In his final news conference in office, President Barack Obama looked to deliver two big messages: one to President-elect Donald Trump, and another to the American public.
As some of Trump’s picks to lead key agencies were testifying on Capitol Hill, Obama told Trump, “You can’t do it by yourself” — stressing the importance of relying on his advisers.
And to the American public, and perhaps those who are wary of the incoming Republican president, he had another message.
“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe people are more good than bad,” the Illinois Democrat said. “At my core, I think we’re going to be okay.”
Obama also touched on a number of other subjects during the briefing, including:
The Chelsea Manning sentence commutation
Republicans on the Hill, and even some Democrats, have said Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of leaking thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, could encourage others to do the same.
Obama dismissed that argument, noting that at the time of her release on May 17, Manning will have already spent seven years in confinement.
“The notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing valuable classified information would think that it goes unpunished, I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served,” he said.
“Folks who may have legitimate concerns,” Obama said, should “try to work through the established channel” for whistleblowers.
His position on Israel
Obama reiterated Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks on Israel, which he delivered after his administration abstained from a vote condemning Israeli settlement expansion. The president said the growth of the settlements is “creating a reality on the ground” that is increasingly making the two-state solution with Palestine “impossible.”
He also said he disagreed with the posture of Trump’s pick to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who has voiced hostility toward a two-state solution.
On when he’ll speak up during a Trump presidency
Obama said he does not expect either himself, first lady Michelle Obama or even his daughters to enter elected office in the future. In fact, he pledged to be quiet for a while as the new president settles into office.
But, he said he would speak up in the face of “discrimination,” alluding to challenges to voter rights and attempts from the government to silence dissent from the public. In that vein, he also endorsed members of the press being “in this building,” the White House, a reference to a New York Times report on the Trump transition team’s consideration of moving news organizations’ workspace outside of the building.
On voter fraud claims
To the point of discrimination, Obama was most forceful on Wednesday when talking about voting rights. He said the U.S. has an “ugly history” of voter discrimination and intimidation that “traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.”
Trump repeatedly pushed theories of voter fraud, such as cases people casting multiple ballots or impersonating another voter, in 2016, “is something that has been constantly disproved,” Obama said. “This is fake news.”