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PHOTOS: Barack Obama uses inauguration speech to defend liberal...

President Barack Obama faced plenty of fresh challenges as he began his second term Tuesday after previewing an ambitious liberal agenda in his inaugural address.

He pledged to tackle climate change and protect America's social safety net.

In his speech Monday before nearly a million spectators, Obama confronted conservative opponents in Congress. But the president will quickly confront three fiscal deadlines that demand cooperation with the Congress, including raising the debt ceiling, which the House of Representatives scheduled for a vote on Wednesday.


The death of three Americans in a siege on a natural gas plant in Algeria has renewed fears about the rise of terrorism in North Africa. And Obama must soon finalize the next phase of the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan.

The president and Vice President Joe Biden were to attend a prayer service Tuesday morning at the National Cathedral, then get down to a normal working day at the White House.

The president — often criticized by supporters for being too quick to compromise in his first term only to get little in return from Republicans — spoke with fire in his inaugural address for the center-left political agenda that first carried him into the White House four years ago.

He defended spending on social programs for the poor, the ailing and the elderly. He promoted immigration reform, gun control and gay marriage. And he unexpectedly gave one of his most impassioned calls for action on climate change, an issue that has not been at the forefront of the political debate.

Challenges ahead

The first African-American president starts his second term emboldened by a decisive re-election victory, an improving — though still weak — economy and the winding down of a decade of wars. But he faces a political landscape as divided as before: Republicans control the House of Representatives and his fellow Democrats run the Senate.

Obama tried to make clear that he will not stand for the partisan fighting that often marked his first term, thwarting his efforts to pass aggressive plans for jobs creation and deficit reduction. He demanded moderation from those whose refusal to compromise twice brought the nation to the brink of fiscal crisis.

"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," Obama said, "We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect."

Obama's re-election as the nation's first black president deepens his place in history. But his handling of a hostile US House, as one fiscal crisis gives way to the next, will help determine the luster of his legacy.

Four years ago a lightly experienced first-term senator, Obama entered the presidency vowing to stem the partisan anger that engulfed the country. He appeared to be taken aback by the ferocity of Republican resistance, which gave birth to the conservative tea party movement in 2009. The limited government, anti-tax conservatives forced him to pass his health care overhaul without a single Republican vote, and fueled huge Democratic setbacks in the 2010 congressional elections.

Obama's decisive win in November and Republican setbacks in Congress chastened the opposition a bit, but Republicans still adamantly oppose the president's call for increased taxes on the wealthy and investing more on infrastructure and education.

The Republican opposition wants to target spending cuts on the federal Medicare health care program for elderly Americans and other programs to slow the rise in a $16.4 trillion national debt. Obama acknowledged that he faces a tough road in an era of looming budget cuts.

"We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit," Obama said, speaking to the hundreds of thousands of people fanned out across the National Mall. "But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."

Obama defended such programs with an overt jab at the Republican presidential candidate he defeated, Mitt Romney, who during the campaign criticized the 47 percent of Americans "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims." Romney's running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, declared during the campaign that the US was a welfare state creating more "takers" than "makers."

Programs like Medicare, Obama said, "do not make us a nation of takers; They free us to take the risks that make this country great."

"Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it," Obama said.

Behind the scenes, Obama and his advisers are working on plans to unveil a comprehensive overhaul of US immigration laws, which is expected to be a central topic in Obama's February 12 State of the Union policy address.

The president also will be seeking congressional support for the far-reaching package of gun-control proposals he unveiled last week, including an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun purchasers. The initiative follows last month's Connecticut elementary school shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead, but gun rights advocates are pushing Republicans to block new gun regulations.

Obama also paid special attention to climate change during his inaugural address. He insisted that America "must lead" the transition toward sustainable energy sources that will result in new jobs and industries.

"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms," he said.

Obama marked a new direction in foreign policy as the US prepares to pull troops from Afghanistan, ending the country's longest war. He challenged those who favor aggressive use of the powerful US military, calling them to remember the policies of presidents past.

"We are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well," said Obama, who is under pressure from the right-wing leadership of US ally Israel and powerful voices in Congress to launch military strikes against Iran's nuclear program.

Obama, who has become increasingly outspoken in favor of gay rights and same-sex marriage, referenced the gay-rights riots of 1969 in his inaugural address, classing them as a civil rights watershed along with key moments in the struggles for blacks and women. He said the nation's journey is not complete "until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."

Monday's events had less of the effervescence of four years ago, when the 1.8 million people packed into central Washington knew they were witnessing history.

While he was officially sworn in Sunday, as required by law, the glitter of Inauguration Day still enlivened staid Washington. The celebration was pushed to Monday because January 20 fell on a Sunday this year. That placed the grand ceremony on the same day as the US holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Debates with Congress appeared to be far from Obama's mind Monday. A relaxed president soaked in a full day's worth of activities, starting with a morning church service and ending with two swanky balls.

Following his relatively brief, 18-minute inaugural address, Obama gazed over the crowd fanned out across the National Mall and said, "I'm not going to see this again."

He and first lady Michelle Obama climbed out of their armored limousine twice during the inaugural parade to walk a few blocks and wave to the jubilant crowd along Pennsylvania Avenue. And he danced and bobbed his head to the marching bands passing by his parade viewing box in front of the White House.

An expected 40,000 people crammed into the Washington Convention Center for the two inaugural balls that had plenty of star power, including Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and Brad Paisley.

Obama addressed cheering crowds at the Commander in Chief Ball for members of the military, speaking by video to thank a group of troops in southern Afghanistan. Then he introduced his "date," the first lady, who danced with her husband in a ruby chiffon and velvet Jason Wu gown while Jennifer Hudson sang "Let's Stay Together."

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jan 22, 2013
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