On February 17, 2009, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion economic stimulus package aimed at helping the economy recover from the deepening worldwide recession. The act includes increased federal spending for health care, infrastructure, education, various tax breaks and incentives, and direct assistance to individuals.
In March 2009, Obama's Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, took further steps to manage the financial crisis, including introducing the Public–Private Investment Program for Legacy Assets, which contains provisions for buying up to two trillion dollars in depreciated real estate assets.
Obama intervened in the troubled automotive industry in March 2009, renewing loans for General Motors and Chrysler to continue operations while reorganizing. Over the following months the White House set terms for both firms' bankruptcies, including the sale of Chrysler to Italian automaker Fiat and a reorganization of GM giving the U.S. government a temporary 60% equity stake in the company, with the Canadian government taking a 12% stake. In June 2009, dissatisfied with the pace of economic stimulus, Obama called on his cabinet to accelerate the investment. He signed into law the Car Allowance Rebate System, known colloquially as "Cash for Clunkers", which temporarily boosted the economy.
The Bush and Obama administrations authorized spending and loan guarantees from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. These guarantees totaled about $11.5 trillion, but only $3 trillion had been spent by the end of November 2009. Obama and the Congressional Budget Office predicted the 2010 budget deficit would be $1.5 trillion or 10.6% of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion or 9.9% of GDP. For 2011, the administration predicted the deficit would shrink to $1.34 trillion, and the 10-year deficit would increase to $8.53 trillion or 90% of GDP. The most recent increase in the U.S. debt ceiling to $17.2 trillion took effect in February 2014. On August 2, 2011, after a lengthy congressional debate over whether to raise the nation's debt limit, Obama signed the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011. The legislation enforces limits on discretionary spending until 2021, establishes a procedure to increase the debt limit, creates a Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to propose further deficit reduction with a stated goal of achieving at least $1.5 trillion in budgetary savings over 10 years, and establishes automatic procedures for reducing spending by as much as $1.2 trillion if legislation originating with the new joint select committee does not achieve such savings. By passing the legislation, Congress was able to prevent a U.S. government default on its obligations.
As it did throughout 2008, the unemployment rate rose in 2009, reaching a peak in October at 10.0% and averaging 10.0% in the fourth quarter. Following a decrease to 9.7% in the first quarter of 2010, the unemployment rate fell to 9.6% in the second quarter, where it remained for the rest of the year. Between February and December 2010, employment rose by 0.8%, which was less than the average of 1.9% experienced during comparable periods in the past four employment recoveries. By November 2012, the unemployment rate fell to 7.7%, decreasing to 6.7% in the last month of 2013. During 2014, the unemployment rate continued to decline, falling to 6.3% in the first quarter. GDP growth returned in the third quarter of 2009, expanding at a rate of 1.6%, followed by a 5.0% increase in the fourth quarter. Growth continued in 2010, posting an increase of 3.7% in the first quarter, with lesser gains throughout the rest of the year. In July 2010, the Federal Reserve noted that economic activity continued to increase, but its pace had slowed, and chairman Ben Bernanke said the economic outlook was "unusually uncertain". Overall, the economy expanded at a rate of 2.9% in 2010.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and a broad range of economists credit Obama's stimulus plan for economic growth. The CBO released a report stating that the stimulus bill increased employment by 1–2.1 million, while conceding that "It is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package." Although an April 2010, survey of members of the National Association for Business Economics showed an increase in job creation (over a similar January survey) for the first time in two years, 73% of 68 respondents believed the stimulus bill has had no impact on employment. The economy of the United States has grown faster than the other original NATO members by a wider margin under President Obama than it has anytime since the end of World War II. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development credits the much faster growth in the United States to the stimulus plan of the U.S. and the austerity measures in the European Union.
Within a month of the 2010 midterm elections, Obama announced a compromise deal with the Congressional Republican leadership that included a temporary, two-year extension of the 2001 and 2003 income tax rates, a one-year payroll tax reduction, continuation of unemployment benefits, and a new rate and exemption amount for estate taxes. The compromise overcame opposition from some in both parties, and the resulting $858 billion Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 passed with bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress before Obama signed it on December 17, 2010.
