A reflective and optimistic Barack Obama walks away from the White House after a flurry of last-minute activity.
COMPILED FROM WIRE REPORTS
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama offered a parting message of hope in his final White House news conference Wednesday, saying that although he recognizes there is evil in the world, “I think we’re going to be OK.”
“I believe that tragic things happen,” he said. But when people work hard, “the world gets a little better each time.”
Message to Dems
Many Democrats have talked in near-apocalyptic tones in recent weeks about the impending administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Obama was more measured.
“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad,” he said. “The only thing that’s the end of the world is the end of the world.”
Obama said he will speak out in the future in certain cases, especially if he sees Americans’ “core values” under assault. Short of that, however, he said he needs to be quiet for a while and “not hear myself talk so darn much.”
Kids moved on
On the way out, though, he offered up his daughters Malia and Sasha as an example to follow.
They were “disappointed” with the outcome of the election, the president said, adding that they had heeded their mother’s concerns about some of the negative things being said on the campaign trail.
But they haven’t become cynical, the president said, and they have not assumed that because their side didn’t win that America had rejected them or their values.
“And in that sense, he said, “they are representative of this generation that makes me really optimistic.”
Here’s a partial list of actions Obama took during the last few days of his presidency:
In a farewell interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Obama warned Trump about the downsides of a presidency as improvisational as his campaign.
“He clearly was able to tap into a lot of grievances. And he has a talent for making a connection with his supporters that overrode some of the traditional benchmarks of how you’d run a campaign or conduct yourself as a presidential candidate,” Obama said.
Yet while Trump’s ability to communicate with supporters “through tweets and sound bites and some headline that comes over their phone” is powerful, Obama said, it also poses a danger: “What generates a headline or stirs up a controversy and gets attention isn’t the same as the process required to actually solve the problem.”
Depends on Congress
Obama suggested that the odds of Trump’s success depended on Congress, and said that he continued to be surprised by how it limited his options.
“I will confess that I didn’t fully appreciate the ways in which individual senators or members of Congress now are pushed to the extremes by their voter bases,” said Obama, who during both of his presidential campaigns had suggested he would be able to bring the sides together.
“I’m the first to acknowledge that I did not crack the code in terms of reducing this partisan fever,” he said, citing as an example his inability to persuade the Republican Senate to hold hearings on a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Obama commuted sentences for 209 people and issued 64 pardons, with more expected to come on Thursday, after the Florida Courier’s Wednesday night press time.
The 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army private convicted of leaking thousands of classified reports to WikiLeaks, was reduced to the nearly seven years she has served.
The president also pardoned retired Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, who pleaded guilty in October to lying to FBI agents after he disclosed classified information to a reporter about a covert U.S. cyberattack that targeted Iran’s nuclear program.
Since taking office, Obama has commuted prison sentences for 1,385 people, more than any other president and more than the last 12 presidents combined, according to the White House. Most of the commutations and pardons were for inmates held for decades.
Among them was Oscar Lopez of Chicago, a member of a Puerto Rican pro-independence group sentenced to 70 years in prison for bombings and bank robberies in the 1970s and 1980s. He has served 35 years in prison.
Obama also pardoned Ian Schrager, a New York hotel operator who founded Studio 54, the late-1970s Manhattan disco club known for attracting celebrities and its lavish parties. Convicted of income tax evasion in 1980, Schrager served 20 months in prison and was released in 1981.
Obama also pardoned Willie McCovey, the Hall of Fame first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, who pleaded guilty in 1995 to tax evasion. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and a $5,000 fine in 1996.
Climate change cash
Obama pledged another $500 million to an international fund for combating climate change. The latest contribution, announced on Tuesday, brings the total U.S. investment to $1 billion, still far short of the total $3 billion Obama had pledged.
The celebration of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs winning last year’s World Series was the last public White House event of Obama’s presidency. The audience in the East Room was filled with politicians like Sen. Dick Durbin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with former Obama adviser David Axelrod and singer Jimmy Buffett, a longtime Cubs fan.
Christi Parsons, W.J. Hennigan and David S. Cloud of the Tribune Washington Bureau; Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune; and Cathleen Decker and Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times (TNS) all contributed to this report.