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President Obama Holds Press Conference. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 14, 2016 - 16:00   ET



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I think the American people will judge over the course of the next couple of years whether they like what they see and whether these are the kinds of policies and this is the direction that they want to see the country go in.

And my role is to make sure that, when I hand off this White House, that it is in the best possible shape, and that I have been as helpful as I can to him in going forward, and building on the progress that we have made.

And my advice, as I said to the president-elect when we had our discussions, was that campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that. I think he is sincere in wanting to be a successful president and moving this country forward.

And I don't think any president ever comes in saying to himself, I want to figure out how to make people angry or alienate half the country.

I think he is going to try as best he can to make sure that he delivers, not only for the people who voted for him, but for the people at large.

And the good thing is, is that there are going to be elections coming up. So, there is a built-in incentive for him to try to do that.

But it's only been six days. And I think it will be important for him to have the room to staff up, to figure out what his priorities are and to be able to distinguish between what he was campaigning on and what is practical, what he can actually achieve.

There are certain things that make for good sound bites, but don't always translate into good policy. And that's something that he and his team, I think, will wrestle with, in the same way that every president wrestles with.

I did say to him, as I have said publicly, that, because of the nature of the campaigns and the bitterness and ferocity of the campaigns, that it's really important to try to send some signals of unity and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign.

And I think that's something that he will want to do. But this is all happening real fast. He has got commitments to supporters that helped to get him here. And he is going to have to balance those.

And over the coming weeks and months and years, my hope is, is that those impulses ultimately win out. But it's a little too early to start making judgments on that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) qualifications. Has that changed after meeting with him?

OBAMA: I think that he successfully mobilized a big chunk of the country to vote for him, and he is going to win. He has won. He's going to be the next president.

And regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up. And those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don't match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick, because reality has a way of asserting itself.

And some of his gifts that obviously allowed him to execute one of the biggest political upsets in history, those are ones that hopefully he will put to good use on behalf of all the American people.

Scott Horsley.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You are off to Europe, which is facing some populist pressures we see at work in this country. (OFF-MIKE) you talked about the choice (OFF- MIKE) facing between integration and building walls.


OBAMA: Right.

QUESTION: What choice do you think the American people made last week? And is there still a chance for what you call a course direction before Europeans make some of their choices?

OBAMA: I think the American people recognize that the world has shrunk, that it's interconnected, that you are not going to put that genie back in the bottle.

The American people recognize that their careers or their kids' careers are going to have to be more dynamic, that they might not be working at a single plant for 30 years, that they might have to change careers. They might have to get more education. They might have to retool or retrain. And I think the American people are game for that.

They want to make sure that the rules of the game are fair. And what that means is that, if you look at surveys around Americans' attitudes on trade, the majority of the American people still support trade. But they are concerned about whether or not trade is fair, and whether we have got the same access to other countries' markets as they have with us. Is there just a race to the bottom when it comes to wages and so forth? Now, I made an argument, thus far unsuccessfully, that the trade deal we organized, TPP, did exactly that, that it strengthened workers' rights, environmental rights, leveled the playing field, and, as a consequence, would be good for American workers and American businesses.

But that's a complex argument to make, when people remember plants closing and jobs being offshored. So, part of what I think this election reflected was people wanting that course correction that you described. And the message around stopping surges of immigration, not creating new trade deals that may be unfair, I think those were themes that played a prominent role in the campaign.

As we now shift to governing, my argument is that we do need to make sure that we have an orderly, lawful immigration process, but that, if it is orderly and lawful, immigration is good for our economy. It keeps this country young. It keeps it dynamic. We have entrepreneurs and strivers who come here and they're willing to take risks.

And that's part of the reason why America historically has been successful. It's part of the reason why our economy is stronger and better positioned than most of our other competitors, is because we have got a younger population that's more dynamic.

When it comes to trade, I think it will -- when you're governing, it will become increasingly apparent that, if you were to just eliminate trade deals with Mexico, for example, well, you have got a global supply chain. The parts that are allowing auto plants that were about to shut down to now employ double shifts is because they are bringing in some of those parts to assemble out of Mexico.

And so it's not as simple as it might have seemed. And the key for us -- when I say us, I mean Americans, but I think particularly for progressives -- is to say, your concerns are real, your anxieties are real. Here's how we fix them, higher minimum wage, stronger worker protections so workers have more leverage to get a bigger piece of the pie, stronger financial regulations, not weaker ones, yes to trade, but trade that ensures that these other countries that trade with us are not engaging in child labor, for example, being attentive to inequality and not tone-deaf to it, but offering prescriptions that are actually help folks in communities that feel forgotten.


That is going to be our most important strategy. And I think we can successfully do that. People will still be looking to the United States. Our example will still carry great weight.

And it continues to be my strong belief that the way we are going to make sure that everybody feels a part of this global economy is not by shutting ourselves off from each other, even if we could, but rather by working together more effectively than we have in the past.

