“America needs you, and our democracy needs you,” President Barack Obama told the media today in his final White House press conference. “My hope is that you will continue with the sane tenacity that you showed us,” he added to the press corps. With an obvious dig at President-elect Donald Trump and his fractious relationship with the media, Obama asserted that the press needs to “push those in power to be their best selves.”
“You are not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics, you’re supposed to ask me tough questions,” Obama also said, again striking a contrast to the view the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host appears to have of Beltway media.
Today’s legacy-protecting hour-plus presser that ran live on the broadcast networks and cable news channles comes one day after Obama controversially commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence officer who leaked U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks in 2010, among others. It was the topic of today’s opening question. “I feel that, in light of all the circumstances, commuting her sentence was entirely appropriate,” Obama said of his executive move.
“I was sorely tempted to wear a tan suit today,” Obama joked, taking a lighter tone in his opening words to a packed White House briefing room. The comment recalled the infamous outfit the outgoing president wore in August 2014 that captured far more attention than his words that day.
Touching on last year’s election, his daughters’ disappoint in the results, racial divisions, the criminal justice system and fake news, the presser also came at the tail end of what has been a prolonged goodbye of speeches, executive orders, appointments, parties and media interviews for the Commander-in-Chief, who leaves office with a 60% approval rating.
Last week, Obama gave a formal farewell address in Chicago, where he barely mentioned his successor by name but certainly hit out at Trump’s tone. On January 7, the Obamas hosted Hollywood A-listers and longtime supporters like Harvey Weinstein, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Steven Spielberg at the White House for one last bash.
In less than 48 hours, Trump will be sworn in as the 45th POTUS, and the Obamas will be on their way to Palm Springs for some post-presidency R&R. However, the 44th president will not be out of D.C. for long – the Obamas have rented a home in the capital while youngest daughter Sasha finishes high school.
“This is a job of such magnitude that you can’t do it by yourself,” Obama admitted telling Trump during the transition process. “How to put a team together to make sure that they are getting you the best information …that’s the most constructive advice I’ve been able to give him,” he said, noting that Trump should make sure facts are checked and that he isn’t “only hearing people that agree with you.”
“You don’t want to do things off the cuff,” he said of major policy moves like the situation in the Middle East.
Looking forward, as he has a lot in recent months, Obama said he had no plans to run for office again but would speak up if he saw efforts to quell dissent or discriminatory moves on the part of the next wave of politicians – though he never mentioned Trump by name.
“The only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world,” Obama said he told his two daughters about Trump beating Hillary Clinton in November. Taking the tone he did throughout today’s presser, Obama added that he told them to be resilient and not give into moping and resignation.