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)
|Residence||The White House|
|Alma mater||Occidental College
Columbia University (B.A.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)
Constitutional law professor
United States Senator
President of the United States
|Religion||Christian, former member of United Church of Christ|
|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 multilateral agreement on the nuclear program of Iran and a thaw in relations with Cuba. Obama also presided over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other legislation passed in his first term, and continued to clash with Congressional Republicans over the budget and the debt ceiling. 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 his nominations for his Cabinet and administration. In December 2009, Obama announced his choice of Representative Rahm Emanuel as his White House Chief of Staff. Obama announced his selection of Hillary Clinton, a former rival in the 2008 Democratic primary, as his choice for Secretary of State. Obama appointed Eric Holder as his Attorney General, and Holder's confirmation made him the first African American to hold that position. He also nominated Timothy F. Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. On December 1, Obama announced that Robert Gates would remain as Secretary of Defense, making Gates the first Defense head to carry over from a president of a different party. He nominated former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice to the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, which he restored to a Cabinet-level position. Geithner, Emanuel, Holder, Rice, and Podesta were among the several former Clinton administration officials appointed by Obama.
During the transition, Obama maintained Change.gov, a website on which he wrote blogs to readers and uploaded video addresses by many of the members of his new cabinet. He announced strict rules for federal lobbyists, restricting them from financially contributing to his administration and forcing them to stop lobbying while working for him. The website also allowed individuals to share stories and visions with each other and the transition team in what was called the Citizen's Briefing Book, which was given to Obama shortly after his inauguration. Most of the information from Change.gov was transferred to the official White House website WhiteHouse.gov just after Obama's inauguration.
Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. He 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. After his speech, he went to the President's Room in the House Wing of the Capitol and signed three documents: a commemorative proclamation, a list of Cabinet appointments, and a list of sub-Cabinet appointments, before attending a luncheon with congressional and administration leaders and invited guests. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of former President Abraham Lincoln, the same Bible that was used for Lincoln's inauguration was used in Obama's inauguration.
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" before restating the phrase correctly; since Obama initially repeated the incorrect form, some scholars argued the President should take the oath again. On January 21, Roberts readministered the oath to Obama in a private ceremony in the White House Map Room, making him the seventh U.S. president to retake the oath; White House Counsel Greg Craig said Obama took the oath from Roberts a second time out of 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.
In his first week he also established a policy of producing a weekly Saturday morning video address available on whitehouse.gov and YouTube, much like those released during his transition period. The first address had been viewed by 600,000 YouTube viewers by the next afternoon.
Due to the economic crisis, the President enacted a pay freeze for Senior White House Staff making more than $100,000 per year, as well as announcing stricter guidelines regarding lobbyists in an effort to raise the ethical standards of the White House. He asked for a waiver to his own new rules, however, for the appointments of William Lynn to the position of Deputy Defense Secretary, Jocelyn Frye to the position of director of policy and projects in the Office of the First Lady, and Cecilia Muñoz to the position of director of intergovernmental affairs in the executive office of the president, leading to some criticism of hypocrisy and violation of his pledge for governmental openness.
The first piece of legislation Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 on January 29, which revised the statute of limitations for filing pay discrimination lawsuits. Lilly Ledbetter joined Obama and his wife, Michelle, as he signed the bill, fulfilling his campaign pledge to nullify Ledbetter v. Goodyear. On February 3, he signed the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIP), expanding health care from 7 million children under the plan to 11 million.
After much debate, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed by both the House and Senate on February 13, 2009. Originally intended to be a bipartisan bill, the passage of the bill was largely along party lines. No Republicans voted for it in the House, and three moderate Republicans voted for it in the Senate (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania). The bill combined tax breaks with spending on infrastructure projects, extension of welfare benefits, and education. The final cost of the bill was $787 billion, and almost $1.2 trillion with debt service included. Obama signed the Act into law on February 17, 2009, in Denver, Colorado.
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.
