- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

President Obama ends the first 100 days of his administration as he began - dealing with a major crisis, struggling to find Republican support and working with a Senate in flux.

The Obama administration, which was forced to hit the ground running in January to address a battered economy and its toll on the nation’s psyche, on Tuesday grappled with fear of the spreading swine flu and the president having to explain a public relations gaffe in Monday’s flyover in New York of an airliner used as an Air Force One backup. The flare-ups come just as the president prepares for a summertime debate on Capitol Hill over the details of addressing global warming and health care - the twin hearts of his first-term agenda.

“We don’t have the luxury of picking the problems that we address that face this country or face the American people, because in a time period in which there’s a lot on the American people’s plate,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “whether it’s creating jobs; whether it’s stabilizing the financial system; whether it’s getting credit flowing; whether it’s making a college education more affordable; whether it’s cutting the cost for health care, finding a path towards true energy independence, making our nation safer, rehabilitating our image in the world in order to ensure that we have the greatest leverage and power to push the national interests of this country.”

Republicans saw a different legacy for Mr. Obama’s term so far.

TWT RELATED STORY: President’s agenda as agent of change

Click here to download a PDF of Wednesday’s special section “Obama: The First 100 Days.”

“It can be summed up in three words - spending, taxing and borrowing,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told The Washington Times on Tuesday. He said he had expected Mr. Obama’s direction but was surprised at the scope of his ambitions.

“The audacity. The audacity to do all of what they’re doing. The sheer size of their effort to move this government to the left as quickly as they can.”

The 100-day point is the traditional mark for evaluating how well a president has done on his honeymoon, the period scholars and historians say Congress and the public give a new president to get set up and push his agenda. Public opinion polls show it’s been a successful period. Mr. Obama has won high approval ratings, and the percentage of voters saying the country is on the right track has risen.

In keeping with his open style, Mr. Obama will hold the third press conference of his young administration on Wednesday. All three have been prime-time affairs, and two of them have been preceded by town halls - underscoring the president’s intent to make sure he does not become captive to inside-the-Beltway chatter or the media filter.

Mr. Obama comes to the 100-day milestone having secured the last member of his Cabinet in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday on a 65-31 vote. Her confirmation ends a bumpy ride in which several Cabinet nominees withdrew for failure to pay their full tax bills.

His broader team, though, continues to grow. His last-minute efforts helped Democrats hold on to a House seat in New York that was vacated by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who moved to take the seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Also Tuesday, Mr. Obama got another, unexpected, gift when Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced that he would switch parties from Republican to Democrat, underscoring the political shift that Mr. Obama helped usher in with his election last year. Mr. Specter said so many voters have changed from Republican to Democrat that he could not be re-elected as a Republican anymore.

His switch comes at an opportune time for Mr. Obama, who after spending months fighting on economic issues will now join complex and contentious debates on Capitol Hill over greenhouse gas emissions and health care. With Mr. Specter, Democrats are on the verge of reaching the 60-vote threshold that would allow them to cut off Republican filibusters that could have threatened those and other administration initiatives.

Outside of Congress, Mr. Obama has been just as active, winning praise for going far beyond his predecessor in transparency and openness, though Mr. Obama has sometimes fallen short of his own promises in those areas.

The 44th president also made broad use of executive powers, issuing 19 executive orders, which is a modern record. He issued the directives to increase federal funding for stem cell research and to push federal construction projects to favor union workers - undoing Bush administration policies and generating criticism of political “payback.”

Mr. Obama has hosted eight heads of state at the White House, made three foreign trips, attended four multilateral summits and met in some form with 44 foreign leaders.

Along the way, he has ditched the strictest parts of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, exchanged handshakes with leaders who had been openly hostile to the U.S. and promised broader engagement with the world in both attitude and financial aid. The White House says those changes have already produced concrete results, such as a U.N. statement condemning a rocket launch by North Korea.

Mr. Obama has not rejected all of the Bush administration’s initiatives. He has built on Mr. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which an independent study said has already saved 1 million lives in Africa, and the Merida Initiative to help Mexico combat drug cartels.

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