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 was a United States Senator from Illinois at the time of his victory over Arizona Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Barack Obama is the first African American president of the United States, as well as the first born in Hawaii.
His policy decisions have addressed a global financial crisis and have included changes in tax policies, legislation to reform the United States health care industry, foreign policy initiatives and the phasing out of detention of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. He attended the G-20 London summit and later visited U.S. troops in Iraq. On the tour of various European countries following the G-20 summit, he announced in Prague that he intended to negotiate substantial reduction in the world's nuclear arsenals, en route to their eventual extinction. In October 2009, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."
He was elected to a second term on November 6, 2012. Having defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney by winning 65.9 million popular votes and 332 electoral votes, he set forth his second term goals in his victory speech. He stressed the need to fight income inequality while also dealing with adaptation to global warming as well as reforming American education to promote technology and innovation, saying, "We believe in a generous America".
- 1 Transition period
- 2 Inauguration
- 3 First 100 days
- 4 Approval ratings and opinion
- 5 Evaluations by academic professionals
- 6 Major legislation
- 7 Personnel
- 8 Policies
- 8.1 Economy
- 8.2 Ethics
- 8.3 Foreign policy
- 8.4 Gun control
- 8.5 Science and technology
- 8.6 Social policy
- 8.7 Gates arrest controversy
- 8.8 Wall Street reform
- 9 2010 midterm elections
- 10 2012 re-election campaign
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
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. Shortly after the election on November 4, Obama chose Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois as White House Chief of Staff.
Cabinet nominations included former Democratic primary opponents Hillary Rodham Clinton for Secretary of State and Bill Richardson for Secretary of Commerce (although the latter withdrew on January 4, 2009). Obama appointed Eric Holder as his Attorney General, the first African American appointed to that position. He also nominated Timothy F. Geithner to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. On December 1, Obama announced that he had asked Robert Gates to 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.
During his transition, he maintained a website Change.gov, 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
Obama's 100th day in office was April 29, 2009. In his first post-election interview with 60 Minutes, Obama said that he had been studying Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days, while adding, "The first hundred days is going to be important, but it's probably going to be the first thousand days that makes the difference."
Obama's first 100 days were highly anticipated ever since he became the presumptive nominee. Several news outlets created web pages dedicated to covering the subject. Commentators weighed in on challenges and priorities within domestic, foreign, economic, and environmental policy. CNN lists a number of economic issues that "Obama and his team will have to tackle in their first 100 days", foremost among which is passing and implementing a recovery package to deal with the financial crisis. Clive Stafford Smith, a British human rights lawyer, expressed hopes that the new president will close Guantanamo Bay detention camp in his first 100 days in office. After aides of the president announced his intention to give a major foreign policy speech in the capital of an Islamic country, there were speculations in Jakarta that he might return to his former home city within the first 100 days.
The New York Times devoted a five-part series, which was spread out over two weeks, to anticipatory analysis of Obama's first hundred days. Each day, the analysis of a political expert was followed by freely edited blog postings from readers. The writers compared Obama's prospects with the situations of Franklin D. Roosevelt (January 16, Jean Edward Smith), John F. Kennedy (January 19, Richard Reeves), Lyndon B. Johnson (January 23, Robert Dallek), Ronald Reagan (January 27, Lou Cannon), and Richard Nixon (February 4, Roger Morris).
Legislation and executive orders
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. 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.
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.
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.
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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.
Early in his presidency, Obama signed a law raising the tobacco tax 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes. The tax is to be "used to finance a major expansion of health insurance for children", and "help some [smokers] to quit and persuade young people not to start".
Approval ratings and opinion
After his transition period, Obama entered office with an approval rating of 82%. At the end of his first week, 68% of respondents in a Gallup poll approved of how Obama was handling his job, the second highest approval rating for a President shortly after being elected since World War II. Throughout early February polls showed scattered approval ratings: 62% (CBS News), 64% (USA Today/Gallup), 66% (Gallup), and 76% in an outlier poll (CNN/Opinion Research). Gallup reported the congressional address in late February boosted his approval from a term-low of 59% to 67%.
Throughout autumn 2009, Rasmussen estimated Obama's approval as fluctuating between 45% and 52% and his disapproval between 48% and 54%; as of November 11, Pew Research estimated Obama's approval between 51% and 55% and his disapproval between 33% and 37% since July.
