Obama administration

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Barack Obama.
See also: Barack Obama
See also: 2010 State of the Union Address

The Obama Administration began on January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama entered office as President of the United States of America, the nation's 44th president and the first African American to be U.S. Head of State. His Vice President was Joe Biden. Obama took office a few months into a large-scale meltdown in the banking and financial sectors which soon led to a recession with large increases in unemployment. Apart from tackling the economic crisis with a large financial stimulus bill, Barack Obama's policy priorities have been environmental legislation, esp. Cap and Trade legislation to reduce CO2 output, reorienting intelligence gathering and treatment of enemy combatants, and health care reform.

He became one the few presidents to take the oath of office twice, Chief Justice John Roberts having made a mistake on inauguration day. The renewed oath has no implications for Obama's legitimacy as President, as the new term begins automatically following the previous president leaving office.[1]


His Secretary of State was Hillary Clinton, Obama's main rival for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2008 presidential election.[2] Obama approved the continuing service of Robert M. Gates, an independent previously a member of the Republican Bush administration, as Secretary of Defense.

Early nominations

Obama's choices for executive posts within his administration suffered some setbacks, with questions raised over tax and some nominees withdrawing. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who would probably have brought strong backing for the administration's environmental policies given his support of clean energy projects in his home state,[3] withdrew as incoming Commerce Secretary before Obama took office due to an investigation into a company that had worked for his state.[4] Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither disclosed that he had failed to pay $34,000 of taxes while working for the International Monetary Fund,[5] but remained in his new post. By February 2009, two other nominees had withdrawn, due to questions over their tax affairs: former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (Health and Human Services), and Nancy Killefer (Chief Performance Officer). Obama later said over the Daschle affair, "I think I screwed up."[6] On February 12, 2009, Republican senator for New Hampshire, Judd Gregg, withdrew his nomination for Commerce Secretary over policy differences with the new administration, leading to questions over the administration's vetting procedures.[7] Gregg would have joined Ray LaHood, Obama's Transportation Secretary, as Republican members of the Obama administration.

Continuing problems

Other setbacks came a year into his term. On February 9, 2010, Senate Republicans (and two Democrats) prevailed in a filibuster to block the confirmation of Craig Becker, a lawyer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to a seat on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Critics of Mr Becker feared his views on labor relations and the authority of the NLRB would cause him to use the executive power of the board to effect policy changes apart from congressional approval.[8]

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama (U.S. state)) used the "hold" procedure to block over 70 nominations, protesting the lack of funding for two problems in his state.

Foreign policy

Throughout the campaign, Obama emphasized that he would be far more multilateralist than the previous Administration, which was particularly unpopular in Europe. Some commentators argued that the surprise award of the Nobel Peace Prize, before he could actually do a great deal, was a European gesture for being "not-Bush".

Obama began his presidential term of office with a focus on foreign policy, particularly the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the Middle East.

Middle East

It has been a priority to deescalate some of the tensions from the previous Administrations, not limited to that of George W. Bush.

A major symbolic step was the Cairo speech of April 2009. [9] For example, it addressed the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in Iran in 1952 during the Eisenhower Administration, which has remained a major symbolic issue in U.S. relations with Iran. Nevertheless, tensions continued to increase with Iran.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

Obama has consistently pressured the State of Israel to reduce its settlements in the Occupied Territories, a position strongly held by the Israeli coalition government. He also has pressured Hamas and encouraged the non-Hamas part of the Palestinian Authority, although Hamas has not made concessions.