In December 2013, Obama declared that growing income inequality is a "defining challenge of our time" and called on Congress to bolster the safety net and raise wages. This came on the heels of the nationwide strikes of fast-food workers and Pope Francis' criticism of inequality and trickle-down economics.
Obama urged Congress to ratify a 12-nation free trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
While campaigning, Obama expressed hope that Congress would regulate greenhouse gases and that, as a second-best route, such regulation would come from the Environmental Protection Agency.
On September 30, 2009, the Obama administration proposed new regulations on power plants, factories, and oil refineries in an attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to curb global warming.
On April 20, 2010, an explosion destroyed an offshore drilling rig at the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a major sustained oil leak. Obama visited the Gulf, announced a federal investigation, and formed a bipartisan commission to recommend new safety standards, after a review by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and concurrent Congressional hearings. He then announced a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling permits and leases, pending regulatory review. As multiple efforts by BP failed, some in the media and public expressed confusion and criticism over various aspects of the incident, and stated a desire for more involvement by Obama and the federal government.
In July 2013, Obama expressed reservations and said he "would reject the Keystone XL pipeline if it increased carbon pollution" or "greenhouse emissions". Obama's advisers called for a halt to petroleum exploration in the Arctic in January 2013. On February 24, 2015, Obama vetoed a bill that would have authorized the pipeline. It was the third veto of Obama's presidency and his first major veto.
Obama emphasized the conservation of federal lands during his term in office. He used his power under the Antiquities Act to create 25 new national monuments during his presidency and expand four others, protecting a total of 553,000,000 acres (224,000,000 ha) of federal lands and waters, more than any other U.S. president.
Obama called for Congress to pass legislation reforming health care in the United States, a key campaign promise and a top legislative goal. He proposed an expansion of health insurance coverage to cover the uninsured, cap premium increases, and allow people to retain their coverage when they leave or change jobs. His proposal was to spend $900 billion over ten years and include a government insurance plan, also known as the public option, to compete with the corporate insurance sector as a main component to lowering costs and improving quality of health care. It would also make it illegal for insurers to drop sick people or deny them coverage for pre-existing conditions, and require every American to carry health coverage. The plan also includes medical spending cuts and taxes on insurance companies that offer expensive plans.
On July 14, 2009, House Democratic leaders introduced a 1,017-page plan for overhauling the U.S. health care system, which Obama wanted Congress to approve by the end of 2009. After much public debate during the Congressional summer recess of 2009, Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress on September 9 where he addressed concerns over the proposals. In March 2009, Obama lifted a ban on using federal funds for stem cell research.
On November 7, 2009, a health care bill featuring the public option was passed in the House. On December 24, 2009, the Senate passed its own bill—without a public option—on a party-line vote of 60–39. On March 21, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed by the Senate in December was passed in the House by a vote of 219 to 212. Obama signed the bill into law on March 23, 2010.
The ACA includes health-related provisions, most of which took effect in 2014, including expanding Medicaid eligibility for people making up to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) starting in 2014, subsidizing insurance premiums for people making up to 400% of the FPL ($88,000 for family of four in 2010) so their maximum "out-of-pocket" payment for annual premiums will be from 2% to 9.5% of income, providing incentives for businesses to provide health care benefits, prohibiting denial of coverage and denial of claims based on pre-existing conditions, establishing health insurance exchanges, prohibiting annual coverage caps, and support for medical research. According to White House and CBO figures, the maximum share of income that enrollees would have to pay would vary depending on their income relative to the federal poverty level.
The costs of these provisions are offset by taxes, fees, and cost-saving measures, such as new Medicare taxes for those in high-income brackets, taxes on indoor tanning, cuts to the Medicare Advantage program in favor of traditional Medicare, and fees on medical devices and pharmaceutical companies; there is also a tax penalty for those who do not obtain health insurance, unless they are exempt due to low income or other reasons. In March 2010, the CBO estimated that the net effect of both laws will be a reduction in the federal deficit by $143 billion over the first decade.
