Barack Obama Becomes 44th President With a Call for 'Remaking America'

Unprecedented crowds throng the National Mall to celebrate the first African-American president.

President Barack Obama takes the oath of office.

President Barack Obama takes the oath of office.

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On other fronts, Obama will also meet tomorrow with military leaders to begin arranging for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, as he promised during his campaign, his aides say. He is considering the appointment of a special Mideast envoy to help relieve the crisis in Gaza.

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said. "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Obama is also thinking about a variety of executive orders or unilateral actions to close the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; to ban the use of torture on terrorism suspects; to raise fuel efficiency in automobiles; and to reverse a Bush administration policy and allow U.S. funds to be used for international family planning groups that promote abortion or provide information about abortion services.

In addition to an economic recovery package, some want Obama to push for a grand compromise that would include legislation expanding health insurance, promoting energy independence, and tackling entitlement reform. But others say official Washington—with all its divisions and congressional rules that encourage delay and obstruction—can't handle such a massive chore.

Ken Duberstein, former White House chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan, says, "It's very difficult to do a big-bang strategy. The test begins with economic stimulus and how Obama will govern, which may open the doors to future compromises and future coalitions." Much depends on whether Obama can bring Republicans and conservative Democrats on board, or whether he can muster support only from fellow centrist and liberal Democrats. While this limited approach could produce enough votes to win passage of the economic recovery bill, it would spell trouble for other contentious issues on Obama's agenda, such as overhauling Social Security and Medicare.

Obama appears to be looking for support, for example, from 75 to 80 senators on the economic bill. This will be difficult to attain, since some liberals want more federal spending than conservatives do and conservatives favor larger tax cuts than do the liberals.

But historian Robert Dallek says Obama benefits from strong popularity and the nation's desire for unity and effective leadership amid today's economic distress, generating a wave of momentum behind his proposals. And Obama's conciliatory approach is also winning him points. "He's not saying, 'My way or the highway,' as his predecessor often demanded," says a Republican strategist.

Dallek adds that Republicans will be ready to pounce. "They're waiting for him to stumble, but, for the moment, they can't take him down," Dallek says.

In political terms, a defeat for Obama on the economic package, his first real test of power, would be harmful to his can-do reputation. "To be seen as an effective president, you have to win the battles on Capitol Hill," says a former lobbyist for the White House.

Actually, Obama already won such a battle before he became president. On January 15, the Senate voted 52 to 42 to release the second half of the government's financial bailout package after Obama made a personal appeal for the funds. He said the $350 billion was needed immediately to lift the battered economy, and senators overcame their objections and gave the new president what he wanted.

  • Read more about the inauguration.
  • Read about the foreign policy challenges, the world Obama inherits.
  • Read Washington Whispers.