He also called Middle Eastern leaders to pursue Arab-Israeli peace.[10] Obama appointed George Mitchell as a special envoy for the Middle East, with former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke becoming special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.[11]


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first overseas visit was to Japan, where she signed an agreement on the state of U.S. forces in Okinawa, promising to relocate 8,000 troops to Guam by 2014. This move, planned in 2006 and majority-financed by Japan, would ease the troop numbers on Okinawa following increasingly rocky relations with the Okinawan people, who have lived with the bases since the U.S. occupation of Japan and have protested at a number of high-profile sexual offences committed by U.S. personnel.[12] Later, Clinton met relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. The U.S. also confirmed that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso would be the first foreign leader to meet Obama at the White House.[13]

National security

According to U.S. Marine Corps retired general James L. Jones, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the role of the National Security Council and the Assistant will be strengthened.[14] Jones told a reviewer that he would regain firm control of foreign policy information flow to the President, eliminating "back channel" advice from individual officials that he said was common in the George W. Bush Administration. He plans to expand the NSC scope beyond classical foreign policy, with new directorates for issues such as cybersecurity, energy, climate change, nation-building and infrastructure. The work is to be coordinated with the functions of Jones' deputy, John O. Brennan, a CIA veteran presidential adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security, including its responsibility for preparing for and responding to natural and terrorism-related domestic disasters. Brennan described his task as a "systems engineering challenge" to avoid overlap with the new NSC while ensuring that "homeland security matters, broadly defined, are going to get the attention they need from the White House."

"The whole concept of what constitutes the membership of the national security community -- which, historically has been, let's face it, the Defense Department, the NSC itself and a little bit of the State Department, to the exclusion perhaps of the Energy Department, Commerce Department and Treasury, all the law enforcement agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration, all of those things -- especially in the moment we're currently in, has got to embrace a broader membership."

According to Jones, the reorganization will go beyond the NSC, and reconcile inconsistent government agency jurisdictions: while the U.S. Department of State considers Afghanistan, Pakistan and India together as South Asia, the U.S. Department of Defense separates the two at the Pakistan-India border, with Pakistan under the United States Central Command but India under the United States Pacific Command. Israel is part of the United States European Command, but the rest of the Middle East falls under Central Command; the State Department combines Israel and the Arab countries surrounding it in its Near East Bureau.


Guantanamo Bay

On January 22, Obama signed an executive order authorizing the closure of the Guantanamo camp within a year. This act, said Obama was to avoid "a false choice between our safety and our ideals," and to "restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism." [15] Despite the executive order, and Obama's stated intentions, the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay remains open and in use as of September 2010.

Interrogation policy

A second order banned torture by all agencies, military and civilian, of the U.S. government, as part of human-source intelligence interrogation.[15]


In line with his previous pledge to close the camp, Obama had military trials at Guantanamo Bay detention camp suspended, [15], although Attorney General Holder has said that some prisoners still will be tried by mlitary tribunal.

Another major event was the decision to try the five Guantanamo prisoners, accused of masterminding the 9/11 attack, in Federal court. In November 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that U.S. v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al. would take place in the [[U.S. District Court]] for the Southern District of New York. However, on January 30, 2010, the Obama administration decided, after near-unanimous pressure from city officials regarding security and costs, to move the trial away from the Manhattan court room. No alternative location has been announced yet.[16]

Interference with operations against the U.S.

A surge of troops in the Afghanistan War (2001-2021) has been explained as an action against terrorism. Recent al-Qaeda actions against the U.S. or U.S. aircraft appear to have originated or been assisted by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, located in Yemen.

Military budget

Operational demands in Afghanistan and Iraq put a substantial load on the defense budget, and the Administration sought economies to meet those needs. Some major procurement items were cancelled or deferred, however, due to a consensus within the Administration's national security apparatus, although not necessarily Congress, that they did not reflect the changing requirements of warfare. Among these decisions were the capping of F-22 Raptor production, although with some funds shifted to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Another was initially cancelling the major ground vehicle parts of Future Combat Systems (FCS), and then the overall program (while continuing selected systems), due to opinion that FCS overemphasized "heavy" armored combat.


