Gun control, immigration top Obama's second term agenda

Jan 21, 2013

Four challenges for Obama when he returns to the Oval Office after today's inauguration celebrations

PRESIDENT OBAMA celebrated his inauguration in Washington DC today with a "scaled-back" ceremony at which the singer Beyonce was set to be the most flamboyant participant. But after giving a speech in which he appealed to Americans to "seek common ground", the President now turns his attention to a second term agenda that is almost certain to be divisive. Here are four key challenges that could define Obama's remaining years in the White House:

Gun control: Whether the Sandy Hook massacre proves to be a watershed for America's attempts to curb gun violence will be decided by the fate of measures outlined by Obama last week to tighten gun control. His most significant proposals limit the size of ammunition magazines, ban assault weapons and require universal checks on people buying firearms. The plan won "little praise" from Republicans, says NBC, and because they control the House there's little chance of getting the assault weapons ban or a reduction in the size of magazines. The most likely outcome, The Guardian says, is that Congress will back "tightening up rules on gun buyers". This concession and the "executive actions" Obama made this week to increase research into gun violence, and appoint a new head of the federal firearms bureau, might be all the White House can realistically hope to achieve.

Immigration: The record turnout of Hispanic voters in last November's election means the president is "practically obligated" to reform US immigration laws, says NBC. It's likely he'll order a "halt" to the deportation of "young, undocumented immigrants brought to the US as minors", says France24, and allow them to apply for work permits. Obama may also urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act which would offer those immigrants permanent residency. There are about 11 million immigrants in the US and Obama will urge Congress to overhaul the visa system so highly skilled people find it easier to get a visa. The Republican Party needs to start attracting Latino voters so they may go along with some or all of these reforms, France24 says.

Energy and climate change: Obama has to give "this challenge the priority it deserves", says the Washington Post. The paper says the best environmental policies to reduce America's emissions would require "congressional action" but the president seems "unwilling to push for a carbon tax". Americans should hear from their leaders "about the risks the planet faces and why it makes sense to spend now to head off more costly consequences later", the paper says.

Reducing debt: Obama begins his second term facing "unprecedented budget constraints" that will limit his ability to implement his vision, says Reuters. Obama and the Republicans struck a deal to stop America tumbling off the fiscal cliff, but they failed to reach a "grand bargain" over spending and debt reduction, says Obama wants to close tax loopholes and limit the tax deductions available to wealthier Americans, but he is opposed to spending cuts that hurt "middle-class households, senior citizens and families with disabled children".

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“Just yesterday, I took an oath to protect and defend our nation from any threat, foreign or domestic. Gun violence has become a domestic threat. Ten times more Americans die by gun violence each year than died on 9/11, and it is time that we stand together for the sake of freedom and safety within our borders. It is reasonable to be afraid that if you surrender your firearm, you will be vulnerable to attack by someone who has not surrendered theirs. However, I have decided to call on you, the American people, to stand bravely in that fear, to risk your safety, to some small extent, in order to save the lives of our friends and neighbors. I ask you to willingly lay down your firearms, and be a soldier for peace. You will risk your life, just like a soldier for war. But as Mahatma Gandhi proved in India, an army that refuses to participate in injustice is invincible. Let us wait no longer. Let us be the generation to cure the plague of gun violence that has swept our beloved nation. We will wait for no legislation; we will end no debates. We will begin here and now to risk our lives for our fellow Americans by choosing freely and willingly to make ourselves defenseless, armed only with faith, good will, and determination. The bullet stops here. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.” --Barack Obama (if I wrote his speeches)