In late August 1961, Obama's mother moved with him to the University of Washington in Seattle for a year. During that time, Obama Sr. completed his undergraduate degree in economics in Hawaii in June 1962, then left to attend graduate school on a scholarship at Harvard University, where he earned an M.A. in economics. Obama's parents divorced in March 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya in 1964, where he married for a third time. He visited his son in Hawaii only once, at Christmas time in 1971, before he was killed in an automobile accident in 1982, when Obama was 21 years old. Of his early childhood, Obama recalled, "That my father looked nothing like the people around me – that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk – barely registered in my mind." He described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage.
Obama returned to Honolulu in 1971 to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Dunham. He attended Punahou School— a private college preparatory school— with the aid of a scholarship from fifth grade until his graduation from high school in 1979. In his youth, Obama went by the nickname "Barry". Obama lived with his mother and half-sister, Maya Soetoro, in Hawaii for three years from 1972 to 1975 while his mother was a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Hawaii. Obama chose to stay in Hawaii with his grandparents for high school at Punahou when his mother and half-sister returned to Indonesia in 1975 so his mother could begin anthropology field work. His mother spent most of the next two decades in Indonesia, divorcing Lolo in 1980 and earning a PhD degree in 1992, before dying in 1995 in Hawaii following unsuccessful treatment for ovarian cancer and uterine cancer.
Reflecting later on his years in Honolulu, Obama wrote: "The opportunity that Hawaii offered – to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear." Obama has also written and talked about using alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine during his teenage years to "push questions of who I was out of my mind". Obama was also a member of the "choom gang", a self-named group of friends that spent time together and occasionally smoked marijuana.
Obama posing in the Green Room of the White House with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia in 2009
In a 2006 interview, Obama highlighted the diversity of his extended family: "It's like a little mini-United Nations", he said. "I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher." Obama has a half-sister with whom he was raised (Maya Soetoro-Ng, the daughter of his mother and her Indonesian second husband) and seven half-siblings from his Kenyan father's family—six of them living. Obama's mother was survived by her Kansas-born mother, Madelyn Dunham, until her death on November 2, 2008, two days before his election to the Presidency. Obama also has roots in Ireland; he met with his Irish cousins in Moneygall in May 2011. In Dreams from My Father, Obama ties his mother's family history to possible Native American ancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.
Besides his native English, Obama speaks some basic Indonesian, having learned the language during his four childhood years in Jakarta. He plays basketball, a sport he participated in as a member of his high school's varsity team; he is left-handed.
Obama taking a left-handed jump shot during a pick-up game on the White House basketball court, 2009
Obama lived with anthropologist Sheila Miyoshi Jager while he was a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s. He proposed to her twice, but both Jager and her parents turned him down. The relationship was only made public in May 2017, several months after Obama's two-term presidency had ended.
In June 1989, Obama met Michelle Robinson when he was employed as a summer associate at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin. Assigned for three months as Obama's adviser at the firm, Robinson joined him at several group social functions, but declined his initial requests to date. They began dating later that summer, became engaged in 1991, and were married on October 3, 1992. The couple's first daughter, Malia Ann, was born on July 4, 1998, followed by a second daughter, Natasha ("Sasha"), on June 10, 2001. The Obama daughters attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. When they moved to Washington, D.C., in January 2009, the girls started at the Sidwell Friends School. The Obamas have two Portuguese Water Dogs; the first, a male named Bo, was a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy. In August 2013, Bo was joined by Sunny, a female.
Applying the proceeds of a book deal, the family moved in 2005 from a Hyde Park, Chicago condominium to a $1.6 million house in neighboring Kenwood, Chicago. The purchase of an adjacent lot—and sale of part of it to Obama by the wife of developer, campaign donor and friend Tony Rezko—attracted media attention because of Rezko's subsequent indictment and conviction on political corruption charges that were unrelated to Obama.
In December 2007, Money estimated the Obama family's net worth at $1.3 million. Their 2009 tax return showed a household income of $5.5 million—up from about $4.2 million in 2007 and $1.6 million in 2005—mostly from sales of his books. On his 2010 income of $1.7 million, he gave 14% to non-profit organizations, including $131,000 to Fisher House Foundation, a charity assisting wounded veterans' families, allowing them to reside near where the veteran is receiving medical treatments. As per his 2012 financial disclosure, Obama may be worth as much as $10 million.
In reference to Obama's smoking habit, Michelle said in early 2010 that he had quit smoking.
On his 55th birthday, August 4, 2016, Obama penned an essay in Glamour describing how his daughters and being president have made him a feminist.
Obama is a Protestant Christian whose religious views developed in his adult life. He wrote in The Audacity of Hope that he "was not raised in a religious household". He described his mother, raised by non-religious parents, as being detached from religion, yet "in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known." He described his father as a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met, and his stepfather as "a man who saw religion as not particularly useful." Obama explained how, through working with black churches as a community organizer while in his twenties, he came to understand "the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change."
