Barack Obama is the 44th and current president of the UnitedStates, and the first African American to serve as U.S. president. Firstelected to the presidency in 2008, he won a second term in 2012.
Born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama is the44th and current president of the United States. He was a community organizer,civil-rights lawyer and teacher before pursuing a political career. He waselected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996 and to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Hewas elected to the U.S. presidency in 2008, and won re-election in 2012 againstRepublican challenger Mitt Romney.
Barack Hussein Obama II was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu,Hawaii. His mother, Ann Dunham,was born on an Army base in Wichita, Kansas, during World War II. After theJapanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dunham's father, Stanley, enlisted in themilitary and marched across Europe in GeneralGeorge Patton's army. Dunham's mother, Madelyn, went to work on a bomberassembly line. After the war, the couple studied on the G.I. Bill, bought ahouse through the Federal Housing Program and, after several moves, ended up inHawaii.
Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., was born of Luo ethnicity inNyanza Province, Kenya. Obama Sr. grew up herding goats in Africa and,eventually earned a scholarship that allowed him to leave Kenya and pursue hisdreams of going to college in Hawaii. While studying at the University ofHawaii at Manoa, Obama Sr. met fellow student Ann Dunham, and they married on February2, 1961. Barack was born six months later.
As a child, Obama did not have a relationship with his father.When his son was still an infant, Obama Sr. relocated to Massachusetts toattend Harvard University and pursue a Ph.D. Obama's parents officiallyseparated several months later and ultimately divorced in March 1964, whentheir son was two. Soon after, Obama Sr. returned to Kenya.
In 1965, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, aUniversity of Hawaii student from Indonesia. A year later, the family moved to Jakarta,Indonesia, where Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro Ng, was born in 1970.Several incidents in Indonesia left Dunham afraid for her son's safety andeducation so, at the age of 10, Obama was sent back to Hawaii to live with hismaternal grandparents. His mother and half-sister later joined them.
While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in theesteemed Punahou Academy, He excelled in basketball and graduated with academichonors in 1979. As one of only three black students at the school, Obama becameconscious of racism and what it meant to be African-American. He laterdescribed how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracialheritage with his own sense of self: "I noticed that there was nobody likeme in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog. . .and that Santa was a whiteman," he wrote. "I went into the bathroom and stood in front of themirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had alwayslooked, and wondered if something was wrong with me."
Obama also struggled with the absence of his father, who he sawonly once more after his parents divorced, when Obama Sr. visited Hawaii for ashort time in 1971. "[My father] had left paradise, and nothing that mymother or grandparents told me could obviate that single, unassailablefact," he later reflected. "They couldn't describe what it might havebeen like had he stayed."
Ten years later, in 1981, tragedy struck Obama Sr. when he lostboth of his legs in a serious car accident. Confined to a wheelchair, he alsolost his job. In 1982, Obama Sr. was involved in yet another car accident whiletraveling in Nairobi. This time, however, the crash was fatal. Obama Sr. diedon November 24, 1982, when Obama was 21 years old. "At the time of his death,my father remained a myth to me," Obama later wrote, "both more andless than a man."
After high school, Obama studied at OccidentalCollege in Los Angeles for two years. He then transferred to ColumbiaUniversity in New York City, graduating in 1983 with a degree in politicalscience. After working in the business sector for two years, Obama moved toChicago in 1985. There, he worked on the impoverished South Side as a communityorganizer for low-income residents in the Roseland and the Altgeld Gardens communities.
It was during this time that Obama, who said he "was notraised in a religious household," joined the Trinity United Church ofChrist. He also visited relatives in Kenya, and paid an emotional visit to thegraves of his biological father and paternal grandfather. "For a long timeI sat between the two graves and wept," Obama wrote. "I saw that mylife in America—the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'dfelt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago—all of it wasconnected with this small plot of earth an ocean away."
Returning from Kenya with a sense of renewal,Obama entered Harvard Law School in 1988. The next year, he met withconstitutional law professor Laurence Tribe and their discussion so impressedTribe, that when Obama asked to join his team as a research assistant, theprofessor agreed. “The better he did at Harvard Law School and the more heimpressed people, the more obvious it became that he could have had anything,said Professor Tribe in a 2012 interviewwith Frontline , “but it was clear that he wanted to make a differenceto people, to communities.” That same year Obama joined the Chicago law firm ofSidley Austin as a summer associate and it was there he met Michelle Robinson, a young lawyer who was assigned to be hisadviser. Not long after, the couple began dating. In February 1990, Obamawas elected the first African-American editor of the HarvardLaw Review. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Lawin 1991.
