Obama Embarks on First Working Day of Second Term

Washington (AP) —
President Obama waves to the crowd at the Commander in Chief’s Ball during presidential inauguration ceremonies in Washington, Tuesday. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)
President Obama waves to the crowd at the Commander in Chief’s Ball during presidential inauguration ceremonies in Washington, Tuesday. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Four years ago, President Barack Obama and his staff spent the first day in the White House learning the basics. Not just the basics of governing, but also figuring out how to get cleared into their offices by the Secret Service, log on to their government computers and find keys to unlock office drawers.

They solved those problems long ago. Also in the rearview mirror are the economic recession, the Iraq war and the hunt for terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

But plenty of fresh challenges lie ahead as the president and his team began the first working day of the second term Tuesday.

Obama will quickly confront three fiscal deadlines that demand cooperation with Congress, including raising the debt ceiling, which the House scheduled for a vote Wednesday. The deaths of three Americans in a siege on a natural gas plant in Algeria have renewed fears about the rise of terrorism in North Africa. And Obama must soon finalize the next phase of the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Before getting down to business, Obama had a few more inaugural obligations to complete Tuesday. The president also celebrated Tuesday night with the campaign and White House staff at a glitzy inaugural ball.

Otherwise, Tuesday a normal working day at the White House. The president met with his top aides, and press secretary Jay Carney briefed the press.

Behind the scenes, the president and his advisers are working on the ambitious progressive agenda Obama outlined in his inaugural address, one that will require cooperation from a divided Congress in an era of looming budget cuts.

“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit,” Obama said, speaking to the hundreds of thousands of people fanned out across the National Mall. “But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

Political Capital

Obama also plans to soon unveil proposals for a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, which is expected to be a central topic in Obama’s Feb. 12 State of the Union address. The president also will be seeking congressional support for the far-reaching package of gun-control proposals he unveiled last week, including an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun purchasers.

Obama also paid special attention to climate change during his inaugural address, an issue he spent little time on during his first term.

Still, it was unclear how much effort Obama would put into climate change legislation this year — or how much political capital he would have left to spend on the issue after tackling his other priorities.

The looming question over Obama’s entire second term is whether he can find a way to quell his confrontations with a divided Congress. Seeking to start off on a better foot, the president invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House ahead of his inaugural address Monday, including the Republican leaders with whom he has frequently been at odds: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Speaking to the throngs gathered on the National Mall, Obama implored Washington to find common ground when it can.

“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said.

Following his relatively brief 18-minute inaugural address, Obama gazed over the crowd fanned out across the National Mall and said, “I’m not going to see this again.”

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