The law faced several legal challenges, primarily based on the argument that an individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance was unconstitutional. On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5–4 vote in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that the mandate was constitutional under the U.S. Congress's taxing authority. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby the Court ruled that "closely-held" for-profit corporations could be exempt on religious grounds under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act from regulations adopted under the ACA that would have required them to pay for insurance that covered certain contraceptives. In June 2015, the Court ruled 6–3 in King v. Burwell that subsidies to help individuals and families purchase health insurance were authorized for those doing so on both the federal exchange and state exchanges, not only those purchasing plans "established by the State", as the statute reads.
Prior to June 2014, Obama offered substantial support for a broadly-based "All of the above" approach to domestic energy policy, which Obama has maintained since his first term and which he last confirmed at his State of the Union speech in January 2014 to a mixed reception by both parties. In June 2014, Obama made indications that his administration would consider a shift towards an energy policy more closely tuned to the manufacturing industry and its impact on the domestic economy. Obama's approach of selectively combining regulation and incentive to various issues in the domestic energy policy, such as coal mining and oil fracking, has received mixed commentary for not being as responsive to the needs of the domestic manufacturing sector as needed, following claims that the domestic manufacturing sector utilizes as much as a third of the nation's available energy resources.
On January 16, 2013, one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Obama signed 23 executive orders and outlined a series of sweeping proposals regarding gun control. He urged Congress to reintroduce an expired ban on military-style assault weapons, such as those used in several recent mass shootings, impose limits on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, introduce background checks on all gun sales, pass a ban on possession and sale of armor-piercing bullets, introduce harsher penalties for gun-traffickers, especially unlicensed dealers who buy arms for criminals and approving the appointment of the head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for the first time since 2006. On January 5, 2016, Obama announced new executive actions extending background check requirements to more gun sellers. In a 2016 editorial in The New York Times, Obama compared the struggle for what he termed "common-sense gun reform" to women's suffrage and other civil rights movements in American history.
Obama called the November 2, 2010 election, where the Democratic Party lost 63 seats in, and control of, the House of Representatives, "humbling" and a "shellacking". He said that the results came because not enough Americans had felt the effects of the economic recovery.
On November 10, 2014, President Obama recommended the Federal Communications Commission reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service in order to preserve net neutrality. On February 12, 2013, President Obama signed Executive Order 13636, "Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity".
In 2005 and 2006, Obama criticized certain aspects of the Patriot Act for infringing too much on civil liberties and sought as Senator to strengthen civil liberties protections. In 2006, he voted to reauthorize a revised version of the Patriot Act, saying the law was not ideal but that the revised version had strengthened civil liberties. In 2011, he signed a four-year renewal of the Patriot Act. Following the 2013 global surveillance disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden, Obama condemned the leak as unpatriotic, but called for increased restrictions on the NSA to address violations of privacy. The changes which Obama ordered have been described as "modest" however.
In February and March 2009, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made separate overseas trips to announce a "new era" in U.S. foreign relations with Russia and Europe, using the terms "break" and "reset" to signal major changes from the policies of the preceding administration. Obama attempted to reach out to Arab leaders by granting his first interview to an Arab satellite TV network, Al Arabiya.
On March 19, Obama continued his outreach to the Muslim world, releasing a New Year's video message to the people and government of Iran. In April, Obama gave a speech in Ankara, Turkey, which was well received by many Arab governments. On June 4, 2009, Obama delivered a speech at Cairo University in Egypt calling for "A New Beginning" in relations between the Islamic world and the United States and promoting Middle East peace.
On June 26, 2009, Obama responded to the Iranian government's actions towards protesters following Iran's 2009 presidential election by saying: "The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. We see it and we condemn it." While in Moscow on July 7, he responded to Vice President Biden's comment on a possible Israeli military strike on Iran by saying: "We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East."
On September 24, 2009, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to preside over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
In March 2010, Obama took a public stance against plans by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue building Jewish housing projects in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. During the same month, an agreement was reached with the administration of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new pact reducing the number of long-range nuclear weapons in the arsenals of both countries by about a third. Obama and Medvedev signed the New START treaty in April 2010, and the U.S. Senate ratified it in December 2010.
