In the final news conference of his presidency, Barack Obama stressed the need for the U.S. to continue in protecting people’s rights and the right to freedom of the press.
He said it’s in America’s best interest to have a “constructive relationship with Russia,” but acknowledged that the countries’ relationship grew more difficult after Vladimir Putin became president again. In light of President-elect Donald Trump’s comment that he might end sanctions on the country if its scales back its nuclear stockpiles, Obama stressed the real impetus for sanctions on Russia: its encroachment on Ukrainian territory and affairs.
“This is an example of the vital role that America has to continue to play around the world in protecting norms and values, advocating on behalf of human rights, advocating on behalf of women’s rights, advocating on behalf of freedom of the press,” he said.
Obama declined to go into detail regarding his conversations with Trump as part of the transition effort.
“I will say, they are cordial. At times, they have been fairly lengthy, and they’ve been substantive,” he said.
Obama said he has offered Trump his best advice regarding foreign and domestic issues, but does not “expect there will be enormous overlap” between their two visions.
“I think a lot of his views will be shaped by his advisors, the people around him, which is why it’s important to pay attention to these confirmation hearings,” he said.
Obama defended his decision to commute the sentence of convicted leaker Chelsea Manning, saying the former Army intelligence analyst had served a “tough prison sentence” already.
Obama said he worries about inequality.
“[I] think that, if we are not investing in making sure everybody plays a role in this economy, the economy will not grow as fast, and i think it will also lead to further and further separation between us as Americans — not just along racial lines,” he said.
“There are a whole bunch of folks who voted for the president-elect because they feel forgotten and disenfranchised,” he added.
The news conference’s final question centered around how the Obamas spoke to their daughters about the meaning of the election’s outcome.
“They were disappointed,” he said. “They paid attention to what their mom said during the campaign and believed it.”
But still, Obama said they realize that democracy is “messy and it doesn’t always” work the way individual people might want.
Obama reiterated that he believes in the country and believes in the American people as he hands the baton to a new president.
“In my core I think we’re going to be OK. We just have to fight for it and work for it, and I think you’re going to help us do it,” he said to the press corp.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.