President Barack Obama celebrated his inauguration Monday, starting a second term that pundits warn may be short on political capital and long on big challenges and hot-button issues. A Jan. 19 New York Times article warned that former President Bill Clinton was a year into his second term before scandal diminished his clout, while Hurricane Katrina gave former President Bush just seven months of influence. "You hope for a year and a half. You understand it could be half that," former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told The New York Times. "You've got to have a really, really good plan for 12 months in hopes it lasts for 16 or 18. But you have to be mindful that every day the window gets a little narrower and you've got to seize the moment." President Obama's second-term agenda has been hinted at in media reports prior to his Jan. 20 swearing-in, and his inauguration address provided a glimpse at issues he may emphasize during his last term in office. Here's a look at some of the hot-button issues and upcoming debates the country may see over the next four years.
In his inaugural address, President Obama discussed immigration, saying, "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity — until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country."
Buzzfeed reported on Sunday that comprehensive immigration reform stands atop the Senate's priority bills.
Immigration issues may come down to a battle between parties — not a battle of "do something" vs. "do nothing" — but a battle of which party can do something first.
On Jan. 20, The Hill reported that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is rallying conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Grover Norquist behind immigration reform. An immigration "Gang of Eight," consisting of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Mike Lee, R- Utah, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has also discussed the issue with Rubio.
The Washington Post reported that Rubio and Obama have similar plans for tackling immigration, with Obama asserting that illegal immigrants should have to pay a fine, learn English and clear criminal background checks before "earning" citizenship, and Rubio saying similar steps would earn illegal immigrants interim legal status from which they could later apply for green cards as a path to citizenship.
>> Migrants' rights activists hold signs, one reading in Spanish "Courage, migrants" outside the U.S. embassy onObama's inauguration day, in Mexico City, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. Protesters say Obama's administration has failed to address immigration promptly.
The Associated Press reported on Jan. 17 that climate change is expected to be one of the main issues the president has promised to tackle in his second term.
"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity," Obama said in his inaugural address. "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms."
"The president has been clear that tackling climate change and enhancing energy security will be among his top priorities in his second term," White House spokesman Clark Stevens told The Associated Press.
According to the AP report, environmental groups are hoping Obama will use his executive authority to create more national monuments, and that the president will take "swift, decisive action to prevent more erratic weather, superstorms and wildfires."
At the Sunday night "Green Ball," Vice President Joe Biden told environmentalists that the administration would not let climate change fall by the wayside during this next term, and that they should "keep the faith."
>> In this Dec. 9, 2008 file photo, President-elect Barack Obama meets with former Vice President Al Gore in Chicago.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Connecticut school shooting, the president issued 23 executive actions on issues such as helping young people get mental health treatment, giving funding to communities to hire school resources officers and counselors, and conducting research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. Obama also asked Congress to:
- Require background checks on all gun sales
- Reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004
- Renew a 10-round limit on the size of ammunition magazines
- Prohibit the possession, transfer, manufacture and import of armor-piercing bullets
- Confirm Todd Jones as the director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive
- Penalize people who help criminals get guns
"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm," Obama said in his inaugural address.
Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lists the "Sandy Hook Elementary School Violence Reduction Act" as one of the Senate's top priorities, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wy., said he doesn't expect Reid to bring the gun control bills to a vote.
"He has six Democrats up for election in two years in states where the president received fewer than 42 percent of the vote, and he doesn't want his Democrats to have to choose between their own constituents and the president's positions," Barrasso told CNN's Candy Crowley.
>> From left to right: Hinna Zeejah, 8, Taejah Goode, 10, Julia Stokes, 11, and Grant Fritz, 8, who wrote letters to President Barack Obama about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., watch as Obama signs executive orders outlining proposals to reduce gun violence, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington.
