Barack Hussein Obama II (born August 4, 1961) is the 44th President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004 and then as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election when he defeated Republican nominee John McCain.
Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.
As president, Obama enacted policy changes regarding health care, signed economic stimulus legislation, and repealed the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals serving in the military. In foreign policy, he ended the war in Iraq, increased troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered US involvement in the 2011 Libya military intervention, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. In April 2011, Obama declared his intention to seek re-election in the 2012 presidential election.
Obama was elected president with a campaign that inspired Americans that change was possible, that the country and the world could move forward into a brighter future, at a time of two on-going wars and an economic recession. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize during his first months as president.
According to official documents Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961 at Kapiʻolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii,12 which would make him the first President to have been born in Hawaii. However, there has been significant controversy surrounding his place of birth, with several sources stating that he was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.34
His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita, Kansas, and was of mostly English ancestry, along with Scottish, Irish, German, and Swiss.5678 His father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a Luo from Nyang'oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya. Obama's parents met in 1960 in a Russian class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where his father was a foreign student on scholarship.910 The couple married on February 2, 1961,11 separated when Obama Sr. went to Harvard University on scholarship, and divorced in 1964.9 Obama Sr. remarried and returned to Kenya, visiting Barack in Hawaii only once, in 1971. He died in an automobile accident in 1982.12
After her divorce, Dunham married Indonesian Lolo Soetoro, who was attending college in Hawaii. When Suharto, a military leader in Soetoro's home country, came to power in 1967, all Indonesian students studying abroad were recalled, and the family moved to the Menteng neighborhood of Jakarta.10 From ages six to ten, Obama attended local schools in Jakarta, including Besuki Public School and St. Francis of Assisi School.13
In 1971, Obama returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Armour Dunham, and with the aid of a scholarship attended Punahou School, a private college preparatory school, from fifth grade until his graduation from high school in 1979.10 Obama's mother returned to Hawaii in 1972, remaining there until 1977 when she went back to Indonesia to work as an anthropological field worker. She finally returned to Hawaii in 1994 and lived there for one year before dying of ovarian cancer.11
Reflecting later on his years in Honolulu, Obama wrote: "The opportunity that Hawaii offered-to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect-became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear."14 However, he struggled with the absence of his father, his own racial heritage, and being raised by a white family in a culture that had few black students. Obama has also written and talked about using alcohol, marijuana and cocaine during his teenage years to "push questions of who I was out of my mind."10 At the 2008 Civil Forum on the Presidency, Obama identified his high-school drug use as a great moral failure.15
Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to attend Occidental College.16 In 1981, he transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialty in international relations and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1983.17
Further education and early career
After graduation Obama worked for a year at the Business International Corporation, then at the New York Public Interest Research Group.10 He was hired as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP) in Chicago, where he worked as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988.10 Obama helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization in Altgeld Gardens.18 In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time in Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his paternal relatives for the first time.10
In late 1988, Obama entered Harvard Law School. He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year,19 and president of the journal in his second year.1820 In 1989 he worked as a summer associate in the Chicago office of the law firm Sidley Austin where he met his future wife, Michelle Robinson, who was an associate at the firm at the time. After graduating with a J.D. from Harvard in 1991, he returned to Chicago.19 Obama's election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review gained national media attention1820 and led to a publishing contract and advance for a book about race relations, which evolved into a personal memoir. The manuscript was published in mid-1995 as Dreams from My Father.10
In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book.21 He taught at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years-as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004-teaching constitutional law.22
From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois's Project Vote, a voter registration drive with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, and led to Crain's Chicago Business naming Obama to its 1993 list of "40 under Forty" powers to be.23 In 1993 he joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he represented community organizers, discrimination victims, and black voters trying to force a redrawing of city ward boundaries.24
Legislative career: 1997-2008
Obama served three terms in the Illinois Senate. In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush by a margin of two to one.25 In 2002 he began his campaign for the U.S. Senate, winning his seat in November, 2004. Already noticed by the Democratic Party, he became the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008.