After law school, Obama returned to Chicago topractice as a civil rights lawyer with the firm of Miner, Barnhill &Galland. He also taught constitutional law part-time at the University ofChicago Law School between 1992 and 2004—first as a lecturer and then as a professor—andhelped organize voter registration drives during Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. On October 3, 1992, he andMichelle were married. They moved to Kenwood, on Chicago's South Side, andwelcomed two daughters several years later: Malia (born 1998) and Sasha (born2001).
EntryInto Illinois Politics
Obama published an autobiography, Dreamsfrom My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, in 1995. The workreceived high praise from literary figures such as ToniMorrison and hassince been printed in more than 25 languages, including Chinese, Swedish andHebrew. The book had a second printing in 2004 and was adapted for a children'sversion. The audiobook version of Dreams, narrated by Obama,received a Grammy Award for best spoken word album in 2006.
Obama's advocacy work led him to run for a seat in the IllinoisState Senate. He ran as a Democrat and won election in 1996. During his yearsas a state senator, Obama worked with both Democrats and Republicans to draftlegislation on ethics, as well as expand health care services and earlychildhood education programs for the poor. He also created a stateearned-income tax credit for the working poor. As chairman of the IllinoisSenate's Health and Human Services Committee Obama worked with law enforcementofficials to require the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in allcapital cases after a number of death-row inmates were found to be innocent.
In 2000, Obama made an unsuccessful Democratic primary run forthe U.S. House of Representatives seat held by four-term incumbent candidateBobby Rush. Undeterred, he created a campaign committee in 2002 and beganraising funds to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2004. With the help ofpolitical consultant DavidAxelrod, Obama began assessing his prospects for a Senate win.
Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Obama wasan early opponent of President GeorgeW. Bush's push to go to war with Iraq. Obama wasstill a state senator when he spoke against a resolution authorizing the use offorce against Iraq during a rally at Chicago's Federal Plaza in October 2002."I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars," he said."What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in thisadministration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats,irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne." Despitehis protests, the Iraq War began in 2003.
Encouraged by poll numbers, Obama decided to run for the U.S.Senate open seat vacated by Republican Peter Fitzgerald. In the 2004 Democraticprimary, he defeated multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull and IllinoisComptroller Daniel Hynes with 52 percent of the vote. That summer, he wasinvited to deliver the keynote speech in support of John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic NationalConvention in Boston. Obama emphasized the importance of unity and made veiledjabs at the Bush administration and the diversionary use of wedge issues.
After the convention, Obama returned to his U.S. Senate bid inIllinois. His opponent in the general election was supposed to be Republicanprimary winner Jack Ryan, a wealthy former investment banker. However, Ryanwithdrew from the race in June 2004 following public disclosure ofunsubstantiated sexual deviancy allegations by his ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan.
In August 2004, diplomat and former presidential candidate Alan Keyesaccepted the Republicannomination to replace Ryan. In three televised debates, Obama and Keyes expressed opposing views on stem cellresearch, abortion, gun control, school vouchers and tax cuts. In the November2004 general election, Obama received 70 percent of the vote to Keyes' 27percent, the largest electoral victory in Illinois history. With his win, Obamabecame only the third African-American elected to the U.S. Senate sinceReconstruction.
Sworn into office on January 3, 2005, Obama partnered withRepublican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana on a bill that expanded efforts todestroy weapons of mass destruction in Eastern Europe and Russia. Then, withRepublican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, he created a website to track allfederal spending. Obama also spoke out for victims of Hurricane Katrina, pushedfor alternative energy development and championed improved veterans' benefits.
His second book, TheAudacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, waspublished in October 2006. The work discussed Obama's visions for the future ofAmerica, many of which became talking points for his eventual presidentialcampaign. Shortly after its release, the book hit No. 1 on both the NewYork Times andAmazon.com best-seller lists.