In December 2011, Obama instructed agencies to consider LGBT rights when issuing financial aid to foreign countries. In August 2013, he criticized Russia's law that discriminates against gays, but he stopped short of advocating a boycott of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
In December 2014, Obama announced that he intended to normalize relationships between Cuba and the United States. The countries' respective "interests sections" in one another's capitals were upgraded to embassies on July 20, 2015.
In March 2015, Obama declared that he had authorized U.S. forces to provide logistical and intelligence support to the Saudis in their military intervention in Yemen, establishing a "Joint Planning Cell" with Saudi Arabia. In 2016, the Obama administration proposed a series of arms deals with Saudi Arabia worth $115 billion. Obama halted the sale of guided munition technology to Saudi Arabia after Saudi warplanes targeted a funeral in Yemen's capital Sanaa, killing more than 140 people.
Before leaving office, Obama said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been his "closest international partner" throughout his tenure as president.
On February 27, 2009, Obama announced that combat operations in Iraq would end within 18 months. His remarks were made to a group of Marines preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. Obama said, "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end." The Obama administration scheduled the withdrawal of combat troops to be completed by August 2010, decreasing troop's levels from 142,000 while leaving a transitional force of about 50,000 in Iraq until the end of 2011. On August 19, 2010, the last U.S. combat brigade exited Iraq. Remaining troops transitioned from combat operations to counter-terrorism and the training, equipping, and advising of Iraqi security forces. On August 31, 2010, Obama announced that the United States combat mission in Iraq was over. On October 21, 2011 President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq in time to be "home for the holidays".
In June 2014, following the capture of Mosul by ISIS, Obama sent 275 troops to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. ISIS continued to gain ground and to commit widespread massacres and ethnic cleansing.
In August 2014, during the Sinjar massacre, Obama ordered a campaign of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS.
By the end of 2014, 3,100 American ground troops were committed to the conflict and 16,000 sorties were flown over the battlefield, primarily by U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots.
In early 2015, with the addition of the "Panther Brigade" of the 82nd Airborne Division the number of U.S. ground troops in Iraq surged to 4,400, and by July American-led coalition air forces counted 44,000 sorties over the battlefield.
Early in his presidency, Obama moved to bolster U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. He announced an increase in U.S. troop levels to 17,000 military personnel in February 2009 to "stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan", an area he said had not received the "strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires". He replaced the military commander in Afghanistan, General David D. McKiernan, with former Special Forces commander Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal in May 2009, indicating that McChrystal's Special Forces experience would facilitate the use of counterinsurgency tactics in the war. On December 1, 2009, Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 military personnel to Afghanistan and proposed to begin troop withdrawals 18 months from that date; this took place in July 2011. David Petraeus replaced McChrystal in June 2010, after McChrystal's staff criticized White House personnel in a magazine article. In February 2013, Obama said the U.S. military would reduce the troop level in Afghanistan from 68,000 to 34,000 U.S. troops by February 2014.
In October 2015, the White House announced a plan to keep U.S. Forces in Afghanistan indefinitely in light of the deteriorating security situation.
In 2011, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, with the United States being the only nation to do so. Obama supports the two-state solution to the Arab–Israeli conflict based on the 1967 borders with land swaps.
In June 2011, Obama said the bond between the United States and Israel is "unbreakable". During the initial years of the Obama administration, the U.S. increased military cooperation with Israel, including increased military aid, re-establishment of the U.S.-Israeli Joint Political Military Group and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, and an increase in visits among high-level military officials of both countries. The Obama administration asked Congress to allocate money toward funding the Iron Dome program in response to the waves of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.
In 2013, Jeffrey Goldberg reported that, in Obama's view, "with each new settlement announcement, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation." In 2014, Obama likened the Zionist movement to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He said both movements seek to bring justice and equal rights to historically persecuted peoples. He explained, "To me, being pro-Israel and pro-Jewish is part and parcel with the values that I've been fighting for since I was politically conscious and started getting involved in politics." Obama expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict. In 2015, Obama was harshly criticized by Israel for advocating and signing the Iran Nuclear Deal; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had advocated the U.S. congress to oppose it, said the deal was "dangerous" and "bad".