On February 17, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, worth $787 billion and popularly known as a "stimulus package" aimed at restoring the ailing U.S. economy.[17] The measures in the legislation were approved by Congress after considerable debate, once a compromise was reached with Republicans under which wider spending was cut back and more tax cuts promoted - for example, in science and the environment (see below). The approved plan was split roughly two to one between social program spending and tax cuts, with money going towards health care and infrastructure as well as conservation and green energy projects. The stimulus package also retained a controversial "Buy American" provision that led to both Canada and the European Union raising the prospect of retaliatory protectionism; Brazil's government also threatened to challenge the provision's legality.[18]

Health care

Health care reform was one of the legislative priorities in the first year of the Obama administration. Health care costs are a major problem in the U.S. economy and reform proposals were one of the important campaign topics in 2008. Mr Obama had said in a 2007 interview with The New Yorker that if he could build the health care system from scratch he favored a single-payer system:

“If you’re starting from scratch...then a single-payer system”—a government-managed system like Canada’s, which disconnects health insurance from employment—“would probably make sense. But we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.”[19]

His official campaign platform merely proposed the creation of a national public health option for those unable to buy private insurance.

Science and the environment

The inauguration of Barack Obama was broadly welcomed by scientists,[20] and the expectation that the administration would make good on its earlier promises to promote green issues and allow embryonic stem cell research proved well-founded. Obama's inaugural address contained reference to the need to address global warming and renewable energy supplies.[21]

Nobel laureate Dr. Steven Chu, a physicist, was appointed Energy Secretary,[22] heading up a $23-billion-plus budget.[23] Other scientists filled various posts, including environmental scientist Dr. John Holdren, (Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Co-Chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology); environmental scientist and marine ecologist Dr. Jane Lubchenco (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator); biologists Dr. Eric Lander and Dr. Harold Varmus (Co-Chairs, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology).


In January, the administration released details of a job-creating "recovery and reinvestment plan" to create jobs in the renewables sector, increase energy efficiency and provide the means to deliver renewable energy to consumers. They also pledged to increase automobile efficiency and reverse the Bush administration's block on the state of California (U.S. state) increasing limits on car emissions.[24] Obama said, "The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts, we will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck... onto the states."[25] Soon after, the administration brought legislation to Congress providing for $15 billion of new federal funding for science, as part of a wider spending program.[26] However, with the Democrats' 58-41 Senate majority two short of the 60 needed to pass budget legislation, a compromise had to be reached with the Republicans. Various programs were partially cut or eliminated altogether, including $3.5 billion trimmed from the $7 billion intended for energy-efficient buildings, $200 million of $800 million for the Environmental Protection Agency, $100 million of cuts to the original $427 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding, and the loss of $100 million set aside for science.[27]

Stem Cell Research

For more information, see: Stem cell.

Within the first few days of the Obama administration, the Food and Drug Administration gave the go-ahead to an embryonic stem cell research program aimed at finding better ways to repair spinal injuries - research that had been on hold since 2006.[28] On March 6, Obama overturned a Bush administration executive order that had prevented research funding on new embryonic stem cells, stating his view as a "person of faith" that people are called "to ease human suffering."[29]

Social policy


The Obama administration also overturned a policy by former President Ronald Reagan on federal funds for international family planning clinics that offer abortions. The reversal was in line with the same decision by previous Democratic President Bill Clinton, though this "Mexico City policy"[30] was reinstated by George W. Bush in 2001 as his first executive order. Obama also committed his administration to restoring U.S. contributions to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), an organization with which the Bush administration refused to co-operate, alleging that it funded enforced sterilization.[31]

Gay rights

In June of 2009, President Obama authorized the extension of some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Despite expectations by gay rights advocates, he has not repealed the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans open homosexuals from serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Law & Justice

Supreme Court

One of the key rallying points for those on the left to vote for Obama was to ensure that the two or more Supreme Court vacancies that are likely to open during Obama's administration are filled with justices that are likely to rule with a more liberal or left-wing philosophy. During George W. Bush's term in office, he nominated three people for the Supreme Court bench - the dramatically unqualified and quickly retracted Harriet Miers, the current Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Obama's first nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States followed the announced retirement of Justice David Souter in May of 2009. On May 26th, the President announced the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor was first appointed to the Southern District of New York district court bench following a nomination by George H. W. Bush (recommended to Bush by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan) on November 27th, 1991. She was confirmed the next year and started on August 12. In October 1998, under Bill Clinton (also under recommendation from Senator Moinyhan), Sotomayor was appointed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals with a 67-29-2 vote in the Senate.

