- Created on 25 December 2012
- Created on 24 December 2012
(CNN) -- A year ago, President Barack Obama was under fire. Today, he is being feted.
In just 12 months, the 51-year-old lawyer and former U.S. senator raised by a single mother went from a beleaguered candidate for re-election -- his record and signature health care law under daily attack by Republican rivals -- to being the first Democrat to win more than 50 percent of a presidential vote twice since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Now the nation's first African-American president is CNN's Most Intriguing Person of 2012, as voted on by readers of CNN.com, five days after being named Time's Person of the Year.
Explaining Time's choice, Executive Editor Richard Stengel cited Obama "for finding and forging a new majority, for turning weakness into opportunity and for seeking, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union."
Such accolades and results seemed improbable a year ago when Obama's approval rating hovered in the low 40s while unemployment was 8.5%. History showed that it was rare, if not unprecedented, for an incumbent to win re-election with such figures.
In December 2011, Obama's signature health care reform law faced a Supreme Court challenge and unrelenting criticism from Republicans, especially conservatives who depicted it as a socialism-inspired government takeover of almost 20% of the U.S. economy.
In addition, a fierce political battle with congressional Republicans over taxes and spending dominated headlines that month. It was the latest in a series of fiscal showdowns that already caused an unprecedented downgrade in the U.S. credit rating earlier in the year.
Despite ordering the mission that took out Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and welcoming home the last combat troops from Iraq seven months later, the president faced questions from some critics about his plan to end Afghanistan combat operations in 2014.
Meanwhile, the upcoming election primary season focused attention on the Republican presidential race, spiced by frequent debates that gave candidates ample opportunity to tee off on Obama's record.
His detractors labeled him a failure and said he was over his head, unable to understand the still sluggish economy recovering from recession, let alone how to strengthen it.
A year later, Obama has parlayed his bad hand into a jackpot result.
The economy, which had just started to hint at consistent recovery toward the end of 2011, continued to strengthen incrementally through 2012, with the unemployment rate falling to 7.7% in November.
Such steady, albeit slow growth provided cover for Obama against the Republican attack line that his push for stimulus spending in response to the recession he inherited amounted to wasted money and failed policy.
While buffeted at times by Europe's deficit and currency woes, an overall perception of growing economic stability was a major reason Obama defeated GOP challenger Mitt Romney in November by more than 4 million votes.
Perhaps equally beneficial was the Supreme Court's June ruling that the Affordable Care Act didn't violate the Constitution, ending a litany of legal challenges and giving the controversial measure an important public affirmation.
While Romney campaigned on repealing the health care law if elected, the Supreme Court decision strengthened Obama's ability to tout the benefits of the reforms to avoid the issue becoming an election liability.
The president also made foreign policy a campaign strength over Romney, a former governor with little experience on international issues. Obama touted the bin Laden mission and how he kept his 2008 campaign pledge to end the Iraq War while also starting to wind down the U.S. military role in Afghanistan.
During the final months of the election campaign, Obama also recovered the message and personal style that catapulted him to his historic victory four years earlier. Shouting himself hoarse at times on the trail, he cast himself as the champion of equal opportunity and closing a widening wealth gap in the country.
His campaign also benefited from key policy moves by the president. The administration halted deportations of some children of illegal immigrants, ensuring overwhelming support from the growing Hispanic-American community that proved vital on Election Day.
An earlier step to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred openly gay and lesbian people from military service as well his eventual support for same-sex marriage boosted his standing with younger Americans -- another key demographic.
As the end of his first term approached, Obama's approval rating topped 50%, and polls showed the public consistently favoring his approach on deficit reduction over Republican positions.
"This one's more satisfying than '08," he told top aides on Election Night, according to the Time cover story on his being named Person of the Year. "It wasn't just about what I was going to do as president. It's what I've done."
- Created on 19 December 2012
(CNN) -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the National Rifle Association, which leads the pro-gun lobby in the United States, "has members who are mothers and fathers" likely impacted by the Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 young children.
The nation will have a set of recommendations to address widespread gun violence within weeks, President Obama announced Wednesday.
Vice President Joe Obama will lead an inter-agency group to come up with "concrete proposals no later than January -- proposals that I then intend to push without delay," the president said.
- Created on 24 December 2012
(CNN) -- Republicans on Sunday were reticent in voicing support for the National Rifle Association's scheme to place guards with firearms in American schools, though they also appeared to find little common ground with Democrats, who want tighter restrictions on purchasing assault weapons.
Lawmakers from both parties have agreed that some changes are needed following the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting on December 14 that left 28 people dead, including 20 children. But while Democrats advocate new legislation making it harder to obtain military-style firearms, Republicans claim such measures have proved ineffective in the past.
The NRA, the top lobbyist for gun manufacturers, asserted on Friday that armed guards in schools were the best prevention against a similar tragedy. That proposal, along with vows from Democrats to reintroduce bills banning assault weapons and high-volume ammunition clips, was met with skepticism Sunday from Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.
