Key Highlights From Obama's First Press Conference Since The Election

In what was one of his last press conferences as president, Obama took questions from the press for the first time since the presidential election and delivered an hour long Q&A session with members of the press corps ahead of his final foreign tour as US president. In that time Obama covered numerous issues including:

  • Urging Democrats to reflect on their election loss
  • Trump supporting US commitment to NATO
  • Criticizing Trump for having fewer policy ideas than most new presidents
  • Also criticizing Trump for having to work on his temperament
  • Telling Trump not to kill the Paris climate agreement
  • Predicting Trump won't scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal
  • Urging Trump to think "long and hard" before deporting illegal immigrants.
  • Warning the GOP against repealing Obamcare: "now comes the hard part"

Video of the full press conference:

And the main highlights:

Obama reflects on Hillary's election loss

“I think it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection,” Obama told reporters Monday afternoon, the first time he took questions from the press since Trump’s victory stunned the political world. Despite his self-professed desire not to be “big-footing that conversation,” Obama decided to weigh in on the future of his shattered party, which now faces the daunting task of rebuilding.

Obama said Democrats should not deviate from their “core set of values” around economic fairness, diversity and inclusiveness, but added, “how we organize politically is something we should spend some time thinking about.” Obama questioned Hillary Clinton’s decision not to aggressively campaign in Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that have traditionally been Democratic strongholds.  “Good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them,” Obama said. “We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere.”

The president cited his own active campaigning in Iowa, a state he won twice but Clinton lost to Trump, as evidence.  He also sought to reassure Democrats fretting about the prospect of spending the next two years or four years in the political wilderness.  “Things change pretty rapidly, but they don’t change inevitably,” he said. “They change because you work for it. Nobody said democracy is supposed to be easy. It’s hard.”

On Trump's support of the US committment to NATO

"In my conversation with the president-elect, he expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships. And so one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance."  Obama said the assurance he will convey to NATO members in Europe is to "let them know there is no weakening of resolve" under the Republican president-elect.

"There is enormous continuity, beneath our day-to-day news, that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to promoting order and prosperity around the world," Obama said, describing U.S. military and diplomatic relationships in foreign countries. "That will continue."

National Security Advisor Susan Rice said earlier Monday that allies can assume the U.S. will uphold its defense obligations. "The weight of this office, and the weight of American global leadership, and the responsibilities that it entails, and the history that we share, the interests that endure, make it reasonable for our allies and partners to expect that the United States will uphold its obligations," Rice told the news agency.

On criticizing Trump for having fewer policy ideas than most new presidents

Obama expressed hope Donald Trump won’t roll back his major accomplishments, calling him a “pragmatic” leader who wants to advance his own agenda.  "I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set, hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don't think he is ideological,” Obama told reporters at a news conference at the White House. “I think ultimately he’s pragmatic in that way, and that can serve him well as long as he’s got good people around him and he has a good sense of direction.”

The president’s glass-half-full view of Trump is a stark departure from the rhetoric he used on the campaign trail, when he described him as an erratic figure who’s unfit to serve as commander in chief. In his first extended comments since meeting with Trump for roughly 90 minutes in the Oval Office last week, Obama said that Trump might realize the difficulties of taking a hatchet to his core policies, such as ObamaCare, the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord. "Do I have concerns? Absolutely,” Obama said. “But the federal government and our democracy is not a speed boat. It’s an ocean liner.”

Also criticizing Trump for having to work on his temperament

Trump will have to recognize and work on weaknesses in his temperament, Obama told reporters, if he wants to be a successful president. "Trump has to acknowledge his weaknesses," Obama said in a news conference with reporters, his first extended comments since the election and his meeting with the president-elect last week.

"I think what will happen with the presidential-elect — there will be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognizes them and corrects them. Because when you're a candidate, and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you're president of the United States." 

"Everybody around the world is paying attention. Markets move. National security issues require a level of precision in order to make sure you don't make mistakes, and I think he recognizes that this is different and so do the American people."  Obama declined to comment on whether he thought Trump was qualified for the office.