At the beginning of Obama's second term, the median household income is lower than in 2009, more Americans live below the poverty level, the unemployment rate stands at 7.8 percent and the number of Americans ages 16 or older who decided not to work or seek a job has increased by more than 8 million people since January 2009. That brings the number to more than 88 million Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The president addressed the economic situation in his inaugural speech, saying an economic recovery has begun, and that "America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; and endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention."
Americans understand that "our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it," and that "America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class," he continued.
A larger priority of the second term is, "how do you create an economy — rebuild an economy in which the American dream, the American compact is fresh," presidential adviser David Axelrod said Sunday.
Any plans the president has for boosting investment in education, scientific research, transportation and other job areas will face challenges in the form of spending caps Obama signed into laws in 2011, Reuters reported on Jan. 19.
The president's Jobs Council is due to expire at the end of January, and hit the milestone of having gone for one full year without an official meeting on Jan. 18, Politico reported.
>> In this Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, photo, Target human resources team leader Shauna McClain, far left, signs hundreds of arriving job candidates at a Target job fair in Los Angeles.
The president reiterated his focus on renewable or "green" energy during his inaugural address, saying the path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and difficult, but that America must lead the transition.
"We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise," Obama said. "That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and our waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God."
In November, CNN's Steve Hargreaves wrote that despite Obama's victory, renewable energy faces a tough future, as grants and loans from the stimulus end, tax credits are no longer a sure thing and subsidies in Europe are being phased out due to mounting deficit problems.
Bankruptcies of companies like A123, Abound Solar, Beacon Power, Ener1 and Solyndra, which cost taxpayers millions, may put a damper on future Congressional support for similar programs.
An October Bloomberg Businessweek story reported that Obama's 2008 plan to create 5 million green jobs through government investment didn't come to fruition, as the $90 billion in renewable energy grants and loans included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act resulted in 3,960 projects that employ just 28,854 people.
>> President Barack Obama, joined by GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, left, and Plant Manager Kevin Sharkey, center, visits a GE plant in Schenectady, NY, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, to talk about clean energy and green jobs.
The $1.2 trillion sequester goes into effect on March 1, meaning that across-the-board cuts, half defense and half domestic, will kick in unless Congress takes action to stop them, The Weekly Standard reported in January.
During an October debate with Republican Mitt Romney, Obama responded to criticism of defense cuts by saying the sequester "will not happen."
The pledge caught Washington off guard, Politico reported at the time, and Republicans were doubtful of the claim.
"Saying it's not going to happen in a debate and not lifting a finger to prevent it for weeks and months is disingenuous," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "I think it's going to happen unless there is some leadership and the president has done nothing to lead on this issue."
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in 2011 that the sequester would be "devastating" for the Pentagon.
According to a January interview with the Wall Street Journal, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the House has passed a bill that replaced the sequester with real spending cuts, and now the Senate needs to get to work. He also said the White House has been waiting for Republicans to bring the sequester to the negotiating table, but that Republicans are for letting the sequester do its work. That, in turn, he said, will force Democrats to the table on entitlements.
>> In this Oct. 25, 2012, file photo, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks during a news conference with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, not seen, at the Pentagon, in Washington.
The U.S. is soon set to face another debate over raising the limit on government borrowing, with President Obama already declaring that he will not negotiate on the issue, The Washington Post reported.
"While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills," Obama said. "We've got to break the habit of negotiating through crisis over and over again. And now is as good a time as any at the start of my second term."
If Obama defuses the debt ceiling standoff, he will "at least provide himself and Congress some running room to debate other major issues," Sahil Kapur wrote at Talking Points Memo on Jan. 18. If he gives in to GOP demands, though, it will reinvigorate the Republican Party and squeeze out things like gun, immigration and energy legislation, Kapur suggested.
Republicans announced Monday they would vote, likely this week, to lift the U.S. debt limit until May, provided the Senate passes a budget for the first time in four years, Bloomberg reported. If either chamber fails to adopt a budget by April 15, its members' pay will be withheld until they do so, or until the end of 2014, depending on which comes first. Democrats in the Senate say they will pass a budget.
