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Obama offers laments and optimism at last presser

Obama offers laments and optimism at last presser
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President Obama sought to reassure supporters that the nation — and perhaps his own legacy — will survive Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE's presidency at a press conference less than 48 hours before he leaves the White House.

Reflecting on Trump’s triumph, which for Obama was an unexpected and unwelcome end to his presidency, the president exuded his trademark optimism even as he conceded that “it doesn't always work exactly the way you might want.”

“Sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does, but at my core, I think we're going to be OK,” he told reporters at the White House during his final news conference as president. 

“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad,” he continued. “This is not just a matter of, ‘no drama Obama.’ This is what I really believe.”

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Unlike past presidents’ final news conferences, Obama was not asked to reflect on his mistakes. But he did defend some of the controversial actions taken during his final weeks in office while heaping praise on a press corps with which he often clashed during the course of his presidency. 

“You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics,” the president told members of the media. “Having you in this building has made this place work better. It keeps us honest.”

At the end of his 58-minute news conference, the president wished the press corps “good luck,” tapping on the lectern twice for effect before walking away. 

Obama’s kind words for the media were part of a long list of advice and warnings offered to his successor, who has pledged to make drastic changes when he enters the White House on Friday. 

It reflects Obama’s concern about restrictions Trump has placed on the media covering him throughout the campaign and transition, and what that could mean for the next administration. 

Obama spoke in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room after Trump aides suggested they might move press events to larger spaces outside the West Wing to accommodate more reporters, a proposal the president-elect on Wednesday appeared to walk back.

The first reporter Obama called on was Reuters’s Jeff Mason, the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, who has held extensive conversations with Trump’s team about press access.

The press conference also included Obama’s thoughts on his own recent actions, some of which have courted controversy.

He explained his decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who was serving 35 years in prison for leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks. 

Obama said “justice has been served” to Manning after the seven years she has spent behind bars. 

Republican lawmakers have panned the decision, while a number of Democrats have expressed disappointment.

Turning to Trump, Obama used a question about the president-elect's pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to offer a broader lesson about unintended consequences. 

“We're the biggest kid on the block,” Obama said. “If you're going to make big shifts in policy, just make sure you've thought it through … You want to be intentional about it. You don't want to do things off the cuff when it comes to an issue this volatile.”

Obama also warned that if his supporters’ worst-case scenarios play out under Trump — including “systematic discrimination,” crackdowns on free speech and mass deportations of young undocumented immigrants — he might break with longstanding protocol and directly criticize his successor. 

But the president also conceded Trump is likely to make major changes to foreign and domestic policy. 

The president-elect has pledged to repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law, roll back his efforts to combat climate change and take a more hawkish stance on trade. 

“I don't expect that there's going to be, you know, enormous overlap,” the president said, while expressing hope he might reconsider some of his stances.

“I don't think we'll know until he has an actual chance to get sworn in and sit behind that desk,” Obama said. 

Obama faced few, if any, pointed or confrontational questions from reporters. He grew angry only once when speaking about racial discrimination and voting rights, dismissing claims of widespread voter fraud as “fake news.” 

Those types of issues are expected to animate Obama’s post-presidency, which could be a quite active one. 

The president, who will only be 55 when he leaves office, has announced plans to open a presidential center in Chicago and continue his work with young men of color, environmental issues and advising the Democratic Party.  

But for now, Obama appeared to be content to jet off to the warmer climes of Palm Springs, Calif., with his wife Michelle, then settle into their rental home in Washington with their two teenage daughters. 

“I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much,” the president said.