Handling of the economy
Rasmussen reported in mid-February 2009, that 55% of voters gave Obama good or excellent marks on his handling of the economy. In early March, a The Wall Street Journal survey of 49 economists gave Obama an average grade of 59 out of 100, with 42% of the respondents surveyed giving the administration's economic policies a grade below 60 percent. In comparison, only 30% of those same economists considered the response of governments around the world to the global recession to have been adequate. In April, a Gallup poll showed trust in Obama's economic policy with 71% saying they had "a fair amount" or "a great deal" of confidence in Obama's handling of the economy, higher than for Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, or leaders of Congress. Another Gallup poll in June showed 55% of Americans approved Obama's overall handling of the economy, but 48% and 51% disapproved of his handling of the federal budget deficit and controlling federal spending, respectively. A CBS News poll taken August 27–31 showed 53% of those polled approved of his handling of the economy. A Rasmussen poll taken on November 12 found 45% of Americans rating Obama's handling of the economy as poor and 39% rating him as doing a good or excellent job. They found 72% of Democrats rated his handling of the economy as good or excellent, while only 10% of Republicans and 27% of voters not affiliated with either party agreed.
On March 25, 2010, following his signing of landmark health care reform legislation into law, Obama's polling was revealed by Bloomberg to be 50%, with higher marks for relations with other countries (58%) and his running of the war in Afghanistan (54%). "Obama's approval rating is roughly equal to what Bill Clinton had at this point in his presidency, according to data maintained by Gallup (and) higher than the 45 percent Ronald Reagan recorded in April 1982" and more favorable than Democrats or Republicans in office at the time. They found Obama's approval rating was at 85% among Democrats, compared with 46% among independents and 11% among Republicans.
Fox News Channel released the results of two polls on April 8–9, 2010. The first showed a drop in Obama's approval rating to 43%, with 48% disapproving. In that poll, Democrats approved of Obama's performance 80–12%, while independents disapproved 49–38%. The other poll, which concentrated on the economy, showed disapproval of Obama's handling of the economy by a 53–42% margin, with 62% saying they were dissatisfied with the handling of the federal deficit. According to a Gallup Poll released April 10, 2010, President Obama had a 45% approval rating, with 48% disapproving. In a poll from Rasmussen Reports, released April 10, 2010, 47% approved of the President's performance, while 53% disapproved.
Obama's approval rating jumped to a high following the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011. A GfK poll conducted May 5, 2011 found his approval rating to be 60%. During the debt ceiling debate in August 2011, Obama's approval rating dropped to the low-40s.
In October 2011, 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. The initiative was developed in response to what Obama claimed was Congress's unwillingness to pass economic legislation that he had proposed, and conflicts in Congress during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis.
President Obama began 2012 with approval/disapproval ratings roughly even in the high 40% range, and ended the year with roughly a 10% lead in approval vs. disapproval percentages.
President Obama began 2012 with roughly a 10% excess in approval vs. disapproval percentages, and ended the year with roughly a 10% deficit in approval vs. disapproval percentages.
In 2015, according to a Gallup survey, Obama's job approval as president hit the 50% mark for the first time since 2013.
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.
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 departments (State, Defense, Justice, etc.), 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. Since Robert Gates was a member of the previous administration, his letter of resignation (a formality at the end of a President's term) was simply not accepted, and he did not need confirmation. 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. 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 program in the Senate, after publication that he had a multi-million dollar investment in the Bank of America, on February 12, withdrew his nomination as Secretary of Commerce, citing "irresolvable conflicts" with President Obama and his staff over how to conduct 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. At the end of March, Sebelius was the only remaining Cabinet member yet to be confirmed.
Six high-ranking cabinet nominees in the Obama administration had their confirmations delayed or rejected among reports that they did not pay all of their taxes, including Tom Daschle, Obama's original nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Though Geithner was confirmed, and Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, thought Daschle would have been confirmed, Daschle withdrew his nomination on February 3. Obama had nominated Nancy Killefer for the position of Chief Performance Officer, but Killefer also withdrew on February 3, citing unspecified problems with District of Columbia unemployment tax. A senior administration official said that Killefer's tax issues dealt with household help. Hilda Solis, Obama's nominee for Secretary of Labor, faced delayed confirmation hearings due to tax lien concerns pertaining to her husband's auto repair business, but she was later confirmed on February 24. While pundits puzzled over U.S. Trade Representative-designate Ron Kirk's failure to be confirmed by March 2009, it was reported on March 2 that Kirk owed over $10,000 in back taxes. Kirk agreed to pay them in exchange for Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus's aid in speeding up the confirmation process; he was later confirmed on March 18. On March 31, Kathleen Sebelius, Obama's nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, revealed in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee that her Certified Public Accountant found errors in her tax returns for years 2005–2007. She, along with her husband, paid more than $7,000 in back taxes, along with $878 in interest.
