The time is always right to do what is right.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Immediately following President Obama's second inaugural address and the weekend's festivities, he has some accomplishments to tout including a comprehensive Sandy relief package (as soon as the Senate passes the House version of the bill), 23 executive actions taken to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands, and setting the tone for the debt ceiling debate, which sent the House GOP into a state of panic during their Conference retreat last week. He is becoming increasingly more comfortable with the power he has as an Executive and settling into the realization that he may have brought change to Washington, but the "old heads" were not ready to budge. As a result, President Obama may find himself relying on Executive Orders to accomplish an ambitious agenda that would feel much better had he been victorious over partisanship.
As President Obama prepares for his State of the Union address, there are some critical issues he must confront not only using the bully pulpit of the world's stage, but also through concrete policy development during his second term -- preferably sooner rather than later while the ability to expend political capital remains in his favor. Some of the most important issues include:
1. Increase the Debt Ceiling -- By Any Means Necessary. After just hurdling a recession, we cannot afford to let partisanship send us back over the edge -- the economy is not blue or red. Regrettably, our political history demonstrates that our nation's debt has almost always been a partisan issue and the House Republicans confirmed it this week by passing H.R. 325, the No Budget, No Pay Act, which is a pitiful 90-day extension on one of the most critical economic issues of our time. Nevertheless, the President has drawn a pretty clear line in the sand -- no negotiating with the debt ceiling, period. If the President can go through the process, prevent debate, and more significantly, hinder negotiating any terms of the debt ceiling with the GOP he will only increase political capital. And the potential capital he gains will be with newer stakeholders -- the business community. We should watch closely over the next 90 days.
2. Develop a Comprehensive Gun Control Solution. We are just scratching the surface on gun control and we must remember this is just the beginning. The President should be commended for the 23 Executive Actions he took this week to stiffen background checks, appoint an ATF Director and many more will only be given the support necessary if Congress considers the 12 legislative fixes offered by President Obama, which address everything from reinstating the assault weapons ban to increasing law enforcement protections. We can neither afford another Sandy Hook nor another death on the streets of Chicago, Illinois.
3. Recruit a DIVERSE "Team of Rivals" to Reflect a Diverse America. The President has made it clear that he intends to maintain and/or strengthen diversity of his cabinet and with the most senior White House appointees. However, the following names have been floated and in most instances, confirmed: To replace Geithner, Jack Lew. To replace, Panetta, Chuck Hagel. To replace Clinton, John Kerry. And in the White House to replace Jack Lew, Denis McDonough. It is important for the private sector and the public sector -- on the municipal, county, state, and federal levels -- to see the true, diverse face of America reflected in President Obama's proposed cabinet appointments. Where are the black, Latino, and Asian voices? There is opportunity to replace those who will soon depart -- Hilda Solis, Lisa Jackson, and Ron Kirk -- but diversity should not be limited to positions already held by people of color. I have some brilliant friends at the White House and throughout the Administration, some who happen to be people of color, and I am not alone in saying I would love to see them as well as other people of diverse backgrounds in more senior roles with greater influence.
4. Offer a Comprehensive Immigration Fix. There are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. Many of these individuals entered this country with the hope of fulfilling the American Dream. Civil rights and business leaders alike agree that it is time to address the challenges surrounding immigration.
5. Ensure Civil Rights Protections Under the Law. Courts and public opinion throughout the country continue to use President Obama's election as a prime example that discrimination and racial bias no longer exist in ways that prohibit social and economic advancement. There are two critical cases before the Supreme Court of the United States in which the constitutionality of civil rights is in question. With Fisher v. University of Texas, a college affirmative action admissions policy is in question. With Shelby County v. Holder, the question is whether the preclearance requirement in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is constitutional. There is great irony in both cases. Access to education for students of color remains disastrously challenging and there was an onslaught of voter suppression measures introduced and passed throughout the country. The President typically shies away from these issues. And while the Judicial Branch is wholly separate, it is important that he takes a stand on these critical issues.
6. Address the Need for Electoral Reform. In his book, A More Perfect Union, former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. called for eight constitutional amendments -- among them was the explicit fundamental right of citizens to vote. Until he retired, Rep. Jackson introduced a bill every congress to call for the constitutional amendment. The elections of 2000, the challenges in 2004, 2008, and in 2012 with the voter suppression measures demonstrate the need for uniformity in the electoral process. In some states, voting systems differ by county and in others; diverse systems can exist by precinct. If President Obama does not offer a proposal to protect democracy and the electoral process, it may not happen for several years.
7. Guarantee Parity in Federal Contracting. President Obama has made a number of strides to ensure doing business with the federal government is more efficient. By establishing an Interagency Taskforce on Federal Contracting Opportunities for Small Business in April 2010, he demonstrated an early commitment to address ongoing issues. However, the largest problem for small, minority owned government contractors has always been and remains that the federal government is in many instances ill-equipped to enforce the laws already on the books. Enforcement is important because it directly correlates to the survival and viability of these companies -- many of which hire people within their communities who may not otherwise be given a chance at employment.
President Obama has a lot to accomplish in his second term. The good news is optimism and hope remain high. The better news is that he is operating with a sense of urgency to address the challenges of our great nation.
Angela Rye (@angela_rye) is a political strategist and co-founder of IMPACT (@TeamIMPACT) who most recently served as the Executive Director/General Counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus.
Follow Angela Rye on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@angela_rye