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Obama Holds Final News Conference Before Leaving Office


The White House press room was standing room only this afternoon. President Obama took questions from reporters one last time before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in on Friday. Obama says he's been offering advice to the incoming president, but he acknowledged Trump is likely to pursue a very different agenda. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Hi, Scott.


MCEVERS: Scott, Obama continues to exercise his own presidential power while he still has it, including his move this week to shorten the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning. She's the former intelligence analyst who gave reams of classified information to WikiLeaks. And Obama has been criticized for that. What did he say today?

HORSLEY: Yeah, Obama did not downplay the seriousness of Manning's crime which critics say put American lives at risk. What the president does say is that Manning took responsibility for that crime and was punished in a way that sends a significant signal to other would-be leakers.

Obama says the original sentence Manning was given was disproportionate - 35 years. And even though he shortened that sentence, Obama notes Manning will still have served about seven years by the time she's released in May.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let's be clear. Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence.

HORSLEY: Manning's one of more than 200 prisoners whose sentences Obama commuted this week. And the White House says we could see more grants of clemency before Obama leaves office on Friday.

MCEVERS: President Obama says his conversations with President-elect Donald Trump have been cordial and sometimes lengthy. Trump has promised to reverse much of what Obama has tried to do over the last eight years. So what are they talking about?

HORSLEY: Obama says he hopes the incoming president will see some issues differently once he's actually sitting in the Oval Office. But he doesn't have any real illusions that Trump, who campaigned as the anti-Obama, is suddenly going to do a 180. Obama says by necessity, a lot of Trump's views are going to be shaped by the people he surrounds himself with.


OBAMA: Which is why it's important to pay attention to these confirmation hearings. I can tell you that - and this is something I have told him - that this is a job of such magnitude that you can't do it by yourself.

MCEVERS: After the inauguration on Friday, Obama and his family are going to fly off to California for a vacation. What's next for him after that?

HORSLEY: Obama said he still plans to be an active citizen and that he will speak out if he sees what he calls core values being challenged. He gave the example of rounding up immigrants who are brought to the country illegally as children.

But the outgoing president also seemed to pour cold water on the idea that he's going to be deeply involved in kind of everyday policy debates in the next few months. Obama says he wants to spend time with his family, do some writing and be quiet for a bit and not hear himself talk so much.

MCEVERS: Obama ended his final press conference today with the same kind of hopeful, optimistic message that he brought into the White House eight years ago even though Donald Trump is not the successor he would have chosen. What's he saying about that?

HORSLEY: Yeah, the president was asked in particular how he and the first lady had been talking to their daughters about the election after Mrs. Obama was so outspoken about Donald Trump and some of his conduct towards women. The president said Sasha and Malia are disappointed by the election results, but they're also resilient. And he seemed to be recommending that quality to his fellow Democrats, saying the thing he's proudest about of his daughters is that they don't get cynical.


OBAMA: I think they could not help but be patriotic, to love this country deeply, to see that it's flawed but see that they have responsibilities to fix it.

HORSLEY: And as he got set to leave the press room for the last time, Obama said, at my core, I think we're going to be OK.

MCEVERS: NPR's Scott Horsley, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.