President Obama took to the podium in the White House briefing room for the final time today and his first thoughts were with one of his predecessors. “We have been in touch with the Bush family after hearing about President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, they have not only dedicated their lives to the country, but they have been a constant support and good counsel for Michelle and me. They are as fine a couple as we know so we want to send our prayers and our love to them.”
CBS’s White House correspondent Mark Knoller, who keeps track of these things better than most, reports this is Pres Obama’s 224th press availability in his 8 years as president. It’s his 39th solo White House news conference, and his 21st in the Briefing Room.
“We have traveled the world together,” Obama said to the press, “And even when you complained about my long answers, the only reason they were long is because you asked 6-part questions.” He said he was “looking forward to being an active consumer of your work rather than being the subject of it.”
First question went to Reuters’ Jeff Mason who asked about the commutation of Wikileaker Chelsea Manning. “The sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received. She had served a significant amount of time, [and] it made sense to commute and not pardon her sentence,” Obama said.
Second question went to CBS’s Margaret Brennan who asked about the transition, specifically the relationship with Russia.
Obama: “I think it’s in America’s interest and the world’s interest that we have a constructive relationship with Russia. That’s been my approach throughout my presidency. I think it’s fair to say that after President Putin came back into the presidency that an escalating anti-American rhetoric and an approach to global affairs that seem to be premised on the idea that whatever America’s trying to do must be bad for Russians so we want to try to counter act whatever they do, that returned to an adversarial spirit.”
Kevin Corke from Fox News got the third question. He asked about the Democratic lawmakers won’t attend the inauguration and whether he’s been convincing with his advice for the Pres.-elect Trump.
Obama: “I can’t tell you how convincing I’ve been. I think you would have to ask him whether I’ve been convincing or not. I have offered my best advice about certain issues both foreign and domestic. I can tell you that — this is something i have told him — that this is a job of such magnitude that you can’t do it alone. With respect to the inauguration, I’m not going to comment on those issues, but I know I will be there and Michelle will be there and I’m hardened by the fact that it’s not going to be as cold as my first inauguration. Because that was cold.”
Janet Rodriguez from Univision got the fourth question who asked about potential changes to immigration policy, the so-called dreamers and whether he’d continue to speak out on certain issues.
Obama: “They are our kids’ friends and classmates and are now entering into community colleges or in some cases serving in our military, the notion that we would just arbitrarily or because of politics punish those kids when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves, I think would be something that would merit me speaking out.”
Fifth question went to Al Arabiya’s Nadia Bilbassy who asked about peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Obama: “We invested a lot of energy, a lot of time, a lot of effort. First year, second year, all the way until last year. Ultimately, what has always been clear is that we cannot force the parties to arrive at peace. What we can do is facilitate, provide a platform, encourage, but we can’t force them to do it.”
Chris Johnson, from the Washington Blade, was called on next, after Obama was able to find him in the briefing room. “I’m sorry where’s Chris? “I’m right here in the back.” “I’m sorry, didn’t see you.” Johnson asked about Obama’s LGBT rights record and how things will change under Trump. Obama talked about the legalization of gay marriage saying, “I don’t think it is something that will be reversible because American society has changed.”
April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks got the next question and asked, in part, whether America will see another black president.
Obama: “I think we’re going to see people of merit rise up from every race, faith, corner of this country because that’s America’s strength. We’re going to have a woman president, a Latino president, a Jewish president, a Hindu president. Who knows who we’re going to have? I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.”
The last question went to Christi Parsons, of Tribune newspapers, who has been covering Obama since he was an Illinois State Senator. “The least I can do is give her the last question as President of the United States.”
Obama’s final thoughts: “I think we’re going to be okay, we just have to fight for it, work for it and not take it for granted and I know that you will help us do that. Thank you very much, press corps. Good luck.”