On December 23, 2016, under the Obama Administration, the United States abstained from United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories as a violation of international law, effectively allowing it to pass. Netanyahu strongly criticized the Obama Administration's actions, and the Israeli government withdrew its annual dues from the organization, which totaled $6 million, on January 6, 2017. On January 5, 2017, the United States House of Representatives voted 342–80 to condemn the UN Resolution.
In February 2011, protests in Libya began against long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi as part of the Arab Spring. They soon turned violent. In March, as forces loyal to Gaddafi advanced on rebels across Libya, calls for a no-fly zone came from around the world, including Europe, the Arab League, and a resolution passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. In response to the unanimous passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 on March 17, Gaddafi—who had previously vowed to "show no mercy" to the rebels of Benghazi—announced an immediate cessation of military activities, yet reports came in that his forces continued shelling Misrata. The next day, on Obama's orders, the U.S. military took part in air strikes to destroy the Libyan government's air defense capabilities to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly-zone, including the use of Tomahawk missiles, B-2 Spirits, and fighter jets. Six days later, on March 25, by unanimous vote of all its 28 members, NATO took over leadership of the effort, dubbed Operation Unified Protector. Some Representatives questioned whether Obama had the constitutional authority to order military action in addition to questioning its cost, structure and aftermath.
On August 18, 2011, several months after the start of the Syrian Civil War, Obama issued a written statement that said: "The time has come for President Assad to step aside." This stance was reaffirmed in November 2015. In 2012, Obama authorized multiple programs run by the CIA and the Pentagon to train anti-Assad rebels. The Pentagon-run program was later found to have failed and was formally abandoned in October 2015.
In the wake of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, formally blamed by the Obama administration on the Assad government, Obama chose not to enforce the "red line" he had pledged and, rather than authorize the promised military action against Assad, went along with the Russia-brokered deal that led to Assad giving up chemical weapons; however attacks with chlorine gas continued. In 2014, Obama authorized an air campaign aimed primarily at ISIL.
Starting with information received from Central Intelligence Agency operatives in July 2010, the CIA developed intelligence over the next several months that determined what they believed to be the hideout of Osama bin Laden. He was living in seclusion in a large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a suburban area 35 miles (56 km) from Islamabad. CIA head Leon Panetta reported this intelligence to President Obama in March 2011. Meeting with his national security advisers over the course of the next six weeks, Obama rejected a plan to bomb the compound, and authorized a "surgical raid" to be conducted by United States Navy SEALs. The operation took place on May 1, 2011, and resulted in the shooting death of bin Laden and the seizure of papers, computer drives and disks from the compound. DNA testing was one of five methods used to positively identify bin Laden's corpse, which was buried at sea several hours later. Within minutes of the President's announcement from Washington, DC, late in the evening on May 1, there were spontaneous celebrations around the country as crowds gathered outside the White House, and at New York City's Ground Zero and Times Square. Reaction to the announcement was positive across party lines, including from former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
On October 1, 2009, the Obama administration went ahead with a Bush administration program, increasing nuclear weapons production. The "Complex Modernization" initiative expanded two existing nuclear sites to produce new bomb parts. The administration built new plutonium pits at the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico and expanded enriched uranium processing at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In November 2013, the Obama administration opened negotiations with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, which included an interim agreement. Negotiations took two years with numerous delays, with a deal being announced on July 14, 2015. The deal titled the "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" saw sanctions removed in exchange for measures that would prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. While Obama hailed the agreement as being a step towards a more hopeful world, the deal drew strong criticism from Republican and conservative quarters, and from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In addition, the transfer of $1.7 billion in cash to Iran shortly after the deal was announced was criticized by the republican party. The Obama administration said that the payment in cash was because of the "effectiveness of U.S. and international sanctions". In order to advance the deal, the Obama administration shielded Hezbollah from the Drug Enforcement Administration's Project Cassandra investigation regarding drug smuggling and from the Central Intelligence Agency. On a side note, the very same year, in December 2015, Obama started a $348 billion worth program to back the biggest U.S. buildup of nuclear arms since Ronald Reagan left the White House.