On urging Trump not to end Paris climate agreement

Obama made the case for the U.S. to stay in the Paris climate deal which Trump has threatened to tear down, calling it an important way to convince other nations to work on climate change the way he has during his administration.  That work, he said, has “made our economy more efficient, it’s helped the bottom line of folks and it's cleaned up the environment.” He said the Paris agreement “says to China and India and other counties that are potentially polluting: come on board. Let’s work together so you guys can do the same thing.”

Trump has said the pact is unfair to the United States because the Obama administration intends to cut American emissions in real terms, while emerging economies like China’s continue to expand their pollution, but at a slower pace. Trump, who cannot formally end the Paris deal because it took effect earlier this month, is reportedly looking for ways out, and since the deal isn’t binding, he can effectively ignore Obama’s stated goals and pursue his own course.  Obama said that’s not the right approach and warned that, with international agreements such as Paris, or the Iran nuclear accord, “the tradition has been you carry them forward across the administrations, particularly if once you actually examine them, they’re doing good for us and binding other countries into behavior that will help us.”

Predicting Trump won't scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal

Obama said he doubts President-elect Donald Trump will scrap a deal with Iran to curtail the country’s nuclear weapons aspirations because the agreement is working. When the accord was struck in 2015, "the main argument against it was that Iran wouldn’t abide by the deal," Obama said Monday at a White House news conference. "We now have over a year of evidence that they have abided by the deal."

Trump said during his campaign that the Iran agreement was a bad deal and that he would force the Islamic Republic to renegotiate it. He has not addressed the agreement since winning the Nov. 8 election. He and Obama met on Thursday for about 90 minutes to discuss the transition from Obama’s administration to Trump’s, including current policies Obama hopes will continue after the Jan. 20 inauguration.

"My suspicion is that when the president-elect comes in and is consulting with his fellow Republicans on the Hill, that they will look at the facts," Obama said. "To unravel a deal that’s working and preventing Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon would be hard to explain," particularly if it leaves Iran free to reconstitute its weapons programs, he said.

Urging Trump to think "long and hard" before deporting illegal immigrants.

Obama said he will urge President-elect Donald Trump "to think long and hard" before making a decision on deporting young Americans who qualified for protection under his executive order. “I will urge the president-elect and the incoming administration to think long and hard before they are endangering the status of what for all practical purposes are American kids," Obama told reporters before embarking on his final trip abroad as commander in chief.

 

Obama's Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provides undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children work authorization and a temporary halt on deportation if they meet certain requirements.

 

"These are kids who were brought here by their parents. They did nothing wrong," the president said. "It is my strong belief that the majority of the American people would not want to see suddenly those kids have to start hiding again."

Warning the GOP against repealing Obamcare: "now comes the hard part"

Obama said he thinks Republican efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare will get harder now that they actually have the responsibility of governing. Obama noted that while repealing his signature law has long been a “holy grail” for Republicans, the GOP will have to contend with the real world consequences such action would have for the 20 million people who gained health coverage under the law.
In addition to winning the White House, the GOP also maintained its House and Senate majorities.

“It’s one thing to characterize this thing as not working when it’s just an abstraction, now suddenly you’re in charge and you’re gonna repeal it,” Obama said. “OK, well what happens to those 20 million people who have health insurance? Are you going to just kick them off and suddenly they don’t have health insurance?” He pointed to other benefits of the law, such as slowing the growth of healthcare costs.

Obama acknowledged that the law could be repealed and replaced with something else. But what that replacement would be, he said, is key.

“My view is that if they can come up with something better, that actually works and a year or two after they’ve replaced the Affordable Care Act with their own plan, that 25 million people have health insurance and it’s cheaper and better and running smoothly, I’ll be the first one to say that’s great, congratulations,” Obama said. “If, on the other hand, whatever they’re proposing results in millions of people losing coverage and results in people who already have health insurance losing protections that were contained in the legislation, then we’re gonna have a problem,” he added.

Republicans have not yet specified the details of their replacement plan. President-elect Donald Trump told The Wall Street Journal last week that he wanted to keep the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, a decision he said came after discussing the matter with Obama at their post-election White House meeting.

But it is unclear how Republicans would make that work if they repealed other parts of the law that interlock with that provision.

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