In January 2008, Obama told Christianity Today: "I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life." On September 27, 2010, Obama released a statement commenting on his religious views saying "I'm a Christian by choice. My family didn't – frankly, they weren't folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn't raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers' and sisters' keeper, treating others as they would treat me."
Two years after graduating from Columbia, Obama was hired in Chicago as director of the Developing Communities Project, a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Roseland, West Pullman, and Riverdale on Chicago's South Side. He worked there as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988. He helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time in Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his paternal relatives for the first time.
In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book. He then taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years, first as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and then as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004.
From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois's Project Vote, a voter registration campaign with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, leading Crain's Chicago Business to name Obama to its 1993 list of "40 under Forty" powers to be.
He joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a 13-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004. In 1994, he was listed as one of the lawyers in Buycks-Roberson v. Citibank Fed. Sav. Bank, 94 C 4094 (N.D. Ill.). This class action lawsuit was filed in 1994 with Selma Buycks-Roberson as lead plaintiff and alleged that Citibank Federal Savings Bank had engaged in practices forbidden under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act. The case was settled out of court. Final Judgment was issued on May 13, 1998, with Citibank Federal Savings Bank agreeing to pay attorney fees. His law license became inactive in 2007.
From 1994 to 2002, Obama served on the boards of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which in 1985 had been the first foundation to fund the Developing Communities Project, and of the Joyce Foundation. He served on the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge from 1995 to 2002, as founding president and chairman of the board of directors from 1995 to 1999.
Illinois State Senator (1997–2004)
State Senator Obama and others celebrate the naming of a street in Chicago after ShoreBank co-founder Milton Davis in 1998
Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, succeeding Democratic State Senator Alice Palmer from Illinois's 13th District, which, at that time, spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park–Kenwood south to South Shore and west to Chicago Lawn. Once elected, Obama gained bipartisan support for legislation that reformed ethics and health care laws. He sponsored a law that increased tax credits for low-income workers, negotiated welfare reform, and promoted increased subsidies for childcare. In 2001, as co-chairman of the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Obama supported Republican Governor Ryan's payday loan regulations and predatory mortgage lending regulations aimed at averting home foreclosures.
In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Illinois Senate's Health and Human Services Committee when Democrats, after a decade in the minority, regained a majority. He sponsored and led unanimous, bipartisan passage of legislation to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they detained, and legislation making Illinois the first state to mandate videotaping of homicide interrogations. During his 2004 general election campaign for the U.S. Senate, police representatives credited Obama for his active engagement with police organizations in enacting death penalty reforms. Obama resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004 following his election to the U.S. Senate.
2004 U.S. Senate campaign
County results of the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois. Obama won the counties in blue.
In May 2002, Obama commissioned a poll to assess his prospects in a 2004 U.S. Senate race. He created a campaign committee, began raising funds, and lined up political media consultant David Axelrod by August 2002. Obama formally announced his candidacy in January 2003.
Decisions by Republican incumbent Peter Fitzgerald and his Democratic predecessor Carol Moseley Braun to not participate in the election resulted in wide-open Democratic and Republican primary contests involving fifteen candidates. In the March 2004 primary election, Obama won in an unexpected landslide—which overnight made him a rising star within the national Democratic Party, started speculation about a presidential future, and led to the reissue of his memoir, Dreams from My Father. In July 2004, Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, seen by 9.1 million viewers. His speech was well received and elevated his status within the Democratic Party.
The official portrait of Obama as a member of the United States Senate
Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 3, 2005, becoming the only Senate member of the Congressional Black Caucus.CQ Weekly characterized him as a "loyal Democrat" based on analysis of all Senate votes from 2005 to 2007. Obama announced on November 13, 2008, that he would resign his Senate seat on November 16, 2008, before the start of the lame-duck session, to focus on his transition period for the presidency.
Later in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act to add safeguards for personality-disorder military discharges. This amendment passed the full Senate in the spring of 2008. He sponsored the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act supporting divestment of state pension funds from Iran's oil and gas industry, which has not passed committee; and co-sponsored legislation to reduce risks of nuclear terrorism. Obama also sponsored a Senate amendment to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, providing one year of job protection for family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries.
Obama speaking with a soldier stationed in Iraq, 2006
Numerous candidates entered the Democratic Party presidential primaries. The field narrowed to a duel between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton after early contests, with the race remaining close throughout the primary process but with Obama gaining a steady lead in pledged delegates due to better long-range planning, superior fundraising, dominant organizing in caucus states, and better exploitation of delegate allocation rules. On June 7, 2008, Clinton ended her campaign and endorsed Obama.
