Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

A Life in Brief

Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States —becoming the first African American to serve in that office —on January 20, 2009.

The son of a white American mother and a black Kenyan father, Obama grew up in Hawaii. Leaving the state to attend college, he earned degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago, where he met and married Michelle LaVaughn Robinson in 1992. Their two daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha (Sasha) were born in 1998 and 2001, respectively. Obama was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996 and served there for eight years. In 2004, he was elected by a record majority to the U.S. Senate from Illinois and, in February 2007, announced his candidacy for President. After winning a closely-fought contest against New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Obama handily defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee for President, in the general election.

When President Obama took office, he faced very significant challenges. The economy was officially in a recession, and the outgoing administration of George W. Bush had begun to implement a controversial "bail-out" package to try to help struggling financial institutions. In foreign affairs, the United States still had troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warfare had broken out between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, illustrating the ongoing instability of the Middle East.

During his first term, President Obama was able to work with Congress to improve the U.S. economy, pass health-care reform, and withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Still the President spent significant time and political effort negotiating, for the most part unsuccessfully, with Congressional Republicans about taxes, budgets, and the deficit. After winning reelection in 2012, Obama began his second term focused on immigration reform and gun control. However, much of the Capital's attention was focused on "sequestration," the automatic spending cuts that went into effect on March 1, 2013. Although the initial impact of sequestration was limited, Obama warned about its long-term effects on the economy. Agreement between the President and Congressional Republicans to craft a budget plan to end sequestration seemed unlikely to materialize quickly.