President Obama enters closing stretch of presidency
Josh Lederman, Associated Press | 1/2/2017, 12:37 p.m.
HONOLULU (AP) — His last presidential vacation behind him, Barack Obama is entering the closing stretch of his presidency, an eleventh-hour push to tie up loose ends and put finishing touches on his legacy before handing the reins to President-elect Donald Trump.
Obama returns to Washington midday Monday from Hawaii with just two-and-a-half weeks left. His final days will largely be consumed by a bid to protect his endangered health care law, a major farewell speech and the ongoing handover of power to Trump.
In an email to supporters on Monday, Obama said he’ll deliver a valedictory speech on Jan. 10, following a tradition set in 1796 when the first president, George Washington, spoke to the American people for the last time in office. The speech will take place at McCormick Place, a giant convention center in Obama’s hometown of Chicago.
“I’m thinking about them as a chance to say thank you for this amazing journey, to celebrate the ways you’ve changed this country for the better these past eight years, and to offer some thoughts on where we all go from here,” Obama said.
Obama’s chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, traveled with Obama to Hawaii and spent much of the trip working on the speech. The Chicago trip will likely be Obama’s last outside Washington as president and will be include a “family reunion” for Obama’s former campaign staffers.
Obama is also planning last-minute commutations and pardons, White House officials said, in line with his second-term effort to cut sentences for inmates given unduly harsh sentences for drug crimes. Though prominent offenders like Edward Snowden and Rod Blagojevich are also asking for leniency, Obama’s final acts of clemency are expected to remain focused on drug offenders whose plight Obama tried but failed to address through criminal justice reform.
After taking office eight years ago, Obama and his aides were effusive in their praise for how Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, helped his team take over the massive federal bureaucracy. Obama has vowed to pass on the favor to Trump. But the transition hasn’t been without incident.
The two teams have clashed over the Trump team’s requests for information Obama aides fear could be used to eliminate government employees who worked on Obama priorities like climate change and minority rights overseas. Trump’s team, meanwhile, has been frustrated by Obama’s attempts to box Trump in with parting moves to block ocean drilling, declare new monuments and further empty out the Guantanamo Bay prison.
While on his annual vacation in Oahu, Obama asserted himself forcefully on two foreign policy issues that put him in direct conflict with Trump. Obama directed the U.S. to defy tradition by allowing a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Israel on settlements to pass, then slapped Russia with sweeping penalties over U.S. allegations of hacking.
The final days are Obama’s last chance to define his presidency before his loses the bully pulpit and cedes his legacy to historians. For Obama, helping Americans understand how his two terms have reshaped American life is even more critical amid concerns that Trump may undo much of what he accomplished, including the health law.