Barack Obama rose from humble roots to become America’s first black president, championing a new healthcare law and forging diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Cuba amid staunch Republican opposition.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, UNITED STATES (NOVEMBER 5, 2008) (U.S. POOL) – Barack Obama rose from humble roots to become America’s first black president, championing a law expanding healthcare coverage and forging diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Cuba while facing stout resistance from congressional Republicans.
Obama, the son of a black Kenyan goat herder-turned-scholar and a white mother from Kansas, came into office in January 2009 with soaring oratory and an optimistic “yes we can” message. But he quickly ran into the political reality of partisan gridlock in Washington in a two-term presidency defined by confrontations with Republicans over nearly everything he did.
His healthcare law, dubbed Obamacare, passed in Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote. Republicans countless times sought to repeal the law, a milestone in American social policy. The Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 issued high-profile rulings leaving Obamacare intact after conservative legal challenges.
Among Obama’s top diplomatic achievements were a 2015 pact to curb Iran’s nuclear program, a 2014 rapprochement with communist-ruled Cuba after a half century of enmity dating to the Cold War, and a 2015 global climate change policy agreement.
He also ordered the 2011 U.S. military raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Islamic militant group al Qaeda responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed about 3,000 people.
Obama was elected president in 2008, defeating Republican John McCain, and re-elected in 2012, beating Republican Mitt Romney.
The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, former constitutional law professor and Chicago community organizer was a liberal loathed by many conservatives, who accused him of pursuing socialist policies at home and projecting weakness abroad.
Republicans in Congress, acting with virtual unanimity, fought a long list of Obama initiatives and succeeded in blocking many.
Republicans scuttled gun control legislation backed by Obama following a 2012 mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, killed an immigration policy overhaul that had managed to pass the Senate in 2013, and blocked Obama’s effort to close the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Brinkmanship in Congress turned formerly routine tasks like raising the nation’s debut ceiling or holding confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees into crises. Obama drew Republican ire when he took unilateral action to bypass Congress on matters including immigration and gun regulations.
Obama inherited from his Republican predecessor George W. Bush an economy that had slipped into a deep recession following the collapse of many large financial institutions and a housing crisis brought about by risky “sub-prime” mortgages propagated by the banking industry.
The economy picked up pace in fits and starts and unemployment levels dropped during his presidency. But there was a wide income gap between the rich and poor, and many Americans, particularly the working class, struggled to make ends meet with stagnant wages.
One of Obama’s first major fights with congressional Republicans involved his $787 billion 2009 economic stimulus plan, intended to spark the economy and help create jobs. Republicans tried but failed to block it, and the conservative Tea Party movement intensely opposed to Obama’s policies arose shortly thereafter.
Obama continued a policy of bank bailouts that was begun by Bush, and many analysts believe they helped save the country from ruin. But conservatives ripped the bank bailouts and subsequent assistance to auto companies as an unnecessary government intervention into the private sector.