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Analysis: What's ahead for Obama in the next 100 days

  • Story Highlights
  • President Obama's next 100 days will be put under the microscope
  • Democratic control of Congress will likely help Obama get his policies passed
  • Foreign policy in war-torn areas and relations with Latin America will likely be critical
By Ed Hornick
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After passing the 100 days benchmark, President Obama pushes on with a daunting task ahead of him: Tackling foreign and domestic issues while dealing with a Republican Party opposed to nearly all his major economic initiatives.

President Obama faces daunting foreign and domestic policy challenges in the next 100 days.

President Obama faces daunting foreign and domestic policy challenges in the next 100 days.

The second 100 days will be a critical test of Obama's power in getting key legislative priorities -- such as economic recovery, health care, energy and immigration -- passed.

With recent polls showing the American public giving him a job approval rating in the mid-60s, he already starts off on the right footing.

But a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. Poll out Monday suggests that Obama is personally more popular than his policies. The poll showed that three in four Americans feel Obama has the personal qualities a president should have. But when the respondents were asked if they agree with the president on the issues, that number drops to 57 percent. Read more on the poll

For Republicans, the support is more than lackluster: Only 28 percent say Obama is doing a good job.

And with the GOP opposing nearly all of Obama's major initiatives in the first 100 days -- especially the economic stimulus and FY 2010 budget plan -- it will be bipartisanship that will be a task for the president. Can he bridge the divide on major issues?

At his press conference on Wednesday night, the president once again seemed to extend the proverbial olive branch to the GOP.

"To my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine," Obama said at a prime time news conference capping his 100th day in office. "I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change."

And Republicans may be realizing the scenario before them: Democratic control of the Executive and Legislative branches. Getting GOP legislation passed without bipartisan support will be next to impossible.

Just this week, veteran Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced that he was leaving the GOP and joining the Democratic Party. It was a seismic shift in Washington and could be a major boon for Obama. With Specter's switch and Democrat Al Franken's likely victory in the Minnesota Senate race, Democrats are poised to have a 60-seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

In other words, Democrats will set the agenda. Video Watch more on the Democrats' control of Congress »

But Obama is not taking any chances, saying he's under no illusions that he'll have a "rubber-stamp Senate" now that Specter has switched parties.

Nonetheless, the Republican leadership is looking ahead -- and signs of bipartisanship may beginning to slowly show.

"Obviously, the country's got terrific challenges before it. ... I think bipartisanship can work. If there is a commitment on both sides, obviously, to try and work towards solutions in these very difficult issue areas," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor told CNN Wednesday. "But look, there's no question. We need to both be open to try to work together." Video Watch more of Cantor's take on bipartisanship »

But not so fast, says one GOP aide.

Sen. John McCain's spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said Thursday that the Arizona Repubican believes the president and Democrats don't really want to compromise on big, controversial issues. "Reaching out and bringing ideas to the table with a real interest in compromise are two different things," Buchanan said.

The next 100 days will also be a critical test for Republicans looking to improve their brand. The latest Washington Post/ABC Poll showed only 21 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Republican, which down from 25 percent in a late March poll.

The poll, on the other hand, showed that 35 percent identified themselves as Democrats; and 38 percent called themselves independents.

Besides the major task of handling the country's recession, two major domestic policy issues are sure to come up, and Obama's popularity and outreach to Congress will be critical.

Health care reform, for one, was one of Obama's early 2008 campaign pledges -- and is sure to come up.

And it could likely pass this year because of a special legislative process, known as budget reconciliation, which won't allow Republicans to filibuster the legislation. Democrats, who control 59 seats in the Senate, will be able to pass it with a simple majority vote instead of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

Another issue near and dear to Obama is energy. Can Obama put forth an energy plan that both parties can agree on?

Obama has signaled in his first 100 days that finding alternative energy sources -- such as wind, hydropower, solar -- will be vital in ending the country's dependence on foreign oil. For Obama, it's not just an energy dependence issue, but one of national security.

On the foreign policy front, Obama will continue to pursue his strategy for combating increasing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and Taliban encroachments in Pakistan.

While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are inherited from the Bush administration, his strategy going forward -- adding additional troops to Afghanistan and a withdrawal timeline in Iraq -- will prove critical to his legacy.

CNN political analyst David Gergen, who has a long history working for both Democratic and Republican presidents, says what has impressed him about Obama is his strategic vision for the war-torn area.

"On Afghanistan, they really did sit down and try to do their homework, and try to figure out how is this going to work out over time," he said.

Gergen says Obama's next 100 days will show that he is a "pragmatic liberal" -- legislating from left-of-center.

But CNN's Fareed Zakaria disagrees, pointing out that Obama's foreign policy is one Republican hawks "would be very comfortable with."

"I think right now the truth of the matter is, he's put forward a kind of beautiful overture, by which I mean he's reached out to Iran; he's reached out to Syria; he's put forward stuff for the Middle East peace process," Zakaria said.

But it's also relations with historically Anti-American countries like Cuba and Venezuela that will put to the test Obama's campaign promise to open up a dialogue -- much to the chagrin of Republicans. Obama has signaled he wants to work with both countries, and has already eased restrictions on travel to Cuba.

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Will a lifting of the nearly 50-year trade embargo with the Caribbean nation be next?

The president's second 100 days will, for all intents and purposes, will likely be another "Hallmark holiday" style benchmark. But a lot can happen in 100 days -- and Obama's leadership on key issues will be put under the microscope -- issues that could set the tone for America's relations abroad for decades to come.

CNN's Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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