On August 23, Obama announced his selection of Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate. Obama selected Biden from a field speculated to include former Indiana Governor and Senator Evan Bayh and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, Hillary Clinton called for her supporters to endorse Obama, and she and Bill Clinton gave convention speeches in his support. Obama delivered his acceptance speech, not at the center where the Democratic National Convention was held, but at Invesco Field at Mile High to a crowd of approximately 84,000 people; the speech was viewed by over 38 million people worldwide.
During both the primary process and the general election, Obama's campaign set numerous fundraising records, particularly in the quantity of small donations. On June 19, 2008, Obama became the first major-party presidential candidate to turn down public financing in the general election since the system was created in 1976.
On November 6, 2012, Obama won 332 electoral votes, exceeding the 270 required for him to be reelected as president. With 51.1% of the popular vote, Obama became the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win the majority of the popular vote twice. President Obama addressed supporters and volunteers at Chicago's McCormick Place after his reelection and said: "Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties."
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President took place on January 20, 2009. In his first few days in office, Obama issued executive orders and presidential memoranda directing the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. He ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, but Congress prevented the closure by refusing to appropriate the required funds and preventing moving any Guantanamo detainee into the U.S. or to other countries. Obama reduced the secrecy given to presidential records. He also revoked President George W. Bush's restoration of President Ronald Reagan's Mexico City Policy prohibiting federal aid to international family planning organizations that perform or provide counseling about abortion.
The first bill signed into law by Obama was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, relaxing the statute of limitations for equal-pay lawsuits. Five days later, he signed the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover an additional 4 million uninsured children. In March 2009, Obama reversed a Bush-era policy that had limited funding of embryonic stem cell research and pledged to develop "strict guidelines" on the research.
Obama appointed two women to serve on the Supreme Court in the first two years of his Presidency. He nominated Sonia Sotomayor on May 26, 2009 to replace retiring Associate JusticeDavid Souter; she was confirmed on August 6, 2009, becoming the first Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic descent. Obama nominated Elena Kagan on May 10, 2010 to replace retiring Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. She was confirmed on August 5, 2010, bringing the number of women sitting simultaneously on the Court to three justices for the first time in American history.
President Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address focused on themes of education and innovation, stressing the importance of innovation economics to make the United States more competitive globally. He spoke of a five-year freeze in domestic spending, eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and reversing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, banning congressional earmarks, and reducing healthcare costs. He promised that the United States would have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and would be 80% reliant on "clean" electricity.
As a candidate for the Illinois state senate in 1996, Obama had said that he favored legalizing same-sex marriage. By the time of his Senate run in 2004, he said that he supported civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex partners, but he opposed same-sex marriages for strategic reasons. On May 9, 2012, shortly after the official launch of his campaign for re-election as president, Obama said his views had evolved, and he publicly affirmed his personal support for the legalization of same-sex marriage, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so.
During his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013, Obama became the first president to call for full equality for gay Americans: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." This was the first time that a president mentioned gay rights or the word "gay" in an inaugural address.
The White House was illuminated in rainbow colors on the evening of the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling, June 26, 2015.
On July 30, 2015 the White House Office of National AIDS Policy revised its strategy for addressing the ailment, which included widespread testing and linkage to healthcare, which was celebrated by the Human Rights Campaign.
Spending and loan guarantees from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department authorized by the Bush and Obama administrations totaled about $11.5 trillion, but only $3 trillion was spent by the end of November 2009. Obama and the Congressional Budget Office predicted the 2010 budget deficit would be $1.5 trillion or 10.6% of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion or 9.9% of GDP. For 2011, the administration predicted the deficit will shrink to $1.34 trillion, and the 10-year deficit will increase to $8.53 trillion or 90% of GDP. The most recent increase in the U.S. debt ceiling to $17.2 trillion took effect in February 2014. On August 2, 2011, after a lengthy congressional debate over whether to raise the nation's debt limit, Obama signed the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011. The legislation enforces limits on discretionary spending until 2021, establishes a procedure to increase the debt limit, creates a Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to propose further deficit reduction with a stated goal of achieving at least $1.5 trillion in budgetary savings over 10 years, and establishes automatic procedures for reducing spending by as much as $1.2 trillion if legislation originating with the new joint select committee does not achieve such savings. By passing the legislation, Congress was able to prevent a U.S. governmentdefault on its obligations.
