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ANALYSIS-Obama shows combativeness entering 2nd term but risks await

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* Obama has shown toughness on Hagel, gun control, 'cliff'

* "No more Mr. Nice Guy," former Obama aide says

* Obama, Congress face another fiscal confrontation

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Just two weeks before his
second inauguration, President Barack Obama is acting as if he
believes he has a big mandate for his next term. The latest
sign: his decision to defy a concerted campaign against his
choice for defense secretary.

The Democratic president, re-elected in November, unveiled a
more combative approach during the end-of-year "fiscal cliff"
taxes and spending drama, exploiting disarray in Republican
ranks that underscored Washington's legislative dysfunction.

Obama also showed a "get-tough" strategy in his
determination to pursue gun control after last month's massacre
of schoolchildren by a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut.

The actions reflect the growing confidence of a president
who, without the need ever to seek re-election, now feels freer
to stand up to a new Congress. His first term was marked by
complaints from his liberal base that he had been too
conciliatory toward Republicans.

Some critics say Obama now runs the risk of overreaching
when he should instead be building Republican bridges to resolve
the next looming budget confrontation.

Obama's latest assertive move came on Monday when he
nominated Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, setting up a Senate
confirmation battle with critics who have attacked the former
Republican senator's record on Israel and Iran.

Obama's refusal to bow to Hagel's opponents, including
pro-Israel groups, neoconservatives figures and some of Hagel's
own Republican colleagues, signaled that the president would not
allow a top Cabinet candidate to be derailed again.

Susan Rice, Obama's U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,
dropped out of consideration for secretary of state last month
after taking heavy criticism from some Republican lawmakers over
her account of the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic
mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed the American ambassador.

With word of Hagel's impending selection circulating over
the weekend, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham - one of Rice's
critics - called it an "in-your-face" nomination by Obama.

A former Obama aide, speaking on condition of anonymity,
said this was an opportunity to lay down a clear second-term
marker - "no more Mr. Nice Guy, no more pushovers" - as a
message to political friends and foes alike.

"This is clearly a president who feels somewhat unencumbered
by electoral politics, thinks he has political capital to spend,
and is not wasting any time about it," said Costas Panagopoulos,
a political scientist at Fordham University in New York.

The White House is confident that Hagel can weather the
storm and win confirmation in the Democratic-led Senate -
presidential picks for senior security posts are rarely denied.

But Republican strategist John Feehery said Obama was taking
a gamble that could backfire, especially in light of resistance
from some of the president's fellow Democrats to Hagel, a
maverick moderate Republican. He bonded with Obama in the Senate
over their mutual opposition to the Iraq war.

"The president is betting a big percentage of his chips,"
Feehery said. "Presidents do tend to over-read their mandates
sometimes. The question is whether that's the case now."

STANDOFF OVER DEBT CEILING

Hagel's nomination comes on the heels of a New Year's Day
deal that averted economic calamity when lawmakers agreed to
prevent huge tax hikes and government spending cuts.

The agreement handed a victory to Obama, who had promised
before the election to address budget woes in part by raising
taxes on the wealthiest Americans. His Republican antagonists
were forced to vote against a core tenet of their anti-tax
conservative faith.

Obama and Congress must agree by the end of March on
increasing the $16.4 trillion U.S. debt ceiling, the fate of $85
billion in delayed automatic spending cuts and passage of a bill
to fund the government after a temporary measure expires.

Obama has vowed not to negotiate over the debt ceiling,
demanding that Congress raise it without drama. His aides have
made clear they believe the U.S. public would blame Republicans
- not Obama - if the nation is forced into a debt default that
he has said would be "catastrophic" for the world economy.

"This is overreach - hubris - for sure," Alabama Senator
Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget
Committee, said of Obama's refusal to negotiate.

Obama's tough talk on the next round of fiscal hurdles could
also limit his ability to push forward on other legislative
priorities such as immigration reform and gun control.

The shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school put
gun control high on Obama's second-term agenda. He appears to be
determined to take advantage of a public backlash against gun
violence.

The White House is weighing a far broader approach than just
reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity
magazines, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

A working group led by Vice President Joe Biden is seriously
considering measures that would require universal background
checks for gun buyers and track the movement and sale of weapons
through a national database, the newspaper said.

Obama promised in an end-of-year interview with NBC to put
his "full weight" behind a package of gun control measures this
year, and he signaled a willingness to take on the National
Rifle Association gun lobby despite the political risks.

Obama is also calculating that he may finally be able to
make good on his promise to achieve comprehensive immigration
reform. He hopes to capitalize on sentiment within the
Republican Party that it must reach out to Latinos who voted
heavily for Obama after tough comments on illegal immigration by
Republicans.

Obama also is showing signs he will take a hard line on
issues of war and peace. He meets Afghan President Hamid Karzai
at the White House this week and is expected to press for
immunity from prosecution as a condition for allowing even a
relatively small contingent of U.S. troops to stay behind in
Afghanistan after the 2014 drawdown.

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Patricia Zengerle,
editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Will Dunham)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130108/analysis-obama-shows-combativeness-entering-2nd-term-risks-awai