Obama Administration Timeline
Obama Administration Timeline
May 26, 2009: Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor
President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to replace the retiring Justice David H. Souter on the Supreme Court. Upon confirmation, Sotomayor became the first Latina, and third woman to sit on the High Court. Since then, she’s ruled on major cases like Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission, Obergefell V. Hodges, and voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act.
May 10, 2010: Nomination of Elena Kagan
In 2010, President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, making her the youngest sitting justice, the fourth female, and the first justice to serve without any prior judicial experience.
June 28, 2012 & June 25, 2015: Affordable Care Act Cases
Since its inception, the ACA has been debated on the floor of the Supreme Court on two separate occasions. The first case, National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, was heard in 2012. Defendants argued that the ACA’s “individual mandate” was an unconstitutional attempt by the federal government to regulate commerce. In a 5-4 decision, the justices refuted this by saying the mandate could be “reasonably characterized as a tax” and was thus within the scope of congressional authority. The second, King V. Burwell, was handed down in 2015. Defendants in this case were concerned with the system of tax credits, and argued that the bill’s wording could only be extended to state-operated exchanges. The Court rejected this, saying that as tax credits are an essential element of the ACA, it can be assumed that it extends credits to both state and federal exchange markets.
June 26, 2015: Obergefell v. Hodges
Class action suits filed by same-sex couples in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee raised the question of whether or not same-sex marriage should be recognized by law. Complainants argued that their right to marry was guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that as marriage is a protected liberty, and same-sex partnerships present no legislative differences, same-sex marriages must be awarded legal recognition and protection.
February 12, 2016: Death of Justice Antonin Scalia
Scalia is considered one of the best writers and most influential justices in the court’s history. Upon his passing, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to fill the court’s vacancy. However, Senate Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for any nominee put forth by President Obama, stating that responsibility should fall to the next sitting president. The seat has since been filled by President Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.
December 22, 2010: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act
Enacted by President Clinton in 1994, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibited openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans from serving in the US military. The law ended an outright ban on gay people in the military, instead allowing them to serve, but on the condition that they remain silent about their sexuality, or face discharge. The repeal of this bill prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation for every member of the US military.
May 2, 2011: Assassination of Osama bin Laden
SEAL Team Six succeeded in a special mission to kill the world’s most wanted man, the founder of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, during a night raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. As the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks—bin Laden was the subject of one of the longest and most expensive international manhunts in history. His body was buried at sea, with no photos of his corpse publicized (unlike the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi). Unfortunately, while bin Laden’s death carried a great deal of symbolic value, it actually did little to mitigate the spread of global terrorism, as Al-Qaeda’s relevance at the time of bin Laden’s assassination had diminished to a point of near-negligibility.
December 18, 2011: Last American troops leave Iraq
By withdrawing all US combat forces from Iraq, President Obama put an end to Operation Iraqi Freedom and, in so doing, delivered on a central promise of his presidential campaign. The military occupation began in 2003 with the removal of the Baath regime, led by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The days following America’s exit, however, gave way to a sectarian battle between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims that destroyed the Iraqi army and ultimately tore the country apart. In 2014, amidst the resulting turmoil, the Islamic State advanced, seizing control of much of northern Iraq. While some blame President Obama—and the power vacuum created by his withdrawal of American troops—for the rise of ISIS, there existed a real and known threat of a militant takeover in 2003 when President Bush ordered the invasion.
January 26, 2009: Timothy Geithner Confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury
Geithner started his career at Kissinger Associates in Washington, D.C., before joining the International Affairs division of the U.S. Treasury Department in 1988. He left in 2001 to join the Council on Foreign Relations. He was director of the Policy Development and Review Department at the International Monetary Fund from 2001-2003. In October 2003 he was named president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. During his confirmation, it was disclosed that Geithner had not paid $35,000 in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes from 2001 through 2004 while working for the International Monetary Fund. The issue, as well as other errors relating to past deductions and expenses, were noted during a 2006 audit by the Internal Revenue Service. Geithner subsequently paid the additional taxes owed. Although President Obama expressed strong support for Geithner, outrage over hundreds of millions of dollars in bonus payments by the American International Group, which had received more than $170 billion in federal bailout aid, undermined public support in early 2009. Geithner left the Obama administration on January 25, 2013, succeeded by Jack Lew.
February 17, 2009: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
When President Obama took office, the economy was collapsing as fast, or faster, than at the start of the Great Depression by almost every measure. This ten-year, $787 billion stimulus package was based on the Keynesian principle that during a recession, the government should offset decreased private sector spending by increasing public spending in order to mitigate the damages of an economic downturn. Though the bill fell short of its goals, a poll conducted by the University of Chicago found that 56 percent of leading economists “strongly agreed” that its benefits outweighed its costs.
July 10, 2009: General Motors bail-out
The acquisition of a 61 percent stake in, and $50 billion loan to, GM was the largest component of the auto industry bail-out, which also included federal assistance for Chrysler. The manufacturers were hemorrhaging money, and with no private lenders willing to work with them, liquidation seemed imminent. Instead, the government intervened, throwing a lifeline that allowed the companies to stay in business if they each agreed to a comprehensive re-structuring. Both companies returned to profitability by 2010, paid back their obligation to the Treasury in 2015 (two years ahead of schedule), and continue to thrive today.
