After a two-week vacation, President Obama must deal with Congress over Iran and government spending, travel to Alaska and New Orleans, as well as welcoming visits from China’s leader and the pope.
WASHINGTON — Like April for accountants or December for flying reindeer, September in recent years has become an especially challenging month for presidents and congressional leaders.
But even by modern standards, President Obama faces a daunting list of tasks after returning to Washington on Sunday from a relatively quiet two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard — with legislative deadlines and visits from world leaders already penciled into his September schedule.
On the domestic front, Congress will have to pass funding legislation by the end of September to avoid shutting down the government for the second time in two years. With only 15 legislative days on the Senate calendar for the month, a brewing fight over whether to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and a raft of senators running for president, it could be difficult to pass even a short-term funding measure despite vows by senior Republican legislators that they will not support a shutdown.
And there are other pieces of must- and should-pass legislation, including extending authority for highway and infrastructure spending, reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank and dealing with various expiring tax provisions. Cybersecurity legislation and a movement to scale back tough federal criminal-sentencing laws will also require time and attention.
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Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the Senate majority leader, said that work would be a lot easier if Obama and congressional Democrats were not so obstructionist.
“We have a lot to do, but we have plans to do it,” Stewart said. “The president, on the other hand, will have a very difficult September because he’s trying to do things despite bipartisan opposition against him, such as on the Iran deal.”
Indeed, one of the most anticipated legislative battles of the year will be whether Congress can override an expected presidential veto and reject the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the United States and five other countries.
The deadline for the first vote is Sept. 14, and if both the House and Senate reject the deal with anything close to veto-proof majorities, the Iran drama could consume much of September and even the first week of October.
While Obama has aggressively defended the Iran deal, and has gone on the offensive to woo lawmakers, he will face myriad distractions during the month.
He will have to put on a tuxedo and a wary smile for a rare state dinner and summit meeting with President Xi Jinping of China. In addition to climate change, the two men are likely to discuss the alleged hacking of U.S. government personnel records by Chinese operatives, China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea, a worrisome increase in Chinese government repression, allegations that covert Chinese agents are harassing expatriates in the United States and renewed allegations of currency manipulation by China.
Pope Francis will arrive in Washington on Sept. 22 and visit the White House the next day, according to his schedule. The pope will deliver a speech before Congress on Sept. 24, and there is likely to be intense interest from the White House on how he chooses to address that body, which is filled with climate-change skeptics.
Obama has made the battle against climate change a signature issue in his second term, one that he intends to highlight when he gives speeches in Las Vegas on Monday and in New Orleans on Thursday, and during a visit to Alaska in the first few days of September. The pope is likely to touch upon the moral dimension of climate change and economic inequality.
Given the agreement between Obama and the pope on such signature issues, the pope’s visit with the president may pass uneventfully for the White House. Far more delicate decisions will be needed on how to handle the conclave of world leaders who are expected to arrive in New York at the end of September to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
Will Obama meet again with President Raúl Castro of Cuba after the opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries? Will he meet President Hassan Rouhani of Iran or President Vladimir Putin of Russia, whose foreign minister said last week that Putin would “consider constructively” any request from Obama for a meeting? Presidential aides said those decisions had yet to be made.
Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign-policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said that even without the budget and other issues in Congress, the visit by Xi, the Iran vote and the decisions and meetings surrounding the U.N. meeting made for a challenging month.
“The bottom line is that it will be a heck of a September, rivaled in recent years perhaps only by last September, when we had Ebola and ISIL’s rise to contend with, along with the war in Ukraine and a few other matters,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
Then there are the political issues. The president has said he will provide a report on the Guantánamo Bay prison by September to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Presidential aides have said closing the prison remains a top priority for Obama, but he has faced resistance from Congress and even from some of his own appointees.
Also, Vice President Joe Biden has said he will announce in September whether he will run for president, and on Sept. 16 the second Republican presidential-primary debate will take place at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Then in October, there is likely to be a tough legislative fight over raising the debt ceiling, with potentially huge economic consequences if Congress fails to do so.