"We had an armed guard in Columbine, we had an assault ban. Neither one of them worked," Graham said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"We're talking about preventing mass murder by nontraditional criminals, people who are not traditionally criminal, who are not wired right for some reason," he continued. "And I don't know if there's anything Lindsey Graham can do in the Senate to stop mass murder from somebody that's hell-bent on doing crazy things."
Another Republican, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, also cast doubt on the NRA's proposal, saying a national effort to place guards with guns in schools was misguided.
"I think decisions about schools ought to be made at the local level," Barrasso said on "Fox News Sunday." "I would not want a national effort to say you have to do this in schools. I think local education decisions are best made at the local level."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," GOP Sen.-designate Tim Scott said Americans shouldn't "rush to judgment" on the NRA's plan, but didn't offer an endorsement of the plan himself.
Nearly every Republican appearing on the Sunday talk shows agreed that new gun restrictions were the wrong path to take in the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting -- though some expressed an openness to hearing all options put forward.
Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia said he wanted President Barack Obama's newly formed team on gun violence to look into every aspect that could lead to a massacre like the one in Newtown, but that previous bans on assault weapons had done little to stop senseless killing.
"Bans alone don't solve the problem," he said on ABC's "This Week," pointing to a prohibition on military-style weapons that was in effect in 1999 when the shooting at Columbine High School claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher.
Barrasso said Americans "can get false sense of security from Washington, and in passing more laws. But we need real solutions to a significant problem in our country, and I'm not sure passing another law in Washington is going to actually find a real solution."
And Graham wondered how a ban preventing him from purchasing another AR-15 semi-automatic rifle would thwart another tragedy like the one in Newtown.
"If you deny me the right to buy another one, have you made America safer?" he asked.
Democrats say yes. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the retiring independent senator from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrats, said bans making it impossible to buy the type of weapon used in Newtown would reduce the chance of similar shootings in the future. While Republicans' intransigence on the issue means such a ban won't come easily, he said, the public is ready for new laws.
"It's going to take the American people getting organized, agitated, and talking to their members of Congress," Lieberman said on CNN's "State of the Union."
- Created on 18 December 2012
(CNN) -- Executions and death sentences remained steady over the past year, but the number of states carrying out capital punishment continues to drop, according to a study released Tuesday.
Forty-three men were put to death in 2012, matching 2011's total, reported the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Eighty people were sentenced to death, the second lowest total since executions resumed in 1976.
And only nine states of the 50 states carried out lethal injections of convicted capital murderers, led by Texas with 15 executions -- more than a third of the nationwide total this year.
Southern states that traditionally have been active in capital punishment reported no such procedures in 2012, with that list including North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, and Virginia.
"Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country," said Richard Dieter, DPIC executive director and author of the report.
"In 2012, fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions, and death sentences and executions were clustered in a small number of states. It is very likely that more states will take up the question of death-penalty repeal in the years ahead."
The nonprofit organization provides accurate figures and analyses, but opposes use of the death penalty.
Ninety-eight people were executed in 1999, the highest yearly total since 1976, when the Supreme Court allowed resumption of executions by the states after a four-year moratorium.
A CNN/Opinion Research Poll conducted 14 months ago found more Americans for the first time in recent memory favor a sentence of life in prison over the death penalty for murderers, 50% to 48%.
That is not to say that Americans want to abolish the death penalty entirely. Other polls have shown majorities generally favor it, but CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said his analysis shows a difference between thinking the government should have the death penalty as an option and actually wanting to see it applied.
The decline in the number who prefer the death penalty as the punishment for murder may be related to the growing number who believe that at least one person in the past five years has been executed for a crime that he or she did not commit. In 2005, when a solid majority preferred the death penalty, 59% believed that an innocent person had been executed within the previous five years. Now that figure has risen dramatically, to 72%.
Damon Thibodeaux was released in September after 15 years on Louisiana's death row, after post-conviction doubts were raised about whether he killed his 14-year-old step-cousin. He was the 18th capital inmate freed after subsequent DNA testing proved their innocence, according to the New York-based Innocence Project.
Texas, along with Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arizona, accounted for three-fourths of all U.S. executions this year. But Texas for the eighth straight year executed more people than it sentenced to death. Among those scheduled to be put to death next month in the state is Kimberly McCarthy, convicted of the 1997 murder of a 71-year-old woman. She would be only the third female in the U.S. to be given lethal injection in the past decade.
Connecticut in April became the 17th state to repeal the death penalty, but the 11 men still on death row will remain there. That includes Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, convicted of the 2007 home-invasion murders of three members of the Petit family. Komisarjevsky received his death sentence three months before the state repealed capital punishment in future cases.
California voters in November by a 53% to 47% margin approved keeping capital punishment. The state has by far the nation's largest death row population at 727 inmates, but has not carried out an execution since 2005, over continuing legal challenges to the lethal injection procedures.