In February 2007, Obama made headlines when he announced hiscandidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He was locked in atight battle with former first lady and then-U.S. senator from New York Hillary Rodham Clinton. On June 3,2008, Obama became the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee after winning asufficient number of pledged delegates during the primaries, and Clintondelivered her full support to Obama for the duration of his campaign. OnNovember 4, 2008, Barack Obama defeated Republican presidential nominee John McCain, 52.9 percent to 45.7percent, to win election as the 44th president of the United States—and thefirst African-American to hold this office. His running mate, Delaware SenatorJoe Biden, became vice president. Obama's inauguration took place on January20, 2009.
When Obama took office, he inherited a globaleconomic recession, two ongoing foreign wars and the lowest-ever internationalfavorability rating for the United States. He campaigned on an ambitious agendaof financial reform, alternative energy and reinventing education and healthcare—all while bringing down the national debt. Because these issues wereintertwined with the economic well-being of the nation, he believed all wouldhave to be undertaken simultaneously. During his inauguration speech, Obamasummarized the situation by saying, "Today I say to you that thechallenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will notbe met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will bemet."
Between Inauguration Day and April 29, 2009, the Obamaadministration took action on many fronts. Obama coaxed Congress to expandhealth care insurance for children and provide legal protection for womenseeking equal pay. A $787 billion stimulus bill was passed to promoteshort-term economic growth. Housing and credit markets were put on lifesupport, with a market-based plan to buy U.S. banks' toxic assets. Loans weremade to the auto industry, and new regulations were proposed for Wall Street.Obama also cut taxes for working families, small businesses and first-time homebuyers. The president also loosened the ban on embryonic stem cell research andmoved ahead with a $3.5 trillion budget plan.
Over his first 100 days in office, PresidentObama also undertook a complete overhaul of America's foreign policy. Hereached out to improve relations with Europe, China and Russia and to opendialogue with Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. He lobbied allies to support a globaleconomic stimulus package. He committed an additional 21,000 troops toAfghanistan and set an August 2010 date for withdrawal of nearly all U.S.troops from Iraq. In more dramatic incidents, he ordered an attack on piratesoff the coast of Somalia and prepared the nation for a swine flu outbreak. Hesigned an executive order banning excessive interrogation techniques andordered the closing of the military detention facility at Cuba’s Guantanamo Baywithin a year (a deadline that ultimately would not be met). For his efforts,the Nobel Committee in Norway awarded Obama the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
2010State of the Union
On January 27, 2010, President Obama delivered his first Stateof the Union speech. During his oration, Obama addressed the challenges of theeconomy, proposed a fee for larger banks, announced a possible freeze ongovernment spending in the following fiscal year and spoke against the SupremeCourt's reversal of a law capping campaign finance spending. He also challengedpoliticians to stop thinking of re-election and start making positive changes.He criticized Republicans for their refusal to support any legislation andchastised Democrats for not pushing hard enough to get legislation passed. Healso insisted that, despite obstacles, he was determined to help Americancitizens through the nation's current domestic difficulties. "We don'tquit. I don't quit," he said. "Let's seize this moment to start anew,to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more."
In the second part of his first term as president, Obama faced anumber of obstacles and scored some victories as well. In spite of oppositionfrom Congressional Republicans and the populist Tea Party movement, Obamasigned his health care reform plan, known as the Affordable Care Act, into lawin March 2010. The new law prohibited the denial of coverage based onpre-existing conditions, allowed citizens under 26 years old to be insuredunder parental plans, provided for free health screenings for certain citizensand expanded insurance coverage and access to medical care to millions ofAmericans. Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, which foes dubbed"Obamacare," asserted that it added new costs to the country'soverblown budget, violated the Constitution with its requirement forindividuals to obtain insurance and amounted to a “government takeover” ofhealth care
On the economic front, Obama worked to steer the country throughdifficult financial times. After drawn-out negotiations with Republicans whogained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-termelections, he signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in an effort to rein ingovernment spending and prevent the government from defaulting on its financialobligations. The act also called for the creation of a bipartisan committee toseek solutions to the country's fiscal issues, but the group failed to reachany agreement on how to solve these problems.
