The four days of parties, parades and celebrity-headlining events planned to celebrate President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration have managed to, albeit temporarily, distract the nation from the political headaches and showdowns that have come to define his relationship with Congress. But on Tuesday, it will be business as usual on Capitol Hill.
The just-inaugurated Obama is already “anxious to get started,” according to senior adviser Robert Gibbs. The president hopes to summon the spirit of bipartisanship he believes is truly necessary to effect lasting change, Gibbs told CBS’ “This Morning,” on Monday, and used his second Inaugural address to outline that vision.
It sounds like a rehash of the newly elected Obama’s hopes and promises in his first Inaugural address, when he called on lawmakers to abandon partisanship for the sake of progress. Shortly afterward, top Republicans vowed to block Obama’s legislative agenda as part of their strategy to make him a one-term president.
Obama’s second-term program has already began to emerge during a tumultuous January: A comprehensive push for stronger gun regulations, immigration reform and protecting key social safety net programs in the face of ever-growing demands for spending cuts are just some of what is planned. Once the news cycle has exhausted Inauguration Day pomp and circumstance, here are the political battles that will be resurfacing in the coming days:
Debt Ceiling Madness
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Some Democrats may be feeling victorious after House Republicans begrudgingly agreed over the weekend to raise the nation’s debt ceiling for another three months. Without action, the United States is scheduled to hit its debt limit by early March, an event that economists have suggested could potentially trigger another global financial crisis.
This time around, Obama has said raising the debt limit isn’t up for negotiation. But instead of assuming Republicans’ agreement to authorize a temporary debt ceiling increase as a sign the GOP is falling in line, several political reporters suggest the party is merely biding its time – and building credibility – before launching a counter-attack at a time when it will have more leverage to demand the deep spending cuts conservative lawmakers hoped to enact as part of a compromise.
Gun Control Battle
The push for more gun restrictions has become the early flagship issue of Obama’s second term, following a year when gun violence came to a political head in the aftermath of seven mass shootings. After initially meeting with Obama administration officials to purportedly discuss strategies to combat gun violence, the National Rifle Association almost immediately accused the president of violating the rights of gun owners and having no respect for the Second Amendment.
Although polling shows Americans generally support gun ownership restrictions, particularly in the wake of the Newtown mass shooting of children, taking on gun control has long been considered a form of political suicide. Most congressional lawmakers have been reluctant to voice any support for stronger gun laws, and the NRA has already promised that an assault weapons ban will not get through Congress.
Even if Congress blocks gun control legislation, Obama can focus on implementing the 23 executive actions he announced last week as part of a package of recommendations to reduce gun violence. But he should expect a battle with the nation’s largest gun lobby at every step of the way.
Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday is scheduled to deliver her long-anticipated testimony regarding the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. An outbreak of violence outside the consulate ultimately led to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and exposed what critics claim are startling flaws in U.S. diplomatic security.
Congressional Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, alleged the attack demonstrated Obama is seen as a weak commander-in-chief by the international community. In December, Obama himself said an internal inquiry found “sloppiness” in the way the State Department secures its missions abroad.
Republicans will almost surely be out for blood during Clinton’s testimony, particularly since she is already seen as the de facto Democratic nominee for the 2016 presidential election. Some conservatives have claimed the Obama administration attempted to cover up the events surrounding the Benghazi tragedy in a situation they say is comparable to Watergate, an accusation that may be resurrected during Clinton’s questioning.