President Obama on Friday sought to cool rising tensions with President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE over allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
Obama expressed hope that Trump would show greater concern about the hacking allegations against Moscow, saying it “shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
But the president avoided strident criticism of his one-time political rival during his end-of-year news conference.
He downplayed the growing rift between the White House and the Trump team over the hacks and pledged his continued cooperation with the president-elect’s transition team.
“There are still feelings that are raw out there,” the president admitted.
But he voiced confidence that Trump and his team will have a change in perspective once he takes the oath of office, saying “there is a sobering process when you walk into the Oval Office.”
Obama described his post-election conversations with Trump as “cordial,” adding that he has “made some pretty specific suggestions about how to ensure that regardless of our obvious deep disagreements about policy, maybe I can transmit some thoughts about maintaining the effectiveness, integrity, cohesion of the office, our various democratic institutions.”
“He has listened,” Obama said.
The president’s tone stood in contrast to the squabbling between his aides and Trump that broke out this week over bombshell U.S. intelligence assessments claiming Russia hacked Democratic Party groups in part to help the Republican win.
Trump and his allies have dismissed those allegations, calling them an effort to delegitimize his victory on Election Day.
Those comments sparked the ire of White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who publicly scuffled with senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on the airwaves this week over whether the president-elect is taking the accusations seriously.
Trump weighed in himself during a Thursday night rally in Hershey, Pa., calling Earnest a “foolish guy” who muddies the president’s message.
The fact Obama did not take a similar approach shows he wants to keep open his line of communication with Trump. But it could disappoint liberal supporters of the president and Democrats who want a more forceful response from Obama.
The president has repeatedly indicated he believes he can influence the direction of Trump’s presidency, a last-ditch bid to preserve accomplishments his successor has pledged to erase.
After their 90-minute meeting last month in the Oval Office, Obama described Trump as a “pragmatic” guy who is still learning the ropes. The president’s assessment one month later remained largely unchanged.
“He still has campaign spokespersons sort of filling in and appearing on cable shows,” Obama said. “And there is just a whole different attitude and vibe when you're not in power as when you are in power.”
He’s also voiced a commitment to living up to the example George W. Bush set in a smooth handoff to the next administration.
Hours before Obama took questions from reporters, chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — House lawmakers eye military pay raise next year VA secretary pledges to house hundreds of homeless veterans in LA by end of year Expats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines MORE hosted Trump’s top-aide-to-be Reince Priebus and ten of their predecessors for lunch at the White House.
At times, Obama did criticize Trump. He suggested his call to Taiwan’s president was an ill-conceived move.
He also took a whack at Trump’s GOP supporters for what he described as a partisan reaction to the hacks, pointing to a poll that shows 37 percent of Republicans approve of Putin.
“Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave,” Obama said.
Some Democrats have complained that Obama should have been more vocal in calling out Russian President Vladimir Putin before the election, arguing his silence helped allow the Russians to successfully aid Trump.
Obama bristled at that criticism, saying that his private plea to Putin in September to “cut it out” eventually stopped Russian tampering. But he stopped short of directly blaming Putin for orchestrating the hacks.
“In this hyper-partisan environment that we've been in, everything is suspect, everything you do one way or the other,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that everybody understood we were playing this thing straight.”
Instead, Obama found common cause with Trump by blaming the press.
The president grew visibly irritated when commenting on the media’s coverage of hacked documented from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe real reason Biden is going to the COP26 climate summit Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 MORE’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
“You guys wrote about it every day, every single leak about every little juicy tidbit of political gossip, including John Podesta's risotto recipe,” he said. “This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.”
Obama batted away criticism that he failed to build the Democratic Party. He acknowledged the party’s difficulties in midterms and at the state and local level, but held up his career as a model for the party going forward.
“I could not be prouder of the coalition that I put together,” he said.
He also struggled to explain his Syria policy amid reports government forces are on the cusp of capturing rebel-held areas of Aleppo, which has worsened a massive humanitarian crisis there.
Answering a pointed question on Syria, Obama was briefly interrupted when a journalist fainted inside the hot, crowded James Brady Press Briefing Room. The reporter eventually regained consciousness and was taken out of the room to receive medical assistance.
After being repeatedly on how much culpability he shares for his administration’s failures, Obama turned from being defensive to reflective.
“I am responsible for where we've screwed up,” he said. “The successes are widely shared with all of the amazing people who have been part of this administration.”
This story was updated at 5:46 p.m.