Also in 2011, Obama signed a repeal of the military policy knownas "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which prevented openly gay troops fromserving in the U.S. Armed Forces. In March 2011, he approved U.S. participationin NATO airstrikes to support rebels fighting against the forces of Libyandictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, andin May he also gave the green light to a covert operation in Pakistan that ledto the killing of infamous al-Qaeda leader Osamabin Laden by a team of U.S. NavySEALs.
Obama gained a legal victory in June 2012 whenthe U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate,which required citizens to purchase health insurance or pay a tax. In a 5-4decision, the court decided the health care law’s signature provision fellwithin the taxation power granted to Congress under the Constitution. Votingwith the majority were two associate justices appointed by Obama—SoniaSotomayor (confirmed in 2009) and ElenaKagan (confirmed in 2010).
As he did in 2008, during his campaign for a second presidentialterm, Obama focused on grassroots initiatives. Celebrities such as Anna Wintourand Sarah Jessica Parker aided the president's campaign byhosting fund-raising events.
"I guarantee you, we will move this country forward,"Obama stated in June 2012, at a campaign event in Maryland. "We willfinish what we started. And we'll remind the world just why it is that theUnited States of America is the greatest nation on Earth."
In the 2012 election, Obama faced Republican opponent Mitt Romney and Romney's vice-presidential runningmate, U.S. Representative PaulRyan. On November 6, 2012, Obama won a second four-year term as president byreceiving nearly five million more votes than Romney and capturing more than 60percent of the Electoral College.
Nearly one month after President Obama'sre-election, the nation endured one of its most tragic school shootings to datewhen 20 children and six adults were shot to death at the Sandy Hook ElementarySchool in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Two days after theattack, Obama delivered a speech at an interfaith vigil for the victims inNewtown and discussed a need for change in order to make schools safer whilealluding to implementing stricter gun-control measures. "These tragediesmust end," Obama stated. "In the coming weeks, I'll use whateverpower this office holds to engage my fellow citizens—from law enforcement, tomental-health professionals, to parents and educators—in an effort aimed atpreventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can'taccept events like these as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we'repowerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?"
Obama achieved a major legislative victory onJanuary 1, 2013, when the Republican-controlled House of Representativesapproved a bipartisan agreement on tax increases and spending cuts, in aneffort to avoid the looming fiscal cliff crisis (the Senate voted in favor ofthe bill earlier that day). The agreement marked a productive first step towardthe president's re-election promise of reducing the federal deficit by raisingtaxes on the extremely wealthy—individuals earning more than $400,000 per yearand couples earning more than $450,000, according to the bill. Prior to the bill'spassage, in late 2012, tense negotiations between Republicans and Democratsover spending cuts and tax increases became a bitter political battle untilVice President Joe Biden managed to hammer out a deal with Republican SenateMinority Leader Mitch McConnell. Obama pledged to sign the bill into law.
Barack Obama officially began his second term on January 21,2013, when U.S. Chief Justice JohnRoberts administered the oath ofoffice. The inauguration was held on MartinLuther King Jr. Day, andcivil-rights activist MyrlieEvers-Williams, the widow of MedgarEvers, gave the invocation. JamesTaylor, Beyoncé Knowles and KellyClarkson sang at the ceremony,and poet Richard Blanco read his poem "OneToday."
In his inaugural address, Obama called the nation to action onsuch issues as climate change, health care and marriage equality. "We mustact, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today'svictories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand herein four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spiritonce conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall," Obama told the crowdgathered in front of the U.S. Capitol building.
The Obamas attended two official inauguration balls, includingone held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. There the first coupledanced to the Al Green classic "Let's StayTogether," sung by JenniferHudson. Alicia Keysand Jamie Foxx also performed.
After the inauguration, Obama led the nation through manychallenges—none more difficult, perhaps, than the terrorist bombings of theBoston Marathon on April 15, 2013, which killed three people and left more than200 injured. At a memorial service in Boston three days after the bombings, hetold the wounded, "Your country is with you. We will all be with you asyou learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. Youwill run again." And he applauded the city’s response to the tragedy."You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift upwhat’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion."
