President Obama dispelled any notion Friday that he intends to be a lame duck president and pledged that in 2016 “I’m going to leave it all out on the field.”
“We still have some unfinished business,” an upbeat Obama said at what’s likely to be his last press conference of the year before flying off to Hawaii for a family Christmas vacation.
Obama also thanked Congress for ending the year “on a high note” by passing a$1.1 trillion spending package that prevents a government shutdown and keeps federal agencies running through next fall.
“I’m not wild about everything in it, but it is a budget that invests in our military and our middle class,” he said.
While Obama has long been at odds with the Republican-dominated Congress, he gave “kudos” to House Speaker Paul Ryan and his predecessor, John Boehner, with helping to lay the foundation of a bipartisan budget agreement.
“It was a good win,” Obama said. “That gives me some optimism that next year … we could get some work done.”
Among other things, Obama said he hopes to make progress on criminal justice reform noting that “the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans think this is the right thing to do.”
“That’s an area where we might be able to make a big difference,” he said.
Obama confirmed that — on the way to Honolulu — he will speak later with the families of victims’ of the deadly San Bernardino shooting.
Obama said the most important job is keeping the U.S. safe.
“We must remain vigilant,” he said.
He also said that he will soon present a plan to close facilities at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Obama cited the high costs of maintaining the site and its controversial reputation as reason to revisit the issue of closing the site.
“Guantanamo continues to be one of the key magnets for jihadi recruitment,” Obama said.
The Obama presidency has seen some legacy-building successes like the recent historic climate change agreement, a deal with Iran and six world powers aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program and a sweeping, multinational trade agreement.
Obama also noted that the U.S. economy has seen 69 straight months of job growth and the unemployment rate is currently at 5 percent.
His administration was also successful in legal challenges to Obamacare, made historic headway on same sex marriage issues, was able to work with Republicans to revise the nation’s education standards and re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in half a century.
However, views on his handling of terrorism and the rise of ISIS has been more mixed.
As he has in recent weeks, the president mixed in more reassurances to Americans nervous about terrorism in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris and the mass killing in San Bernardino.
The administration has reiterated that there have been no new “specific and credible” threats to the homeland and talk about the new Department of Homeland Security bulletin system designed to keep Americans in the loop about possible terror threats.
The president, who continues to take flak from Republicans about the U.S. response to ISIS, insisted that America is stepping-up its campaign against the terrorist organization. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is currently in the Mideast pressing Sunni Muslims to fight harder against the militants.
The U.S., the president said, is right to speak out on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The U.S. has maintained Assad must leave office in order to help stabilize the war-torn nation.
‘The notion that we would stand by and say nothing is contrary to who we are,” Obama said.