As it did throughout 2008, the unemployment rate rose in 2009, reaching a peak in October at 10.0% and averaging 10.0% in the fourth quarter. Following a decrease to 9.7% in the first quarter of 2010, the unemployment rate fell to 9.6% in the second quarter, where it remained for the rest of the year. Between February and December 2010, employment rose by 0.8%, which was less than the average of 1.9% experienced during comparable periods in the past four employment recoveries. By November 2012, the unemployment rate fell to 7.7%, decreasing to 6.7% in the last month of 2013. During 2014, the unemployment rate continued to decline, falling to 6.3% in the first quarter. GDP growth returned in the third quarter of 2009, expanding at a rate of 1.6%, 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. In July 2010, the Federal Reserve noted that economic activity continued to increase, but its pace had slowed, and chairman Ben Bernanke said the economic outlook was "unusually uncertain". Overall, the economy expanded at a rate of 2.9% in 2010.
The Congressional Budget Office and a broad range of economists credit Obama's stimulus plan for economic growth. The CBO released a report stating that the stimulus bill increased employment by 1–2.1 million, while conceding that "It is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package." Although an April 2010 survey of members of the National Association for Business Economics showed an increase in job creation (over a similar January survey) for the first time in two years, 73% of 68 respondents believed that the stimulus bill has had no impact on employment. The economy of the United States has grown faster than the other original NATO members by a wider margin under President Obama than it has anytime since the end of World War II. The OECD credits the much faster growth in the United States to the stimulus in the United States and the austerity measures in the European Union.
On September 30, 2009, the Obama administration proposed new regulations on power plants, factories, and oil refineries in an attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to curb global warming.
On April 20, 2010, an explosion destroyed an offshore drilling rig at the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a major sustained oil leak. Obama visited the Gulf, announced a federal investigation, and formed a bipartisan commission to recommend new safety standards, after a review by Secretary of the InteriorKen Salazar and concurrent Congressional hearings. He then announced a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling permits and leases, pending regulatory review. As multiple efforts by BP failed, some in the media and public expressed confusion and criticism over various aspects of the incident, and stated a desire for more involvement by Obama and the federal government.
In July 2013, Obama expressed reservations and stated he "would reject the Keystone XL pipeline if it increased carbon pollution" or "greenhouse emissions". Obama's advisers called for a halt to petroleum exploration in the Arctic in January 2013. On February 24, 2015, Obama vetoed a bill that would authorize the pipeline. It was the third veto of Obama's presidency and his first major veto.
Obama has emphasized the conservation of federal lands during his term in office. He used his power under the Antiquities Act to create 25 new national monuments during his presidency and expand four others, protecting a total of 553,000,000 acres (224,000,000 ha) of federal lands and waters, more than any other U.S. president.
Health care reform
Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House, March 23, 2010
Obama called for Congress to pass legislation reforming health care in the United States, a key campaign promise and a top legislative goal. He proposed an expansion of health insurance coverage to cover the uninsured, to cap premium increases, and to allow people to retain their coverage when they leave or change jobs. His proposal was to spend $900 billion over 10 years and include a government insurance plan, also known as the public option, to compete with the corporate insurance sector as a main component to lowering costs and improving quality of health care. It would also make it illegal for insurers to drop sick people or deny them coverage for pre-existing conditions, and require every American to carry health coverage. The plan also includes medical spending cuts and taxes on insurance companies that offer expensive plans.
On July 14, 2009, House Democratic leaders introduced a 1,017-page plan for overhauling the U.S. health care system, which Obama wanted Congress to approve by the end of 2009. 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 the proposals. In March 2009, Obama lifted a ban on using federal funds for stem cell research.
On November 7, 2009, a health care bill featuring the public option was passed in the House. On December 24, 2009, the Senate passed its own bill—without a public option—on a party-line vote of 60–39. On March 21, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed by the Senate in December was passed in the House by a vote of 219 to 212. Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.
The ACA includes health-related provisions, most of which took effect in 2014, including expanding Medicaid eligibility for people making up to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) starting in 2014, subsidizing insurance premiums for people making up to 400% of the FPL ($88,000 for family of four in 2010) so their maximum "out-of-pocket" payment for annual premiums will be from 2% to 9.5% of income, providing incentives for businesses to provide health care benefits, prohibiting denial of coverage and denial of claims based on pre-existing conditions, establishing health insurance exchanges, prohibiting annual coverage caps, and support for medical research. According to White House and Congressional Budget Office figures, the maximum share of income that enrollees would have to pay would vary depending on their income relative to the federal poverty level.
Percentage of Individuals in the United States without Health Insurance, 1963–2015 (Source: JAMA)
The costs of these provisions are offset by taxes, fees, and cost-saving measures, such as new Medicare taxes for those in high-income brackets, taxes on indoor tanning, cuts to the Medicare Advantage program in favor of traditional Medicare, and fees on medical devices and pharmaceutical companies; there is also a tax penalty for those who do not obtain health insurance, unless they are exempt due to low income or other reasons. In March 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the net effect of both laws will be a reduction in the federal deficit by $143 billion over the first decade.