Notable non-Cabinet positions
Appointees serve at the pleasure of the President and were nominated by Barack Obama except as noted.
- Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
- Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Special envoy to the Middle East
- Director of National Intelligence
- Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
- Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers
- Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission
- Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of National Economic Council
- Chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board
- Chairperson of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness
- Jeffrey R. Immelt (2011–present)
1Appointed by George W. Bush in 2006 to a five-year term
2Appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 to a ten-year term
United States Supreme Court
Obama appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
Outside of the Supreme Court, by October 2009, Obama had nominated fewer than two dozen judges to fill judicial vacancies, of which there were close to 100. This has prompted some Democrats to criticize the pace of Obama's judicial appointments as too slow. In December 2009, Senator Patrick Leahy criticized Republicans for stalling those judicial nominations that had been made, noting that the Senate confirmed more district and circuit court nominees during the first year of the George W. Bush administration than it had approved by that point during the Barack Obama presidency.
Upon entering office, Obama planned to center his attention on handling the global financial crisis known also 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 reduced taxes for 98 percent of taxpayers, bringing tax rates to their lowest levels in 60 years.
As part of the 2010 budget proposal, the Obama administration has 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 includes 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 includes $50 billion intended to slow the wave of mortgage foreclosures. The 2011 budget includes 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.
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%, then fell throughout 2010 through 2012, recovering more slowly than in past recessions.
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.
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. Congressional Republicans agreed but also wanted to extend the tax cuts for those making over that amount, and refused to support any bill that did not do so. All the Republicans in the Senate also joined in saying that, until the tax dispute was resolved, they would filibuster to prevent consideration of any other legislation, except for bills to fund the U.S. government. On December 7, Obama strongly defended a compromise agreement he had reached with the Republican congressional leadership 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. On December 10, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) led a filibuster against the compromise tax proposal, which lasted over eight hours. Obama 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.
Early in his presidential campaign, Obama stated that "they [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. As of 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.
Not all recent former lobbyists require waivers; those without waivers write letters of recusal stating issues from which they must refrain because of their previous jobs. USA Today reported that 21 members of the Obama administration have at some time been registered as federal lobbyists, although most have not within the previous two years. Lobbyists in the administration include William Corr, an anti-tobacco lobbyist, as Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services and Tom Vilsack, who lobbied in 2007, for a national teachers union, as Secretary of Agriculture. Also, the Secretary of Labor nominee, Hilda Solis, formerly served as a board member of American Rights at Work, which lobbied Congress on two bills Solis co-sponsored, and Mark Patterson, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's chief of staff, is a former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have criticized the administration, claiming that Obama is retreating from his own ethics rules barring lobbyists from working on the issues about which they lobbied during the previous two years by issuing waivers. According to Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, "It makes it appear that they are saying one thing and doing another."
The Obama administration has 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". The administration has said that they are still "working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar".
During his first week in office, Obama announced plans to post a video address each week on the site, and on YouTube, informing the public of government actions each week. During his speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Obama stated, "I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy."
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 were written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury, then Principal Assistant Attorneys General to the Department of Justice, and addressed to John A. Rizzo, general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency. The memos describe in detail controversial interrogation methods the CIA used on prisoners suspected of terrorism. Obama became personally involved in the decision to release the memos, which was opposed by former CIA directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet and John Deutch. Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Obama for not releasing more memos; Cheney claimed that unreleased memos detail successes of CIA interrogations. A 2012 analysis by Bloomberg News indicates that The Obama Administration has failed to follow the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the President's record, stating that the Administration has shown "unprecedented transparency."
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requires all recipients of the funds provided by the act to publish a plan for using the funds, along with purpose, cost, rationale, net job creation, and contact information about the plan to a website Recovery.gov so that the public can review and comment. Inspectors General from each department or executive agency will then review, as appropriate, any concerns raised by the public. Any findings of an Inspector General must be relayed immediately to the head of each department and published on Recovery.gov.