Presidential adviser David Axelrod said Sunday that Obama's priorities for his second term should not deal strictly with the fiscal crisis, and that fiscal deadlines shouldn't become "a smoke screen" for failure to act on things like education, research and development, and energy.
>> In this July 7, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, listens at left as President BarackObama speaks during a meeting with Congressional leadership to discuss the debt in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.
Republicans recently offered to raise the government's statutory borrowing limit for three months if the Democratic-controlled Senate would pass a budget for the first time in four years. It's a plan Democrats have indicated they're willing to consider, with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., saying the Senate budget would include tax reform.
"In our budget that we will pass, we will lift tax reform, which many of my Republican colleagues liked, but it's going to include revenues," Schumer said on "Meet the Press" Sunday. "It's a great opportunity to get us some more revenues to help in part deal with sequestration and deal with the debt issue."
The New York Times reported that Democrats plan to use a budget process called reconciliation to give Congressional tax-writing committees instructions to overhaul and simplify the tax code.
A White House fact sheet released after the budget deal on Jan. 1, 2012, said the deal "leaves substantial scope for reducing tax expenditures for high-income households, reforming corporate taxes to broaden the base and cut the rate to make America more competitive, and to take further steps to reform entitlements."
"The president admitted . . . in the first meeting that we need to do tax reform, and he was for a tax reform process that would lower rates," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told The Wall Street Journal in January.
>> President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden make a statement regarding the passage of the fiscal cliff bill in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.
With a number of cabinet officials including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner leaving the administration, the president has run into challenges and criticism in replacing them.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., withdrew from consideration as secretary of state after she ran into opposition, while Chuck Hagel, who has been nominated for Secretary of Defense, is facing criticism for past comments regarding Iran, Israel and gays.
The president was also criticized for the lack of diversity in his cabinet due to the appearance that departing cabinet members were all being replaced by white males like Hagel and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., The Associated Press reported.
"His Cabinet, when he's finished — and he's far from finished — will have diversity, including women, including people of color," senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett said Sunday.
>> President Barack Obama speaks during a new conference in the East Room of the White House, Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, in Washington, to announce his nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, center, as the new Defense Secretary as Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, stands left.
A decision on the Keystone pipeline — which supporters say will create 20,000 jobs in the U.S. and opponents say will transport "dirty oil" from Canada — is likely to be addressed in the president's second term.
Two reports, one from the Consumer Energy Alliance and one from the Goss Institute for Economic Research, indicate that the pipeline will provide an estimated $679 million boost to Nebraska's gross domestic product and will increase economic activity in the state by about $1.8 billion through 2029, The Washington Times reported.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman is approved a new route for the pipeline Tuesday after Obama blocked the pipeline last year, but environmentalists have already voiced their opposition in a letter sent to Obama in January, The Associated Press reported.
If the pipeline is approved, "the administration would be actively supporting and encouraging the growth of an industry which has demonstrably serious effects on climate," the letter said.
>> Demonstrators hold a sign as they protest against the Keystone Pipeline and the Alberta Tar Sands outside of the Canadian Consulate in downtown Chicago, Thursday, May 17, 2012.
Although the national debt currently stands at around $16 trillion, "real accounting," which scores debt burdens the moment obligations are made, indicate that the U.S. debt actually stands at more than $72.5 trillion, the Deseret News reported in January.
The 2012 report on Social Security indicated that increased pressure on Social Security and Medicare due to longer lives and retiring baby boomers means that Social Security's retirement and disability programs have enough funds to cover through 2033. Medicare is expected to have sufficient resources to maintain benefits through 2024.
The president briefly addressed Medicare, Medicare and Social Security in his inaugural address saying, "The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great."
Obama's words indicate that "he sees politically popular entitlement programs as sacrosanct commitments, and won't sign on reforms that would weaken that commitment," Sam Baker of The Hill wrote Monday.
