Five things Obama wants to do before leaving office

Five things Obama wants to do before leaving office
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The political world is squarely focused on President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE’s every decision, but President Obama is poised to make some attention-worthy moves in the final weeks of his presidency. 

Largely free of political considerations, final-year presidents typically have done some surprising things in the twilight of their administrations.

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team Perdue proposes election police force in Georgia To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill MORE and George H.W. Bush raised eyebrows with controversial eleventh-hour pardons, and Jimmy Carter rushed to complete hostage negotiations with Iran. 


The top items on Obama’s wish list are all but off the table, such as a last-minute effort to force a vote on Supreme Court nominee Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandNewsom vows crackdown: Rail car looting like 'third world country' Tlaib blasts Biden judicial nominee whose firm sued environmental lawyer Oath Keeper charges renew attention on Trump orbit MORE and completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. 

But here are five other things Obama will try to accomplish before he leaves office on Jan. 20: 

Russian hacking response 

Russian hacking of U.S. political organizations has rocketed to the top of Obama’s list of concerns in the aftermath of the election. 

The issue resurfaced last week when it was revealed the CIA determined the Russians intervened in the election to help Donald Trump win the White House, and not just sow doubts about the democratic process. 

Under heavy pressure from congressional Democrats, Obama directed the intelligence community to complete a full report on Russian hacking activity tied to elections. 

The report, which could contain bombshell findings, is expected to be sent to Congress before Obama leaves office, but it remains unclear how much of it will be made public. 

Obama is also vowing to retaliate against Russia for the hacks, a move critics say is long overdue. 

Both moves could anger Trump, who has waved off allegations of Russian interference in the election as an effort to undermine his legitimacy. 

Tensions between the White House and Trump’s team over the issue are already high, and if they escalate further, it could threaten efforts to ensure a smooth transition of power. 

Commutations and pardons 

Obama is expected to issue commutations to large groups of non-violent drug offenders several more times before he leaves the White House. 

The president has already cut short the sentences of more than 1,000 federal inmates, more than the last 11 presidents combined. But he’s facing growing pressure from criminal-justice reform advocates to pick up the pace. 

They fear that Trump, who campaigned as a law-and-order candidate, will scale back or eliminate Obama’s 2014 clemency initiative designed to shorten drug sentences they see as draconian.

While Obama has been the most generous president in modern history when it comes to commutations, he has issued just 70 pardons during his seven-plus years in office. 

There has been speculation Obama could consider high-profile pardons of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning, both of whom face espionage charges. 

Obama has said a pardon for Snowden, however, is unlikely

Midnight” regulations

Federal agencies are rushing to complete a slew of last-minute rules and regulations in the final months of Obama’s presidency.

The actions represent the president’s final opportunity to cement policies on legacy issues, ranging from the environment to immigration and healthcare, even though Trump has pledged to do away with many of Obama's rules.

Just this week, the administration handed down a long-awaited regulation that bans states from defunding Planned Parenthood for political reasons. 

The Department of Homeland Security is also working to complete a rule that would make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to remain in the U.S. 

Obama could also move to protect more federal land and water, part of his push to address the causes of climate change. 

Guantánamo Bay 

Obama on his first day in office declared his intent to shutter the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, which has served as a black eye for the U.S. on the world stage. 

But years of thorny diplomatic issues and congressional opposition prevented Obama from accomplishing his goal. 

The president’s top homeland security aide, Lisa Monaco, all but ruled out an end run around Congress to close the facility, meaning that it will remain open when Obama leaves office. 

“At the end of the day, the domestic transfer restriction remains in place,” she told reporters last week at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “So until Congress lifts that, we’re not able to bring detainees here even to serve a life sentence, even to undergo prosecution to render a life sentence.”

Instead, Obama has tried to reduce the prison population by shipping inmates overseas. When he took office, 241 people were locked up at Gitmo, but just 59 remain today.

Monaco said the administration will not back off those efforts during Obama’s final month in office.

“We’re going to continue to pursue those transfers, just as many as we can before Jan. 20th,” she said.  

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians will land on Obama’s list of unfinished business, just as it did for generations of presidents before him. 

Obama took office in 2009 with high hopes for reshaping the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. 

But more than seven years later, the prospects for peace appear worse than they’ve been in at least a decade. 

Two separate U.S.-led negotiations during Obama’s tenure failed to bear fruit. The president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relationship soured over the years over issues such as Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and the Iran nuclear deal. Palestinian leadership wilted due to their own internecine power struggles. 

To break the stalemate, Obama weighed a long-shot bid to force the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. 

The moves included backing a United Nations resolution outlining a peace plan or a major address laying out his framework for a deal. 

The president has reportedly ruled out such drastic steps. But he still could address the conflict in a more limited way in a speech or policy paper.