Twenty-two members of the Obama administration are either in the United States Cabinet (15) or are in positions considered to be Cabinet-level (7). The members of the Cabinet are the heads of the fifteen major executive departments, and the seven cabinet-level positions are the Vice President, White House Chief of Staff, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador to the United Nations, and the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Neither the elected Vice President, Joe Biden, nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was retained from the previous administration, required confirmation. Gates was one of two Republicans picked for Obama's cabinet, along with Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood. On January 19, 2009, Senate Democratic leaders requested fifteen of the twenty positions to be ratified by unanimous consent, and seven gained unanimous confirmation by voice vote the next day: Ken Salazar, Steven Chu, Arne Duncan, Peter Orszag, Eric Shinseki, Tom Vilsack, and Janet Napolitano. On January 21, Obama presided over the swearing in of the seven unanimous nominees. Later that day, the Senate confirmed Hillary Clinton by a 94–2 vote. On January 22, several more confirmations were approved unanimously: Susan E. Rice, Ray LaHood, Lisa P. Jackson, and Shaun Donovan. On January 26, the Senate confirmed Geithner by a 60–34 margin.
At the conclusion of Obama's first week as President, Hilda Solis, Tom Daschle, Ron Kirk, and Eric Holder had yet to be confirmed, and there had been no second appointment for Secretary of Commerce after Bill Richardson withdrew his name from consideration. Holder was confirmed by a vote of 75–21 on February 2, and on February 3, Obama announced Senator Judd Gregg as his second nomination for Secretary of Commerce. Daschle withdrew later that day amid controversy over his failure to pay income taxes and potential conflicts of interest related to the speaking fees he accepted from health care interests. Solis was later confirmed by a vote of 80–17 on February 24, and Ron Kirk was confirmed on March 18 by a 92–5 vote in the Senate.
Gregg, who was the leading Republican negotiator and author of the TARP bill in the Senate, withdrew his nomination as Secretary of Commerce, citing "irresolvable conflicts" with President Obama and his staff over the 2010 census and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Former Washington governor Gary Locke was nominated on February 26 as Obama's third choice for Commerce Secretary and confirmed on March 24 by voice vote. On March 2, Obama introduced Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius as his second choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services. He also introduced Nancy-Ann DeParle as head of the new White House Office of Health Reform, which he suggested would work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services. DeParle was one of many "czars" appointed by Obama, to the consternation of some in the Republican Party. At the end of March, Sebelius was the only remaining Cabinet member yet to be confirmed. Sebelius was finally confirmed on April 28th 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
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 early slow pace in nominating judicial nominees prompted some Democrats to criticize the pace of Obama's lack of focus on the courts. In 2009, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy criticized Republicans for stalling those judicial nominations that had been made, 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 planned to center his attention on handling the global financial crisis known as the Great Recession. Even before his inauguration he lobbied Congress to pass an economic stimulus bill, which became the top priority during his first month in office. As President, Obama made a high profile trip to Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. to dialog with Congressional Republicans and advocate for the bill. On February 17, 2009, Obama signed into law a $787 billion plan 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. 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.
As part of the 2010 budget proposal, the Obama administration proposed additional measures to attempt to stabilize the economy, including a $2–3 trillion measure aimed at stabilizing the financial system and freeing up credit. The program included up to $1 trillion to buy toxic bank assets, an additional $1 trillion to expand a federal consumer loan program, and the $350 billion left in the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The plan also included $50 billion intended to slow the wave of mortgage foreclosures. The 2011 budget included a three-year freeze on discretionary spending, proposes several program cancellations, and raises taxes on high income earners to bring down deficits during the economic recovery. In a September 2011 speech, Obama proposed the American Jobs Act as a further stimulus measure, but it did not pass Congress.
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
Obama signed the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which created new rules for credit card companies. On July 21, 2010, Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, considered to be the largest financial system overhaul since the New Deal. The stated goals of the law were to provide financial regulatory reform, to protect consumers and investors, to end too-big-to-fail, to regulate the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets, and to prevent another financial crisis, among others. Dodd-Frank also established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was charged with protecting consumers against abusive financial practices. Obama said "There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period," at the signing ceremony in the Ronald Reagan Building, and added that "These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history." 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.
During November–December 2010, Obama and a lame duck session of the 111th Congress focused on a dispute about the temporary Bush tax cuts, which were due to expire at the end of the year. 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 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, taxation went 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.
Budget and debt ceiling
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 remained 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 debt ceiling. 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 2013, the government shut down for two weeks in October. 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. US government debt grew from 52% of GDP when Obama took office in 2009 to 74% in 2014, with the vast majority of the growth in debt coming between 2009 and 2011.