>> President Barack Obama leaves after signing a proclamation to commemorate the inauguration, entitled a National Day of Hope and Resolve, following his ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Labor organizations are gearing up for another round of fighting over card check in the president's second term, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in an interview with The Atlantic.
Card check, which was originally brought up after the 2008 election in the form of legislation called The Employee Free Choice Act, failed to pass Congress. The bill would have replaced the current system of secret-ballot organization elections with card checks, where workers publicly sign union cards to organize and join a union, a Heritage Foundation analysis said.
"If at least half of the work force signed cards saying it wanted a union, there would be a union — without the rigmarole of a full-blown election," a 2009 Slate article explained.
The labor movement knocked on 5.5 million doors, made 5.2 million phone calls and passed out 2 million leaflets in six targeted states in the presidential election, Trumka said, and now labor "plans to collect what they feel they are owed," according to The Atlantic.
Card check is "within the next term," Trumka said, two days prior to the presidential election.
>> Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, right, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., left, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 10, 2009 to announce the introduction of the Employee Free Choice Act and restoring American rights in the workplace.
"We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war," Obama said in his inauguration speech. "We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try to resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear."
Under Obama's plan for Afghanistan, the administration is considering removing all U.S. troops from the country when the NATO-led combat mission ends in 2014, National Journal reported Monday.
During a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in January, Obama said Afghan forces would take over the lead security role in their country within a few months and coalition forces would take a "support role."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said at least 10,000 U.S. troops will still be needed in Afghanistan to provide training and counterterrorism after 2014.
>> President Barack Obama listens as Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 11, 2013.
"What Mr. Obama wants to achieve this term is pretty clear: a fiscal deal and overhauls of gun and immigration laws, steps to address climate change and less restrictive voter identification laws," a Jan. 19 New York Times article said.
The president did not mention voter identification laws in his inaugural address, but did say that, "our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote."
Supporters of voter ID laws say they preserve the integrity of the electoral process, while opponents say they are designed to suppress or disenfranchise certain groups of voters.
Several states have passed voter ID laws, and the Obama administration has criticized such laws, with Attorney General Eric Holder calling them a poll tax, and first lady Michelle Obama comparing them to the civil rights movement and saying the issue was "the march of our time" and "the sit-in of our day."
In January, FactCheck.org tackled recent claims that Obama lost every state with photo ID laws, reporting that he in fact won four of the 11 states with voter ID laws.
The Whittier Daily News reported Monday that black supporters were excited by the president's second term, but they expected Obama to focus more on blacks and economic issues, as well as blacks and civil rights issues in light of voter ID laws passed in several states.
>> Gloria Gilman holds a sign during the NAACP voter ID rally to demonstrate the opposition of Pennsylvania's new voter identificationlaw, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, in Philadelphia.
A 2012 PolicyMic article suggested that Obama's second term should focus on several global priorities, including Iran's nuclear ambitions, cooperation with China, trust-building with Russia, pressure on Israel, engagement with South America, assistance to Africa and a push to have Europe take care of its own defense needs.
Despite the 2014 deadline for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the Middle East is likely to continue to be a flashpoint in the wake of the September attack on the Benghazi consulate attack that left U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead, as well as the January Algeria hostage crisis where three Americans were killed.
Additionally, a January CNN story indicated that the death toll in the ongoing Syrian civil war now stands at an estimated 60,000 people, which far exceeds the estimated 30,000 dead in the Libya uprising. Mali, which was mentioned by Mitt Romney in the October foreign policy debate as a danger zone, is in the news as well, as French forces battle against Islamic extremists.
The events in Mali and Algeria, as well as recent events in other countries, are spurring a reconsideration of the military role the U.S. should take in Africa, The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 18.
"America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe, and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation," the president said during his inaugural address. "We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom."
>> An Algerian army truck near Ain Amenas, the gas plant where the hostage taking occurred, Sunday Jan. 20, 2013.