Around 2p.m., President Obama held his final news conference of the year. He touted the longest streak of private sector job growth since the recession, with 13.7 million new jobs created. The unemployment rate has been cut in half, and the steady implementation of Obamacare has driven the uninsured rate down. The president mentioned that 17 million Americans have gained coverage, 6 million since January 1 of this year alone. He mentioned a clean energy industry boom, and was happy that marriage equality became a reality in all 50 states.
He said that Congress ended on a high note, sending him education, spending, and transportation bills for signature, along with the renewal of the Export-Import bank. The most recent bill he signed was the $1.1 trillion budget agreement that funds the government through 2016, avoiding a government shutdown.
The president noted that he’s “very optimistic” about the year ahead, and plans to leave it all out on the field.[Press conference begins at 51:50 mark]
Concerning national security, President Obama declared that the U.S. will continue to lead a global coalition against ISIS, that we will defeat the terrorist organization, and that they’ve lost 40 percent of their territory in Iraq. Our air campaign will continue, taking out leaders, commanders, and their forces.
USA Today’s David Jackson asked about the president’s plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Congress’ opposition towards it, and the notion that he already has the authority to close it unilaterally. The president responded by saying that he has a review process to reduce the number of detainees at the center. The largest single month transfer since 2007 is reportedly underway.
He also expects significant resistance to keep the detention center open, the administration is going to make the case that it’s not smart to keep spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep under 100 people incarcerated on terrorism charges. The president said that it’s far more preferable if he could get stuff done with Congress, adding that he’s not going to think about such actions without Congress before seeing what he can do with them. Nevertheless, closing Gitmo is part of this administration’s counterterrorism strategy, and Obama realizes that this will be an uphill battle.
Julie Pace of the Associated Press asked about the administration’s policy of regime change, noting that Republican presidential candidates have said our security situation would have been better if we hadn’t toppled the governments of Egypt, Iraq, and Libya. She also asked if Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s presidency would outlast the president’s two-terms.
President Obama said that such claims were revisionist history. First, he said that millions of Egyptians toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, not the United States. We had a good relationship with Mubarak, and the U.S. didn’t trigger the Arab Spring. Regarding our intervention in Syria, the president said it’s right for the U.S. to proclaim its values, saying it’s unacceptable for the U.S. to stand by as an authoritarian leader murders hundreds of thousands of his people. He added that peace couldn’t come to Syria unless the government there is legitimate, a large majority of Syrians have turned against Assad, and that a political transition must occur. For that to happen, Assad needs to go to stop the blood letting, which would allow all parties involved to more forward. The president gave a hat tip to Secretary of State John Kerry, who he says has been doing excellent work in this area.
Regarding the 2016 legislative agenda, the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s details have been released for Congress to review. The president added that it’s the most pro-labor, pro-environment trade deal in history. It virtually removes all the tariffs on American manufactured products, and he hopes to sign it at the end of his presidency. He also gave “kudos” to Speaker Paul Ryan and former Speaker John Boehner, thanking the latter for working with the White House to provide a budget framework for future negotiations. He described Speaker Ryan as a professional, who has reached out to his office in order to inform the administration as to what he can and cannot do. Ryan is respectful of the process, and how legislation works. The president added that he called members of the congressional leadership to thanks them for the orderly way in, which this budget agreement was crafted and passed.
He called the recent budget deal a “good win” that funds environmental protection, early childhood education, making college more affordable, implements the clear power rule, and invests in clean energy. He’s not happy about everything in it, but that’s how things go in divided government. He also remains hopeful that a criminal justice reform bill will come to his desk in the future, giving a nod to liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in the Senate who have come together and voted a good bill out of committee. The president hopes this legislation comes to the Senate floor for a vote to be paired up with something from the House in order to create a fairer, even-handed, and more proportional system of justice in this country.
Regarding the non-legally binding climate change deal that was struck in Paris, the president was asked if the Republican successor could stop it, and how that might incentivize him toward campaigning harder for the 2016 Democratic nominee in order to prevent that outcome. President Obama said that he was going to campaign for the Democratic nominee regardless, and that he believes the county will elect a Democratic successor after his term ends next year.
It also offered the president to deliver a jab against Republicans for their skepticism over climate change, noting that even Europe’s far right wing parties agree that it’s real. He was then asked if he finds that embarrassing, which the president responded by saying, no because he’s not a Republican.
The President left by saying he needed to catch Star Wars.