She is the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the court and is likely to be a center-left voice. Support for Sotomayor's nomination came initially from Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who wrote a letter to Obama saying that a Latino presence on the Supreme Court bench is "long overdue", and suggesting either Sotomayor or Ken Salazar. While most Senate Republicans accepted Sotomayor's appointment as inevitable given the large and almost filibuster-proof Democratic majority, some prominent Republicans, including former Republican House Majority leader Newt Gingrich and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, have called Sotomayor a "racist" and a judicial activist.[32]

In February 2009, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced that she was suffering from an early stage colon cancer. This would suggest that another seat on the Supreme Court bench may be opening for Obama in the short-term if Justice Ginsburg's health causes her to retire from the court.

Justice Department

On December 1, 2008, Barack Obama announced that Eric Holder would be his Attorney General. Holder, who had experience as Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration, was confirmed by the Senate on February 2, 2009 with a 75-21 vote. He is the first African-American in this post, though he himself also served briefly as Acting Attorney General early in 2001 under George W. Bush until the new appointee John Ashcroft could assume his duties.[33]


The administration made an early commitment to openness and transparency in its affairs, which may be the first step towards lifting some of the secrecy surrounding government information.[34]

State secrets

For more information, see: State secrets privilege.

During its 2008 Presidential campaign, specific mention was made that

The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the "state secrets" privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court.[35]

In February 2009, however, the Obama Administration's position, according to ABC News, was that it would keep the same position as the Bush Administration in the lawsuit Mohamed v Jeppesen[36] ABC also reported that U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Matt Miller said of the case, "It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases, consistent with the United States Supreme Court's decision in Reynolds that the privilege not 'be lightly invoked.'" Miller said that all privilege cases were under review, at the order of the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.

White House operations

The White House began to disclose its visitor lists in October 2009, as had been promised. The first such list showed that them most frequent visitor was Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union. [37] This was followed by a November release on the White House website, and agreed to respond to individual requests for further information. [38]

While lobbyists are still getting access, there have been complaints that major donors are not receiving traditional access and perquisites. [39]

Exceptions to lobbying rule

An early controversy was Obama's nomination of William J. Lynn III as Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates's deputy. Obama had previously promised that new members of his administration could not have worked as a lobbyist for the preceding two years; however, Lynn left defense contractor Raytheon in July 2008, so would need an exception made to the rule.[40] A similar case surrounded William Corr, nominated as the Department of Health and Human Services's deputy secretary, who had recently lobbied as an anti-tobacco advocate, but would not be involved in tobacco issues within the Obama administration. The President's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told the Associated Press that "Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions."[41]

Separation of powers

See also: unitary executive theory

President Obama first used a controversial signing statement in March 2009, saying "it is a legitimate constitutional function, and one that promotes the value of transparency, to indicate when a bill that is presented for Presidential signature includes provisions that are subject to well-founded constitutional objections."[42] He indicated that he would not compromise Presidential authority in the following areas raised by the bill:

  • Foreign Affairs
  • Executive Authority to Control Communications with the Congress
  • United Nations Peacekeeping Missions.
  • Legislative Aggrandizements (committee-approval requirements)
  • Recommendations Clause Concerns