The law faced several legal challenges, primarily based on the argument that an individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance was unconstitutional. On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5–4 vote in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that the mandate was constitutional under the U.S. Congress's taxing authority. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby the Court ruled that "closely-held" for-profit corporations could be exempt on religious grounds under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from regulations adopted under the ACA that would have required them to pay for insurance that covered certain contraceptives. In June 2015, the Court ruled 6–3 in King v. Burwell that subsidies to help individuals and families purchase health insurance were authorized for those doing so on both the federal exchange and state exchanges, not only those purchasing plans "established by the State", as the statute reads.
Prior to June 2014, Obama offered substantial support for a broadly-based "All of the above" approach to domestic energy policy, which Obama has maintained since his first term and which he last confirmed at his State of the Union speech in January 2014 to a mixed reception by both parties. In June 2014, Obama made indications that his administration would consider a shift towards an energy policy more closely tuned to the manufacturing industry and its impact on the domestic economy. Obama's approach of selectively combining regulation and incentive to various issues in the domestic energy policy such as coal mining and oil fracking has received mixed commentary for not being as responsive to the needs of the domestic manufacturing sector as needed, following claims that the domestic manufacturing sector utilizes as much as a third of the nation's available energy resources.
On January 16, 2013, one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Obama signed 23 executive orders and outlined a series of sweeping proposals regarding gun control. He urged 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. On January 5, 2016, Obama announced new executive actions extending background check requirements to more gun sellers. In a 2016 editorial in the New York Times, Obama compared the struggle for what he termed "common-sense gun reform" to women's suffrage and other civil rights movements in American history.
2010 midterm elections
Obama called the November 2, 2010 election, where the Democratic Party lost 63 seats in, and control of, the House of Representatives, "humbling" and a "shellacking". He said that the results came because not enough Americans had felt the effects of the economic recovery.
In February and March 2009, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made separate overseas trips to announce a "new era" in U.S. foreign relations with Russia and Europe, using the terms "break" and "reset" to signal major changes from the policies of the preceding administration. Obama attempted to reach out to Arab leaders by granting his first interview to an Arab cable TV network, Al Arabiya.
On March 19, Obama continued his outreach to the Muslim world, releasing a New Year's video message to the people and government of Iran. In April, Obama gave a speech in Ankara, Turkey, which was well received by many Arab governments. On June 4, 2009, Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in Egypt calling for "A New Beginning" in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and promoting Middle East peace.
On June 26, 2009, Obama responded to the Iranian government's actions towards protesters following Iran's 2009 presidential election by saying: "The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. We see it and we condemn it." While in Moscow on July 7, he responded Vice President Biden's comment on a possible Israeli military strike on Iran by saying: "We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East."
In March 2010, Obama took a public stance against plans by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue building Jewish housing projects in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. During the same month, an agreement was reached with the administration of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new pact reducing the number of long-range nuclear weapons in the arsenals of both countries by about one-third. Obama and Medvedev signed the New START treaty in April 2010, and the U.S. Senate ratified it in December 2010.
In December 2011, Obama instructed agencies to consider LGBT rights when issuing financial aid to foreign countries. He criticized Russia's law discriminating against gays in August 2013, stopping short of advocating a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia.
In March 2015, Obama declared that he had authorized U.S. forces to provide logistical and intelligence support to the Saudis in their military intervention in Yemen, establishing a "Joint Planning Cell" with Saudi Arabia.
Before leaving office, Obama said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been his "closest international partner" throughout his tenure as President.
War in Iraq
On February 27, 2009, Obama announced that combat operations in Iraq would end within 18 months. His remarks were made to a group of Marines preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. Obama said, "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end." The Obama administration scheduled the withdrawal of combat troops to be completed by August 2010, decreasing troop's levels from 142,000 while leaving a transitional force of about 50,000 in Iraq until the end of 2011. On August 19, 2010, the last U.S. combat brigade exited Iraq. Remaining troops transitioned from combat operations to counter-terrorism and the training, equipping, and advising of Iraqi security forces. On August 31, 2010, Obama announced that the United States combat mission in Iraq was over. On October 21, 2011 President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq in time to be "home for the holidays".
By the end of 2014, 3,100 American ground troops were committed to the conflict and 16,000 sorties were flown over the battlefield, primarily by U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots.
In the spring of 2015, with the addition of the "Panther Brigade" of the 82nd Airborne Division the number of U.S. ground troops in Iraq surged to 4,400, and by July American-led coalition air forces counted 44,000 sorties over the battlefield.