State Senator: 1997-2004
Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, succeeding State Senator Alice Palmer as Senator from Illinois's 13th District. He was reelected to the Illinois Senate in 1998, defeating Republican Yesse Yehudah in the general election, and was reelected again in 2002.
Once elected, Obama gained bipartisan support for legislation reforming ethics and health care laws.26 In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Illinois Senate's Health and Human Services Committee when Democrats, after a decade in the minority, regained a majority.
He also continued his human rights advocacy, sponsoring and leading unanimous, bipartisan passage of legislation to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they detained, and legislation making Illinois the first state to mandate videotaping of homicide interrogations.2728
Obama was an early opponent of the George W. Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq.29
In May 2002, Obama commissioned a poll to assess his prospects in a 2004 U.S. Senate race. He created a campaign committee, began raising funds, and lined up political media consultant David Axelrod by August 2002, and formally announced his candidacy in January 2003.
Decisions by Republican incumbent Peter Fitzgerald and his Democratic predecessor Carol Moseley Braun not to participate in the election resulted in wide-open Democratic and Republican primary contests involving fifteen candidates, including seven millionaires.30 In the March 2004 primary election, Obama won in an unexpected landslide-which overnight made him a rising star within the national Democratic Party. In July 2004, Obama delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, seen by 9.1 million viewers. His speech was well received and elevated his status within the Democratic Party, and laid the foundation for his presidential campaign.31
Obama's expected opponent in the election for the U.S. Senate seat, Republican primary winner Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race in June 2004.3233 Six weeks later, Alan Keyes accepted the Republican nomination to replace Ryan.34 In the election Obama won with 70 percent of the vote.
Obama resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004, following his election to the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Senator: 2005-2008
Obama was sworn in as a senator on January 3, 2005, and served until November 16, 2008. 35
Obama cosponsored the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act.36 He introduced two initiatives bearing his name: Lugar-Obama, which expanded the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction concept to conventional weapons;37 and the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which authorized the establishment of USAspending.gov, a web search engine on federal spending.38
Regarding tort reform, Obama voted for the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which grants immunity from civil liability to telecommunications companies complicit with NSA warrantless wiretapping operations.39
In January 2007, Obama and Senator Feingold introduced a corporate jet provision to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which was signed into law in September 2007.40 Obama also introduced Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, a bill to criminalize deceptive practices in federal elections,4142 and the Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007,43 neither of which has been signed into law.
Later in 2007, Obama sponsored an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act adding safeguards for personality-disorder military discharges.44 Obama also sponsored a Senate amendment to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, providing one year of job protection for family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries.
Obama held assignments on the Senate Committees for Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and Veterans' Affairs through December 2006.45 In January 2007, he left the Environment and Public Works committee and took additional assignments with Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.46 He also became Chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on European Affairs. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama made official trips to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.
2008 presidential campaign
On February 10, 2007, Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois.47 The choice of the announcement site was viewed as symbolic because it was also where Abraham Lincoln delivered his historic "House Divided" speech in 1858.4748 Obama emphasized the issues of rapidly ending the Iraq War, increasing energy independence, and providing universal health care, in a campaign that projected themes of "hope" and "change."49 50
A large number of candidates entered the Democratic Party presidential primaries, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. The field narrowed to a duel between Obama and Senator Clinton after early contests. The contest remained competitive for longer than expected as a close race continued between Obama and Senator Clinton, due in part to their being the first viable African American and female presidential contenders. On June 7, 2008, Clinton finally ended her campaign and endorsed Obama.
At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, Hillary Clinton called for her supporters to endorse Obama.51 Obama delivered his acceptance speech, not at the center where the Democratic National Convention was held, but at Invesco Field at Mile High to a crowd of over 75,000; the speech was viewed by over 38 million people worldwide.52 On August 23, Obama announced his selection of Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate.
Senator John McCain from Arizona was nominated as the Republican candidate. On November 4, Obama won the presidency with 365 electoral votes to 173 received by McCain; Obama won 52.9 percent of the popular vote to McCain's 45.7 percent. He became the first African American to be elected president.5354 Obama delivered his victory speech before hundreds of thousands of supporters in Chicago's Grant Park.55
2012 presidential campaign
On April 4, 2011, Obama announced his re-election campaign for 2012 in a video titled "It Begins with Us" that he posted on his website as well as filing election papers with the Federal Election Commission.5657
The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President, and Joe Biden as Vice President, took place on January 20, 2009. Members of his Cabinet included Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State, Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, and Eric Holder as Attorney General; Robert Gates, who had assumed the office of Secretary of Defense in 2006, under then-President George W. Bush, was retained in that position.
