Obama set to be sworn in for second term
on 20/01/2013 11:35:16
When Mr Obama first took office as the 44th US president, many Americans hoped the symbolism of the first black man in the White House was a turning point in the country's deeply-troubled racial history.
But four years later, the nation is only more divided. While Mr Obama convincingly won a second term, the jubilation that surrounded him four years ago is subdued this time around.
Mr Obama guided the country through many crushing challenges - ending the Iraq war, putting the Afghan war on a course towards US withdrawal and saving the collapsing economy - and won approval for a sweeping health care overhaul.
Yet onerous problems remain. He faces fights with opposition Republicans over gun control, avoiding a default on the nation's debts, cutting the spiralling national deficit and preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
Mr Obama begins his second term at noon (5pm Irish time) today, the date and time specified by law.
He will take his oath in a simple White House ceremony and will tomorrow repeat the oath and give his inaugural speech on the steps of the US Capitol before hundreds of thousands of people in a ceremony laden with pomp.
Tomorrow is also the holiday marking the birth of Martin Luther King, the revered civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.
On the eve of his new term, Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stained a bookcase during a national service event organised by the inaugural committee and the president reminded the nation of the coming remembrance of Dr King's life.
"He (Dr King) said everybody wants to be first, everybody wants to be a drum major. But if you're going to be a drum major, be a drum major for service, be a drum major for justice, be a drum major for looking out for other people," Mr Obama said.
Americans increasingly see Mr Obama as a strong leader who stands up for his beliefs and is able to get things done, according to a survey by the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press.
The survey shows him with a 52% job approval rating, among the highest rankings since early in his presidency. His personal favourability, 59%, has rebounded from a low of 50% in the 2012 campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.
Domestic issues, notably the economy and health care, dominated Mr Obama's first term, but there were also critical international issues that could define his next four years.
He may have to decide whether to launch a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, something he is loath to do. He has vowed to keep Iran from crossing the line to nuclear-armed status, but insists there is still time for diplomacy. But Israel is pressuring him to take military action sooner rather than later.
He will also have to deal with the civil war in Syria, Israel-Palestinian tensions, a chill in relations with Russia and a series of maritime disputes in Asia.
Yet the political battles at home continue to dominate his attention. He faces tough opposition from Republicans, especially its tea party wing - politicians determined to shrink government and reduce taxes.
A confrontation is also brewing on the need for Congress to raise the limit on US borrowing.
Republicans now plan to avoid a fight in the short term but will raise the issue again before summer, demanding steep spending cuts to reduce debt.
Mr Obama has said he will not allow them to hold the nation's economy hostage and will not negotiate, as he did in 2011. A failure to reach an agreement could leave the government without money to pay its debts and lead to the first-ever US default or a government shutdown.
Beyond the debt-ceiling debate are other big budget fights. Looming are automatic cuts to defence and domestic programmes, originally scheduled for January 1. Now they will be in late winter unless Congress and the president act. And the US budget runs dry in March, leading again to a potential shutdown unless both sides agree on new legislation.
Mr Obama is also seeking new restrictions on guns and ammunition, a move avidly opposed by most Republicans and the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby group which believes they would violate constitutional protection for gun owners.
The president was spurred into action by the massacre last month of 20 children and six adults at their school in Newtown, Connecticut and has pledged to use "whatever weight this office holds" to fight for his proposals.
Among other top-tier issues, immigration may be the one in which Mr Obama enjoys the most leverage.
The White House is hinting at a comprehensive bill this year that would include a path towards citizenship for millions of immigrants in the US illegally. Republicans, stung by heavy losses among Hispanic voters in the last two presidential elections, say they also want to revamp immigration laws.