War in Afghanistan
Early in his presidency, Obama moved to bolster U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. He announced an increase in U.S. troop levels to 17,000 military personnel in February 2009 to "stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan", an area he said had not received the "strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires". He replaced the military commander in Afghanistan, General David D. McKiernan, with former Special Forces commander Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal in May 2009, indicating that McChrystal's Special Forces experience would facilitate the use of counterinsurgency tactics in the war. On December 1, 2009, Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 military personnel to Afghanistan and proposed to begin troop withdrawals 18 months from that date; this took place in July 2011. David Petraeus replaced McChrystal in June 2010, after McChrystal's staff criticized White House personnel in a magazine article. In February 2013, Obama said the U.S. military would reduce the troop level in Afghanistan from 68,000 to 34,000 U.S. troops by February 2014.
In October 2015, the White House announced a plan to keep U.S. Forces in Afghanistan indefinitely in light of the deteriorating security situation.
In June 2011, Obama said that the bond between the United States and Israel is "unbreakable". During the initial years of the Obama administration, the U.S. increased military cooperation with Israel, including increased military aid, re-establishment of the U.S.-Israeli Joint Political Military Group and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, and an increase in visits among high-level military officials of both countries. The Obama administration asked Congress to allocate money toward funding the Iron Dome program in response to the waves of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.
In 2013, Jeffrey Goldberg reported that, in Obama's view, "with each new settlement announcement, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation."
In 2014, Obama likened the Zionist movement to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He said that both movements seek to bring justice and equal rights to historically persecuted peoples. He explained, "To me, being pro-Israel and pro-Jewish is part and parcel with the values that I've been fighting for since I was politically conscious and started getting involved in politics." Obama expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict.
President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Syria and ISIS, September 29, 2015
In February 2011, protests in Libya began against long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi as part of the Arab Spring. They soon turned violent. In March, as forces loyal to Gaddafi advanced on rebels across Libya, calls for a no-fly zone came from around the world, including Europe, the Arab League, and a resolution passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. In response to the unanimous passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 on March 17, Gaddafi—who had previously vowed to "show no mercy" to the rebels of Benghazi—announced an immediate cessation of military activities, yet reports came in that his forces continued shelling Misrata. The next day, on Obama's orders, the U.S. military took part in air strikes to destroy the Libyan government's air defense capabilities to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly-zone, including the use of Tomahawk missiles, B-2 Spirits, and fighter jets. Six days later, on March 25, by unanimous vote of all of its 28 members, NATO took over leadership of the effort, dubbed Operation Unified Protector. Some Representatives questioned whether Obama had the constitutional authority to order military action in addition to questioning its cost, structure and aftermath.
Syrian Civil War
On August 18, 2011, several months after the start of the Syrian Civil War, Obama issued a written statement that said: "The time has come for President Assad to step aside." This stance was reaffirmed in November 2015. In 2012, Obama authorized multiple programs run by the CIA and the Pentagon to train anti-Assad rebels. The Pentagon-run program was later found to have failed and was formally abandoned in October 2015.
Starting with information received from Central Intelligence Agency operatives in July 2010, the CIA developed intelligence over the next several months that determined what they believed to be the hideout of Osama bin Laden. He was living in seclusion in a large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a suburban area 35 miles (56 km) from Islamabad. CIA head Leon Panetta reported this intelligence to President 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, and resulted in the shooting death of bin Laden and the seizure of papers, computer drives and disks from the compound. DNA testing was one of five methods used to positively identify bin Laden's corpse, which was buried at sea several hours later. Within minutes of the President'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 former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and from many countries around the world.
Iran nuclear talks
Obama talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, March 2013
In November 2013, Obama's administration opened negotiations with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, which included an interim agreement. Negotiations took two years with numerous delays, with a deal being announced July 14, 2015. The deal, titled the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action", saw the removal of sanctions in exchange for measures that would prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. While Obama hailed the agreement as being a step towards a more hopeful world, the deal drew strong criticism from Republican and conservative quarters, and from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Relations with Cuba
President Obama meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro in Panama, April 2015
In December 2014, after the secret meetings, it was announced that Obama, with Pope Francis as an intermediary, had negotiated a restoration of relations with Cuba, after nearly sixty years of détente. Popularly dubbed the Cuban Thaw, The New Republic deemed the Cuban Thaw to be "Obama's finest foreign policy achievement." On July 1, 2015, President Barack Obama announced that formal diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States would resume, and embassies would be opened in Washington and Havana. The countries' respective "interests sections" in one another's capitals were upgraded to embassies on July 20 and August 13, 2015, respectively.
Obama visited Havana, Cuba for two days in March 2016, becoming the first sitting U.S. President to arrive since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Obama spoke in front of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 29, 2015, the first sitting U.S. president to do so. He gave a speech encouraging the world to increase economic ties via investments and trade with the continent, and lauded the progresses made in education, infrastructure, and economy. He also criticized the lack of democracy and leaders who refuse to step aside, discrimination against minorities (LGBT people, religious groups and ethnicities), and corruption. He suggested an intensified democratization and free trade, to significantly improve the quality of life for Africans. During his July 2015 trip, Obama also was the first U.S. president ever to visit Kenya, which is the homeland of his father.