Amid high expectations of his "first 100 days in office," Obama suspended all pending federal regulations proposed by outgoing President George W. Bush so that they could be reviewed and signed a number of bills relating to domestic issues. He also issued executive orders and presidential memoranda directing the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops from Iraq.58 He ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp "as soon as practicable," although in May 2009 the Senate voted to keep the prison open for the foreseeable future and to prohibit the transfer of detainees to facilities in the United States.59
The first bill signed into law by Obama was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, relaxing the statute of limitations for equal-pay lawsuits.60 In March 2009, Obama reversed a Bush-era policy which had limited funding of embryonic stem cell research, stating that he believed "sound science and moral values… are not inconsistent" and pledged to develop "strict guidelines" on the research to prevent its use in human cloning.61
Other significant measures taken by Obama and his administration include:
- The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a measure that expanded the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.62
- The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, a bill that provided for repeal of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy of 1993 that has prevented gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the United States Armed Forces.63
- The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, a reconciliation bill which ended the process of the federal government giving subsidies to private banks to give out federally insured loans, increased the Pell Grant scholarship award, and maked changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.64
- Obama announced a change in direction at NASA, the U.S. space agency, ending plans for a return of human spaceflight to the moon and ending development of the Ares I rocket, Ares V rocket, and Constellation program. Instead, NASA would be asked to monitor climate change and develop a new rocket capable of exploration of the solar system.65
- Although Obama vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp by January 2010, the United States Senate passed an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 2346) to block funds needed for the transfer or release of prisoners held at the camp.59 Obama still issued a Presidential memorandum dated December 15, 2009, ordering the preparation of the Thomson Correctional Center, Thomson, Illinois so as to enable the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners there.66 However, in January 2011 he signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill which placed restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the mainland or to other foreign countries, thus impeding the closure of the detention facility.67 According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates, "The prospects for closing Guantanamo as best I can tell are very, very low given very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress."68
Obama appointed two women to serve on the Supreme Court in the first two years of his Presidency. Sonia Sotomayor, nominated by Obama on May 26, 2009, to replace retiring Associate Justice David Souter, was confirmed on August 6, 2009, becoming the first Hispanic to be a Supreme Court Justice.69 Elena Kagan, nominated by Obama on May 10, 2010, to replace retiring Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, was confirmed on August 5, 2010, bringing the number of women sitting simultaneously on the Court to three, for the first time in American history.70
On January 25, 2011, in his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama focused strongly on the themes of education and innovation to make the United States more competitive globally.71
In 2012, shortly after the official launch of his campaign for re-election as president, Obama publicly affirmed his personal support for the legalization of same-sex marriage, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so.7273
Health care reform
Obama called for Congress to pass legislation reforming health care in the United States, a key campaign promise and a top legislative goal. He proposed a controversial expansion of health insurance coverage to cover the uninsured, to cap premium increases, and to allow people to retain their coverage when they leave or change jobs. It would also make it illegal for insurers to drop sick people or deny them coverage for pre-existing conditions, and require every American carry health coverage.74
On July 14, 2009, House Democratic leaders introduced a 1,017-page plan for overhauling the U.S. health care system, which Obama wanted Congress to approve by the end of 2009. After much public debate during the Congressional summer recess of 2009, Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9 where he addressed concerns over the proposals.75
On March 21, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by the Senate in December was passed in the House by a vote of 219 to 212. Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes health-related provisions to take effect over four years, including expanding Medicaid eligibility for people making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) starting in 2014, subsidizing insurance premiums for people making up to 400 percent of the FPL ($88,000 for family of four in 2010) so their maximum "out-of-pocket" payment for annual premiums will be from 2 to 9.5 percent of income, providing incentives for businesses to provide health care benefits, prohibiting denial of coverage and denial of claims based on pre-existing conditions, establishing health insurance exchanges, prohibiting annual coverage caps, and support for medical research.76 According to White House and Congressional Budget Office figures, the maximum share of income that enrollees would have to pay would vary depending on their income relative to the federal poverty level.77
