After a difficult year that held little accomplishments to boast about, with more "missteps" than any president would be willing to acknowledge, President Barack Obama held his year-end press conference on Friday afternoon, Dec. 20, 2013 at 2 p.m. at the White House Briefing Room just hours before he was set to leave Washington with his family for his annual holiday vacation in his native Hawaii. President Obama was mostly in denial about the bad state of his poll ratings, the lowest of his president only a year after winning reelection with a comfortable margin and above the 50 percent majority.
During the lengthy press conference that lasted nearly an hour and a half, President Obama touched on some of the most controversial topics for his presidency in his press conference, including his healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act's rollout, his poll ratings, the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs, the interim deal with Iran, and the economy, the only light spot after a difficult year. Despite the controversial topics, Obama avoided saying anything truly newsworthy that could possibly interfere with his holiday vacation.
After the disastrous rollout of his health care law and its Marketplace website, HealthCare.gov that was filled with technical errors, making it impossible to work correctly Obama admitted; "Since I'm in charge, obviously we screwed it up." With its re-launch after repairs at the beginning of the month Obama announced as a belated accomplishment; "The basic structure of that [health care law] law is working." The President also announced that over 1 million Americans have signed up for health care insurance from the exchanges.
Obama tried to downplay the problems related to the Marketplace, especially now that it is supposedly repaired; "Despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, it's working… When you try to do something this big, affecting this many people, it's going to be hard. If there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them." Just hours before his press conference, the Marketplace was down for repairs; it is still not operating probably and as it should, especially with the first deadline fast approaching to sign up by Dec. 23, for Jan. 1 insurance coverage. Still the White House is allowing for a "hardship exemption" to the individual mandate, for Americans who have had their insurance cancelled because of the law.
When asked if 2013 has been the worse year of his Presidency, Obama instead choose to avoid the issue and remain positive; "that's not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years, was running for president for two years before that… we have had ups and we have had downs." The President would rather not speak of what was wrong with 2013; instead like Scarlett O'Hara he looked towards the next year to be better; "I've also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day and we keep moving forward. When I look at the landscape for next year, what I say to myself is were poised to do really good things."
The President repeated a number of times how good the year 2014 will be as if to take off pressure from the troubles of 2013, tact he used especially when speaking of the economy; "Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs. And I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America." And "Let me repeat: I think 2014 needs to be a year of action. We've got work to do to create more good jobs, to help more Americans earn the skills and education they need to do those jobs and to make sure that those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security."
When asked by reporters about his poor poll numbers with the most recent polls released registering in as the lowest of his presidency, Obama dismissed the numbers as unimportant; "If you're measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot throughout my career … If I was interested in polling, I wouldn't have run for president. I took this job to deliver for the American people."
The President spent the whole year pushing for a sweeping agenda with "gun control, immigration and tax reform" legislation that were are left unaccomplished and far from passing as Obama would have liked. So at the press conference he refrained from listing a long agenda for the rest of his presidency and instead told the press; "at this point, my goal every single day is just to make sure that I can look back and say we're delivering something, not everything, because this is a long haul."
The best policy related news Obama was about the recovering economy, and a positive November jobs reports indicating that unemployment is falling; "The economy is stronger than what it's been a long time. Our next challenge is to make sure that everybody benefits from that, not just a few folks."
When speaking about all the his legislative priorities that did not get a chance to be passed, Obama instead did as he always has; went on the offensive and blamed the Republicans in Congress; "I look at this past year, there are areas where there have obviously been some frustrations where I wish congress had moved more aggressively. Even when congress doesn't move on things they should move on there are whole bunch of things that we're still doing."
President Obama spoke about the 16-day government shutdown this past October, attributing his usual blame to Congressional Republicans; "given the pattern that we have been going through with House Republicans for a while, we might have needed just a little bit of a bracing sort of recognition that this is not what the American people think is acceptable." And responding to the upcoming battle about the raising the debt ceiling Obama was firm; "No, we're not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued."
There was only point in the press conference that the President chose to praise the Republicans for the bipartisan budget bill that was just passed on schedule by the Republican House of Representatives and Democratic Senate through bipartisan voting; "It's probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship, but it's also fair to say that we are not condemned to endless gridlock. 2014 needs to be a year of action."
The extent of the National Security Agency surveillance program has been a major issue this past year and a point of criticism for the Obama Administration, both at home and abroad because of Edward Snowden revealing private details of the program to the press and the public. Obama tried to again alleviate the concerns about the programs to the American public; "I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around." After a report released this week that was critical of the NSA's programs, President promised to consider and delineate any possible revisions to the program in January, and reiterated; "Just because we can do something doesn't mean we necessarily should. The values that we have as Americans are the ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders."
When asked about Snowden exposing the NSA's surveillance program, the President was reluctant to speak too much, but he did conclude; "as important and as necessary as this debate has been, it is also important to keep in mind that this has done unnecessary damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy. But I will leave it up to the courts and the attorney general to weigh in publicly on the specifics of Mr. Snowden's case."
Speaking about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin's banning gay propaganda, Obama's recent decision to send openly gay athletes to head the American delegation, the President exclaimed; "I think the delegation speaks for itself. You should take that for what it's worth." Obama also clarified; "We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court, on the field and off the field. That's a value that I think is at the heart of not just America but American sports."
The President spent some time towards the end of the press conference defending the recent Geneva Interim Accord pertaining to freezing Iran's nuclear weapons program for six months; the deal has been criticized from not doing enough to dismantle Iran's nuclear program. Obama rationalized; "It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I sure would rather to it diplomatically. I'm keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that's how we should do it, and I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill, because that sure is the preference of the American people." The President believes; "We lose nothing during this negotiation period" until a permanent accord is agreed upon.
The Senate, including Democrats is considering imposing additional sanctions on Iran despite the interim deal; President Obama believes adding sanctions should wait until Iran says they are opposed to ceasing their nuclear weapons program. Obama said if that is the case; "I'll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there's no reason to do it right now."
President Obama alluded to the new year a number times in relation to resolutions and reflection, which he said he would be doing during his family trip to Hawaii; "You know, the end of the year is always a good time to reflect and see, what can you do better next year -- that's how I intend to approach it. I'm sure that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun." And on a lighter note when asked about his New Year's resolution; Obama responded in what was one of the lighter moments of the whole press conference; "My New Year's resolution is to be nicer to the White House press corps. (Laughter.) You know? Absolutely."
President Obama should consider making his New Year's resolution insulting the Republican's less and being more conciliatory and compromising with them expanding on the bipartisan spirit of the just passed budget bill, because then next year at the his year-end press conference he could rejoice that he had a productive year that also led to a more bipartisan Washington all while keeping one of his original campaign promises of "change."
President Barack Obama's Press Conference, Dec. 20, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.