Obama's family history, upbringing, and Ivy League education differ markedly from those of African-American politicians who launched their careers in the 1960s through participation in the civil rights movement. Expressing puzzlement over questions about whether he is "black enough", Obama told an August 2007 meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists that "we're still locked in this notion that if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong." Obama acknowledged his youthful image in an October 2007 campaign speech, saying: "I wouldn't be here if, time and again, the torch had not been passed to a new generation."
Obama is frequently referred to as an exceptional orator. During his pre-inauguration transition period and continuing into his presidency, Obama delivered a series of weekly Internet video addresses. Former presidential campaign surrogate and Georgetown professor, Michael Eric Dyson, is both critical and sympathetic of President Obama's leadership in race relations, indicating that Obama's speeches and action on racial disparity and justice have been somewhat reactive and reluctant when, especially in the later part of his second term, racial violence demanded immediate presidential action and conversation.
Presidential approval ratings
According to the Gallup Organization, Obama began his presidency with a 68% approval rating before gradually declining for the rest of the year, and eventually bottoming out at 41% in August 2010, a trend similar to Ronald Reagan's and Bill Clinton's first years in office. He experienced a small poll bounce shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. This bounce lasted until around June 2011, when his approval numbers dropped back to where they were previously. His approval ratings rebounded around the same time as his reelection in 2012, with polls showing an average job approval of 52% shortly after his second inauguration. Despite approval ratings dropping to 39% in late-2013 due to the ACA roll-out, they climbed to 50% in January 2015 according to Gallup.
Polls showed strong support for Obama in other countries both before and during his presidency. In a February 2009 poll conducted in Western Europe and the U.S. by Harris Interactive for France 24 and the International Herald Tribune, Obama was rated as the most respected world leader, as well as the most powerful. In a similar poll conducted by Harris in May 2009, Obama was rated as the most popular world leader, as well as the one figure most people would pin their hopes on for pulling the world out of the economic downturn.
On October 9, 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Obama accepted this award in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2009, with "deep gratitude and great humility." The award drew a mixture of praise and criticism from world leaders and media figures. Obama's peace prize was called a "stunning surprise" by The New York Times. Obama is the fourth U.S. president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the third to become a Nobel laureate while in office. Obama's Nobel Prize has been viewed skeptically in subsequent years, especially after the director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, said Obama's Peace Prize did not have the desired effect.
On April 24, 2017, in his first public appearance out of office, Obama appeared at a seminar at the University of Chicago aimed at the engagement with a new generation as well as an appeal for their participation in politics.
On May 4, 2017, three days ahead of the French presidential election, Obama publicly endorsed Emmanuel Macron: "He appeals to people's hopes and not their fears, and I enjoyed speaking to Emmanuel recently to hear about his independent movement and his vision for the future of France." Macron went on to win the election.
On May 9, 2017, Obama delivered a speech urging for election participation and research during a food innovation summit in Milan, Italy, saying in part, "if you don't vote and you don't pay attention, you'll get policies that don't reflect your interest."
While in Berlin on May 25, 2017, Obama made a joint public appearance with Chancellor Angela Merkel where he stressed inclusion and for leaders to question themselves, Obama having been formally invited to Berlin while still in office as part of an effort to boost Merkel's re-election campaign.
On June 1, 2017, after President Trump announced his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, Obama released a statement disagreeing with the choice: "But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I'm confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we've got." During an appearance at the Seoul conference on July 3, Obama said the Paris Agreement "will still be a critical factor in helping our children solve the enormous challenge in civilization."
Obama playing golf with the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri, October 2017
On June 22, 2017, after Senate Republicans revealed the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, their discussion draft of a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, Obama released a Facebook post calling the bill "a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America." On September 19, while delivering the keynote address at Goalkeepers, Obama admitted his frustration with Republicans backing "a bill that will raise costs, reduce coverage, and roll back protections for older Americans and people with pre-existing conditions".
On October 31, 2017, Obama hosted the inaugural summit of the Obama Foundation in Chicago. Obama intends for the foundation to be the central focus of his post-presidency and part of his ambitions for his subsequent activities following his presidency to be more consequential than his time in office.
As president, Obama advanced LGBT rights. In 2010, Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act, which brought an end to "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the U.S. armed forces that banned open service from LGB people; the law went into effect the following year. In 2016, the Obama administration brought an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in the US armed forces. A Gallup poll, taken in the final days of Obama's term, showed that 68% of Americans believed that the U.S. had made progress in the situation for gays and lesbians during Obama's eight years in office.