In the same month, Obama also found his efforts for gun-controlmeasures thwarted in Congress. He had supported legislation calling foruniversal background checks on all gun purchases and a ban on sales of assaultweapons and high-capacity magazines. When the bill was blocked and withdrawn,Obama called it “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
By June, Obama had suffered a significant drop in his approvalratings in a CNN/ORC International poll. In the wake of allegations of theInternal Revenue Service targeting conservative political organizations seekingtax-exempt status and accusations of a cover-up in the terrorist killings ofU.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three others at a diplomaticpost in Benghazi, Libya, Obama’s approval rating declined to only 45percent—his lowest rating in more than 18 months.
Experts also attributed the ratings slide to new revelationsabout the extent of the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance program.Obama defended the NSA's email monitoring and telephone wiretapping during avisit to Germany that June. "We are not rifling through the emails ofGerman citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anyone else,” hesaid. "The encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited." Obamastated that the program had helped stop roughly 50 threats.
In early July 2013, President Obama made history when he joinedformer President George W. Bush in Africa to commemorate the 15thanniversary of al-Qaeda’s first attack on American targets, the U.S. embassiesin Tanzania and Kenya. The event marked the first meeting between two U.S.presidents on foreign soil in commemoration of an act of terrorism.
Later that month, Obama spoke out about theoutrage that followed a Florida jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman inthe murder of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. "When Trayvon Martinwas first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” the presidentremarked at a White House press conference. “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago." Obama explainedthat this particular case was a state matter, but he discussed how the federalgovernment could address some of the legislative and racial issues highlightedby the incident.
Obama found himself grappling with an international crisis inlate August and September 2013 when it was discovered that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assadhad used chemicalweapons against civilians. While saying that thousands of people, includingover 400 children, had been killed in the chemical attacks, Obama calledSyria's actions "a serious national security threat to the United Statesand to the region, and as a consequence, Assad and Syria needs to be heldaccountable."
The president worked to persuade Congress and the internationalcommunity at large to take action against Syria, but found a majority onCapitol Hill opposed to military involvement. Obama then announced analternative solution on September 10, 2013, by stating that if al-Assad agreedwith the stipulations outlined in a proposal made by Russia to give up itschemical weapons, then a direct strike against the nation could be avoided.Al-Assad acknowledged the possession of chemical weapons and ultimatelyaccepted the Russian proposal.
Later that month, Obama made diplomatic strideswith Iran. He spoke with Iranian President HassanRouhani on the phone, which marked the first direct contactbetween the leaders of the two countries in more than 30 years. Thisgroundbreaking move by Obama was seen by many as a sign of thawing in therelationship between the United States and Iran. "The two of us discussedour ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran's nuclear program,"reported Obama at a press conference in which he expressed optimism that a dealcould be reached to lift sanctions on Iran in return for that country’swillingness to halt its nuclear development program.
DomesticPolicies and Problems
Obama found himself struggling on the domestic front in October2013. A dispute over the federal budget and Republican desires to defund orderail the Affordable Care Act caused a 16-day shutdown of the federalgovernment. After a deal had been reached to end the shutdown, Obama used hisweekly address to express his frustration over the situation and his desire forpolitical reform: "The way business is done in Washington has to change.Now that these clouds of crisis and uncertainty have lifted, we need to focuson what the majority of Americans sent us here to do—grow the economy, creategood jobs, strengthen the middle class, lay the foundation for broad-basedprosperity, and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul."
The Affordable Care Act continued to come under fire in Octoberafter the failed launch of HealthCare.gov, the website meant to allow people tofind and purchase health insurance. Extra technical support was brought in towork on the troubled website, which was plagued with glitches for weeks. Thehealth care law was also blamed for some Americans losing their existinginsurance policies, despite repeated assurances from Obama that suchcancellations would not occur. According to the Chicago Tribune, Obamainsisted that the insurance companies—and not his legislation—caused thecoverage change. "Remember, before the Affordable Care Act, thesebad-apple insurers had free rein every single year to limit the care that you received,or used minor pre-existing conditions to jack up your premiums, or bill youinto bankruptcy,” he said.
Under mounting pressure, Obama found himself apologizingregarding some health care changes. In an interview with NBC News, he said ofthose who lost their insurance plans, "I am sorry that they are findingthemselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me." Obamapledged to find a remedy to this problem, saying, "We are going to doeverything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position asa consequence of this."