Martha Raddatz.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. President. Given some of the harsh words you had about Mr. Trump, calling him

temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief, did anything surprise you about president-elect Trump when you met with him in your office? And, also, I want to know, does anything concern you about a Trump presidency?

OBAMA: Well, we had a very cordial conversation. And that didn't surprise me, to some degree, because I think that he is obviously a gregarious person. He's somebody who, I think, likes to mix it up and to have a vigorous debate.

And what's clear is that he was able to tap into, yes, the anxieties, but also the enthusiasm of his voters in a way that was impressive. And I said so to him, because I think that, to the extent that there were a lot of folks who missed the Trump phenomenon, I think that connection that he was able to make with his supporters that was impervious to events that might have sunk another candidate, that's powerful stuff.

I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set, hard- and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don't think he is ideological. I think, ultimately, he is pragmatic in that way.

And that can serve him well, as long as he has got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction.

Do I have concerns? Absolutely. Of course I have got concerns. He and I differ on a whole bunch of issues. But the federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat. It's an ocean liner, as I discovered when I came into office.

It took a lot of really hard work for us to make significant policy changes, even in our first two years, when we had larger majorities than Mr. Trump will enjoy when he comes into office.

And one of the things I advised him to do was to make sure that, before he commits to certain courses of action, he has really dug in and thought through how various issues play themselves out.

I will use an obvious example where we have a difference, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming year. And that's the Affordable Care Act.

Obviously, this has been the Holy Grail for Republicans over the last six, seven years, was, we got to kill Obamacare.

Now, that has been taken as an article of faith, that this is terrible, it doesn't work, and we have to undo it.

But now that Republicans are in charge, they have got to take a look and say, let's see. We have got 20 million people who have health insurance who didn't have it before. Health care costs generally have gone up at a significantly slower rate since Obamacare was passed than they did before, which has saved the federal treasury hundreds of billions of dollars. People who have health insurance are benefiting in all sorts of ways

that they may not be aware of, everything from

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got 20 million people who have health insurance who didn't have it before, health care costs generally have gone up at a significantly slower rate since Obamacare was passed than they did before, which has saved the federal treasury hundreds of billions of dollars.

[16:15:07] People who have health insurance are benefiting in all sorts of ways they may not be aware of, everything from no longer having lifetime limits on the claims that they can make to seniors getting prescription drug discounts under Medicare, to free mammograms.

Now, it's one thing to characterize this thing as not working when it's an abstraction. Now, suddenly, you're in charge and you're going to repeal it. OK, well, what happens to those 20 million who have health insurance? Are you going to kick them off and suddenly they don't have health insurance? In what ways are their lives better because of that? Are you going to repeal the provision that ensures that if you do have health insurance on your job and you lose your job or you change jobs or you start a small business that you're not discriminated against because of a preexisting condition? That's really popular. How are you going to replace it?

Are you going to change policy that kids can stay on their parents' health insurance plan until they're 26? How are you going to approach all these issues?

Now, my view is that if they can come up with something better that actually works, and a year or two after they've replaced the Affordable Care Act with their own plan that 25 million people have health insurance, and it's cheaper and better and running smoothly, I'll be the first one to say, that's great. Congratulations. If, on the other hand, whatever they're proposing results in millions of people losing coverage and results in people who already have health insurance losing protections that were contained in the legislation, then we're going to have problem. And I think that's going to be unique to me, I think the American people will respond that way.

So, I think on a lot of issues, what you're going to see is now comes the hard part. Now is governance. We are going to be able to present to the incoming administration a country that is stronger, a federal government that is working better and more efficiently, a national security apparatus that is both more effective and truer to our values. Energy policies that are resulting in not just less pollution but also more jobs, and I think the president-elect rightly would expect that he's judged on whether we improve on that baseline and on those metrics or things get worse.

And if things get worse, then the American people will figure that out pretty quick. And if things get better, then more power to him. And I'll be the first to congratulate him. REPORTER: Mr. President, you had talked specifically about his

temperament. Do you still have any concerns about his temper?

OBAMA: As I said because Athena asked the question, whatever you bring to this office, this office has a habit of magnifying and pointing out, and hopefully then you correct for it. They seem like a silly example, but I know myself well enough to know I can't keep track of paper. I am not well-organized in that way.

And so, pretty quickly, after I'm getting stacks of briefing books coming in every night, I say to myself, I've got to figure out a system because I have bad filing, sorting and organizing habits. And I've got to find some people who can help me keep track of this stuff. Now, that seems trivial, but actually, it ends up being a pretty big piece of business.

I think what will happen with the president-elect is they're going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well, unless he recognizes them and corrects them, because when you're a candidate and you say something that is inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you're president of the United States.

[16:20:18] Everybody around the world is paying attention. Markets move. National security issues require a level of precision in order to make sure that you don't make mistakes. I think he recognizes that this is different. And so did the American people.

All right. I'm going to take just a couple more questions then I get out of here.

