which was three times higher in 2008 than it had been in 1974. In December 2015, Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan bill that reauthorized federally-mandated testing but shrank the federal government's role in education, especially with regard to troubled schools. The law also ended the use of waivers by the Education Secretary. In post-secondary education, Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which ended the role of private banks in lending out federally insured student loans, created a new income-based loan repayment plan known as Pay as You Earn, and increased the amount of Pell Grant awards given each year. He also instituted new regulations on for-profit colleges, including a "gainful employment" rule that restricts federal funding from colleges that fail to adequately prepare graduates for careers.
From the beginning of his presidency, Obama supported comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for many immigrants illegally residing in the United States. However, Obama focused on other priorities during the 111th Congress, including the stimulus bill and health care reform. In the 2010 lame-duck session, Obama supported passage of the DREAM Act, which passed the House but failed to overcome a Senate filibuster in a 55-41 vote in favor of the bill. In 2012, Obama implemented the DACA policy, which protects roughly 700,000 illegal immigrants from deportation; the policy applies only to those who were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday. In 2013, the Senate passed the an immigration bill with a path to citizenship, but the House did not vote on the bill. In 2014, Obama announced a new executive order that would protect another four million illegal immigrants from deportation. Obama's executive order was blocked by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but Obama appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to take on the case. Deportations of illegal immigrants continued under Obama, with a record high of 400,000 deportations in 2012, though the number of deportations fell during Obama's second term.
Obama has called for gun control measures in the aftermath of several mass shootings, but has been unable to pass a major bill. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama announced that he favors measures that respect Second Amendment rights, while at the same time keeping guns away from children and criminals. In February 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would seek a new assault weapons ban across the United States, saying that it would have a positive impact on the drug-related violence in Mexico. After the statement drew criticism from the National Rifle Association and some House Democrats, the Administration reportedly ordered the Justice Department to end public discussion of the issue. In his public address regarding the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Obama said, "As a country we have been through this too many times... these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
In January 2013, President Obama outlined a series of sweeping gun control proposals, urging Congress to reintroduce an expired ban on "military-style" assault weapons, impose limits on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, introduce background checks on all gun sales, pass a ban on possession and sale of armor-piercing bullets, introduce harsher penalties for gun-traffickers, and approve the appointment of the head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for the first time since 2006. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) attempted to pass a gun control measure that would expand background checks, but it failed to receive sixty votes in the Senate. Despite Obama's advocacy and subsequent mass shootings such as the Charleston church shooting, no major gun control bill has passed Congress during Obama's presidency, in part due to the power of 2nd Amendment activists such as the National Rifle Association. Obama's presidency ironically has seen an expansion of gun rights in the United States, as in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the Second Amendment applies to the states in addition to the federal government. Obama has signed into law two bills containing amendments reducing restrictions on gun owners, one which permits guns to be transported in checked baggage on Amtrak trains and another which allows carrying loaded firearms in national parks located in states allowing concealed carry.
Following Obama's election, many pondered the existence of a "postracial America," but lingering racial tensions quickly became apparent. In July 2009, prominent African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home by a local police officer. The incident sparked a controversy after Obama stated that the police acted "stupidly" in handling the incident, provoking objections from national law enforcement organizations. To reduce tensions, Obama invited Gates and police officer to the White House in what became known as the "Beer Summit". Several other incidents during Obama's presidency sparked outrage in the African-American community. The acquittal of George Zimmerman following the shooting of Trayvon Martin sparked national outrage, leading to Obama giving a speech in which he noted that "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri sparked a wave of protests. The deaths of Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and several others led to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Though Obama entered office reluctant to talk about race, by 2014 he began openly discussing the disadvantages faced by many members of minority groups. In 2015, Obama founded My Brother's Keeper, an organization which will seek to help young blacks and Hispanics, and which could play a major role in Obama's post-presidency. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 intended to prevent discriminatory voting laws in several states. Obama called on Congress to restore the provision, but Congress has not acted on his recommendation.
Taking place in the final months of President George W. Bush's second term, the 2008 election saw the Democratic ticket of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Joe Biden of Delaware defeat the Republican ticket of Senator John McCain of Arizona and Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. Obama took 52.9% of the popular vote and 365 of the 538 electoral votes. Obama had defeated Senator Hillary Clinton (his future Secretary of State) to take the Democratic nomination; future Vice President Joe Biden also sought the nomination but did not win any delegates. In the election, Democrats added to their majorities in both houses of Congress, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both remained in their posts following the election. Republicans John Boehner and Mitch McConnell continued to serve as House Minority Leader and Senate Minority Leader, respectively.
