Obama talks up 'pragmatic' Trump

Obama talks up 'pragmatic' Trump
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President Obama on Monday went out of his way to praise Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE, calling him a “gregarious” and “pragmatic” man as he sought to reassure people around the globe who are fearful of the coming transition in power.

Holding his first press conference since the election, Obama chose his words with extreme care, declining multiple times to say whether he still thinks Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be commander in chief.

“I don’t think he is ideological,” Obama said. “I think ultimately he’s pragmatic, in that way. And that can serve him well.”


The president’s glass-half-full view of Trump is a stark change from the campaign, when he described the businessman as an erratic figure who couldn’t be trusted with the country’s nuclear codes.

Obama expressed hope, however faint, that the Republican would not be able to roll back many of his signature White House achievements.

While Trump might be riding high after his triumph over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump asks Biden to give Putin his 'warmest regards' Huma Abedin announces book deal Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records MORE, Obama said the office of president “has a way of waking you up” and that some of the things he promised to his supporters “don’t match up with reality.”

“Do I have concerns? Absolutely,” Obama said. “But the federal government and our democracy is not a speed boat. It’s an ocean liner.”

During the presidential race, Trump promised to erase Obama’s executive actions on “Day 1,” quickly repeal ObamaCare and then “renegotiate” the Iran nuclear accord.

The president suggested some of those things are easier said than done, and cautioned that repealing ObamaCare, in particular, could carry a heavy political cost.

“OK, well, what happens to those 20 million people who have health insurance?” Obama asked. “Are you going to just kick them off and suddenly they don’t have health insurance?”

The press conference was Obama’s first extended public comments since meeting with Trump for roughly 90 minutes in the Oval Office last week. It provided an opportunity for Obama to subtly exert pressure on his successor, while seeking to calm the turmoil that has swept through the country since the election.

It also came just hours before he embarked on his final foreign trip as president, where Trump’s victory will likely be the dominant topic among world leaders.

Obama said he would be able to reassure jittery European allies about the president-elect’s “commitment to NATO,” even though the businessman repeatedly questioned the value of the transatlantic alliance during the campaign. 

“There is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world,” the president said. “That will continue.”

Obama adopted a measured tone during the press conference, which lasted more than an hour. He consistently referred to Trump, a man he once described as a “carnival barker,” as the president-elect.

He pointedly declined to comment on Trump’s choice of Stephen Bannon for chief strategist and senior counselor. While Democrats have decried Bannon, a former executive at Breitbart News, for his ties to the “alt-right” movement and white nationalism, Obama said he would not get into the habit of commenting on Trump’s appointments.

“It will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies,” Obama said of Trump, while also saying it’s important for the president-elect “to try to send some signals of unity and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign.”

And while Obama had mocked the notion of Trump’s populist appeal during the campaign, he credited him Monday with an “impressive” ability to energize supporters.

“He successfully mobilized a big chunk of the country to vote for him and he’s going to win,” the president said. “He has won. He’s going to be the next president.”

Asked about the future of the Democratic Party, which now holds little power at the state or federal level, Obama called for reflection from top leaders and a renewed focus on being competitive in every part of the country.

The comments were a subtle dig at Clinton’s campaign, which has been faulted for not competing hard enough in traditionally blue states in the Rust Belt that Trump won, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. 

“We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere,” Obama said. 

He offered up his own campaign as a model of success, saying he was able to win twice in predominantly white Iowa — a state Clinton lost — because he spent a lot of time talking to voters there. 

“Things change pretty rapidly but they don’t change inevitably,” the president said. “They change because you work for it. Nobody said democracy’s supposed to be easy. It’s hard.”