President Barack Obama is returning to the rancor of the nation’s capital after two weeks of fun and sun in his native Hawaii, saying he’s “fired up” for his final year in office and ready to tackle unfinished business.
At the top of Obama’s priority list is executive action that is expected to expand when background checks are required for gun purchases. Obama is meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss a three-month review of what actions he could take to help reduce gun violence.
The actions, which are staunchly opposed by Republicans and likely to spark a legal fight, underscore Obama’s desire to keep up an aggressive agenda in 2016, even as the public’s attention shifts to the presidential election.
Obama spent much of his vacation out of the public eye, playing golf with friends and dining out on the island of Oahu with his family. He also worked on his final State of the Union address, scheduled for Jan. 12.
The address to Congress is a high-profile opportunity for the president to try to reassure the public about his national security stewardship after the terrorism attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Advisers say Obama will also look for other opportunities to keep security issues at the forefront as he tries to ease Americans’ concerns.
“Over the coming weeks and months, the American people should expect the president to continue to communicate directly about his commitment to fighting terrorism and protecting the homeland,” spokesman Eric Schultz said.
Congressional Republicans have outlined a competing agenda for January, saying they’ll spend the first days of 2016 taking another crack at eliminating keys parts of the president’s health insurance law and ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The legislation is unlikely to become law, but it is popular with the GOP base in an election year.
The debate over Obama’s gun actions will quickly spill over into the presidential campaign. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has already called for more aggressive executive actions on guns, while Republican candidates largely oppose efforts to expand background checks or take other steps that curb access to guns.
In his weekly radio address, Obama said tens of thousands of people have died from gun violence since background check legislation stalled three years ago.
“Each time, we’re told that commonsense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, so we shouldn’t do anything,” Obama said. “We know that we can’t stop every act of violence. But what if we tried to stop even one?”
Federally licensed gun sellers are required by law to seek criminal background checks before completing a sale. But gun control advocacy groups say some of the people who sell firearms at gun shows are not federally licensed, increasing the chance of sales to customers prohibited by law from purchasing guns.
Despite his deep differences with Republicans, Obama has cited two agenda items for 2016 that have bipartisan support: a free trade agreement with 11 other nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership and changes in the criminal justice system that would reduce incarceration rates for nonviolent offenders. He often points out that the U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its inmates.