Obama's 3 Biggest Political Problems

Michael Catalini

President Obama is spending time in California, but he’s not in the Golden State for R & R. He’s raising money for his Democratic colleagues and simultaneously mending his relationship with them after focusing on his own campaign in 2012.

The president won’t face voters again, but his fellow Democrats will. If Obama intends to pass the presidential baton to a Democratic successor, then boosting the economy and safeguarding the United States are top priorities.

But there are some troubling signs for the president on those fronts. Here are three that could cause Obama some political heartburn.

Marquricia Murray with her daughter Eleana Orta at a job fair in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

1. The Economy: Unemployment claims have hit a four-month high, according to the Labor Department.  In raw terms, claims jumped to 385,000, an increase of 28,000 over the previous week’s figure. Here’s the Associated Press on why this could be happening:

“Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The recent increases could suggest that companies are cutting jobs, possibly because of steep government spending cuts that began on March 1. Other reports have pointed to that possible trend, although most economists have said that any reductions are likely temporary.”

The March unemployment rate came out Friday, and it wasn't pretty. The US economy added 88,000 jobs in March, falling well short of expectations, while the unemployment rate dropped to 7.6%. There are other perilous signs about the economy for the president. Economic confidence is at its lowest point since December and the underemployment rate, a combination of the unemployed plus people who are employed part-time but looking for full-time work, is at 17.6 percent, according to a pair of recent Gallup surveys. Plus, at this point in his second term, Obama can't blame George W. Bush for economic stagnation.

North Korean army officers rally in downtown Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

2. North Korea: The reclusive regime's saber rattling is growing louder and with it the political risk for the president. As you’d expect, Republicans criticize the president’s strategic patience, but anything that can be cast as reticence to act in the face of North Korea’s belligerence carries political risk, especially when considering that 83 percent of Americans say the regime’s nuclear weapons are a critical threat.

But the administration seems to be doubling down on its strategic-patience approach. Just this week, as Kim Jong Un authorized North Korea’s military to use nuclear weapons against the United States after the U.S. deployed stealth bombers to the South, the Pentagon is now saying it will tone down its rhetoric. "We accused the North Koreans of amping things up; now we are worried we did the same thing," one Defense Department official said, according to CNN

The Affordable Care Act is still a political lightning rod, even as it's being implemented. (Richard A. Bloom)

3. Obamacare: Obama's health care law will be a huge part of his legacy, and as its provisions begin to take effect, he has a lot on the line. While the president is betting the legislation will help insure more Americans, his critics are banking on a worst-case scenario in which red tape and higher rates could fuel a political backlash for Democrats. A CNN/ORC poll conducted in November showed 51 percent of Americans opposed the law while only 42 percent favored it. A Gallup survey conducted after the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold most of the law showed that 46 percent of Americans—a plurality—thought the legislation would be harmful to the economy.