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: to William J. Lynn III, a lobbyist for Raytheon, to hold the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense; to Jocelyn Frye, former general counsel at the National Partnership for Women and Families, to serve as Director of Policy and Projects in the Office of the First Lady; and to Cecilia Muñoz, former senior vice president for the National Council of La Raza, to serve as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Executive Office of the President. By March 21, 2009, at least thirty officials appointed by Obama had been lobbyists in the past five years. Ten additional waivers were announced in September 2009. 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.
On taking office, the Obama administration said that all executive orders, non-emergency legislation, and proclamations will 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. The pledge was twice broken during Obama's first month in office when he signed SCHIP legislation and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act with less than the full five days of "sunlight before signing".
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. In April 2009, the United States Department of Justice released four legal memos from the Bush administration to comply voluntarily with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The memos describe in detail controversial interrogation methods the CIA used on prisoners suspected of terrorism. Obama ordered the memos released over the objections of former CIA directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet and John Deutch.
Obama stated during the 2008 Presidential campaign that he would have negotiations for health care reform televised on C-SPAN, citing transparency as being the leverage needed to ensure that people stay involved in the process taking place in Washington. This did not fully happen and Politifact gave Obama a "Promise Broken" rating on the issue. Obama acknowledged that he met with Democratic leaders behind closed doors to discuss how best to garner enough votes in order to merge the two House and Senate's different versions of the health care reform bill. Doing this violated the letter of the pledge, although Obama maintains that negotiations in several congressional committees were open, televised hearings. Obama also cited an independent ethics watchdog group describe his administration as the most transparent in recent history.
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." Eight people have been charged under the previously rarely used leak-related provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917. They include Thomas Andrews Drake, a former National Security Agency (NSA) employee who was critical of the Trailblazer Project, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department contractor who allegedly had a conversation about North Korea with James Rosen of Fox News Channel, and Jeffrey Sterling, who allegedly was a source for James Risen's book State of War. Risen has also been subpoenaed to reveal his sources, another rare action by the government. Also, Shamai Leibowitz, a contract linguist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was convicted of leaking information from embassy wiretaps, John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst pleaded guilty to passing classified information, Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for the US Army pleaded guilty to passing classified information to the Wikileaks organization, and James Hitselberger, a former contract linguist for the US Navy in Bahrain is charged with possessing classified documents. 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. In his inaugural address, Obama suggested that he planned to begin the process of withdrawing from Iraq and would focus on the war in Afghanistan. He spoke about America's determination to combat terrorism, proclaiming America's spirit is "stronger and cannot be broken — you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you". To the Muslim world, Obama extended an invite to "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect". He also said the U.S. would "extend a hand" to those "who cling to power through corruption and deceit" if they "are willing to unclench" their fists. Shortly after his inauguration President Obama first called President Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Calls were also made to President Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Olmert of Israel and King Abdullah of Jordan. At the 2009 G-20 London summit, Obama met with world leaders to coordinate a response to the ailing world economy.
On June 4, 2009, Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in Egypt. The wide ranging speech called for a "new beginning" in relations between the Islamic world and the United States. The speech received both praise and criticism from leaders in the region. Obama discontinued use of the term "War on Terror" and instead uses the term "Overseas Contingency Operation". Despite the name change, American forces continued to clash with Islamic militant organizations such as al-Qaeda, ISIL, and al-Shabab in Somalia.
As both a Senator and as president, Obama has strongly advocated for nuclear non-proliferation, saying that the ultimate goal is a "world without nuclear weapons." The Obama administration negotiated arms-reduction deals with Iran and Russia, but it has not yet succeeded in convincing the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Other characteristics of the Obama administration on foreign policy include a tough stance on tax havens, continuing military operations in Pakistan, and avowed focus on diplomacy to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea. According to David Sanger of The New York Times, Obama continued and expanded the cyber-warfare program of George W. Bush's administration, leading to the creation of the Stuxnet virus that infected Iranian nuclear centrifuges. In 2015, Obama described the Obama Doctrine as: "we will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities."
