Barack Obama

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Portrait, Barack Hussein ObamaBarack Hussein Obama

44th President of the United States
(January 20, 2009 to 2017)

Nicknames: None listed.

Born: August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii

Father: Barack Hussein Obama, Sr.
Mother: Ann Dunham
Married: Michelle Robinson Obama (1964- ), on October 18, 1992 [One of the most influential First Ladies, she trained national attention on health and education during her time at the White House.]
Children: Malia Ann Obama (1999- ); Natasha “Sasha” Obama (2001- )

Religion: United Church of Christ
Education: Attended Occidental College; Graduated Columbia University (1983); Graduated from Harvard Law School (1991)
Occupation: Lawyer
Political Party: Democrat
Other Government Positions:

  • Member of Illinois State Senate, 1996-2004
  • United States Senator, 2005-08

Presidential Salary: $400,000/year + $50,000 expense account

When Barack Obama won the 2008 elections, he made history as the first African-American president of the United States. 

Elected in the midst of two military crises abroad (in Iraq and Afghanistan), and a financial crisis at home, these formed the President’s immediate concerns. Federal spending was drastically increased to stimulate the economy, and to institute improved healthcare and other welfare measures. 

Healthcare reform was in fact an issue consistently in focus throughout his two terms, as he and Congress jockeyed over the creation of a public health insurance option. The Affordable Care Act that was eventually passed did not include this option, but expanded Medicaid eligibility. The Act however, continued to face challenges in the US Supreme Court. While in office, Obama also expressed support for gay rights and same-sex marriage, and repealed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. 

Gun control legislation was also a hot topic during this period, with renewed calls for its passage after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Environmental policy saw an uptick during his presidency, with laws emphasizing conservation being passed. Obama also vetoed authorization for the Keystone XL pipeline.

While the number of US soldiers in Iraq was gradually being decreased during the first year of the Obama administration, by 2010 this withdrawal had stopped and the remaining troops were diverted to counter-terrorism operations in the region. Troops were maintained and drone attacks were continued in Afghanistan. In the wake of Arab Spring protests in Syria and Libya, Obama ordered military interventions in both countries. Other key moments during this time were the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces in 2011, the Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s visit to Cuba and the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Presidential Election Results:
YearPopular VotesElectoral Votes
2008Barack Obama69,456,897365
John McCain59,934,814173
2012Barack Obama65,899,625332
Willard Mitt Romney60,928.981206

Vice President: tiny U.S. flag Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (2009-17) [Won the 2020 presidential elections. His vice president, Kamala Harris, is the first woman to hold the position.]


Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton (2009-13) [The first female presidential candidate from a major political party, she was the Democratic candidate in the 2016 elections. She lost to tiny U.S. flag Donald Trump.]
John Kerry (2013-17)
Secretary of the Treasury
Timothy F. Geithner (2009-13)
Jacob J. Lew (2013-17)
Secretary of Defense
Robert M. Gates (2006-11)
Leon E. Panetta (2011-13 )
Chuck Hagel (2013-15)
Ashton B. Carter (2015-17)
Attorney General
Eric H. Holder, Jr. (2009-15) [The first African-American to hold this position]
Loretta E. Lynch (2015-17) [The first African-American woman to hold this position]
Secretary of the Interior
Kenneth L. Salazar (2009-13)
Sally Jewell (2013-17)
Secretary of Agriculture
Thomas J. Vilsack (2009-17)
Secretary of Commerce
Gary F. Locke (2009-11) [The first Chinese American to hold this position]
John Bryson (2011-12)
Penny S. Pritzker (2013-17) 
Secretary of Labor
Hilda L. Solis (2009-13) [The first Latina on the US cabinet]
Thomas E. Perez (2013-17) [The first US cabinet member to be confirmed by a party-line vote]
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Kathleen Sebelius (2009-14)
Sylvia Mathews Burwell (2014-17)
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Shaun L.S. Donovan (2009-14)
Julian Castro (2014-17)
Secretary of Transportation
Ray LaHood (2009-13)
Anthony Foxx (2013-17)
Secretary of Energy
Steven Chu (2009-13) [Awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997. He is the first person to be appointed to the US cabinet after having received a Nobel.]
Ernest Moniz (2013-17)
Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan (2009-16)
John King Jr. (2016-17)
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Eric K. Shinseki (2009-14) [The first Asian American to hold this position]
Robert A. McDonald (2014-17)
Secretary of Homeland Security
Janet A. Napolitano (2009-13) [The first woman to hold this position]
Jeh Johnson (2013-17)

