Here’s the good news for President Obama: His “vacation from hell” is over.
And here's the bad news: He still faces many of the same problems that interfered with his plans for a drama-free getaway to Martha's Vineyard, plus some new ones.
The first day back to work is already depressing enough, but if the president doesn’t effectively answer these five questions, he’s in for one serious vacation hangover.
How do you intend to stop ISIS?
Obama was angry about ISIS’ beheading of journalist James Foley. Less clear, however, was whether he wants to eliminate or simply contain a threat Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said was “beyond anything we’ve seen.” Democrats are already worried about mission creep in Iraq in the wake of a series of airstrikes Obama authorized there. And to truly weaken ISIS, analysts say Obama will have to at least consider extending airstrikes to Syria. For a president whose path to the White House was paved by a war-weary public, these are certainly uncomfortable deliberations.
How big will you go on immigration?
The president is expected to reveal a set of executive actions around the end of summer to address the millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Depending on the scope of his plan, Obama could initiate another showdown with Republicans and perhaps embolden his base at the same time. The administration is wrestling with just how many millions of people should be eligible for deportation deferrals, how to reform the legal immigration system and how to rebut charges that the president is simply trying to help Democrats in November’s midterms.
What are you going to do about Ferguson and other police departments?
For many in Washington, the images in the St. Louis-area suburb following the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer too closely resembled a war zone. Some lawmakers have already targeted a Pentagon program that provides excess war gear to local police departments. And in turn, Obama pledged to review the practice. But does the president want to scrap it altogether or simply place some limits on whether police should receive items like grenade launchers?
Will you reach out to Democrats?
Democrats are getting in on the Obama-bashing act. To hear some of them tell it, the president has given up on the legislative process, appears disengaged and has become a shell of the politician who once promised to change Washington. Obama has previously dismissed such criticisms as routine griping, suggesting that no amount of backslapping, rounds of golf or dinners at the White House would change how things work on Capitol Hill. But Obama may soon face the question of how much he wants to quell Democratic dissent.
What happens if you lose the Senate?
Even under the most bullish of prognostications, there’s at least a 50 percent chance Obama will be stuck with an entirely Republican Congress next year. If that happens, the president has to choose between using his veto pen like never before or giving in to some Republican demands. At that point, Obama will likely be in full-on legacy mode. Does he want to be remembered as a progressive warrior or a president who sacrificed the remainder of his wish list in the name of bipartisan compromise?