On April 1, 2009, Obama and China's President, Hu Jintao, announced the establishment of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and agreed to work together to build a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship for the 21st century. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote an op-ed saying that the US would "pivot" to Asia, focusing its diplomacy and trade in the region. Obama also called the region a "top priority" and emphasized the importance of the region. In 2015, Obama became the first president to visit India twice. Obama also became the first president to visit Myanmar, and Obama supported Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
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.
The New York Times reported in 2009 that the NSA is 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 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 and included what he characterized as "dangerous" and "criminal" activities. The revelations were published by the British newspaper The Guardian and the Washington Post. In the face of international outrage, U.S. government officials have disputed some aspects of the reporting by those newspapers, and have 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. On June 19, 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama, during a visit to Germany, stated that the NSA's data gathering practices constitute "a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people."
Iraq and Afghanistan
During the 2008 presidential election, Obama strongly criticized the Iraq War. 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, the vast majority of American soldiers had left Iraq, with only 150 soldiers remaining 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.
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 signed 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.
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. All three agreements had originally been negotiated by the Bush Administration, but Obama re-opened negotiations with all three countries so that they could win the support of Congressional Democrats.
Prior to Obama's inauguration, the Bush administration had entered into negotiations to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement among several Pacific Rim countries. Obama continued negotiations 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 major economies such as Japan. In July 2015, Congress passed a bill giving trade promotion authority (also known as fast track negotiating authority) to the president until 2021. Trade promotion authority requires Congress to vote on proposed free trade agreements, with no chance to filibuster or amend the bill. However, the passage of the trade promotion bill does not guarantee that the TPP will win passage by both houses of Congress. After years of negotiations, the 12 countries reached a final agreement on the content of the TPP in October 2015. The full text of the treaty was made public in November 2015. Passing the TPP is one of the top remaining priorities of the Obama administration. Obama has also pursued a free trade agreement with the European Union.
The Obama administration has received heavy criticism from citizen activists and members of the Democratic Party for the lack of transparency in the negotiations surrounding the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the presence of some 600 corporate representatives to assist in the drafting process. Critics claim that it would expand political powers for corporations, weaken financial regulations and increase the cost of prescription drugs. In November 2013, WikiLeaks released the draft text of a chapter pertaining to intellectual property rights, which Julian Assange said "would trample over individual rights and free expression" if ever implemented.
Guantanamo Bay detention camp
On his first day in office, Obama requested a 120-day suspension of all trials for alleged terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, so the new administration could "review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases pending before military commissions as of 2011[update], specifically". Another order established a task force to lead a review of detention policies, procedures and individual cases. Obama addressed the State Department that "the United States will not torture" and drafted an executive order to close Guantanamo within a year. On January 22, 2009, Obama signed an executive order ensuring safe, lawful, and humane treatment of individuals detained in armed conflicts. This order restricts interrogators to methods listed and authorized by an Army Field Manual. A detainee released since Obama took office claimed in an interview with Agence France-Presse that conditions at Guantanamo had worsened, stating guards wanted to "take their last revenge" before the facility is closed. On March 13, 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.
The case review of detainee files by administration officials and prosecutors was made more difficult than expected as "the Bush administration had not established a consolidated repository of the evidence and intelligence on each prisoner". By September 2009, prosecutors recommended to the Justice Department which detainees are eligible for trial, and the Justice Department and the Pentagon worked together to determine which of several now-scheduled trials will go forward in military tribunals and which in civilian courts. While 216 international terrorists are already held in maximum security prisons in the U.S., Congress was denying the administration funds to shut down the camp and adapt existing facilities elsewhere, arguing that the decision was "too dangerous to rush". In November, Obama stated that the U.S. would miss the January 2010 date for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison as he had ordered, acknowledging that he "knew this was going to be hard". Obama did not set a specific new deadline for closing the camp, citing that the delay was due to politics and lack of congressional cooperation. The state of Illinois has offered to sell to the federal government the Thomson Correctional Center, a new but largely unused prison, for the purpose of housing detainees. Federal officials testified at a December 23 hearing that if the state commission approves the sale for that purpose, it could take more than six months to ready the facility. Opposition from Congress ensured that the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay remained open.
In November 2009, the Obama Administration announced plans to give accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed a civilian trial in New York City. Critics asserted that the trial risked handing over national security information to Al Qaeda via the discovery process. In April 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder canceled the civilian trial. He blasted Congress, which had refused to fund the trial, and stated that he still believed a civilian trial was the best option.
