At Final Briefing, Obama Remarks on Transition, Israel, and Post-Presidency

Cortney O'Brien
|
Posted: Jan 18, 2017 3:45 PM
At Final Briefing, Obama Remarks on Transition, Israel, and Post-Presidency

President Obama began his final White House press conference by sending his thoughts and prayers to the Bush family as reports revealed both George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush have been hospitalized.

“We have been in touch with the Bush family,” he said. “They have not only dedicated their lives to this country, they have been a constant source of friendship to me and Michelle.”

Obama then addressed the press directly, thanking them for holding his administration accountable for the past eight years. 

"You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you're supposed to be skeptical," he said. "Having you in this building has made this place work better."

“A free press is part of how this country works,” he said, adding he hopes they will continue the same “tenacity” in the next administration.

One can't help but think that the president was sending some subtle advice to his successor on how he should treat the press, especially after his fiery and contentious press conference last week.

Obama then took reporters’ questions for one last time as president. Here are just a few issues he addressed.

The Transition

Obama said he has had many "cordial" and "lengthy" conversations with President-elect Donald Trump as he prepares to hand over power. He offered his "best advice" to Trump, but acknowledged that it is appropriate for him to go forward with his own vision and his values. 

Fox News’ Kevin Corke asked Obama whether Democrats’ boycott of the inauguration harms the transition, but the president deferred, simply noting he and Michelle plan to be there.

Russia

The president said a “constructive relationship” with Russia is key. At the same time, however, he defended U.S. sanctions against Russia because the country violated the sovereignty of Ukraine.

Israel-Palestinian Conflict

"I wanted to encourage serious peace talks," Obama said of his efforts to help the Israelis and Palestinians solve their settlement disputes. Despite all the energy the White House invested in the (often violent) situation, they "cannot force" the parties to arrive at peace. Yet, he does not see an alternative to the two-state solution. 

Echoing the sentiments of Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama said he “does not see how this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy."

The “moment may be passing” to achieve this, he surmised.

Obama also answered questions about Chelsea Manning, defending his decision to shorten her prison sentence. 

As for his post-presidency agenda, Obama said he will look for opportunities to speak up when he thinks core values are at stake, but mostly plans to lead a quiet life of writing.

"I look forward to not hearing myself talk so much."