The president held the final press conference of his first term on Monday afternoon, less than a week before his second inauguration. Here’s what we learned from his remarks.
1. Obama is determined not to repeat the brinkmanship over the debt ceiling that occurred in 2011.
The press conference was called so Obama could press his argument that the debt ceiling should be increased without any negotiation, despite the GOP insistence that each dollar increase in the debt limit be matched by a dollar in spending cuts. And Obama was emphatic on this point, describing the Republicans position as akin to “ransom.”
“They can act responsibly, and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis,” he said. “But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they better choose quickly, because time is running short.”
2. He would prefer Republicans try to shut down the government rather than default on the debt, although neither option is desirable.
Republicans in the House of Representatives are debating among themselves if the best way to force Obama to accept spending cuts is through the debt ceiling, which must be lifted by around Feb.15, or wait a few weeks later, as funding for the entire government is due to expire at the end of March. Some Republicans think that the debt ceiling argument is hard to win, because it is about money Congress has already spent, while the government funding debate is over future spending.
Obama warned a government shutdown would be “profoundly damaging to our economy,” so he hardly endorsed it. But his tone suggests that he is worried more about the impact on the U.S. economy and financial markets from a debt default than from a government shutdown.
3. He is going to appoint women and minorities to some of the remaining posts on his White House staff and cabinet
Dogged by recent criticisms that his top advisers are mostly white males, the president pointedly declared, “We’re not going backwards, we’re going forward” on diversity. He said critics were making judgements about his entire team based on only a handful of high-profile selections, all but promising he will appoint a more diverse group for posts such as secretary of labor and commerce secretary.
And Obama gave a strong defense of the virtues of diversity.
“When you look for the very best people, given the incredible diversity of this country, you’re going to end up with a diverse staff and a diverse — a diverse team, and that very diversity helps to create more effective policy making, and better decision making for me, because it brings different perspectives to the table,” Obama said.
4. He is skeptical about gun control passing in Congress.
After listing his gun control ideas, including an assault weapons ban and a limits on high-capacity magazines, Obama was blunt about politics. Asked if those provisions could pass in Congress, he said, “I don’t know.”
5. He doesn’t think attending parties with Republicans will convince them to vote for his ideas
Asked about whether he doesn’t “socialize enough” with key players in Washington, the president at first joked, “I like a good party. He assured reporters that when lawmakers come to the White House, “I promise you, Michelle and I are very nice.
Instead, Obama argued that many Republican members of Congress are either ideologically opposed to his policies or fear facing a primary challenge if they work with him.
“I think a lot of folks say, “Well, you know, if we look like we’re being too cooperative or too chummy with the president, that might cause us problems; that might be an excuse for us to get a challenge from somebody in a primary,” he said.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @PerryBaconJr.