Since the spring of 2013, secret meetings were conducted between the United States and Cuba in the neutral locations of Canada and Vatican City. The Vatican first became involved in 2013 when Pope Francis advised the U.S. and Cuba to exchange prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. On December 10, 2013, Cuban President Raúl Castro, in a significant public moment, greeted and shook hands with Obama at the Nelson Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg.
In December 2014, after the secret meetings, it was announced that Obama, with Pope Francis as an intermediary, had negotiated a restoration of relations with Cuba, after nearly sixty years of détente. Popularly dubbed the Cuban Thaw, The New Republic deemed the Cuban Thaw to be "Obama's finest foreign policy achievement". On July 1, 2015, President Obama announced that formal diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States would resume, and embassies would be opened in Washington and Havana. The countries' respective "interests sections" in one another's capitals were upgraded to embassies on July 20 and August 13, 2015, respectively.
Obama visited Havana, Cuba for two days in March 2016, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to arrive since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Obama spoke in front of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 29, 2015, the first sitting U.S. president to do so. He gave a speech encouraging the world to increase economic ties via investments and trade with the continent, and lauded the progress made in education, infrastructure, and economy. He also criticized the lack of democracy and leaders who refuse to step aside, discrimination against minorities (LGBT people, religious groups and ethnicities), and corruption. He suggested an intensified democratization and free trade, to significantly improve the quality of life for Africans. During his July 2015 trip, Obama also was the first U.S. president ever to visit Kenya, which is the homeland of his father.
On May 27, 2016, Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima, Japan, 71 years after the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima that ended World War II. Accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Obama paid tribute to the victims of the bombing at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
After Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014, military intervention in Syria in 2015, and the interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Obama's Russia policy was widely seen as a failure. George Robertson, a former UK defense secretary and NATO secretary-general, said Obama had "allowed Putin to jump back on the world stage and test the resolve of the West", adding that the legacy of this disaster would last.
Obama's family history, upbringing, and Ivy League education differ markedly from those of African-American politicians who launched their careers in the 1960s through participation in the civil rights movement. Expressing puzzlement over questions about whether he is "black enough", Obama told an August 2007 meeting of the National Association of Black Journalists that "we're still locked in this notion that if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong." Obama acknowledged his youthful image in an October 2007 campaign speech, saying: "I wouldn't be here if, time and again, the torch had not been passed to a new generation."
Obama is frequently referred to as an exceptional orator. During his pre-inauguration transition period and continuing into his presidency, Obama delivered a series of weekly Internet video addresses. In his speeches as president, Obama did not make more overt references to race relations than his predecessors, but according to one study, he implemented stronger policy action on behalf of African-Americans than any president since the Nixon era.
According to the Gallup Organization, Obama began his presidency with a 68% approval rating before gradually declining for the rest of the year, and eventually bottoming out at 41% in August 2010, a trend similar to Ronald Reagan's and Bill Clinton's first years in office. He experienced a small poll bounce shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. This bounce lasted until around June 2011, when his approval numbers dropped back to where they were previously. His approval ratings rebounded around the same time as his reelection in 2012, with polls showing an average job approval of 52% shortly after his second inauguration. Despite approval ratings dropping to 39% in late-2013 due to the ACA roll-out, they climbed to 50% in January 2015 according to Gallup.
Polls showed strong support for Obama in other countries both before and during his presidency. In a February 2009 poll conducted in Western Europe and the U.S. by Harris Interactive for France 24 and the International Herald Tribune, Obama was rated as the most respected world leader, as well as the most powerful. In a similar poll conducted by Harris in May 2009, Obama was rated as the most popular world leader, as well as the one figure most people would pin their hopes on for pulling the world out of the economic downturn.
