Obama promises foreign policy continuity, commitment to NATO under Trump
In his first press conference since the election, Obama covered a wide range of foreign and domestic issues before heading out on his last international trip while in office. Before taking questions, he discussed the transition, the global economy and the news of PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill’s death.
“When we turn over the keys, the car’s in pretty good shape,” he said.
Answering the first question, Obama said that he will assure foreign leaders in continuity of US foreign policy and maintaining core relationships, including NATO.
Obama also provided some criticism of how the Democratic Party handled the election, urging the party leaders to reflect and learn from the experience. “Given the population distribution throughout the country, we have to compete everywhere, we have to show up everywhere,” he said.
When he was asked how long it took him to really feel comfortable in his role, Obama joked: "About a week ago I started feeling pretty good!"
The US economy is in much better shape than it was when he came into the office, Obama said, adding that he didn’t have time to get used to things as economy was collapsing around him when he was sworn in.
"The incoming admin doesn’t have to put out a huge number of fires, " he said.
The outgoing president declined to comment on any appointments his successor might make, but asked for the media and Americans to give him a chance.
“The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president of the United States,” Obama said. “Those who didn’t vote for him have to recognize that is how democracy works, that is how the system operates.”
Obama "what's clear is that he was able to tap into the enthusiasm & anxiety of voters in a way that was impressive & i said that to him"— marina portnaya (@portnayanyc) November 14, 2016
"He successfully mobilized a big chunk of the country and he won," Obama said of Trump, noting that "reality" will force him to make corrections to some of his controversial positions because "campaigning is different than governing."
“Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up. Those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up w/ reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick b/c reality has a way of asserting itself,” he said.
Obama said that the new administration will have to take things slowly and to think through how various issues play out, giving as an example the Affordable Care Act. Although he noted that dismantling Obamacare was the "Holy Grail" for Republicans, they have to figure out how to provide such things as insurance with preexisting conditions. "If they can come up with something better that actually works, if in a year or two after, if it’s better and running smoothly, I’ll be the first to say that’s great, congratulations," Obama said.
“It becomes more difficult to undo something that’s working than undo something that’s not. When you’re not responsible for it, you can call it a terrible deal; when you are responsible for the deal… you’re more likely to look at the facts," he added.
Obama also added a personal touch to the difficulties of becoming president, telling reporters that one of the hardest things for him was learning how to organize the massive amounts of briefing paperwork he deals with on a daily basis. "That seems trivial, but it's actually pretty important," he said.
Answering a question about whether the US could carry out the same operation in Syria as they did in Libya, Obama said that this could not be done because Syria is "messy," adding that a political solution in needed.
On his Syria strategy, Obama said: "I recognize that that has not worked, and it is something that I continue to think about every day."
During the hour-long press conference, Obama touched on various international agreements, including the Iran nuclear deal, NATO, the Paris environmental agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He also discussed the state of the US and global economy, and how it has affected blue-collar workers in the US.
A reporter also asked about one of Obama's original campaign promises to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a vow he has been unable to keep. "With regards to Gitmo, it is true I have not been able to close the darn thing because of congressional restrictions," the president said, before outlining the steps he has taken to shrink the population at the camp.
He closed the press conference by sharing a quote he often tells his team at the White House: “Better is good. Perfect is unattainable, better is possible,” Obama said. “My hope is that he makes things better. And if he does, we’ll all benefit from it.”