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The president noted optimistically that by averting a funding crisis for the next nine months, Congress had cleared a path for cooperation with him next year on areas of common ground. He pointed to a potential criminal justice overhaul and congressional consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact as areas ripe for cooperation.
“Congress and I have a long runway to get some things done for the American people,” he said.
Obama took questions as he closed out a turbulent year marked by successes on restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, clinching a nuclear deal with Iran and finalizing an unprecedented global climate treaty. Those successes have been tempered by a lack of progress on the president’s other priorities, like closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Obama said he’d present a long-delayed plan to close the prison to Congress early next year, then wait for lawmakers’ reaction before determining whether to take action on his own to shut it. He predicted the prison population would dwindle by early next year to less than 100, a threshold his administration has been pushing for to bolster its argument that keeping the facility open isn’t cost effective.
Amid widespread fears about terrorism and extremists, Obama pushed back against critics questioning his strategy for overcoming the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. “There’s only so much bombing you can do,” he said, though he insisted anew, “We’re going to defeat ISIS.”
He also affirmed his longstanding position that Syrian President Bashar Assad must leave power for Syria to resolve its civil war, even though his administration has recently said it could accept an unspecified transition period during which Assad stayed.
Still, Obama contended about Syria, “Five years later, I was right.”
The end of 2015 marks a major transition point for the president, who has one year left to try to finish as many of his projects as possible. He won’t be rolling out sweeping new policy proposals that would be unlikely to get serious consideration amid the focus on electing his successor. The White House is promising Obama will deliver a “non-traditional” State of the Union address in January laying out an agenda that includes further executive steps on climate change and gun control.
Obama plans to return to the White House in early January to begin a final year in office that will be increasingly overshadowed by the 2016 presidential campaign. Predicting success for his party, Obama said he was confident Democrats would nominate a strong candidate to replace him.
“I think I will have a Democratic successor,” Obama said. “And I will campaign very hard to make that happen.”
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