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Jam-packed start to Obama's second term

Barack Obama

Barack Obama Credit: (Getty Images)

With the United States, or about 51% of it, putting its trust in Barack Obama to serve another four years as president, the commander in chief enters 2013 with job security. He'll also enter the new year with some big issues to tackle. Here's a look at what's on Obama's plate.

'Fiscal cliff'
If Jan. 1 arrives with no "fiscal cliff" deal, spending and tax cuts that could send the U.S. into another recession are set to take effect. Without a solid deal, various stopgap measures could be enacted that might lessen the blow, but the public is getting tired of the back-and-forth. According to a Gallup Poll released yesterday, 50% of Americans believe a deal will be reached - a drop of 7 percentage points from the previous week - and 48% are doubtful. The "cliff" talks have posed one of Obama's stiffest tests. If the country is plunged into further financial turmoil, expect the president to feel public fury.

Gun control
The nation is still reeling from the deadly elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month, and the debate over gun control has dominated the headlines. Obama's task force led by Vice President Joe Biden is expected to offer its proposals for cutting down on gun violence in January, and the president has promised quick action. The president has said he believes most Americans support the reinstatement of a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, barring the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips and a law requiring background checks on buyers before all gun purchases, to stop sales at gun shows without such checks. He might be right: A USA Today/Gallup poll released Wednesday shows increased support for stricter gun laws. But, while background checks at gun shows and a ban on high-capacity magazines have public backing, the same poll found that the majority of Americans are against reinstating a ban on assault rifles.

Immigration reform
Obama has said he will make immigration reform a focus during the first year of his second term. His administration relaxed deportation rules last summer so that illegal immigrants brought into the country as children could stay and work, but the president has been criticized for a lack of concrete action on immigration reform overall. Still, the president scored approximately two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in November, and there are some 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. He must make headway on this crucial issue.

New cabinet
Former presidential candidate John Kerry will join the administration as secretary of state if he is confirmed to replace the outgoing Hillary Clinton. The president will also need to fill the vacancy left by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who is retiring after assuming office in July 2011. Current co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board and former U.S. Senator from Nebraska Chuck Hagel is a frontrunner to fill Panetta's position. Timothy Geithner could leave his treasury post too.

(with Reuters)


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Changes in the Senate
With Sen. John Kerry joining President Barack Obama's cabinet, assuming he's confirmed in the Senate, there will be a special election for his Massachusetts seat. A potential candidate: Republican Scott Brown, who lost his own Senate perch to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in November. The 113th Senate will be an historic one: Newly-elected Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is its first openly gay member, Mazie Hirono in Hawaii is its first Asian-American woman and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott is now the body's only African-American

Gay marriage and the Supreme Court
The high court will hear two cases regarding federal and state laws for defining marriage. The court will review a case against the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that denies married same-sex couples the federal benefits heterosexual couples receive. It also unexpectedly took up a challenge to California's ban on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8, which voters approved in 2008.

Hillary's plans
Departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's future has been the subject of rampant speculation for more than a month. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, shot down the idea of a run at mayor of New York, and she hasn't tipped her hand about another run at the White House in 2016. We should get some clarity in 2013.

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