The fall of 2013 brought Obama additional challenges in the areaof foreign relations. In October 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel revealed that the NSA had been listening into her cell phone calls. "Spying among friends is never acceptable,"Merkel told a summit of European leaders. In the wake of these controversies,Obama saw his approval rating drop to a new low in November 2013. Only 37percent of Americans polled by CBS News approved of the job he was doing aspresident, while 57 percent disapproved of his handling of the job.
Echoes of the Cold War also returned aftercivil unrest and protests in the capital city of Kiev led to the downfall ofUkrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's administration in February 2014.Russian troops crossed into Ukraine to support pro-Russian forces and theannexation of the province of Crimea. In response, Obama ordered sanctionstargeting individuals and businesses considered by the U.S. government to beUkraine agitators or involved in the Crimean crisis. "In 2014 we are wellbeyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democraticleaders," Obama stated. The president said the sanctions were taken inclose coordination with European allies and gave the U.S. "the flexibilityto adjust our response going forward based on Russia's actions.”
In addition to the ongoing troubles in Ukraine,tensions between Israelis and Palestinians erupted into violence in Gaza duringthe summer of 2014. At the same time, tens of thousands of Central Americanchildren were being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border after making theperilous crossing alone. Many Republicans called for the rapid deportation ofthese illegal immigrants, while others considered the situation a humanitariancrisis. Another of the president's woes came from the legislative branch.Speaker of the House JohnBoehner launched an effort to sue Obama for overstepping hisexecutive powers with some of his actions regarding the Affordable CareAct.
In August 2014, Obama ordered the firstairstrikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, also known as ISIS orISIL, which had seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria and conductedhigh-profile beheadings of foreign hostages. The following month, the U.S.launched its first attacks on ISIS targets in Syria, although the presidentpledged to keep combat troops out of the conflict. Several Arab countriesjoined in the airstrikes against the extremist Islamic militant group. "Theonly language understood by killers like this is the language of force,” Obamasaid in a speech to the United Nations. “So the United States of America willwork with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death."
PresidencyAfter 2014 Elections
That November, Obama had to cope with new challenges on the homefront. Republicans made an impressive showing on Election Day and gained amajority in the Senate, meaning that Obama would have to contend withRepublicans controlling both houses of Congress for the final two years of histerm.
Obama flexed his presidential power in Decemberby moving to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time inmore than 50 years. The policy change came after the exchange of Americancitizen Alan Gross and another unnamed American intelligence agent for threeCuban spies. In a speech at the White House, Obama explained that the dramaticshift in Cuban policy would "create more opportunities for the Americanand Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of theAmericas."
In renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba, Obamaannounced plans "to increase travel, commerce and the flow of informationto and from Cuba." The long-standing U.S. economic embargo on Cuba,however, remained in effect and could only be removed with the approval ofCongress. Obama may not be able to sway Congress to agree on this policy shiftas leading Republicans—including Boehner, McConnell and Florida Senator Marco Rubio—all spoke out against Obama's new Cuba policies.
In his 2015 State of the Union address, Obama declared thatthe nation was out of recession. "America, for all that we've endured; forall the grit and hard work required to come back . . . know this: The shadow ofcrisis has passed," he said. He went on to share his vision for ways toimprove the nation through free community college programs and middle-class taxbreaks.
With Democrats outnumbered by Republicans in both the House andthe Senate, Obama threatened to use his executive power to prevent any tinkeringby the opposition on his existing policies. "We can’t put the security offamilies at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the newrules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve gotto fix a broken system," he said. "And if a bill comes to my deskthat tries to do any of these things, I will veto it."
Not long after his State of the Union address,Obama traveled to India to meet with Prime Minister Narnder Modi. According to several news reports, Obama and Modi hadreached a "breakthrough understanding" regarding India's nuclearpower efforts. Obama told the Indian people in a speech given in New Delhi that"we can finally move toward fully implementing our civil nuclearagreement, which will mean more reliable electricity for Indians and cleaner,non-carbon energy that helps fight climate change." This agreement wouldalso open the door to U.S. investment in India's energy industry.
The summer of 2015 brought two major U.S. Supreme Court wins forthe Obama administration. The court upheld part of the president's AffordableCare Act regarding health care tax subsidies. Without these tax credits, buyingmedical insurance might have become too costly for millions of Americans.