Killing of Osama bin Laden
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Starting with information received in July 2010, intelligence developed by the CIA over the next several months 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. Within minutes of Obama's announcement from Washington, DC, late in the evening on May 1, there were spontaneous celebrations around the country as crowds gathered outside the White House, and at New York City's Ground Zero and Times Square. 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.
The U.S. drone (unmanned aerial vehicles) attacks on targets in Pakistan, that were begun by President George W. Bush, have increased substantially under President Barack Obama, resulting in between 306 and 849 casualties annually between 2009 and 2011. The Obama administration has also conducted drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia. Though the drone strikes have killed high-ranking terrorists, they have been criticized for resulting in civilian casualties. The strikes have also been criticized, including by some former members of the Obama administration, for causing a backlash against the United States. Surveys have shown that the strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan. In 2009, the UN special investigator on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions called the United States' reliance on pilotless missile-carrying aircraft "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 subsequently fell substantially after the announcement of the new policy.
In May 2013, the Obama administration admitted that four U.S. citizens had been killed by drones since 2009, and that one of those men was intentionally targeted. In April 2010, the Obama administration had authorized the "targeted killing" of the radical Muslim cleric and American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi, using a drone. al-Aulaqi was believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them. This was the first known instance of a sitting U.S. president ordering the extrajudicial killing of a U.S. citizen. As of 2015, eight American citizens have been killed in drone strikes, though Aulaqi remains the lone citizen who was specifically targeted. The Justice Department's legal memorandum authorizing the strike, which asserted that Fifth Amendment due process rights "could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch", has not been released to the public. 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.
Since the spring of 2013 secretive meetings were conducted, in the neutral locations of Canada and Vatican City, between the United States and Cuba. 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 the Nelson Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg. The Pope wrote a communique in 2014 urging both states to finalize granting amnesty to the prisoners. On December 17, 2014, Alan Gross was released in exchange for the remaining members of the Cuban Five.
In December 2014, President Obama ordered the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba. Obama delivered a speech in late December 2014, explaining the rationale of normalizing relationships as isolation restrictions such as an economic embargo was ineffective to persuade Cuba to develop a democratic society. Obama and Castro made separate statements that efforts to normalize relations between the two nations would begin with the re-establishment of embassies in Havana and Washington. The embassies had previously been dissolved in 1961 after Cuba became closely allied with the USSR. 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
During the 2008 presidential campaign, a major foreign policy difference between Obama and his competitors—both in the Democratic party primary and in the general election—was his expressed willingness to engage in direct diplomacy with the Iranian regime. Obama's stance also differed dramatically from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who in 2002 had grouped Iran with North Korea and Iraq as members of an "axis of evil." In 2009, the United States announced that it would participate in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran over the status of their nuclear program, reversing the policies of the Bush administration.
In June 2009, protests broke out in Iran after a presidential election that many Iranians believed were marred by fraud. Obama called on the Iranian Government to stop "violent and unjust" action against the protesters, but resisted calls to do more than that. He was criticized for not being more forceful. He responded that "the last thing I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for—those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States." Protests broke out again in Iran in February 2011 and were again met with force.
In June 2013, Hasan Rouhani was elected the new President of Iran. Three days after his inauguration, he called for a resumption of diplomacy. This was followed by a meeting between the new Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, and his P5+1 counterparts on the sidelines of the 2013 UN General Assembly. In this meeting, Zarif presented a new proposal and a vision for reaching a final agreement within a year. The next day, President Obama called his counterpart, Mr. Rouhani, marking the highest level contact between the United States and Iran since the revolution in 1979.
In March 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a Joint session of the United States Congress to caution against accepting a deal with Iran. This was followed by an open letter to the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran drafted by freshman U.S. Senator Tom Cotton and signed by forty seven Republican United States Senators. The letter and the speech by Netanyahu were perceived as an attempt by the Republican party to undermine the negotiations and encourage a turn to harsher sanctions. The substance of the open letter cautioned Iran against accepting a deal with the United States which, the signers stated, would not be ratified by Congress and could thus be vacated by the next President. The letter was met with ridicule by the American public, the international community and the Iranian leadership. Javad Zarif personally replied, pointing out that the letter—if taken seriously -- "undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments".