Obama won Best Spoken Word Album Grammy Awards for abridged audiobook versions of Dreams from My Father in February 2006 and for The Audacity of Hope in February 2008. His concession speech after the New Hampshire primary was set to music by independent artists as the music video "Yes We Can", which was viewed ten million times on YouTube in its first month and received a Daytime Emmy Award. In December 2008 and in 2012, Time magazine named Obama as its Person of the Year. The 2008 awarding was for his historic candidacy and election, which Time described as "the steady march of seemingly impossible accomplishments". On May 25, 2011, Obama became the first President of the United States to address both houses of the UK Parliament in Westminster Hall, London. This was only the fifth occurrence since the start of the 20th century of a head of state's being extended this invitation, following Charles de Gaulle in 1960, Nelson Mandela in 1996, Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
On October 9, 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that Obama had won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Obama accepted this award in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2009, with "deep gratitude and great humility". The award drew a mixture of praise and criticism from world leaders and media figures. Obama's peace prize was called a "stunning surprise" by The New York Times. Some neoconservatives praised his speech for what they viewed as pro-American content. He became the fourth U.S. president to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the third to become a Nobel laureate while in office. Obama's Nobel Prize has been viewed skeptically in subsequent years, especially after the director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, said Obama's Peace Prize did not have the desired effect of encouraging the president.
Obama's presidency ended at noon on January 20, 2017, immediately following the inauguration of his Republican successor, Donald Trump. After the inauguration, Obama lifted off on Executive One, circled the White House, and flew to Joint Base Andrews. The family currently rents a house in Kalorama, Washington, D.C.
On March 2, 2017, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum awarded the annual Profile in Courage Award to Obama "for his enduring commitment to democratic ideals and elevating the standard of political courage". In his first public appearance out of office, Obama appeared at a seminar at the University of Chicago on April 24. The seminar was aimed at the engagement with a new generation as well as an appeal for their participation in politics. On May 4, three days ahead of the French presidential election, Obama publicly endorsed centrist Emmanuel Macron over right-wing populist Marine Le Pen: "He appeals to people's hopes and not their fears, and I enjoyed speaking to Emmanuel recently to hear about his independent movement and his vision for the future of France." Macron went on to win the election.
While in Berlin on May 25, Obama made a joint public appearance with Chancellor Angela Merkel where he stressed inclusion and for leaders to question themselves. Obama had been formally invited to Berlin while still in office as part of an effort to boost Merkel's re-election campaign. Obama traveled to Kensington Palace in England and met with Prince Harry on May 27, 2017; Obama tweeted afterward that the two discussed their foundations and offering condolences in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing that occurred five days prior.
After President Trump announced his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on June 1, Obama released a statement disagreeing with the choice: "But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I'm confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we've got."
After Senate Republicans revealed the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, their discussion draft of a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, on June 22, Obama released a Facebook post calling the bill "a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America". On September 19, while delivering the keynote address at Goalkeepers, Obama admitted his frustration with Republicans backing "a bill that will raise costs, reduce coverage, and roll back protections for older Americans and people with pre-existing conditions".
After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5, Obama released a Facebook post criticizing the decision. Two days later, he partnered with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush to work with One America Appeal to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in the Gulf Coast and Texas communities.
Obama hosted the inaugural summit of the Obama Foundation in Chicago from October 31 to November 1, 2017. Obama intends for the foundation to be the central focus of his post-presidency and part of his ambitions for his subsequent activities following his presidency to be more consequential than his time in office. Obama has also written a presidential memoir, in a reported $65 million deal with Penguin Random House. The book, A Promised Land, was released on November 17, 2020.
Obama went on an international trip from November 28 to December 2, 2017, and visited China, India and France. In China, he delivered remarks at the Global Alliance of SMEs Summit in Shanghai and met with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in Beijing. He then went to India, where he spoke at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit before meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over lunch. In addition, he held a town hall for young leaders, organized by the Obama Foundation. He also met with the Dalai Lama while in New Delhi. He ended his five-day trip in France where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, former President François Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and then spoke at an invitation-only event, touching on climate issues.
In May 2018, Obama criticized President Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action saying "the deal was working and it was in U.S. interests."
Barack and Michelle Obama signed a deal on May 22, 2018 to produce docu-series, documentaries and features for Netflix under the Obamas' newly formed production company, Higher Ground Productions. On the deal, Michelle said "I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others." Higher Ground's first film, American Factory, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2020.