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court also mademarriage equality a reality with its 5-4 decision to overturn an earlier 6thCircuit Court of Appeals ruling that same-sex marriage bans in several stateswere constitutional. By reversing this earlier decision, the Supreme Court madesame-sex marriage legal throughout the country. President Obama, who became thefirst president to voice support for same-sex marriage in May 2012, praised thecourt for affirming "that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality. Indoing so, they've reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equalprotection of the law. That all people should be treated equally, regardless ofwho they are or who they love."
In his speech, Obama also said that the court'sdecision "is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage ofmillions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked toparents—parents who loved their children no matter what. Folks who were willingto endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong . . . and slowly made anentire country realize that love is love."
On the same day as this landmark decision,President Obama grappled with an incident of racial violence by speaking at thefuneral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine African-Americans killedby a young white man during a Bible study meeting at the Emanuel AME Church inCharleston, South Carolina. In his eulogy for Pinckney, Obama said that thechurch’s late pastor "embodied the idea that our Christian faith demandsdeeds and not just words."
In July 2015, Obama announced that, after lengthy negotiations,the United States and five world powers had reached an agreement with Iran overits nuclear program. The deal would allow inspectors entry into Iran to makesure the country kept its pledge to limit its nuclear program and enrichuranium at a much lower level than would be needed for a nuclear weapon. Inreturn, the U.S. and its partners would remove the tough sanctions imposed onIran and allow the country to ramp up sales of oil and access frozen bankaccounts.
As the administration began its effort to lobbyCongress to endorse the deal, Obama made his first trip as president back tohis father’s homeland of Kenya. In addition to having dinner with three-dozen relatives,some of whom he met for the very first time, Obama proudly proclaimed to apacked arena, “I am proud to be the first American president to come toKenya—and of course I’m the first Kenyan-American to be president of the UnitedStates.”
In August 2015, the Obama administration announced The Clean Power Plan, a major climatechange plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the first-ever nationalstandards to limit carbon pollution from coal-burning power plants in theUnited States. President Obama called the plan the "single most importantstep that America has ever made in the fight against global climatechange."
The plan calls for aggressive EnvironmentalProtection Agency regulations including requiring existing power plants to cutcarbon dioxide emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and use morerenewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Under the regulations,states will be allowed to create their own plans to reduce emissions and arerequired to submit initial plans by 2016 and final versions by 2018.
Critics quickly voiced loud opposition to the plan includingKentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, who sent aletter to every governor in the United States urging them not to comply withthe regulations. States and private companies, which rely on coal productionfor their economic livelihoods, are also expected to legally challenge theplan.
Despite the backlash from those sectors, President Obamaremained steadfast in his bold action to address climate change. "We'veheard these same stale arguments before," he said in an address fromthe White House. "Each time they were wrong."
He added: "We're the first generation to feel the impact ofclimate change and the last generation that can do something about it."
2015Paris Climate Conference
In November 2015, Obama further demonstrated his commitment toenvironmental issues as a primary player in the international COP21 summit heldoutside of Paris, France. Addressing the gathered representatives of nearly 200countries, Obama acknowledged the United States’ position as the second-largestclimate polluter and the nation’s primary responsibility to do something aboutit. The resulting Paris Agreement requires all participating nations to reducegreenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the rise of global temperaturesover the ensuing century and also to allocate resources for the research anddevelopment of alternative energy sources. President Obama praised theagreement for establishing the “enduring framework the world needs to solve theclimate crisis” and pledged that the United States would cut its emissions morethan 25 percent by 2030. In September 2016, the United States and China, thetwo largest emitters of greenhouse gases, announced that their countries wouldratify the Paris Agreement. One month later on October 5, 2016, the UnitedNations announced that the agreement had been ratified by a sufficient numberof countries to allow it to take effect starting on November 4, 2016.
Speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House, PresidentObama said: "Today, the world meets the moment, and if we follow throughon the commitments that this Paris Agreement embodies, history may well judgeit as a turning point for our planet.”
"One the reasons I ran for this office was to make Americathe leader in this mission," he continued, adding he was hopeful thehistoric agreement could make a difference. "This gives us the bestpossible shot to save the one planet we've got.”