Despite the interference, on April 2, 2015, negotiators announced that a framework agreement had been reached. Congressional Republicans attempted to pass a resolution rejecting the six-nation accord, but the Republican effort failed in the Senate.
The Arab Spring and its aftermath
After a sudden revolution in Tunisia, Arab discontent began to spread, with protests occurring in almost every Arab state. The wave of demonstrations became known as the Arab Spring. 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.
By the second half of March 2011, anti-government protests were being held in Syria and police killed protesters in several cities. In March 2012, Obama argued that unilateral military action to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime would be a mistake. Syria eventually 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 the country and eventually expanded into Iraq. 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.
Anti-government protests also 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.
Science, technology, and the environment
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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.
Energy and the environment
On January 27, 2009, Obama issued two presidential memoranda concerning vehicle emissions. One 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, and the other directed the Environmental Protection Agency to allow individual states to set stricter tailpipe emissions regulations than the federal standard. On May 19, 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. Environmental advocates and industry officials welcomed the new program, but for different reasons. Environmentalists called it a long-overdue tightening of emissions and fuel economy standards after decades of government delay and industry opposition. Auto industry officials said it would provide the single national efficiency standard they have long desired, a reasonable timetable to meet it and the certainty they need to proceed with product development plans. 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.
On February 10, 2009, Obama overturned a Bush administration policy that had opened up a five-year period of offshore drilling for oil and gas near both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been quoted as saying, "To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside" the plan "and create our own timeline". On March 30, 2010, Obama partially reinstated Bush administration proposals to open certain offshore areas along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling. The proposals had earlier been set aside by President Obama after they were challenged in court on environmental grounds.
On May 27, 2010, Obama extended a moratorium on offshore drilling permits after the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill which is considered to be the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Although BP took responsibility for the disaster and its ongoing after effects, Obama began a federal investigation along with forming a bipartisan commission to review the incident and methods to avoid it in the future. Obama visited the Gulf Coast on May 2 and 28 and expressed his frustration on the June 8 NBC Today Show, by saying "I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick." Obama's response to the disaster drew confusion and criticism within segments of the media and public.[dated info]
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 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. 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 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. Obama will attend the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
On November 30, 2011, a group of Republican senators introduced legislation aimed at forcing the Obama administration to make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline within 60 days. In December 2011, Congress passed a bill giving the Obama Administration a 60-day deadline to make a decision pipeline. In January 2012, Obama rejected the application stating that the deadline for the decision had "prevented a full assessment of the pipeline's impact".
A bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline was passed by the Senate (62–36) on January 29, 2015, and by the House (270–152) on February 11, 2015. President Obama vetoed the bill on February 24, 2015, arguing that the decision of approval should rest with the Executive Branch. The Senate was unable to override the veto, which was the third veto of Obama's presidency but his first major veto, since it was the first time Obama vetoed legislation sent to his desk by the new 2014 Republican majorities in both chambers. In November 2015, Obama announced that he would not approve of the construction of the pipeline.
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.
Drugs and criminal justice reform
On October 19, 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 marijuana. Though any use of marijuana remained illegal under federal law, the Obama administration chose not to prosecute those who used marijuana in states that passed legislation or referenda legalizing it.
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.
In 2009, Obama authorized the extension of some benefits (but not health insurance or pension benefits) to same-sex partners of federal employees, and 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, a bill that provides for repeal of the Don't ask, don't tell policy of 1993, that had prevented gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the United States Armed Forces. Repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" had been a key campaign promise that Obama had made during the 2008 presidential campaign. 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.
In May 2012, Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, shortly after Vice President Joe Biden had also expressed support for same-sex marriage. After the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry in Obergefell v. Hodges, Obama personally congratulated the plaintiff, James Obergefell.