Supreme Court Appointments:

Associate Justice
Sonia Sotomayor (2009- ) [The first woman of color and first Hispanic member of the US Supreme Court]
Elena Kagan (2010- )

Notable Events:

After the White House:

  • Both Barack and Michelle Obama inked book deals with Penguin Random House after leaving the White House. They also jointly founded a production house, Higher Ground Productions, which was launched in 2018.
  • The former president launched an initiative in 2019 called Redistricting U to counter partisan gerrymandering.
  • His statement on the anniversary of the 2021 Capitol Riots commented on the “fragile” state of American democracy.

Internet Biographies:

Barack Obama — from White House
Compiled by the White House.
Barack Obama — from American Presidents: Life Portraits — C-SPAN
Biographical information, trivia, key events, video, and other reference materials. Website created to accompany C-SPAN’s 20th Anniversary Television Series, American Presidents: Life Portraits.
Barack Hussein Obama — from U.S. Presidents
From the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, in addition to information on the Presidents themselves, they have first lady and cabinet member biographies, listings of presidential staff and advisers, and timelines detailing significant events in the lives of each administration.

Historical Documents:

Keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (2004)
“A More Perfect Union” (2008)
First Inaugural Address (2009)
President Obama’s Election Night Speech (2012)
Second Inaugural Address (2013)

Media Resources:

Other Internet Resources:

Newspaper Front Pages from November 5, 2008 — from NewseumED
Images of newspaper and magazine front pages from around the world on the day after Obama’s historic victory in the 2008 Presidential election.

Points of Interest:

  • Obama was the first African-American U.S. president.
  • Obama was the first president born outside of the contiguous United States.
  • Obama was the eighth left-handed president of the United States.
  • Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.


  • Why was Barack Obama awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

When Obama first took office, the US was involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Relations with other countries in the Muslim world were strained as well in the aftermath of 9/11. Among his first actions as president was to order the formation of plans for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. He also visited predominantly Muslim nations, in a effort to repair and restore friendly relations. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made visits to Russia and other European countries to “reset” relations with them as well.

In light of these efforts, Obama became the fourth US president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. The award was viewed by many, including the President himself, as a “call to action” rather than as a reward.

  • What was the Flint water crisis?

The Flint water crisis was among the most severe public health crises in the US during the mid 2010’s. It began in 2014 in the city of Flint, Michigan when the city’s administration switched its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River (treated by Detroit Water and Sewerage Department), to the Flint River. The water reaching residents was heavily contaminated by lead from old pipes, and possibly even Legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. A state of emergency was declared in the city in 2016, which was then elevated to a federal one by President Obama. FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security were directed to provide aid and assistance. 

While residents immediately took note of the change in the water quality, government officials initially refused to reverse the switch which had been made due to budgetary concerns. This refusal resulted in prolonged exposure to high levels of lead and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in the area. 

The switch was eventually reversed in 2015, but the contamination had already escalated to dangerous levels.

  • What is the JCPOA?

The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal is an arms control agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (China, Russia, Germany, France, the UK and the US) that places limitations on Iran’s nuclear programs in return for the lifting of sanctions placed on the country.

  • Who ran against Obama in the 2007 elections?

During the 2007 Democratic primaries, Barack Obama’s main competition for the party’s presidential ticket was Hillary Clinton. In the final presidential race, Obama and Biden ran against Republican candidate John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin.

Related Resources:

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