According to Pew Research Center and United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, from December 31, 2009 to December 31, 2015, that inmates sentenced in US federal custody declined by 5% under US President Obama. This is the largest decline in sentenced inmates in US federal custody since Democrat US President Jimmy Carter. By contrast, the federal prison population increased significantly under US presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Obama left office in January 2017 with a 60% approval rating. A 2017 C-SPANPresidential Historians Survey ranked Obama as the 12th best US president.
^Reyes, B.J. (February 8, 2007). "Punahou left lasting impression on Obama". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved February 10, 2007. As a teenager, Obama went to parties and sometimes sought out gatherings on military bases or at the University of Hawaii that were mostly attended by blacks.
Miller, Lisa (July 18, 2008). "Finding his faith". Newsweek. Archived from the original on February 6, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2010. He is now a Christian, having been baptized in the early 1990s at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Sullivan, Amy (June 29, 2009). "The Obama's find a church home – away from home". Time. Retrieved February 5, 2010. instead of joining a congregation in Washington, D.C., he will follow in George W. Bush's footsteps and make his primary place of worship Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David.
^Garrett, Major; Obama, Barack (March 14, 2008). "Obama talks to Major Garrett on 'Hannity & Colmes'". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved November 10, 2012. Major Garrett, Fox News correspondent: So the first question, how long have you been a member in good standing of that church? Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), presidential candidate: You know, I've been a member since 1991 or '92. And – but I have known Trinity even before then when I was a community organizer on the South Side, helping steel workers find jobs ... Garrett: As a member in good standing, were you a regular attendee of Sunday services? Obama: You know, I won't say that I was a perfect attendee. I was regular in spurts, because there was times when, for example, our child had just been born, our first child. And so we didn't go as regularly then.
"Obama strongly denounces former pastor". MSNBC. Associated Press. April 29, 2008. Retrieved November 10, 2012. I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992, and have known Reverend Wright for 20 years," Obama said. "The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.
Miller, Lisa (July 11, 2008). "Finding his faith". Newsweek. Archived from the original on July 20, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2012. He is now a Christian, having been baptized in the early 1990s at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Remnick, David (2010). The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-4000-4360-6. In late October 1987, his third year as an organizer, Obama went with Kellman to a conference on the black church and social justice at the Harvard Divinity School.
Maraniss (2012), p. 557: It would take time for Obama to join and become fully engaged in Wright's church, a place where he would be baptized and married; that would not happen until later, during his second time around in Chicago, but the process started then, in October 1987 ... Jerry Kellman: "He wasn't a member of the church during those first three years, but he was drawn to Jeremiah."
^Obama, Barack (August–September 1988). "Why organize? Problems and promise in the inner city". Illinois Issues. Vol. 14 no. 8–9. pp. 40–42. ISSN0738-9663. reprinted in:
Knoepfle, Peg, ed. (1990). After Alinsky: community organizing in Illinois. Springfield, IL: Sangamon State University. pp. 35–40. ISBN 0-9620873-3-5. He has also been a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, an organizing institute working throughout the Midwest.
^Obama, Auma (2012). And then life happens: a memoir. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 189–208, 212–216. ISBN 978-1-250-01005-6.
^Joey Del Ponte; Somerville Scout Staff. "Something in the Water". Somerville Scout (January/February 2014). p. 26. "Barack Obama lived in the big, ivy-covered brick building at 365 Broadway ... From 1988 to 1991, the future president resided in a basement apartment while attending Harvard Law School."
Strausberg, Chinta (October 3, 2002). "War with Iraq undermines U.N". Chicago Defender. p. 1. Retrieved October 28, 2008. Photo caption: Left Photo: Sen. Barack Obama along with Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to nearly 3,000 anti-war protestors (below) during a rally at Federal Plaza Wednesday.
Stein, Rob; Shear, Michael (January 24, 2009). "Funding restored to groups that perform abortions, other care". The Washington Post. p. A3. Retrieved September 21, 2012. Lifting the Mexico City Policy would not permit U.S. tax dollars to be used for abortions, but it would allow funding to resume to groups that provide other services, including counseling about abortions.
^Robert Block, Robert; Mark K. Matthews (January 27, 2010). "White House won't fund NASA moon program". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 30, 2011. President Obama's budget proposal includes no money for the Ares I and Ares V rocket or Constellation program. Instead, NASA would be asked to monitor climate change and develop a new rocket
^Mian, Atif R.; Sufi, Amir (September 1, 2010). "The Effects of Fiscal Stimulus: Evidence from the 2009 'Cash for Clunkers' Program". Social Science Research Network. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1670759. SSRN1670759.
Koltun, Dave (2005). "The 2004 Illinois Senate Race: Obama Wins Open Seat and Becomes National Political "Star"". In Ahuja, Sunil; Dewhirst, Robert. The Road to Congress 2004. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59454-360-9.
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