June 30, 2010: College Tuition Rates Continue to Increase Faster than Inflation Causing Student Loans to Surpass Credit Card Debt with $829.785 Billion Owed Nationwide
From 1995-2015, the average tuition and fees at private national universities rose 179 percent. Out-of-state tuition and fees at public universities rose 226 percent. In-state tuition and fees at public national universities grew the most, increasing 296 percent. For reference, the total consumer price index inflation increase from 1995 through the first half of 2015 was 55.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meaning tuition at four-year national universities is outpacing inflation by nearly three-to-five times. With the issue getting stronger national attention, the Obama administration implemented a bill to allow borrowers to lower their monthly payments based on their income, but this is proving to be a more expensive measure than originally thought. The Government Accountability Office estimates that loans issued between 2009 and 2016, originally projected to cost $25 billion, will cost $53 billion.
July 21, 2010: Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
Like so many other of President Obama’s early policy initiatives, the Dodd-Frank Act was also a response to the 2008 financial crisis. At 2,300 pages in length, the law re-shaped the American banking industry and rewrote the rules of Wall Street, effecting the most significant changes to financial regulation in the U.S. since the Great Depression. The law addressed what policymakers believed to be the root cause of the 2008 financial crisis: banks that were “too big to fail.” Aimed toward preventing a recurrence of the 2008 crisis by decreasing risks in the financial system, the Dodd-Frank Act marked the end of an era of deregulation that began under President Reagan.
June 15, 2012: DACA
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) suspends deportation of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US before the age of 16. In addition to a temporary freeze on deportation, approved applicants can gain work authorization, obtain driver's’ licenses, and enroll in college. Many on the political right oppose the policy, arguing that it incentivizes the flow of migrants from Central America to the US. Others viewed it as a political move meant to earn more Hispanic votes, as the policy was announced months before President Obama’s re-election campaign kicked off. The Obama administration touted the measure as a way of protecting kids who were raised in the US, and as a way of conserving the resources of immigration enforcement by diverting attention away from “low priority” individuals. As of February 2017, more than 750,000 people have received permission to stay in the US under DACA.
February 24, 2014: Keystone-XL pipeline veto
When President Obama vetoed a bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, it marked only the third veto of his presidency, but remained one of the most significant of his tenure. The basis for the president’s veto was his concern about the environmental impact of the 1,179-mile pipeline that would transport oil from the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The Republican-controlled Senate attempted to override the veto, but couldn’t secure the required 67 votes. Ultimately, the debate surrounding the construction of the Keystone-XL pipeline became more emblematic of the partisan divide between a political left increasingly focused on addressing climate change, and a political right that saw the bill’s defeat as a direct attack on job creation and American infrastructure.
November 28, 2010: WikiLeaks publishes 250,000 American diplomatic cables
The source of the leaks was American soldier Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning). The cables contained classified information sent to the US State Department by foreign consulates all over the world, and included diplomatic analyses from world leaders and diplomats’ assessments of host countries. The diplomatic cables came as the third wave in a series of “mega-leaks” proliferated by WikiLeaks: the whistleblowing organization leaked documents related to the Afghanistan War in July, and to the Iraq War in October, of 2010. Manning was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act in 2013 for her involvement in the leaks, but her sentence was commuted by President Obama in 2017 as one of his last acts before leaving office. Manning is expected to be released in May 2017.
June 5, 2013: NSA Leaks
Thousands of classified intelligence documents pertaining to the collection of phone records and metadata by the NSA were leaked to two reporters and a documentarian by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Before leaking the information, Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong.
The leaked documents indicated such controversial practices as the provision of customers’ phone records by virtually every telephone company to the NSA. They also revealed that the NSA was spying on some of America’s closest international allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The leaks sparked a fierce debate over national security and individual privacy.
Due to the theft of the highly classified information , and the concern that some of the documents could pose a significant threat to national security, Snowden was charged with violating the Espionage Act as well as with the theft of government property. He currently resides in an undisclosed location in Moscow, having been granted temporary asylum by Russian authorities through at least 2020.
July 14, 2015: Iran Nuclear Deal
The Iran nuclear deal aims to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon by dramatically limiting its nuclear program. In exchange, the US, the UN, and the EU lifted sanctions that had crippled Iran’s economy. While the deal does allow Iran to maintain a non-military nuclear program (a point of major criticism from its opponents), the controls it imposes extends Iran’s “breakout time” (i.e., the amount of time needed to make enough highly enriched material for a nuclear bomb) from two to three months, to approximately one year. The terms of the deal expire in ten to fifteen years though, at which point the breakout time will have diminished to essentially nothing, but the UN Security Council believes that the time the agreement buys other nations to deepen its understanding of Iran’s nuclear program and its capabilities is highly valuable.
October 5, 2015: Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)
The largest regional trade accord in history, the TPP is a free-trade agreement between the US, Canada, Mexico, and nine Pacific Rim nations (most notably: Japan). The TPP was part of the Obama administration’s “pivot” toward Asia, where the growing trade dominance of China and India could be detrimental to US economic interests, if left unchecked. It was designed to create a Pacific Rim free-trade zone, similar to the single market of the European Union. On his first day in office, however, President Trump signed a statement formally abandoning US commitment to the deal, making its ratification virtually impossible. Instead, the Trump administration has expressed a desire to pursue bilateral trade deals with each of the member nations.
December 12, 2015: Paris Climate Agreement
President Obama was a central broker in the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement, adopted by 195 countries. Its aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius (widely regarded as the “tipping point” for massive effects of climate change). The Paris Agreement allows countries to independently decide how to lower emissions, and in the absence of sanctions for failing to control pollution, or emissions-reduction targets, its efficacy hinges on global peer pressure and public scrutiny. Enactment of President Obama’s climate change commitment under the Paris Agreement (i.e., a 26 to 28 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2025), however, has fallen to President Trump, who has vowed to withdraw from the agreement, prompting discussion in the global community of imposing trade barriers on the U.S. if it does withdraw.