President Obama will return to Washington from Southeast Asia Wednesday to find a growing list of problems that need his personal attention, topped by a firestorm over Benghazi and a fight over the budget.
The firestorm comes from congressional Republicans who are critical of embattled United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. They fault Rice for her attempts to explain an attack in Benghazi, Libya, last month that left four Americans dead, including a U.S. ambassador. Ninety-seven House Republicans sent a letter Monday to Obama arguing that Rice was misleading or ignorant of the facts and that the attacks were actually made by terrorists. Many Republicans are up in arms because the Americans weren't sufficiently protected despite signs of rising violence in the area.
Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina are also criticizing Rice, who is considered a possible candidate for secretary of state when Hillary Clinton leaves the administration early next year.
Obama also will find that there has been little apparent movement toward a budget compromise since he left for Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia last weekend. There was another sign of trouble when House Speaker John Boehner appointed Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, as his lead negotiator on the budget. This is troubling to Democrats because Ryan sponsored a House budget bill that calls for cuts and partial privatization of Medicare and reductions in other social programs that the Democrats defend.
Adding to the Democrats' unease, Ryan was the Republican vice presidential nominee this year, and he often attacked Obama's economic ideas, including the president's support for tax increases on the rich, which Ryan opposes.
All this means that hopes are dwinding for a political honeymoon for Obama, who was re-elected November 6. He is expected to resume talks with the Republicans on the budget next week.
In the meantime, aides for all sides are trying to find a pathway to an agreement. If there is no deal, automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts are scheduled to take effect January 1.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" at usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook or Twitter.