Health care reform
Once the stimulus bill was enacted, health care reform became Obama's top domestic priority. Healthcare 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 healthcare, 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. On July 14, 2009, House Democratic leaders introduced a 1,000-page plan for overhauling the US health care system, which Obama urged Congress to approve by the end of the year. After much public debate during the Congressional summer recess of 2009, Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9 where he addressed concerns over his administration's proposals. 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 2015, the Senate passed its own healthcare reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) on a party-line, 60-39 vote. Both plans established an individual mandate, an expansion of Medicaid, a ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, healthcare subsidies, 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 U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the ten-year cost to the federal government of the major insurance-related provisions of the House plan at approximately $1.0 trillion. In mid-July 2009, Douglas Elmendorf, director of the CBO, testified that the proposals under consideration would significantly increase federal spending and did not include the "fundamental changes" needed to control the rapid growth in health care spending. However, after reviewing the final version of the bill introduced after 14 months of debate the CBO estimated that it would reduce federal budget deficits by $143 billion over 10 years and by more than a trillion in the next decade.
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. In March 2010, Obama gave several speeches across the country to argue for the passage of health care reform. On March 21, 2010, after Obama announced an executive order reinforcing the current law against spending federal funds for elective abortion services, the House, by a vote of 219 to 212, passed the version of the bill previously passed in the Senate. The bill, which included over 200 Republican amendments, was passed without a single Republican vote. On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. Immediately following the bill's passage, the House voted in favor of a reconciliation measure to make significant changes and corrections to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was passed by both houses with two minor alterations on March 25, 2010, and 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.
Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the creation of the Race to the Top grant program in 2009. 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 also advocated for universal pre-kindergarten programs, and two free years of community college for everyone.
On March 30, 2010, 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. By directly lending to students, the government is projected to save taxpayers $68 billion over the next several years. Federally insured student loans will instead be distributed by the Department of Education. The law also increased the amount of Pell Grant awards given each year, doubling its current funding. Starting in 2014, the law permits borrowers to cap the amount they spend on student loans each year to ten percent of their discretionary income and have their balance forgiven if they have faithfully paid the balance of their loan over 20 years. Additionally, the law seeks to make it easier for parents to qualify for Grad PLUS loans, and spends billions on poor and minority schools and $2 billion for community colleges.
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 first, including the stimulus bill and healthcare reform. In the 2010 lame-duck session, Obama supported passage of the DREAM Act, which passed the House. However, the bill failed to overcome a Senate filibuster in a 55-41 vote in favor of the bill, with most Democrats voting for the bill and most Republicans voting against it. 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 cizenship, but the House never voted 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.
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. On February 25, 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 NRA and some House Democrats, the Administration reportedly ordered the Justice Department to end public discussion of the issue. 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. In his public address regarding the 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." On January 16, 2013, President Obama outlined a series of sweeping gun control proposals, urging Congress to reintroduce an expired ban on "military-style" assault weapons, such as those used in several recent mass shootings, 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, especially unlicensed dealers who buy arms for criminals and approving 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.
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 an organization called My Brother's Keeper, which will seek to help young blacks and Hispanics.
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 did not act on his recommendation.
|Senate leaders||House leaders|
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
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, including an executive order to close the Guantanomo Bay detention facility. 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.
With conservative Republicans controlling the House, Obama instituted the We Can't Wait program, which involved using executive orders, administrative rulemaking, and recess appointments to institute policies without the support of Congress. 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, 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
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Barack Obama, who spent more than 20 years as a UCC member, is the forty-fourth President of the United States.
- An Associated Press wire story on Obama's resignation from Trinity United Church of Christ in the course of the Jeremiah Wright controversy stated that he had, in doing so, disaffiliated himself with the UCC. (See "Obama's church choice likely to be scrutinized". MSNBC. Associated Press. November 17, 2008. Retrieved January 20, 2009.)
- Signed April 8th, 2010, ratified by the Senate December 22nd, 2010.
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- Numbers are not adjusted for inflation. The spending and deficit numbers reflect fiscal years which last from October to September; for example, the 2014 fiscal year lasted from October 2013 to September 2014.
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- Numbers reflect post-OBRA 93 tax brackets. 1994 tax brackets: 15%: 0-22,750, 28%: 22,750-55,100, 31%: 55,100-115,000, 36%: 115,000-250,000, 39.6%: 250,000+
- Numbers reflect post-Bush tax cuts tax brackets. 2004 tax brackets: 10%: 0-7,150 15%: 7,150-29,050, 25%: 29,050-70,350, 28%: 70,350-146,750, 33%: 146,750-319,100, 35%: 319,100+
- 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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- 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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- Paul Ryan succeeded John Boehner as Speaker of the House in October 2015.
- 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.
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