On June 16, 2009, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in order to get information about the visits of coal company executives. Anne Weismann, the chief counsel for CREW, stated "The Obama administration has now taken exactly the same position as the Bush administration... I don't see how you can keep people from knowing who visits the White House and adhere to a policy of openness and transparency." On June 16, MSNBC reported that its more comprehensive request for visitor logs since Obama's January 20 inauguration had been denied. The administration announced that White House visitor logs will be made available to the public on an ongoing basis, with certain limitations, for visits occurring after September 15, 2009. Beginning on January 29, 2010, the White House did begin to release the names of its visitor records. Since that time, names of visitors (which includes not only tourists, but also names of union leaders, Wall Street executives, lobbyists, party chairs, philanthropists and celebrities), have been released. The names are released in huge batches up to 75,000 names at a time. Names are released 90–120 days after having visited the White House. The complete list of names is available online by accessing the official White House website.
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 gives President Obama a "Promise Broken" rating on this issue. After White House press secretary Robert Gibbs initially avoided addressing the issue, President Obama himself 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) passed versions of the health care 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 and former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is currently at large and has been charged with theft and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information to columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Organizing for Action donations for meetings
In February 2013, the New York Times reported that Organizing for Action (OFA), formerly the Obama for America 2012 presidential campaign organization, had offered quarterly meetings with Obama at the White House in return for donations of $500,000 or more. White House press spokesman Jay Carney denied that access to the President was being "sold," stating that OFA was an independent organization, and referred specific questions to OFA staff. Two weeks later, Obama reelection campaign manager Jim Messina said that the group would no longer accept corporate donations and would disclose donation amounts. OFA executive director Jon Carson and Messina both said OFA is a non-partisan, grassroots issue advocacy group. However, Organizing for Action had announced donations from wealthy liberal insiders such as George Soros and corporations including Lockheed Martin, Citi, and Duke Energy. On March 8, Messina told CBS News that donors could meet with the president, but not at the White House. The Sunlight Foundation complained that a list of donors and the amount they had contributed was not available when OFA held its initial meeting. Prominent Republican leaders including Mitch McConnell and Bruce Eberle criticized the offer as a pay for access scandal.
In his inaugural address, Obama suggested that he plans to begin the process of withdrawing from Iraq and continuing to focus on the war in Afghanistan. He also mentioned lessening the nuclear threat through "working tirelessly with old friends and former foes". 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. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East peace and Richard Holbrooke as special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan on January 23, 2009. At the same time, Obama called on Israel to open the borders of Gaza, detailing early plans on his administration's peace plans for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
On February 18, 2009, Obama announced that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be bolstered by 17,000 new troops by summer. The announcement followed the recommendation of several experts including Defense Secretary Robert Gates that additional troops be deployed to the war-torn nation.
Obama declared his plan for ending the Iraq War on February 27, 2009, in a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, before an audience of Marines stationed there. According to the president, combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by August 2010, leaving a contingent of up to 50,000 servicemen and servicewomen to continue training, advisory, and counterterrorism operations until as late as the end of 2011.
Other characteristics of the Obama administration on foreign policy include a tough stance on tax havens, continuing military operation in Pakistan, and avowed focus on diplomacy to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea.
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 that same month, Obama requested that Congress approve $83.4 billion of supplemental military funding, mostly for the war in Iraq and to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. The request also includes $2.2 billion to increase the size of the US military, $350 million to upgrade security along the US-Mexico border, and $400 million in counterinsurgency aid for Pakistan.
In May 2009, it was reported that Obama plans to expand the military by 20,000 employees.
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. In March 2010, Secretary of State Clinton criticized the Israeli government for approving expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem.
On April 8, 2010, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the latest Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a "major" nuclear arms control agreement that reduces the nuclear weapons stockpiles of both countries.
In March 2011, international reaction to Muammar Gaddafi's military crackdown on rebel forces and civilians in Libya 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.
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."
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.
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.
Developments in the Muslim world
In June 2009, protests broke out in Iran after Presidential elections that many Iranians believe 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.
After a sudden revolution in Tunisia, Arab discontent began to spread. Demonstrations broke out Egypt in January and February 2011. Press reports indicated that Obama followed a strategy of pressing for dramatic change and leaving little doubt that he felt Mubarak's resignation would be desirable, without actually saying so. After three weeks of unrest, Mubarak resigned. Anti-government protests broke out in Benghazi, Libya, in February 2011, and the Gadaffi government responded with military force. The Obama Administration initially resisted calls to take strong action but relented after the Arab League requested Western intervention in Libya. The U.S. provided air support, especially at the beginning of the operation, and helped in areas in which it has unique capabilities, such as electronic warfare and aerial surveillance. The Obama administration demanded and got participation from several Arab and European nations and Obama stated that the U.S. would not send any ground troops. With coalition support, the rebels took Tripoli the following August. 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 would be a mistake. As of June 2012, several experts characterized the situation as a civil war.
