The Biggest Controversies of Barack Obama's Presidency

From Benghazi to Obamacare to IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups

Obama at press conference
President Obama holds a year-end press conference addressing email hacking and cyber security at The White House on December 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Leigh Vogel/WireImage/Getty Images

President Barack Obama may turn out to be a relatively popular president but he was not immune to controversy. The list of Obama controversies include a broken promise that Americans would be able to keep their insurers under the Affordable Care Act health care overhaul, accusations he downplayed links between terrorists acts and Islamic militants. 

Here's a look at several Obama scandals and controversies during his two terms in office.

Benghazi Controversy

President Barack Obama pauses as he makes a statement in response to the attack at the U.S.
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Questions about how the Obama administration handled the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012, dogged the president for months. Republicans portrayed this as an Obama scandal but the White House dismissed it as politics as usual.

Among other things, critics accused Obama of downplaying links to Islamic militants in the runup to the 2012 presidential election.

IRS Scandal

IRS Commissioner Steven Miller Picture
Steven Miller, the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, prepared to testify before a House committee investigating why the IRS targeted conservative groups. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The IRS scandal of 2013 refers to the Internal Revenue Service's disclosure that it had targeted conservative and Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny leading up to the 2012 presidential election between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

The fallout was fierce, and led to the resignation of the head of the tax agency.

AP Phone Records Scandal

Eric Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of journalists for The Associated Press. Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice secretly obtained telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press wire service in 2012.

The move was described as a last resort in a leak probe, but it nonetheless outraged journalists, who called the seizure a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into The AP's news gathering operation.

Keystone XL Pipeline Protest
Opponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline say it would result in environmental catastrophe and increased pollution leading to global warming. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News

Obama promised to spend much of the following four years in the White House trying to address the causes of global warming. But he came under fire from environmentalists when he indicated his administration could approve the $7.6 billion Keystone XL Pipeline to carry oil across 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska.

Obama later agreed with a State Department determination that the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline would not be in the best interests of the United States. "If we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes," he said, "we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky." More »

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, shouts "You lie!" at President Barack Obama during the president's address to a joint session of the Congress on his national health care plan in September 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Does it or doesn't it? Does the health care reform law known as Obamacare insure illegal immigrants or not?

Obama has said no. "The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally," the president told Congress.

That's when one member of Congress famously retorted: "You lie!" More »

Sequestration and the Federal Budget

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama signs the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the Oval Office, Aug. 2, 2011. Official White House Photo/Pete Souza

Who's idea was this, anyway?

When sequestration was first put in the Budget Control Act of 2011 to encourage Congress to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion by the end of 2012, the White House and Republican lawmakers alike praised the mechanism.

And then came the budget cuts. And nobody wanted to own the sequester. So who's idea was it? You might be surprised.

Presidential Signing Pens
U.S. President Barack Obama reaches for one of several pens he would use to sign a bill in the Oval Office at the White House on March 25, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

There's lots of confusion over whether Obama issued executive orders or was just taking an executive action, but critics piled on the president for trying to bypass Congress on critical issues such as gun control and the environment.

In reality, Obama's use of executive orders fell in line with most of his modern predecessors in number and scope. Many of Obama's executive orders were innocuous and warranted little fanfare; they provided for a line of succession in certain federal departments, for example, or established certain commissions to oversee emergency preparedness.   More »

AR-15 Picture
A Denver, Colo., gun dealer holds a Colt AR-15, a weapon that once could be sold to only law enforcement and military but now can be purchased by civilians following the expiration of the Brady Bill. Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

Barack Obama has been called the "most anti-gun president in American history." Fears that Obama would try to ban guns fueled record sales of weapons during his presidency.

But how many gun laws did Obama sign? And did any of them actually place restrictions on gun owners? More »

NSA Spy Facility
This is the NSA's spy data collection center in Bluffdale, Utah. Located just south of Salt Lake City, it has been reported this is the largest spy center in the world with massive computer power processing data. George Frey/Getty Images News

The NSA has been using a super-secret computer system to scoop up emails, video clips and pictures on major U.S. Internet company websites, including those transmitted by unsuspecting Americans, without a warrant and in the name of national security. The program was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge during Obama's second term in office. More »

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Murse, Tom. "The Biggest Controversies of Barack Obama's Presidency." ThoughtCo, Feb. 27, 2017, Murse, Tom. (2017, February 27). The Biggest Controversies of Barack Obama's Presidency. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "The Biggest Controversies of Barack Obama's Presidency." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 21, 2018).