After being re-elected for a second presidential term last November, U.S. President Barack Obama found himself with the same prescription for policy failure: a divided government.
With Republicans retaining their majority status in the House of Representatives and the Senate run by Democrats, Obama, nonetheless, put forward a progressive agenda that included contentious issues such as climate change, immigration reform, gun control and background checks, gay rights and equal pay for women.
2013 turned out to be tough for the president. Repeated calls for bipartisanship and common ground in Congress weren’t heeded, and Republican resistance to the new health-care law, Obamacare, forced a federal government shutdown in October. It was the first in 17 years. A budget deal brokered earlier this month has offset fiscal gridlock for the next two years, but that deal has not bridged the ideological canyon between the two major parties on the nation's most pressing issues/problems.
Neither party had a smooth year, but here are some of the Democrats’ most embarrassing and disappointing moments of 2013:
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When Vice President Joe Biden congratulated Obama on signing the controversial health-care law in 2010, he said it was “a big [expletive] deal.” Fast forward three years later and it still is. A botched roll out of the HealthCare.gov website -- a vital part of implementing the landmark legislation -- sent critics into overdrive and kept the public wondering if Republicans were right all along about Obamacare being a bad policy that is just unworkable. Technical glitches at health insurance exchanges prevented hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans from signing up and getting covered at the outset, and many insured people were also dropped from their coverage because their existing plans did not meet the standards of Obamacare.
A slight majority of Americans were always skeptical of the law and disapprove of it. Still, on Oct. 1, the website was just not ready, and the administration has made several deadline extensions; many glitches have been fixed, but bugs remain. The worst part of it all was that the nation’s chief executive didn’t know about the website problems before it went live.
In order to save the signature policy initiative of his presidency, Obama implemented a public relations campaign and did some damage control. In speeches thereafter, the president defended the law against critics, saying, “The product is good. People want it.”
In June, the White House was totally blindsided when Edward Snowden, a defense contractor employee, leaked classified documents to the British daily The Guardian that cast a large spotlight on the National Security Agency. U.S. surveillance practices were revealed, including the collection of metadata on millions of Americans' and foreigners’ calls, and spying on foreign allies. Let’s just say neither Americans nor traditional allies were happy about that.
And as for Snowden, he told the media, “I already won.” He is facing felony charges in the U.S., but his whistle-blowing forced lawmakers to take a critical look at the NSA, which could face operational reforms in the year ahead.
Syria And Those Blurred Red Lines
On this subject, the quotes are very telling.
At a press conference last August, Obama said that if chemical weapons were used in Syria then that would be crossing a “red line for us.”
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
This September, a United Nations report confirmed that sarin gas was used in an Aug. 21 attack in Syria, but it didn’t say which group was responsible. Things got a little complicated for Obama, who was faced with a tough decision. Some U.S. lawmakers said the red line was crossed and called on the president to inform Congress how he would act if he chose to do so. He urged Congress to debate and vote on a possible strike. Still on Sept. 4, the president insisted, “I didn’t set a red line; the world set a red line.”
Eventually, Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in and kind of diffused the situation by coming to an agreement with the U.S. to help get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up the chemical weapons.
A top official at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) basically ratted out the agency in May, when she admitted that staffers targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and placed them under additional scrutiny. Lois Lerner apologized for the IRS’s behavior, but Democrats and Republicans were both calling for heads to roll in the federal tax-collection organization.
This was, of course, unwelcome news for the Obama administration, as the IRS is the agency that’s responsible for determining who is eligible for Obamacare subsidies, and the amount. The president condemned the agency’s behavior, saying, “There is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS, as an independent agency, requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a nonpartisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party.”
After resigning from Congress in 2011 amid a sexting scandal, Anthony Weiner found himself tangled in another scandal while running for mayor of New York City. Weiner sent a 22-year-old woman explicit photos under the alias “Carlos Danger.” Suffice it to say that the Weiner campaign died after that.
The former San Diego mayor, 71, was given a 90-day home confinement sentence and three years’ probation for assaulting three women while he was in office. According to CNN, he admitted to forcibly kissing or grabbing three women either at a campaign event or City Hall. In all, 19 women accused Filner of harassment while he was mayor and as a congressman.