Barack Obama proclaimed a sense of determination and optimism upon entering his last year in the White House. Though doubtful of the president’s ability to reach many of his goals, Northwestern students hope to see him use 2016 to prioritize issues ranging from gun control, to the civil war in Syria to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Students across party lines say they doubt that the president will be capable of achieving many of his aspirations due to the Republican controlled Congress, especially as many seats in Congress are up for reelection in 2016. Still, they hope to see him avoid becoming a lame duck president.
“I think that his actual ability to make a lot of decisions or get legislation passed, at least in terms of his own agenda and the things that he is interested in, is going to be really difficult,” said Weinberg senior Kyle Allen-Niesen. “So I guess I expect him to use more executive action.”
Allen-Niesen said that he forsees Obama pushing issues such as the debate over Trans-Pacific Partnership which would reduce trade barriers between the countries involved, among other things. Allen-Niesen said he would expect the treaty to be backed by more Republicans based on its economic implications, but he thinks it may not pass under a Democratic president.
Since the 1980s, the United States has spent all but six years with a divide in party between Congress and the White House. This reality, combined with the reality of increasing polarization between major parties in Congress, has made it difficult for presidents to push initiatives no matter where they stood on the timeline of their terms.
Despite congressional attempts to shut down a number of Obama’s initiatives, the president managed to achieve many key items on his agenda in 2015, from the signing of a nuclear deal with Iran to the reopening of diplomatic ties in Cuba. The president hit the ground running in 2016 when he took executive action on gun control, an issue on which he has promised to make headway before the next commander in chief is sworn into office.
Weinberg junior Ally Levy believes that Obama will focus a lot on gun control, and she said that she hopes the president will make a more aggressive effort to control terrorism abroad.
“I hope to see him take more of a stand in Syria. I would like to see him commanding a more authoritative position in terms of national security and terrorism,” Levy said.
In addition to gun control and foreign policy issues, Northwestern students hope to see Obama bring more national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been an important call to action for many on campus.
“I would love to see Obama come out and support the Black Lives Matter movement in the same way that Bernie Sanders has, because I think there are ways that he can do so effectively,” said School of Communication sophomore Kori Alston. “Now is the best time for him to come out and take a strong stance, especially as the mood that he sets for our country for the next year will very much carry is into elections next year as well as the next presidency.”