Obama re­fuses to crit­i­cize Trump

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kath­leen Hen­nessey

>> Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Mon­day aban­doned his dire warn­ings and dark pre­dic­tions about his newly elected suc­ces­sor and urged Amer­i­cans to give Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump time to rise to the daunt­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the of­fice, break­ing sharply from his Demo­cratic al­lies who have quickly con­demned Trump’s first ma­jor de­ci­sions.

In his first ex­tended re­marks on the elec­tion that pounded his party and his legacy, Obama sought to re­as­sure an anx­ious world and na­tion about his suc­ces­sor’s com­mit­ments to al­liances, at times ap­pear­ing al­most san­guine about a fu­ture Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Although he would not ex­plic­itly say Trump was qual­i­fied for the of­fice, he said he be­lieved the first­time of­fice­holder would do his best to unite the na­tion, call­ing him prag­matic. He re­fused to wade into a po­lit­i­cal firestorm over Trump’s de­ci­sion to name a far-right con­ser­va­tive me­dia mogul as a top ad­viser. And he ex­pressed hope that the weight of the presidency will force Trump to over­come his short­com­ings.

“He has won. He’s go­ing to be the next pres­i­dent and re­gard­less of what ex­pe­ri­ence or as­sump­tions he brought to the of­fice, this of­fice has a way of wak­ing you up,” Obama said. “And some of his gifts that ob­vi­ously al­lowed him to ex­e­cute one of the big­gest po­lit­i­cal up­sets in his­tory, those are ones that hope­fully he will put to good use on be­half of all the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Obama’s re­fusal to crit­i­cize his suc­ces­sor was a 180-de­gree re­ver­sal from the rhetoric of his cam­paign take­downs. Only a week ago, as he cam­paigned for Hil­lary Clin­ton, Obama said Trump was “woe­fully un­pre­pared for the job” and couldn’t “han­dle the nu­clear codes.”

Obama’s lat­est re­marks bore lit­tle re­sem­blance to the calls for re­sis­tance com­ing from other Democrats and many of Obama’s sup­port­ers. As they come to grips with Trump’s sur­pris­ing win, many Democrats have seized on a call not to ac­cept or “nor­mal­ize” the ac­tions of a man who ran a di­vi­sive cam­paign that in­cluded charges of racism, sex­ism and other of­fen­sive rhetoric and ac­tions.

But Obama, who was the tar­get of some of that rhetoric, has em­braced the role of national hand-holder. Both in pri­vate and in a brief state­ment last week, Obama has sug­gested that Democrats should buck up and move on. He’s cast Trump’s elec­tion as in line with the usual zig and zag of pol­i­tics.

On Mon­day, as he pre­pared to em­bark on a three­na­tion trip abroad, Obama went so far as to vouch for Trump and his for­eign poli­cies. Although Trump cam­paigned as a harsh critic of NATO, Obama said Trump sounded a dif­fer­ent note when they met in the Oval Of­fice last week.

Obama said the Repub­li­can “ex­pressed a great in­ter­est in main­tain­ing our core strategic re­la­tion­ships,” in­clud­ing “strong and ro­bust NATO” part­ner­ships.

“There is enor­mous con­ti­nu­ity ... that makes us that in­dis­pens­able na­tion when it comes to main­tain­ing or­der around the world,” Obama said. Re­la­tion­ships and poli­cies go be­yond pres­i­dents, he said, adding that mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, diplo­mats and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers would co­op­er­ate with their for­eign coun­ter­parts as be­fore.

Obama ac­knowl­edged he had of­fered ad­vice to Trump, say­ing he em­pha­sized the need to shift from cam­paign­ing to gov­ern­ing, and the im­por­tance of re­set­ting the tone after a con­tentious elec­tion.

“I don’t think he is ide­o­log­i­cal,” Obama said. “And that can serve him well as long as he has got good peo­ple around him and he has a clear sense of di­rec­tion.”

Obama sug­gested he would con­tinue to of­fer his ad­vice. He said he would urge Trump “to think long and hard” be­fore mak­ing good on his prom­ise to up­end Obama’s pro­gram that de­ferred de­por­ta­tion for hun­dreds of thou­sands of young im­mi­grants who came to the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren.

Asked about one of Trump’s most con­tentious moves since his tri­umph, ap­point­ing Steve Ban­non as chief strate­gist and se­nior ad­viser, Obama said it was up to the pres­i­dent-elect to ap­point a team.

“It’s im­por­tant for us to let him make his de­ci­sions,” Obama said of the choice of Ban­non, a man cel­e­brated as a force for the far right. But adding a hint of worry, Obama said he coun­seled Trump: “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to send some sig­nals of unity.”

Whereas Obama hailed Trump’s “im­pres­sive” abil­ity to speak to vot­ers, he also de­liv­ered a sub­tle cri­tique of Clin­ton’s cam­paign. He said Democrats must broaden their fo­cus be­yond just swing states after an elec­tion that left the Se­nate and House in Repub­li­can hands, as well as most of the na­tion’s gover­nor’s man­sions. He re­jected the idea that de­mo­graphic ad­van­tages would lead to all­but-as­sured vic­to­ries for the party, say­ing it must re­build at the lo­cal, state and national lev­els.

“We’re go­ing to have to com­pete ev­ery­where,” he said, re­flect­ing on his own 2008 win in Iowa, a state that went for Trump this time. “We’re go­ing to have to show up ev­ery­where.”

Clin­ton kept a rel­a­tively light cam­paign sched­ule un­til the fi­nal weeks of her cam­paign, mostly at­tend­ing smaller events in bat­tle­ground states. Her cam­paign fo­cused heav­ily on mo­ti­vat­ing the Demo­cratic base of fe­male and mi­nor­ity vot­ers, rather than sway­ing in­de­pen­dents. “Good ideas don’t mat­ter if peo­ple don’t hear them,” Obama said.

While Obama is in Ger­many, Greece and Peru, he said his team would ac­cel­er­ate ef­forts to en­sure a smooth tran­si­tion to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

He stressed that he would try to strengthen the Amer­i­can econ­omy over his fi­nal two months, and all but ac­knowl­edged he would not take any dra­matic ac­tion to close the prison at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, in his fi­nal weeks in of­fice.

“One of the things you dis­cover about be­ing pres­i­dent is that there are all these rules and norms and laws and you got to pay at­ten­tion to them. And the peo­ple who work for you are also sub­ject to those rules and norms, and that’s a piece of ad­vice that I gave to the in­com­ing pres­i­dent,” he said.


Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in the Brady press brief­ing room at the White House in Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day.

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