2010 midterm elections
|Senate leaders||House leaders|
Attacking Obama relentlessly, emphasizing the stalled economy, and fueled by the anger of the Tea Party Movement, Republicans scored a landslide in the 2010 midterm elections, winning control of the House and gaining seats in the Senate. After the election, John Boehner replaced Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and Pelosi became the new House Minority Leader.
Obama blamed himself, in part, for the many Democrats who went down to defeat knowing that they had risked their careers to support his agenda of economic stimulus legislation and a landmark health care bill. Obama called the elections "humbling" and a "shellacking", arguing that the defeat came because not enough Americans had felt the effects of the economic recovery. The Republican majority in the House empowered a party that had been out of power for two years, and House Republicans quickly confronted Obama on issues such as Obamacare and the debt ceiling. The Republican victory in the election also gave Republicans the upper hand in the redistricting that occurred after the 2010 United States census.
2012 re-election campaign
On April 4, 2011, Obama announced that he would seek re-election in the 2012 presidential election. Obama did not face any significant rivals for the 2012 Democratic nomination. Obama's Republican opponent in the general election, former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, advocated for lower taxes, spending cuts, an increase in defense spending, and a repeal of Obamacare (which was ironically based on a Massachusetts healthcare plan developed under Romney). Obama's campaign was based in Chicago and run by many former members of the White House staff and members of the successful 2008 campaign. Obama won re-election with 332 (out of a total of 538) electoral votes and 51.1% of the popular vote, making him the first person since Dwight Eisenhower to twice win 51 percent of the vote. According to exit polls, Obama won a majority of the vote from women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, people under 45, people making less than $50,000 per year, people inhabiting large or mid-sized cities, liberals, moderates, the unmarried, gays, and people with no college education, some college education, or graduate degrees. In addition to the presidential election victory, the Democrats also picked up seats in both houses of Congress, but Republicans retained control of the House.
2014 midterm elections
Obama's second mid-term election turned into another wave election, as Republicans won control of the Senate and picked up several governorships. Mitch McConnell replaced Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader, while Reid became the Senate Minority Leader. Republican control of the Senate gave the party the power to block Obama's executive and judicial nominees. The Republican waves in 2010 and 2014 defeated many young Democratic candidates, weakening the farm team of several state Democratic parties.
Approval ratings and other opinions
After his transition period, Obama entered office with an approval rating of 82% according to Gallup, Obama's approval rating fell to 69% after he took office and announced his first policy decisions. Obama received the support of 90% of Democrats, 60% of independents, and 40% of Republicans in January 2009 polls. By December 2009, Obama's approval rating had fallen to 51%, with Obama receiving approval from roughly 85% of Democrats, 45% of independents, and just 18% of Republicans. By January 2010, many liberals were disappointed by Obama's failure to pass major healthcare, financial reform, or energy bills, while Congressional Republicans such as Eric Cantor criticized Obama for pursuing what they saw as a "narrow ideological agenda." In January 2010, Republican Scott Brown won a dramatic upset victory to succeed the deceased Ted Kennedy in the Senate, and Brown's election was seen by many as a repudiation of Obama's agenda. In July 2010, shortly after Obama signed a major financial reform bill and four months after he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's approval rating stood at 45%, with 47% disapproving. Obama's approval rating would remain stable until the 2010 elections, when Republicans won major gains in both houses of Congress and took control of the House. John Boehner, the lead Republican in the House, pledged to repeal Obamacare and cut federal spending after his party's election victory. Obama's approval ratings climbed back to 50% in January 2011, and after a brief dip jumped back up to 50% after the death of Osama bin Laden. However, Obama's approval ratings fell to 40% in August following the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis.
Obama's approval ratings slowly increased during 2012, and they rose above 50% shortly before the 2012 election, in which Obama defeated Mitt Romney. The Obama campaign was widely seen as more competent, Obama received high marks for his handling of Hurricane Sandy, and many noted the shifting demographics that helped Obama win. However, Republicans also had a positive opinion among just 36 percent of registered voters, compared to 42 percent of voters who held a positive opinion of the Democratic Party, and George W. Bush continued to receive much of the blame for the ailing economy. After his re-election, Obama's approval ratings reached 57%, but that number fell into the low 40s after the federal government shutdown in October 2013. His approval ratings remained in the mid-to-low 40s until the 2014 elections, when Republicans won gains in both houses of Congress and took control of the Senate. In 2015, Obama's approval ratings climbed to the mid-to-high 40s, with his approval and disapproval ratings roughly matching each other.