Nadia Lobati (ph)?

REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President.

President-elect Trump threatened to unravel the Iran nuclear deal, which your administration worked very hard to achieve. What are your concerns if he altered parts of it? And what would you advice he, considering that he's open to advice?

And on Syria, sir, the Syrian regime now is threatening Aleppo with massive explosions. You talked passionately a few years back about Benghazi and you warned against the killing of civilians there. Many people criticized your administration for the (INAUDIBLE) Syria policy.

Are you willing to let Aleppo fall under your watch? And how do you react (ph) to President-elect Trump's statement he won't support the Syrian opposition? Thank you.

OBAMA: Iran is a good example of the gap I think between some of the rhetoric in this town -- not unique to the president-elect -- and the reality.

I think there was a really robust debate about the merits of the Iran deal before it was completed. I actually was pretty proud of how our democracy processed that. It was a serious debate. I think people of goodwill were on both sides of the issue. Ultimately, we were able to persuade members of Congress, and the public, at least enough of them to support it.

At the time, the main argument against it was Iran wouldn't abide by the deal. That they would cheat. We now have over a year of evidence, that they have abided by the agreement. It's not just my opinion. It's not just people in my administration. That's the opinion of Israeli, military and intelligence officers who are part of the government that vehemently opposed the deal.

So, my suspicion is that when the president-elect comes in and he's consulting with his Republican colleagues on the Hill, that they will look at the facts, because to unravel a deal that's working and preventing Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon would be hard to explain, particularly if the alternative were to have them freed from any obligations and go ahead and pursue a weapon.

And keep in mind, this is not just an international agreement between us and the Iranians, this is between the P5-plus-one, other countries. Some are closest allies. And for us to pull out would then require us to start sanctioning those other countries in Europe, or China or Russia that were still abiding by the deal, because from their perspective, Iran had done what it was supposed to do.

So, it becomes more difficult, I think, to undo something that's working than undo something that it isn't working. And when you're not responsible for it, I think you can call it a terrible deal. When you are responsible for the deal and preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, you are more likely to look at the facts. That is going to be true in other circumstances.

For example, the Paris agreement. There's been a lot of talk about possibility of undoing this international agreement. Now, you got 200 countries that have signed up for this thing. And the good news is that what we've been able to show over the last -- five, six, eight years is that it's possible to grow the economy really fast and possible to bring down carbon emissions as well.

[16:25:17] It's not just a bunch of rules that we set up, you've got utilities that are putting in solar panels and creating jobs. You've got the big three automakers who are seeing record sales and are overachieving on the fuel efficiency standards that we set.

It turns out that people like not having to fill up as often and save money at the pump, even if it's good for the environment. You've got states like California that have been moving forward on clean energy agenda, separate and apart from any federal regulations that have been put forward. In fact, 40 percent of the country already lives under -- in states that are actively pursuing what's embodied in the Paris agreement and the clean power plant rule. And even in states like Texas that politically tend to oppose me, you've seen huge increases in wind power and solar power.

And you've got some of the country's biggest companies like Google and Walmart all pursuing energy efficiency because it's good for their bottom line. So, what we've been able to do is to embed, a lot of these practices into how our economy works and it's made our economy more efficient, it's helped the bottom line of folks and it's cleaned up the environment.

What the Paris agreement now does is say that China and India and other countries that are potentially polluting, come on board, let's work together so you guys do the same thing. And the biggest threat when it comes to climate change and pollution isn't going to come from us because we only have 300 million people. It's going to come from China with over a billion people, in India with over a billion people. And if they are pursuing the same kind of strategies that we did before we became more aware of the environment, then our kids will be choked off.

And so, again, do I think that this new administration will make some changes? Absolutely.

But these international arguments, the tradition has been that you carry them forward across administrations, particularly if once you actually examine them, it turns out that they're doing good for us and binding other countries in the behavior that will help us. All right?

Last question. Justin Sink (ph), I'm sorry, you are right about that.

With respect to Syria, in Benghazi, we had an international mandate. We had U.N. Security Resolution. We had a broad based coalition and we were able to carry out a support mission that achieved the initial goal of preventing Benghazi from being slaughtered fairly quickly.

It's no secret. You know this region well, that Syria is a much more messy situation, with proxies coming from every direction. And so, I wish that I could bring this to a halt immediately. We have made every effort to try to bring about a political resolution to this challenge. John Kerry has spent an infinite amount of time trying to negotiate with Russians and Iranians and Gulf States and other parties to try to end the killing there.

But if what you're asking is, do we have the capacity to carry out the same kinds of military actions in Syria that we did in Libya, the situation is obviously different. We don't have that option easily available to us. And so, we're going to have to continue to try to pursue as best we can a political solution, and in the interim, put as much pressure as we can to the parties to arrive at humanitarian safe spaces and ceasefires that at least alleviate the suffering that's on the ground. I recognize that that has not worked and it is something that I continue to think about everybody.