Obama’s unfinished business

With 19 months left in office, Barack Obama is turning his attention to the unfinished business of his presidency.

Obama is rushing to complete a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal, a nuclear agreement with Iran and a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

But there are also many issues that will be next to impossible for Obama to get done as he seeks to add to his achievements before leaving office in January 2017.
Here’s a look at what’s left on Obama’s to-do list:


Obama’s biggest second-term legislative goal was to win fast-track authority, and then send Congress a sweeping trade deal with 11 other countries for an up-or-down vote.

It appeared Obama would fail to reach this goal a week ago, but he rebounded on Thursday when the House voted for a second time to pass fast-track.

The president is doing everything he can to convince pro-trade Democratic senators to support fast-track for a second time. They are being told that a separate workers aid program decoupled from the bill will be approved separately.

If they take the leap of faith, the fast-track bill will hit Obama’s desk and he will be well-placed to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This looks like a to-do item that can still be checked off.


Obama is closing in on another legacy item: A deal with Iran that would see Tehran give up efforts to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Negotiators will convene in Vienna, Austria, next week to finalize the agreement, which has been in the works for two years.

Obama still faces the tough task of selling the agreement to skeptical members of Congress and assuaging traditional U.S. allies, such as Israel and Gulf Arab states.

Congress will have 30 days to review the deal if it is completed by July 9, but that figure will jump to 60 days if it takes longer to finish the negotiations.

If Obama can finalize the deal, the White House hopes it will stand as one of his top foreign policy achievements along with normalizing relations with Cuba.


Obama promised to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba during the 2008 campaign and in one of his first acts as president signed an executive order to close the facially within a year.

Six-and-a-half years later, the military detention center remains open, and it’s unclear whether Obama will achieve his goal.

Obama has transferred more than half of the prison’s 242 detainees, but finding new homes for the final 116 prisoners will be tough.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is working on a new plan to close the prison. But it’s not clear the effort will bear fruit. The Senate passed a defense bill this week that limits Obama’s ability to transfer prisoners. The White House has threatened to veto that bill.


Obama has long pointed to infrastructure spending as a way to boost the economy and create jobs, but has been repeatedly thwarted in winning approval of a long-term highway bill.

“It’s the president’s view that the era of short-term patches … must come to an end,” spokesman Josh Earnest said in May, noting that latest short-term funding bill was the 33rd temporary fix for highway funding since 2008.

Most would bet that this piece of business will remain unfinished given the difficulty Obama and congressional Republicans face in agreeing on a way to pay for the new projects.


Obama’s frustration that Congress did not approve meaningful gun control legislation after the Newtown, Conn. Elementary school massacre in 2012 burst into the open on Thursday when he spoke to the public about the latest gun violence: nine people killed in a South Carolina church.

“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” Obama said.

The president has faced gun violence in schools, a movie theater, a congressional meet-and-greet event and now a church during his tenure. He’s known some of the victims well — including former Rep. Gabbie Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, one of the South Carolina victims.

Obama has issued executive actions on guns, but has been powerless in getting Congress to take tougher steps. On Thursday, he signaled he realizes this won’t change in his final months in office.

“It is in our power to do something” to reduce gun violence, he said. “I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”


In 2008, Obama promised to tackle immigration reform in his first year in office. To the chagrin of Hispanics, he waited until his second term for the effort — and it failed in the GOP House.

Obama has taken sweeping executive actions that allow young immigrants brought to the United States as children to live and work without fear of deportation. He’s sought to expand that program as well.

The actions will be a big part of Obama’s legacy, but they also highlight the limits of Obama’s powers, both because he has not been able to win a legislative battle and because his actions are still being debated in court.


As with immigration, Obama has resorted to acting on his own on climate change.

After failing to get Congress to embrace a cap-and-trade approach for reducing carbon emissions, Obama has unleashed a slew of executive orders and regulations to slash pollution from power plants and motor vehicles.

On Friday, his administration took the latest step in that effort by issuing new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Obama is also pushing for a major international climate accord at a United Nations summit in Paris this winter.


Obama was elected as an anti-war president and as he sought reelection, his campaign touted his work to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now Obama finds himself in a new fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), with no good options in sight.

Obama has sent additional military advisers to Iraq to train Iraqi troops for the fight amid serious setbacks, including the fall Ramadi.

U.S. officials have said it could be three years before ISIS is uprooted, well into the first term of the next president.

“In 2017 there will be a new commander-in-chief and someone else who will have a responsibility to evaluate the situation on the ground,” Earnest said in May. “That’s something that we’ll leave to the next president.”

By The Hill