Obama's election also provoked a reaction to his race, birthplace, and religion. As president, Obama faced numerous taunts and racial innuendos, though most overt racist comments were limited to a small fringe. Many Americans, including businessman Donald Trump, theorized that Obama had been born in Kenya; a CNN poll found that 40% of Republicans believed that Obama had been born in Kenya in April 2011, when Obama released his long-form birth certificte. Many of these "birthers" argued that because Obama was (allegedly) not a citizen, he was not eligible to serve as president under the natural-born-citizen requirements of the Constitution. Despite Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate, which affirmed that Obama was born in Hawaii, a 2015 CNN poll found that 20% of Americans believed that Obama was born outside of the country. Many also claimed that Obama practiced Islam, and a 2015 CNN poll found that 29% of Americans and 43% of Republicans believed Obama to be a Muslim. Even prior to his election as president, Obama had clarified that he was a long-time member of a church affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination.
Evaluations by academic professionals
In a January 2010 survey by the Siena Research Institute at Siena College in Loudonville, New York—one year into the Obama presidency—238 U.S. history and political science professors ranked Obama 15th of 43 U.S. presidents.
In a September 2010 survey by the United States Presidency Centre of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London School of Advanced Study—one year and eight months into the Obama presidency—47 unnamed respondents who were U.K. academic specialists on American history and politics ranked 40 of 42 U.S. presidents from 1789 to 2009, not including Obama; if Obama had been included he would have ranked 8th, behind Harry S. Truman but ahead of Ronald Reagan and all other post-World War II U.S. presidents.
In a June 2012 survey by Newsweek magazine—three years and five months into the Obama presidency—ten selected American historians and biographers ranked Obama 10th of 20 U.S. presidents since 1900, behind gold medalist Franklin D. Roosevelt, silver medalists Theodore Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton, and fellow bronze medalist Ronald Reagan.
In an April 2013 survey by History News Network (HNN) website in Seattle—four years and three months into the Obama presidency—203 scholars from 69 top U.S. colleges and universities gave Obama a B- grade on an A–F scale.
- Timeline of the presidency of Barack Obama
- Speeches of Barack Obama
- Barack Obama Presidential Center
- List of people pardoned by Barack Obama
- Federal political scandals, 2009-2016
- Roberts Court
- "Obama's birth certificate: Final chapter". Politifact. June 27, 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2008.
- "Obama's church choice likely to be scrutinized". MSNBC. Associated Press. November 17, 2008. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
- Signed April 8, 2010, ratified by the Senate December 22, 2010.
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- Numbers reflect post-American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 tax brackets. 2013 tax brackets: 10%: 0-8,925, 15%: 8,925-36,250, 25%: 36,250-87,850, 28%: 87,850-183,250, 33%: 183,250-398,350, 35%: 398,350-400,000, 39.6%: 400,000+
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- The first number indicates the members of Congress voting for the bill, and the second indicates the members of Congress voting against the bill. The "Senate Democrat" column includes independents caucusing with the Democrats. Bills that passed are shaded green.
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- Democratic seats at the start of each session of Congress. Independents caucusing with the Democratic Party (Senators Bernie Sanders, Joe Lieberman, and Angus King) are counted as Democrats for the purposes of this table. Throughout Obama's presidency, there were a total of 100 Senate seats in 435 House seats, so a Democratic majority in the Senate required 50 seats (since Democratic Vice President Joe Biden could provide the tie-breaking vote), and a Democratic majority in the House required 218 seats (assuming no vacancies).
- In 2009, Democrats briefly gained a "filibuster-proof" 60 Senate seats after Al Franken won an extremely close election and Arlen Specter switched parties, but the number of Senate Democrats went down to 59 seats after Scott Brown won a January 2010 special election in Massachusetts.
- Paul Ryan succeeded John Boehner as Speaker of the House in October 2015.
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- Silverleib, Alan (April 27, 2011). "Obama releases original long-form birth certificate". CNN. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
- Agiesta, Jennifer (September 14, 2015). "Misperceptions persist about Obama's faith, but aren't so widespread". CNN. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
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