By Justin Sink - 08/08/13 09:47 PM EDT
President Obama will hold his first solo press conference in more than three months on Friday before he departs for a weeklong vacation at Martha's Vineyard.
The summer has been unkind to Obama, with controversies at home and abroad wearing down his approval rating. His poll numbers have dipped 5 points since he last spoke to the media in April, according to a Fox News survey released Thursday, and his overall approval rating is at 42 percent, just 2 percentage points above the low point in his presidency.
With his personal popularity flagging, the president will try to use the bully pulpit to recapture momentum and position himself for a bruising fiscal fight with Congress this fall.
Here are 10 questions that the president could face when he steps behind the podium.
1) How significant is the Middle East terror threat, and what does it mean for U.S. progress in the fight against al Qaeda? The White House has been mostly tight-lipped about the terror chatter that led the State Department to order the closing of nearly two double consulates and embassies across the Middle East. With diplomatic missions set to reopen over the weekend, the president will face questions about the nature of the threat.
He’ll also likely be asked to reconcile the move to close the embassies with his declaration last year that al Qaeda was "on the run," and could address criticism from Republicans that closing the embassies made the United States appear weak.
2) What can the United States do about Edward Snowden, and are you concerned about more leaks? The White House has already announced that the president plans to skip bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin following the Kremlin's decision to extend temporary asylum to the former defense contractor, but Obama will be pressed on what else his administration can do to force Snowden's return.
The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald has said that he remains in contact with Snowden and expects to publish more information about secret American surveillance programs.
3) Has the White House been forthcoming about the extent and scope of the National Security Agency surveillance? The president is likely to be pressed for more clarity about how Americans' cyber communications are monitored. White House officials have insisted that only "terrorist threats or potential terrorist threats emanating from foreign persons and foreign areas" receive scrutiny, but recent reports suggest the data mining could be more widespread.
4) Is the Drug Enforcement Agency's Special Operative Division respecting people's constitutional rights? The Justice Department said this week it was investigating whether the agency properly utilized tips from wiretaps, informants and a database of telephone and Internet records jointly maintained with agencies like the CIA, NSA and Internal Revenue Service. Civil rights groups have raised particular objection to agency protocol that deliberately hides use of the unit from defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
5) Should the United States boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics over Russia's anti-gay laws? The White House has insisted that it is not weighing a boycott of the games, despite a global protest movement over new Russian laws that threaten foreign nationals who provide information about the gay community to minors or hold gay pride rallies. But Obama also said that he "wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently" at the games.
6) Will you veto any spending bill that doesn’t end the spending cuts from sequestration? White House officials have reportedly weighed a strategy by which Obama would refuse to sign any spending bill that does not address the across-the-board cuts. Republicans have said they plan to keep current spending levels in place. If Obama made the veto threat, it would be a significant development in negotiations over the federal budget, and increase the likelihood of the first government shutdown in nearly two decades.
7) What should be done about sexual assault in the military? The president said as recently as Wednesday that he views sexual assault in the military as a dire problem that must immediately be addressed. But Obama hasn't signed onto a specific legislative proposal to address the situation, frustrating some Democrats in Congress. Obama may be asked to weigh in definitively on whether he thinks the prosecution of sexual assault victims should be removed from the chain of command — the major point of division on Capitol Hill.
8) Are you worried about the stability of the transitional government in Egypt? A joint statement issued by the State Department and European Union on Wednesday saying parties were "concerned and troubled" by the "dangerous stalemate" caused by the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi suggests the administration is concerned the country could quickly devolve into civil war.
9) Who are you considering to replace Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman? Obama is reportedly weighing nominating either former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers or Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen for the powerful position. While Yellen is well-regarded among congressional Democrats, Obama fiercely defended Summers during a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats at the end of July. The White House has said a decision won't come until autumn, but reporters are eager for insight into Obama's thinking.
10) Should the Washington Redskins change their team name? With Washington's football team kicking off its preseason on Thursday night, journalists and fans across D.C. have again been debating the team's name, which Native American groups call racially offensive. The president ignored a question on the issue shouted during his visit to Capitol Hill last week, but could be pressed to weigh in on Friday, especially in light of his remarks on race and the Trayvon Martin case. He also might be asked about the steroid suspensions in Major League Baseball.