A package that contained a pipe bomb was sent to Obama's home in Washington, D.C, on October 24, 2018. The package was intercepted by the Secret Service during routine mail screenings. Similar packages were sent to several other Democratic leaders, mostly those who voiced strong objections to the policies of Donald Trump, as well as one to CNN. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was addressed as the purported sender of the packages. On October 26, 2018, Cesar Sayoc was arrested and faced five federal charges in Manhattan carrying a combined maximum sentence of 48 years behind bars in relation to the pipe bombs. He was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison on August 5, 2019.
In 2019, Barack and Michelle Obama bought a home on Martha's Vineyard from Wyc Grousbeck.
On April 14, 2020, Obama endorsed his former vice president Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election.
In May 2020, Obama criticized President Trump for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling his response to the crisis "an absolute chaotic disaster". Trump retaliated by accusing Obama of having committed "the biggest political crime in American history", though he refused to say what he was talking about, telling reporters, "You know what the crime is, the crime is very obvious to everybody."
On May 16, 2020, Obama delivered two commencement speeches on behalf of the graduating youth who were not able to go to their physical graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His first speech was for part of the video streamed online program, "Show Me Your Walk H.B.C.U. Edition" virtual commencement. In his address, he spoke about systemic racism, touching on both the pandemic, the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, and the fight to stay politically active saying, "The fight for equality and justice begins with awareness, empathy, passion, even righteous anger. Don't just activate yourself online, change requires strategy, action, organizing, marching, and voting in the real world like never before." His next commencement address was a part of a nationally televised event, titled Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020 which aired on NBC.
In early December 2020, Obama criticized the "defund the police" slogan, claiming that it could derail social justice activists' attempts at making change and that "you lost a big audience the minute you say it".
On January 20, 2021, Obama and Michelle attended the inauguration of Joe Biden, alongside George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
Obama's most significant legacy is generally considered to be the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), provisions of which went into effect from 2010 to 2020. Many attempts by Senate Republicans to repeal the PPACA, including a "skinny repeal", have thus far failed. Together with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act amendment, it represents the U.S. healthcare system's most significant regulatory overhaul and expansion of coverage since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
Many commentators credit Obama with averting a threatened depression and pulling the economy back from the Great Recession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Obama administration created 11.3 million jobs from the month after his first inauguration to the end of his term. In 2010, Obama signed into effect the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Passed as a response to the financial crisis of 2007–08, it brought the most significant changes to financial regulation in the United States since the regulatory reform that followed the Great Depression under Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 2009, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, which contained in it the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the first addition to existing federal hate crime law in the United States since Democratic President Bill Clinton signed into law the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded existing federal hate crime laws in the United States to apply to crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaged in a federally protected activity.
As president, Obama advanced LGBT rights. In 2010, he signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act, which brought an end to "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the U.S. armed forces that banned open service from LGB people; the law went into effect the following year. In 2016, his administration brought an end to the ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. A Gallup poll, taken in the final days of Obama's term, showed that 68% of Americans believed the U.S. had made progress in the situation for gays and lesbians during Obama's eight years in office.
Obama substantially escalated the use of drone strikes against suspected militants and terrorists associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In 2016, the last year of his presidency, the U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs on seven different countries. Obama left about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 5,262 in Iraq, 503 in Syria, 133 in Pakistan, 106 in Somalia, seven in Yemen, and two in Libya at the end of his presidency.
According to Pew Research Center and United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, from December 31, 2009, to December 31, 2015, inmates sentenced in U.S. federal custody declined by five percent. This is the largest decline in sentenced inmates in U.S. federal custody since Democratic President Jimmy Carter. By contrast, the federal prison population increased significantly under presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Obama left office in January 2017 with a 60% approval rating. A 2018 survey of historians by the American Political Science Association ranked Obama the 8th-greatest American President. Obama gained 10 spots from the same survey in 2015 from the Brookings Institution that ranked Obama the 18th-greatest American President.
The Barack Obama Presidential Center is Obama's planned presidential library. It will be hosted by the University of Chicago and located in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago.