President Obama has fallen under particular criticism during the first year of his second term, most recently after knowledge of clandestine surveillance programs, national security issues, and other government secrets emerged.
Here is recap of some of the controversies that have plagued the Obama administration since the president took office in 2008. Next
Iranian nuclear deal
Situation: President Obama said he directed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a nuclear weapons agreement with Iran. He spoke at the United Nations and said he was encouraged that Iranian President Hasan Rouhani was pursuing a moderate course.
Leaders of Iran and the United States have not met face-to-face in more than 30 years. Next
Syria chemical weapons
Criticism: Following the news of chemical weapons attacks in 12 neighborhoods outside Damascus, President Obama advocated a targeted military strike against the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, who was believed to be responsible for initiating the attack. Public opinion polls showed wide opposition to American military action in Syria.
Response: President Obama later addressed the nation, saying he would ask Congress to delay a vote on military action in favor of pursuing diplomatic negotiations to disable Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities. He gave a speech at the United Nations calling for enforcement of a ban on chemical weapons in Syria and pushing back against claims from Russia and Assad that Syrian rebel forces were responsible for the attack. Next
Criticism: A former CIA employee who worked as a contractor for the NSA leaked documents regarding an intelligence program designed to gather US phone records to search for possible links to terrorists abroad and to gather Internet usage data to detect suspicious behavior.
Response: President Obama defended the program as a counterterrorism policy. He cited decisions to weigh the importance of security and privacy and in a speech on June 6, promised Americans that “nobody is listening to your telephone calls.” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the program was authorized under the Patriot Act and has been in place since 2008.
Status: The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the administration on June 11.
Read more about the program and the source who leaked classified documents about the surveillance programs.
Criticism: The Associated Press released a story on June 4, 2013, reporting that some of President Obama’s political appointees, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (pictured), used secret government e-mail accounts to discuss official business. Critics said the practice complicated agencies’ legal responsiblities to find and reveal e-mails under public records requests and congressional inquiries, and that it ran contrary to Obama’s pledge for transparent government.
Response: White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was nothing secret about the e-mails, and that the practice enabled the officials to avoid having their mail inboxes filled with unwanted messages. He said all accounts were subject to congressional oversight.
Status: The Associated Press sought documents under the Freedom of Information Act and discovered the alternate e-mails. There are pending requests for 10 agencies.
Associated Press phone records
Criticism: Attorney General Eric Holder denied knowledge of the Justice Department secretly obtaining two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for the Associated Press on May 14, 2013. The Justice Department monitored outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, according to an attorney for the AP.
Response: White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president had learned about the phone records through news reports and added that given the criminal investigation, it would be improper for Obama or the White House to weigh in.
Status: Holder said that given the aggressive government leak probes in the last month, there needed to be a better balance between press freedom and safeguarding national secrets.
IRS conference spending
Criticism: A government watchdog discovered the IRS spent about $50 million on conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012. Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, characterized the spending as wasteful and said it was an “example of a culture of excess that plagues the IRS and many federal agencies.”
Response: An IRS official apologized for the lavish spending, but the organization faced congressional hearings over spending and two officials were disciplined for accepting free food at a 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif. Danny Werfel took over the IRS in May after President Obama forced the previous commissioner to resign following the news of the IRS targeting conservative groups.
Pictured: Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel testified on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 6, 2013, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing regarding IRS conference spending. Next
IRS targeting conservative groups
Criticism: Officials with the Internal Revenue Service testified before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during an investigation into allegations that the IRS targeted conservative nonprofit organizations with the words "tea party" and "constitution" in their names for additional scrutiny.
Response: President Obama called the targeting of conservative political groups inexcusable. He simultaneously addressed the IRS issue and denied any administration cover-up of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
Osama bin Laden mission
Criticism: About a year after the 2011 mission in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, US officials released 17 documents discovered during the raid. The content of the documents suggested an Al Qaeda in disarray, with its leaders constantly on the run from the United States. In July 2012, presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Obama of leaking classified details of the raid for political gain. Former special forces officers also criticized the president.
Response: President Obama said in a statement that the idea that his administration “would purposely release classified national security information is offensive.”
Pictured: Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and members of the national security team received an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House on May 1, 2011.
Criticism: Members of Congress, the general public, and human rights groups questioned the use of drones overseas and believed the Obama administration’s policy overstepped the bounds of warfare. Drone use has killed not just terror suspects but also civilians in some cases.
Response: President Obama defended his policy on drones and outlined new guidelines explaining the standards for carrying out drone attacks, including preference for capture and oversight from senior national security officials.
Status: Despite the president’s defense of the drone program, ambiguity remains on how the United States will proceed with its targeted counterterrorism strategy. The United States faces a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union over the drone attacks that killed three US citizens in Yemen in 2011.
Pictured: A MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, piloted by Colonel Lex Turner during a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. Read some questions and answers about the drone program.
Criticism: CIA Director David Petraeus admitted to an extramarital affair in November 2012, a revelation that added to the existing criticism of the Obama administration over the attacks in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. General Petraeus, pictured here in 2010 when it was announced he would replace General Stanley A. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan, was being investigated by the FBI.
Criticism: Questions arose whether the Obama administration made moves to cover up details from the deadly attack in Benghazi in 2012 that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, pictured, and three other Americans. Senators John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said in a joint statement that “the administration mishandled its response to the attack and appears to have selected intelligence that mischaracterized the attack and misled the American people.”
Response: President Obama criticized Republican charges of a coverup, and Susan Rice, then the US ambassador to the UN, denied misleading Congress in the nature of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. On Oct. 16, President Obama took responsibility for any mistakes the administration made handling the attack.
Solyndra bailout documents
Criticism: The Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee requested documents from the White House regarding Solyndra, a solar company in California that filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6, 2011, two years after its $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department. The FBI launched an investigation into the company for possible accounting fraud. Documents revealed that the Obama administration had considered a bailout of the company days before it collapsed in 2011.
Response: Federal officials were warned of the company’s problems. President Obama visited the company in 2010. The White House had delayed releasing the documents, but ultimately gave investigators thousands of pages of documents.
Status: The investigation into the Solyndra investment concluded that Obama’s administration ignored red flags about the company’s financial health.
Pictured: President Obama talked with workers during a tour of Solyndra on May 26, 2010. Next
Birth certificate debate
Criticism: Theories emerged about Obama’s birth certificate as critics questioned both whether he was born in the United States and his constitutional legitimacy to occupy the White House.
Response: President Obama made a statement about his birth certificate at the White House on April 27, 2011. He said he was bemused over conspiracy theories over his birthplace and said the media's obsession with the "sideshow" issue was a distraction in a "serious time." The White House released a copy of a long-form, original document made at the time of his birth.
Bill Clinton and Joe Sestak
Criticism: Members of Congress accused the Obama administration of engaging in “political shenanigans” the president once campaigned to end when the White House acknowledged that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel asked former president Bill Clinton to try to ease Joe Sestak, pictured, out of the Pennsylvania primary race for Senate.
Response: The White House released a report saying the move was an attempt to clear a path for Senator Arlen Specter to win the Democratic nomination.
Status: Sestak defeated Specter in the primary but lost to Republican Pat Toomey. Rahm Emanuel later left the Obama administration and was elected mayor of Chicago.
Stanley McChrystal resignation
Criticism: US military commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal was summoned to Washington on June 22, 2010, after an article appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in which General McChrystal made disparaging remarks about the Obama administration.
Response: The president accepted McChrystal’s resignation, saying it was the right thing for the mission in Afghanistan and did not represent a difference of opinion between the White House and the Pentagon over the approach to the war.
Status: A Pentagon inquiry into the Rolling Stone profile that led to Stanley McChrystal’s dismissal cleared him of wrongdoing in April 2011. The White House also tapped McChrystal to head an advisory board to support military families. Next
Tom Daschle tax issues
Criticism: Almost a month after being nominated for secretary of health and human services, Thomas Daschle reported to President-elect Obama that he had not paid taxes on services from a wealthy friend. Daschle, a Democrat who served in the Senate for 17 years and as majority leader for 10, withdrew his name from consideration on Feb. 3, 2009.
Response: Obama said Daschle made a serious mistake, and that “we can’t send a message to the American people that we have two sets of rules.”
Bill Ayers connection
Criticism: During Obama’s presidential campaign, details emerged of his association with William Ayers, who was part of a radical group that bombed government buildings during the early 1970s. Ayers served on two nonprofit boards with Obama and once hosted an event for the young politician.
Response: The Obama campaign said the senator was “unaware of William Ayers’ radical and violent past when the two first met,” according to a spokesman. Obama himself said, “this guy is not part of my inner circle, he doesn’t advise my campaign, he’s not going to advise me as president.”
Read more about how Senator McCain’s campaign handled the Ayers issue. Next
Rev. Jeremiah Wright
Criticism: While campaigning for president, then-Senator Obama received backlash because of racially charged comments of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. In a sermon posted on YouTube, Wright said, “Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that. Hillary ain’t never been called a ‘n—–!’’’
Response: Obama publicly and forcefully repudiated Wright for his “inflammatory and appalling” remarks, and said the pastor had insulted what Obama was trying to do in his campaign.
Obama’s aunt in Boston
Criticism: The president’s aunt garnered media attention in 2008 when the Associated Press reported that she was living illegally in Boston. Zeituni Onyango, the half-sister of Obama’s late father, applied for asylum in 2002 but was rejected and told to leave the country in 2004. She did not leave, for fear of violence and health risks if she returned to her native Kenya
Response: Campaign staff confirmed the relationship between Obama and Onyango in October 2008, but said he was unaware she was in the country illegally. Obama had written about his aunt in his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.”
Current status: Onyango was granted permission to stay in the United States in May 2010.
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