How did President Barack Obama do in the first 100 days of his second term? According to a Washington Post/ABC poll, he now has the same approval ratings as former President George W. Bush, at 47 percent — not exactly what Obama was hoping for after his handy victory over Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
Of equal concern to the White House, Obama is also fighting the sense that he has already entered the lame-duck phase of his presidency. "As Mark Twain said, you know, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point," said Obama at a press conference on Tuesday, which saw the president defend his record on an array of issues. So where has Obama scored political points and where has he lost them? We take a look at the progress Obama has made on his second-term agenda:
The 3 biggest losses of second term
1. Gun control
President Obama's second term came on the heels of a terrible tragedy: The shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. With a Democratic majority in the Senate and overwhelming public support for measures like universal background checks, it seemed like he had the momentum to pass at least modest gun control legislation.
He hasn't — or at least not yet. The Manchin-Toomey amendment, which would have extended background checks, was the most likely of all of the Senate's gun control measures to pass, and it failed to break a filibuster, with only 54 votes in support. On Tuesday, Obama blamed the filibuster rules: "In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works."
Still, as Paul Brandus said in this publication, "President Obama could have given [dissenting Democrats and on-the-fence Republicans] the Lyndon Johnson treatment — have them over for a drink, twist their arms, call them at midnight and dawn, wear them down." Instead, Brandus writes, he stood on the sidelines and watched the bill flail.
Others say that kind of argument betrays a poor understanding of the current power dynamic in Washington. "[P]undits and journalists from across the spectrum seem to understand the president as a singular figure whose power flows from his willingness to 'get things done,'" writes Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect. "If Obama can't get legislation through Congress, for example, it's because he hasn't been willing to pressure, cajole, and influence. What this ignores is that Obama can't actually force individual lawmakers to do anything — after all, they come to Congress with their own interests and priorities."
2. The sequester
Obama has been heavily criticized over the sequester, both for allegedly overselling its adverse effects and for allowing harmful cuts that have, among other things, snarled airline traffic. Polls show the public blames both the White House and Congress for the sequester, but Obama was having none of it at the press conference. "You are suggesting that it's my job to somehow to get them to behave," Obama said of Congress. "That's their job."
Obama went on to criticize Congress for fixing only the part of the sequester that dealt with flight delays, and for doing it by borrowing money meant for future airport improvements. Still, no matter how you slice it, the sequester is bad for the economy in the short term and a political loser — so it goes in the L column.
3. Guantanamo Bay
Not that Guantanamo Bay didn't exist in Obama's first term, but the recent hunger strike by 100 of the facility's 166 inmates has put the spotlight back on the detention center. This is what Obama said on Tuesday, according to the Wall Street Journal:
I continue to believe that we've got to close Guantanamo. I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed. [Wall Street Journal]
Yet, in reality, he has shown "confusion and timidity in the face of mounting congressional opposition," say The Washington Post's Peter Finn and Anne Kornblut, which probably won't let up in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The 3 biggest wins
1. Gay rights
"You know, one of the extraordinary measures of progress that we've seen in this country has been the recognition that the LGBT community deserves full equality — not just partial equality, not just tolerance, but a recognition that they are fully a part of the American family," Obama said while talking about Jason Collins, the first openly gay active male athlete in a major American sport.
Obama is no longer the politician who had "evolving" positions on gay marriage. And his shift to becoming the country's most prominent supporter of gay rights could not have come at a better time — at least as far as 58 percent of Americans are concerned.
Granted, Republicans' dismal record with Latino voters is the main factor behind the optimistic outlook for bipartisan immigration reform. Still, Obama could preside over the biggest overhaul of immigration policy in recent history. "I feel confident that the bipartisan work that's been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate and passes the House and gets on my desk," Obama said on Tuesday. "And that's going to be a historic achievement."
Part of his strategy has been to avoid politicizing the issue, and letting the Senate's "Gang of Eight," most notably Marco Rubio, become the face of the legislation. As The Washington Post's Ezra Klein said, "Sometimes, the most effective form of presidential leadership is for the president to let someone else take the lead."
3. ObamaCare (kind of)
Okay, so 42 percent of Americans aren't even sure if the Affordable Care Act is currently the law. But they may get a better idea of ObamaCare once the program starts extending insurance to those who don't have it — something the White House has made less scary by cutting the application for ObamaCare down from 21 pages to a more manageable three pages.
Yes, a senator from Obama's own party, Max Baucus, has said that implementing the rest of the Affordable Care Act will be a "train wreck." But Obama at least appears confident that Americans will eventually embrace the benefits, despite any "glitches and bumps" during their implementation.
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