Entering his final year as President of the United States, inearly January 2016 Obama held a press conference to announce a new series ofexecutive orders related to gun control. Citing examples such as the 2012 massshooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, the president shed tears as he calledon Congress and the gun lobby to work with him to make the country safer. Hismeasures, which have met with vehement opposition from members of both theRepublican and Democratic Parties, as well as gun advocacy groups such as theNRA, would implement more thorough background checks for gun buyers, strictergovernmental oversight and enforcement of gun laws, better information sharingregarding mental health issues as related to gun ownership and investment ingun safety technology. According to a 2015Gallup poll, most Americans favor some kind of stricter regulations of gunsales.
FinalYear in Office
Entering his final year as President of the United States, inearly January 2016 Obama held a press conference to announce a new series ofexecutive orders related to gun control. Citing examples such as the 2012 massshooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, the president shedtears as he called on Congress and the gun lobby to work with him to make thecountry safer. His measures, which have met with vehement opposition frommembers of both the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as gun advocacygroups such as the NRA, would implement more thorough background checks for gunbuyers, stricter governmental oversight and enforcement of gun laws, betterinformation sharing regarding mental health issues as related to gun ownershipand investment in gun safety technology. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, mostAmericans favor some kind of stricter regulations of gun sales.
Shortly after the press conference, on January12, 2016, Barack Obama delivered what would be his final State of the Unionaddress. Diverging from the typical policy-prescribing format, Obama’s messagefor the American people was centered around themes of optimism in the face ofadversity, asking them not to let fears about security or the future get in theway of building a nation that is “clear-eyed” and “big-hearted.” This did notprevent him from taking thinly disguised jabs at Republican presidential hopefulsfor what he characterized as their “cynical” rhetoric, making further allusionsto the “rancor and suspicion between the parties” and his failure as presidentto do more to bridge that gap. But Obama also took the opportunity to tout hisaccomplishments, citing the Affordable Care Act, diplomatic progress with Iranand Cuba, the legalization of gay marriage and profound economic recovery asamong them.
Further indicating his unwillingness to accept a “lame duck”status, two months later Obama made two important moves to attempt to cementhis legacy. On March 10 he met at the White House with newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the first official visit by aCanadian leader in nearly 20 years. Central among the topics addressed duringtheir meeting—which also included trade, terrorism and border security—wasclimate change, with the two leaders promising a commitment to building aninternational “low-carbon global economy.” Trudeau’s apparent concern forenvironmental issues and generally liberal agenda stand in contrast to hispredecessor, Stephen Harper, withwhom President Obama enjoyed strained relations due in part to Obama’sunwillingness to allow for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
A week after his meeting with Trudeau, Obama held a pressconference at the White House to present 63-year-old U.S. Court of Appealschief judge Merrick Garland as his nominee for the Supreme Courtseat vacated with the unexpected death of conservative stalwart Antonin Scalia. Though Garland isconsidered a moderate “consensus” candidate, his nomination was immediatelyrebuffed by leaders of the Republican Party, who have repeatedly stated theirintention to block any nominee put forward by President Obama, fearing thatsuch a confirmation would tip the balance toward a more liberal-leaning court.In an allusion to the political standoff, President Obama closed his remarksabout Garland by saying, “I am fulfilling my constitutional duty. I’m doing myjob. I hope that our senators will do their jobs, and move quickly to considermy nominee.” During his presidency, Obama already filled two seats in theSupreme Court, with SoniaSotomayorand Elena Kagan, thoughboth were confirmed when there was a Democratic-majority Senate.
Leaving the Senate to weigh their optionsregarding his nomination of Merrick, President Obama set out on a historicmission to Cuba on March 20. The first sitting American president to visitthe island nation since 1928, Obama made the three-day visit—accompanied byFirst Lady MichelleObama and their daughters Malia and Sasha.Obama's visit was part of a larger program to establish greater cooperationbetween the two countries, the foundations of which were laid in late 2014,when Obama and Cuban president RaulCastro announced the normalizing of diplomatic relations for thefirst time since 1961. At the top of the agenda during the milestone meetingbetween the two leaders were human rights, the U.S.’s economic embargo on Cubaand Guantanamo Bay. Following their first conversation at the Palace of theRevolution, Castro and Obama held a joint press conference broadcast on statetelevision during which they fielded questions from the press. While theyacknowledged its complexities, both also professed a shared optimism about theroad ahead.