The President reiterated that his main goal in the remaining two months of his presidency is to ensure a seamless transfer of power.
“As I discussed with the President-elect on Thursday, my team stands ready to accelerate in the next steps to ensure a smooth transition. It’s not something that the Constitution explicitly requires, but it is one of those norms that is vital to a functioning democracy,” Obama said. “When we turn over the keys, the car is in pretty good shape.”
“My hope is he makes things better. And if he does, we’ll all benefit from it,” he later added.
The corp repeatedly asked the President about whether he thought Trump was qualified for the role and had the right temperament. Obama said he emphasized to Trump that governing was different than campaigning.
“[Trump] recognizes that and is sincere in being a successful president and moving forward,” Obama explained. “I think he’s going to try as best he can to make sure he delivers not only to the people who voted for, him but for the people at large.”
Although Obama did not explicitly mention the protests that followed Trump’s victory, he recommended the President-elect bridge the divide in the electorate.
“It’s really important 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,” he said. “And I think that’s something he will want to do, but this is all happening real fast. He has commitments to supporters who helped get him here and he’ll have to balance those.”
“He successfully mobilized a big chunk of the country to vote for him and he won. Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up,” Obama added. “Those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick. Reality has a way of asserting itself. And some of his gifts that allowed him to execute one of the biggest political upsets in history, he’ll have to put those to use for America.”
Obama said Trump was “committed to NATO” and open to some aspects of Obamacare, two programs that Trump had previously said he would eliminate. “I don’t think he is ideological. I think he is pragmatic,” Obama said of Trump’s turnaround. “That can serve him well, as long as he has good people around him.”
As for Trump’s temperament, the President had this to say:
“There’s going to be certain elements of his temperament that will not serve him well unless he recognizes them and corrects them,” Obama said. When you’re a candidate and you say something inaccurate or controversial, it has less impact than it does when you’re President of the United States. Everyone around the world is paying attention, markets move, national security issues require a level of precision in order to make sure you don’t make mistakes.”
One of those controversial positions is Trump’s stance on undocumented immigrants. The President-elect reiterated that he would deport 2-3 million immigrants, starting with those with criminal records. But what about the undocumented immigrants who provided their information to the government as part of the DACA program (which allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children to be exempt from deportation), one reporter asked? Would Obama shield their information from the next administration?
“I will urge the President-elect and the incoming administration to think long and hard before they are endangering the status of American kids,” Obama said solemnly. “These are kids who are brought here by their parents. They have done nothing wrong, they’ve pledged allegiance to the flag, some of them have joined the military. It is my strong belief that the majority of Americans would not want to see those kids hiding again.”
The only question that Obama dodged was Trump’s appointment of right-wing conservative Stephen Bannon as his senior advisor.
“It would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment that the President-elect starts making,” Obama said.
Throughout the press conference, Obama emphasized that the American people would ultimately be the judge of whether or not Trump’s presidency was a success. As for his own party, which suffered a debilitating loss, Obama had this advice:
“When you team loses, everyone gets deflated, it’s hard, challenging,” he said. “I think it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection. We need to see new voices and new ideas emerge, which is why term limits are a useful thing.”