Friday 19 January 2018

Obama: I'll speak out on Trump to defend US ideals

Barack Obama gestures as he answers questions during his final news conference on foreign soil as US president, in Lima, Peru (AP)
Barack Obama gestures as he answers questions during his final news conference on foreign soil as US president, in Lima, Peru (AP)

US president Barack Obama has said he does not intend to become his successor's constant critic - but reserved the right to speak out if Donald Trump or his policies breach certain "values or ideals".

Mr Obama suggested that once he is out of office he would uphold the tradition of ex-presidents stepping aside quietly to allow their successors space to govern.

He heaped praise on former president George W Bush, saying he "could not have been more gracious to me when I came in" and said he wanted to give Mr Trump the same chance to pursue his agenda "without somebody popping off" at every turn.

But Mr Obama suggested there may be limits to his silence.

He said: "As an American citizen who cares deeply about our country, if there are issues that have less to do with the specifics of some legislative proposal or battle or go to core questions about our values and ideals, and if I think that it's necessary or helpful for me to defend those ideals, I'll examine it when it comes."

The president spoke out throughout the election campaign against Mr Trump's calls for banning Muslim immigrants, deporting millions of people living in the US illegally, reinstituting waterboarding, repealing "Obamacare" and cancelling the Paris climate deal.

Those policy proposals and others like them have stoked fears for many Americans who oppose Mr Trump and are hoping that vehement opposition from Barack Obama and other Democrats might prevent the president-elect from implementing them.

Yet Mr Obama suggested that while he might not always hold his tongue, his goal was not to spend his time publicly disparaging the next president.

"My intention is to, certainly for the next two months, just finish my job," Mr Obama said.

"And then after that, to take Michelle on vacation, get some rest, spend time with my girls, and do some writing, do some thinking."

His remarks at a news conference in Lima offered some of his most specific indications to date of how he feels Democrats and Trump opponents should handle the next four years.

Asked whether Democrats in the Senate should follow Republicans' example of refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nominee, Mr Obama said they should not.

"You give them a hearing," said Mr Obama, whose own Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, has lingered for more than half a year due to the Republicans' insistence that no Obama nominee should be considered.

Mr Obama said he certainly did not want Democrats to adopt that tactic spearheaded this year by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"That's not why the American people send us to Washington, to play those games," the president said.

Mr Obama's remarks came as he concluded his final world tour as president, marking the last time he would take questions on foreign soil, a staple of his overseas trips that his administration has seen as an important symbol of America's commitment to a rigorous free press.

Mr Obama said he had avoided ethical scandals by trying to follow the spirit, not just the letter, of the law, and suggested Mr Trump would be wise to follow his example about conflicts of interest.

Though he declined to explicitly offer advice, Mr Obama said he had been served well by selling his assets and investing them in Treasury bills.

"It simplified my life," Mr Obama said.

"I did not have to worry about the complexities of whether a decision that I made might even inadvertently benefit me."

Some critics have criticised Mr Trump's decision not to liquidate his sprawling business interests, but put them in a blind trust entrusted to his children, who are playing major roles in helping him form his administration and are expected to remain involved in one capacity or another.

On his final day in Peru, Obama chatted briefly with Russian president Vladimir Putin about Ukraine and the Syria crisis. The four-minute conversation, likely the leaders' last face-to-face interaction, came amid intense speculation and concern about whether Mr Trump's election might herald a more conciliatory US approach to Russia

Mr Putin, speaking later in Lima, said he and Mr Obama had noted that while their working relationship had been difficult, they'd "always respected each other's positions - and each other".

"I thanked him for the years of joint work, and said that at any time, if he considers it possible and will have the need and desire, we will be happy to see him in Russia," Mr Putin said later.


Press Association

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