Debate and controversy over "Obamacare" did not end with the signing of the bill into law. In March 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments by a coalition of 26 states maintaining that it is unconstitutional to force individuals to buy health insurance.78
Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion economic stimulus package aimed at helping the economy recover from the deepening worldwide recession. The act includes increased federal spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals over the course of several years.79
Obama intervened in the troubled automotive industry, renewing loans for General Motors and Chrysler to continue operations while reorganizing. The White House set terms for both firms' bankruptcies, including a reorganization of GM giving the U.S. government a temporary 60 percent equity stake in the company, with the Canadian government shouldering a 12 percent stake.80 He also signed into law the Car Allowance Rebate System, known colloquially as "Cash for Clunkers," that temporarily boosted the economy.81
A compromise deal with the Congressional Republican leadership including a temporary, two-year extension of the 2001 and 2003 income tax rates, a one-year payroll tax reduction, continuation of unemployment benefits, and a new rate and exemption amount for estate taxes allowed the resulting $858 billion Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 to pass with bipartisan majorities before Obama signed it on December 17, 2010.82
When Obama took office in January 2009, unemployment was at 7.8 percent and had been rising since the summer of 2008. It continued to rise in 2009, peaking at 10 percent in October.83 Following a decrease to 9.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010, the unemployment rate fell to 9.6 percent in the second quarter, where it remained for the rest of the year.84 Between February and December 2010, employment rose by 0.8 percent, which was less than the average of 1.9 percent experienced during comparable periods in the previous four employment recoveries.85 The unemployment rate stabilized at close to 9.0 percent for 2011, beginning a small downward trend from November; unemployment had dropped to 8.1 percent by April, 2012-almost down to the level when Obama began his presidency.83 The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and a broad range of economists credited Obama's stimulus plan for economic growth. 86 The CBO released a report stating that following the stimulus bill employment increased significantly, while conceding that "It is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package."87
The Gross Domestic Product GDP, which had been falling in 2008, returned to modest growth in the third quarter of 2009, expanding at a rate of 1.7 percent, followed by a 3.8 percent increase in the fourth quarter.88 Growth continued in 2010, posting an increase of 3.9 percent in the first quarter, with lesser gains throughout the rest of the year.88 Overall, the economy expanded at a rate of 3.0 percent in 2010 and 1.7 percent in 2011; GDP growth for the first quarter in 2012 was posted at 2.2 percent.88
Obama and the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the 2010 federal budget deficit would be $1.5 trillion or 10.6 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion or 9.9 percent of GDP.8990 For 2011, the administration predicted the deficit would shrink slightly to $1.34 trillion, while the ten-year deficit would increase to $8.53 trillion or 90 percent of GDP.91 On August 2, 2011, after a lengthy congressional debate over whether to raise the nation's debt limit, Obama signed the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011. The legislation enforces limits on discretionary spending until 2021, establishes a procedure to increase the debt limit, creates a Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to propose further deficit reduction with a stated goal of achieving at least $1.5 trillion in budgetary savings over ten years, and establishes automatic procedures for reducing spending by as much as $1.2 trillion if legislation originating with the new joint select committee does not achieve such savings.92 By passing this legislation lifting the $14.3 trillion cap on U.S. borrowing, Congress was able to prevent an unprecedented U.S. government default on its obligations.93
Gulf of Mexico oil spill
On April 20, 2010, an explosion destroyed an offshore drilling rig at the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a major sustained oil leak. The well's operator, BP, initiated a containment and cleanup plan, and began drilling two relief wells intended to stop the flow. Obama visited the Gulf and announced a federal investigation and formed a bipartisan commission to recommend new safety standards, after a review by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and concurrent Congressional hearings. He then announced a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling permits and leases, pending regulatory review. As multiple efforts by BP failed, the media and public expressed frustration and criticism over the handling of the incident both by BP and by Obama and the federal government.9495