  1. CNN: 'Obama retakes oath of office after Roberts' mistake.' January 21, 2009.
  2. CNN: 'Hillary Clinton sworn in as secretary of state.' January 21, 2009.
  3. New Scientist: 'Nobel laureate to be next US energy secretary.' December 17, 2008.
  4. BBC: 'Profile: Bill Richardson.' January 4, 2009.
  5. Time: 'Treasury Secretary: Timothy Geithner.'
  6. CNN: 'Obama: 'I screwed up' on Daschle appointment.' February 3, 2009.
  7. Huffington Post: 'Judd Gregg withdrawal sparks new vetting concerns.' February 12, 2009.
  8. Melanie Trottman, Kris Maher. Senate Republicans Block Labor Board Nominee, Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2010. Retrieved on February 9, 2010.
  9. Barack Obama (June 4, 2009), Remarks by the President on a New Beginning
  10. BBC: 'President Obama tackles first day.' January 21, 2009.
  11. CNN: 'George Mitchell named special envoy for the Middle East.' January 22, 2009.
  12. Japan Times: 'U.S. imposes curfew on Okinawa forces.' February 21, 2008.
  13. Japan Times: 'Japan, U.S. sign accord on forces.' February 18, 2009.
  14. Karen DeYoung (February 8, 2009), "Obama's NSC Will Get New Power: Directive Expands Makeup and Role Of Security Body", Washington Post
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Obama signs order to close Guantanamo Bay facility, CNN, January 22, 2009
  16. Scott Shane, Benjamin Weiser. U.S. Drops Plan for a 9/11 Trial in New York City, The New York Times, January 30, 2010. Retrieved on February 1, 2010.
  17. CNN: 'Stimulus: now for the hard part.' February 17, 2009.
  18. BBC News: 'Obama signs $787bn stimulus plan.' February 17, 2009.
  19. MacFarquhar, Larissa. The Conciliator: Where Is Barack Obama Coming From?, The New Yorker, 2007-05-07. Retrieved on 2010-01-04.
  20. For example, see Scientific American: 'U.S. Antarctic scientists welcome Obama' (video).
  21. New Scientist: 'Obama to restore science to its rightful place.' January 20, 2009.
  22. An appointment welcome by, for example, physicist Lawrence Krauss: see New Scientist, 'Obama is making the right choices for science .' January 7, 2009.
  23. U.S. Department of Energy: 'Organization - Leadership'.
  24. New Scientist: 'Obama: "The days of Washington dragging its heels are over" .' January 26, 2009.
  25. Reuters: 'Obama begins reversing Bush climate policies.' January 26, 2009.
  26. Science: 'U.S. budget: a stimulus for science.' January 30, 2009.
  27. CNN: 'What got cut from the stimulus bill.' February 7, 2009.
  28. New Scientist: 'Historic trial to treat spinal injury with stem cells.' January 23, 2009.
  29. CNN: 'Obama overturns Bush policy on stem cells.' March 6, 2009.
  30. Named for the city in which the policy was first announced.
  31. CNN: 'Obama reverses abortion-funding policy.' January 23, 2009.
  32. Citation needed
  33. Larry Margasak (February 2, 2009). Senate Confirms Holder as First Black AG, Associated Press. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  34. Pro Publica: 'Obama begins rollback of Bush-era secrecy.' January 21, 2009.
  35. Ethics, Barack Obama and Joe Biden: the Change we Need
  36. Jake Tapper and Ariane de Vogue (February 09, 2009), Obama Administration Maintains Bush Position on 'Extraordinary Rendition' Lawsuit
  37. "White House guest list is (mostly) an open book", Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 31 October 2009
  38. Visitor Records, White House
  39. Michael D. Shear and Dan Eggen (4 December 2009), "Some Obama donors are feeling left out: They lament not getting access to president, other traditional perks", Washington Post
  40. Cybercast News Service: 'Deputy Defense Secretary Nominee May Need Exemption from Lobbying Rules.' January 22, 2009.
  41. Indianapolis Star: 'FACT CHECK: Exceptions made to anti-lobbyist rule.' January 22, 2009.
  42. Barack Obama (March 11, 2009), Statement on signing H.R. 1105, the "Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, White House Press Office