WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is returning to his familiar agenda of righting the U.S. economy and winning a second term, wrapping up three days of Latin American summitry that yielded mixed results and were clouded by a Secret Service scandal.
Domestic issues are immediately on tap, with the Senate scheduled to vote Monday on Obama's proposal to increase taxes on millionaires. The proposal stands little chance of passing Congress, but Obama has cast it as an election-year theme as he seeks to paint sharp contrasts between himself and his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
Obama returned to Washington late Sunday with a key free trade deal with Colombia ready to be fully enforced next month and with important face time with Latin American leaders that cannot hurt his diplomatic outreach.
But the weekend trip to Cartagena, Colombia, for the sixth Summit of the Americas also underscored old and new fissures that exist between the United States and its southern neighbors, from the U.S. isolation of Cuba to calls by some Latin American leaders to defang the violent drug cartels by legalizing drugs.
The trip was clouded by unseemly allegations against Secret Service personnel and military service members working on security in Cartagena ahead of Obama's arrival. Obama, at a press conference in Cartagena, said that if the accusations, proved true "of course I'll be angry."
The Secret Service sent 11 agents home and placed them on leave for misconduct as the agency investigates what happened. Five members of the military working with the Secret Service were confined to quarters, pending an investigation into an alleged prostitution scandal.
"I expect that investigation to be thorough, and I expect it to be rigorous," Obama said. "We are representing the people of the United States, and when we travel to another country, I expect us to observe the highest standards."
The story could also be kept alive in Congress where at least one Republican committee chairman suggested the scandal may not be an isolated incident.
Obama began moving forward to domestic issues even as he was still wrapping up business in Cartagena. At the news conference, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at his side, Obama mounted a vigorous defense of his tax proposals.
"I want everybody to remember, I'm going to say this repeatedly: This is not an argument about taking from A to give to B. This is not a redistributionist argument that we're making. We're making an argument about how do we grow the economy so that it's going to be prospering in this competitive 21st century environment," Obama said.