Overseas Contingency Operation
Obama discontinued use of the term "War on Terror" and instead uses the term "Overseas Contingency Operation". However, Obama has stated that the U.S. is at war with Al-Qaeda, saying "Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."
Drone Attacks in Pakistan
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 (2009–2012). In 2009, an expansion of the drone attacks was authorized by President Barack Obama and targeted rescuers, funerals, and one U.S. citizen. UN reports have described the U.S. drone wars as extrajudicial killing and summary justice, and have called on the Obama administration to justify its use of targeted assassinations rather than attempting to capture al Qaeda or Taliban suspects. Surveys have shown that the strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 addition to the prisoner amnesty arrangement, dialog between the two countries continued to improve as the Pope continued to encourage dialog by writing to the leaders a letter. Eventually Obama and Raul Castro conducted a phone dialog.
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.
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. On April 8, 2009, the United States announced that it would participate in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran over the status of their nuclear program—a reversal of the policy under the Bush administration.
After initial setbacks, including the revelation of a secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom and the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election, the United States, the European Union and the UN Security Council agreed to apply broad new sanctions on the Iranian regime. These sanctions covered weapons sales, energy, financial services and other areas. This was supplemented by additional banking-sector sanctions applied by the United States in December 2011 as part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. The European Union followed suit in January 2012 with a blanket ban on Iranian petroleum imports by member nations.
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. Though negotiators admit several important details must be resolved if a final agreement is to be reached before the June deadline.
During the 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.[dated info]
Science and technology
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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.
On January 27, 2009, Obama issued two presidential memoranda concerning energy policy. 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.
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 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.
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]
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.
Obama set up the Augustine panel to review the Constellation program in 2009, and announced in February 2010, 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.
Stem cell research
On March 9, 2009, Obama repealed a Bush-era policy that prevented federal tax dollars from being used to fund research on new lines of embryonic stem cells. Such research has been a matter of debate between those who emphasize the therapeutic potential of such research and those who suggest that elements of this research breach ethical limitations. Obama stated that "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values...In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research — and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."
On January 23, 2009, Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy, a measure from the Reagan and Bush eras that required any non-governmental organization receiving U.S. Government funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries.
On June 17, 2009, Obama authorized the extension of some benefits (but not health insurance or pension benefits) to same-sex partners of federal employees. Obama chose to leave larger changes, such as the repeal of Don't ask, don't tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, to Congress.
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 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 has 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.
Health care reform
Once the stimulus bill was enacted, health care reform became Obama's top domestic priority. On July 14, 2009, House Democratic leaders introduced a 1,000-page plan for overhauling the US health care system, which Obama wanted Congress to approve by the end of the year.
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the ten-year cost to the federal government of the major insurance-related provisions of the bill 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.
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 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 on December 24, 2009, by a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. The bill, which includes over 200 Republican amendments, was passed without a single Republican vote. On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the bill 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.
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.
Gates arrest controversy
On July 16, 2009, prominent African-American Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home by a local police officer, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, for disorderly conduct. Gates, who was locked out of his house, had attempted to break into his own property, thus causing the initial alarm from a neighbor who called 9-1-1. The incident sparked national controversy over whether Gates's civil rights had been violated by Crowley. On July 21, the Cambridge Police Department dropped charges against Gates. On July 22, President Barack Obama, commented on the incident over national and international television, criticized the arrest, and stated the police acted "stupidly" in handling the incident. National law enforcement organizations and members objected to Obama's comments and criticized his handling of the issue. In the aftermath, Obama stated that he regretted his comments exacerbating the situation, and hoped that the situation could become a "teachable moment". To reduce tensions, on July 24, Obama invited both parties to the White House to discuss the issue over beers, and on July 30, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined Crowley and Gates in a private, cordial meeting in a courtyard near the White House Rose Garden; this became known colloquially as the "Beer Summit".
Wall Street reform
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. 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." Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the two committee chairmen who sponsored the bill, attended the ceremony.
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.
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.
2012 re-election campaign
On April 4, 2011, Obama announced that he would seek re-election in the 2012 presidential election. The campaign would be based in Chicago and run by many former members of the White House staff and members of the successful 2008 campaign.
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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.
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