President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaProgressives say go big and make life hard for GOP Biden giving stiff-arm to press interviews Jill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia MORE argues in a new interview it is “liberating” that his administration’s accomplishments have started to “bear fruit.”
In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, a confident Obama said he’s looking forward to his final two years in office, when he believes he’ll be able to work with congressional Republicans.
While he rejected the idea that the midterm election losses liberated him, he repeatedly voiced confidence in the trajectory of the economy and of his presidency, arguing at one point that naysayers in Washington who believed his polices seeking to corral Russia weren’t working are now being proved wrong.
Obama tells NPR that he always saw 2014 as a breakthrough year, and that while it was a bumpy path, he believes the breakthrough is now at hand.
At the end of 2014, Obama said he could “look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically, that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before — and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we've done is now beginning to bear fruit.”
“And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn't always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier in my presidency,” he said.
Obama finished the year with a flurry of executive actions, including moves to give 4.5 million illegal immigrants legal status and open relations with Cuba. Along with a climate change agreement with China and a deal with congressional Republicans that will keep the government funded through September, the jolt of work pushed back at any sense he’s entering the lame-duck, powerless portion of his presidency that seemed ordained after brutal midterm election losses for his party.
Asked if he was shifting from things “you had to do” to things you “want to do,” Obama replied, “I think that’s fair.”
“Think about how much energy was required for us to yank ourselves out of the economic circumstances we were in when I came into office,” he added. “That was a big lift, and it took up a lot of time.”
Obama held back on the immigration executive action this summer, after Senate Democrats worried it would hurt them in the midterms asked him to wait. And the president expressed frustration with Democrats’ message in the campaign, and in the results, which saw the party lose nine Senate seats.
“I'm obviously frustrated with the results of the midterm election,” Obama said. “I think we had a great record for members of Congress to run on, and I don't think we — myself and the Democratic Party — made as good of a case as we should have.
“And, you know, as a consequence, we had really low voter turnout, and the results were bad,” he said.
Obama faulted the media for focusing too much on the short-term, particularly with Russia.
“I think one of the things I’ve learned over six years, and it doesn’t always suit the news cycle, is having some strategic patience.
He said that months ago, everyone in Washington was convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a genius and had outmaneuvered the United States in Ukraine.
Obama said his administration stuck with its policy of working with European partners to raise pressure on Moscow and that the policy is now working.
Asked if he was just lucky that a drop in global oil prices crushed Russia’s economy, Obama said Moscow’s economy was “already contracting and capital was fleeing.”
Part of his rationale, Obama said, was that steady pressure on Russia would have an effect if oil prices inevitably dropped, since the Russian economy is so reliant on oil.
Obama also made sure to tick off what he views as the successes of his signature domestic achievement, the new healthcare law that he said had expanded health coverage and lowered the growth of health costs.
He insisted it was not the midterm elections that liberated him.
“I don't think it's been liberating. Keep in mind that all these issues are ones that we've been working on for some time,” he said, mentioning Cuba and immigration specifically.
Obama argues that he is freed up by his own earlier accomplishments, like shepherding through health reform and taking measures to halt the slide of the economy, rather than a nothing-left-to-lose attitude stemming from the Republican takeover of the Senate in November.
“Healthcare, I believed, was profoundly important for the future of the country — a big lift with significant political cost — but we're now seeing that it's paid off,” the president said, citing enrollment numbers and a decline in the growth of healthcare costs.
Obama said he can now focus on other issues, including income quality.
“Now I have the ability to focus on some long-term projects, including making sure that everybody is benefiting from this growth and not just some,” he said.
Noting the December deal on the $1.1 trillion spending bill that kept the government open, the president argued there is evidence he and congressional Republicans, who are taking over the Senate next week, will be able to work together.
He also said the fact that he won’t have to face voters again could help.
“I want to get things done. I don't have another election to run,” he said.
But Obama predicted he’ll also make more use of his veto pen.
“Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that pen out,” he said. “And I'm going to defend gains that we've made in healthcare; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water.”
But Obama also sent a signal that he wants to work with congressional Republicans.
In the next two years, “my intention is going to be to make sure that I build on the great work that we've done over the last six years,” he said. “And I hope that I can bring the country together to do it.”