On Monday, President Obama was formally sworn in for a second term. He did so in an atmosphere heavily dominated by economic issues. After the first attempt with the Republicans to avoid the fiscal cliff, it remains to be seen whether legislators will raise the fiscal debt ceiling, eliminate the automatic cutbacks that were postponed for two months and approve the federal budget proposal. Not raising the debt ceiling before April 15 could lead to suspended payments.
Obama will look to tackle these bipartisan issues with a firm but extremely cautious hand, aiming to finish with the fiscal debate and focus on increasing economic growth, which is currently at a rate of 2 percent, and concentrate on important topics like immigration reform and gun control.
This will leave Obama with little time for foreign relations. We know that he'll look for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. He should also keep his attention on China, to whom he has turned a cold shoulder, at least during his campaign debates. It's difficult to imagine the Middle East escaping the president's focus, but, given what we read about America's new-found oil wealth, crude oil from that part of the world shouldn't be a primary concern right now, at least not as much as other issues like nuclear development programs.
Obama's domestic priorities will, without a doubt, have an important impact abroad. For Mexico, whose economic growth is so closely linked to the U.S. economy, increased economic vitality to the north will be more than welcome. The same goes for other public policies in the U.S.
In his two battles for the presidency, Obama has counted on the support of the Latino vote to win the elections. Since his first campaign, he has been very committed to this group, whose numbers now rise above 52 million, or almost 17 percent of the U.S. population. Of those, 31.7 million are of Mexican origin, of which 11.6 million were born in Mexico, and it is estimated that more than half of those are in inadequate living conditions, according to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
Obama can't put off the issue of immigration reform any longer. Besides having made promises to reform immigration laws, he understands the importance of the Latino vote and wants to keep it in favor of his party. We're talking about reform that deals not with amnesty but citizenship, not for everyone but for those who meet the language, tax and work requirements. Some Republicans, like Senator Marco Rubio, have also called for immigration reform, though not an overhaul. They propose two different sets of legislation to deal with undocumented youths and highly qualified immigrant workers. This type of legislation, however, would not avoid rebellions like the one we saw in Arizona, where those youths labeled "dreamers" were unable to apply for drivers’ licenses on the basis of being immigrants to the country.
As far as gun control, after so many painful domestic tragedies, Obama has decided to take action. Democrats like Governor Cuomo of New York have prohibited the sale of ammunition magazines that contain more than seven bullets. Obama is expected to deliver a set of executive orders against assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The advances on this issue will have important repercussions for Mexico, as the U.S. is the main source for weapons used in organized crime here.
Economic growth, immigration and gun control are domestic issues in the U.S., but it would be wise to handle them cautiously, as they could lead to a better bilateral relationship.