WASHINGTON (POLITICO) - They might be less dizzying than the first 100, but President Barack Obama's second 100 days in office could prove just as vital to his legacy.
By Day 200 — August 7 — the president will know if hopeful spring signs presaged an economic recovery, whether he's on course to pass comprehensive health care and energy legislation, if his initial foray into Middle East peacemaking brings any results, and if he's succeeded in getting banks and automakers off life support.
The White House is carefully preparing for all these issues, but it got a reminder this week that the best laid plans are often upended by unpredictable events.
The decision by Sen. Arlen Specter to switch from Republican to Democrat could play a pivotal role in at least two big-ticket issues on Capitol Hill — and that's only the first of what may be other X-factors in the weeks ahead. Here's a look at 10 key decisions Obama faces in the next 100 days:
1. Will Obama fire another CEO by Monday?
When President Barack Obama fired General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, the task fell to car czar Steven Rattner, who delivered the news to Wagoner in the Treasury building.
So Citigroup's Vikram Pandit and Bank of America's Ken Lewis might want to steer clear of Treasury over the next week.
Both men run banks that might need massive infusions of capital when Treasury announces the "stress test" results on Monday. But Obama's price for government help might just be the head of another CEO.
That could open him up Republican charges that he's meddling in free enterprise. But politically, a financial firing would go a long way toward helping the Obama push back against complaints he's been hard on the auto sector and easy on Wall Street. Just don't expect Obama to deliver the news in person.
2. Will Obama go "nuclear" on health care?
Tuesday morning, before Specter made his stunning announcement and became the 59th Senate Democrat, a senior White House official said Democrats were likely to ram health care through the Senate with only a simple majority — no matter how much Republicans didn't like it.
By Tuesday evening, another White House official stated the obvious: "Obviously, the equation's a little different should Franken be seated."
That is to say, if and when Al Franken is certified as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race sometime in June or July, the Democrats have their 60th Senate vote. That would allow them to break a GOP filibuster on a major healthcare bill — meaning Obama wouldn't have to resort to the legislative tactic that Republicans claim is the "nuclear" option.
But Obama's keeping it as an "insurance policy," one administration official said.
3. "Torture memos" aside, what will Obama do about Gitmo and CIA interrogations?
Obama set off a firestorm recently by releasing legal memos detailing interrogation methods some viewed as torture. But that controversy could pale in comparison to the one he will confront in the coming weeks, as his administration wrestles with the question of what to do with the roughly 240 war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, which Obama pledged to close a year after taking office.
He gave an interagency panel until July 21 to come up with a new framework for detaining prisoners. In practical terms, that means confronting the explosive issue of where war-on-terror detainees will be housed on U.S. soil, a prospect that has already led to protests from various lawmakers.
Obama set the same July 21 deadline for another controversial question — can the CIA go a bit farther than military interrogators in questioning terror suspects? Obama has pledged to bar the return of the most aggressive techniques in the "torture memos," such as waterboarding.
But in both cases, human rights groups are watching closely for any sign of backsliding by Obama, who must balance the need to detain and question anti-U.S. terrorists with his campaign promises to do it differently than the Bush administration.