Obama plans farewell speech
BACK FROM VACATION, OBAMA TO TIE UP LOOSE ENDS IN FINAL WEEKS OF PRESIDENCY
His last vacation behind him, President 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 Presidentelect Donald Trump.
Obama returned to Washington midday Monday from Hawaii with less than three 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 Monday, Obama said his valedictory speech on Jan. 10 follows a tradition set in 1796 when the first president, George Washington, spoke to the American people for the last time in office.
“I’m thinking about [the remarks] 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.
Obama is also planning last-minute commutations and pardons, White House officials said. 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 he 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 care law.
As Trump and Republicans vow to gut the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are working to devise a strategy to protect the law by exploiting GOP divisions about how to replace it. To that end, Obama will travel Wednesday to the Capitol to meet with House and Senate Democrats, likely his last meeting with his party’s lawmakers as president.
Obama must also prepare to become a private citizen for the first time in two decades. An office of the former president must be set up, and Obama’s family will be making arrangements to move into a rental home in Northwest Washington, D.C., where they plan to stay until youngest daughter Sasha finishes high school.
Ten days before Trump takes office, Obama will say goodbye from the same city that launched his political career.
The presidential farewell will take place on the evening of Jan. 10 at McCormick Place. Doors will open at 5 p.m. for the speech. Tickets are free, and one ticket per person will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Details on the timing of the ticket giveaway Saturday will be announced in the coming days at whitehouse.gov/farewell/info.
The scheduled farewell address will bring Obama’s political career as a state senator in Illinois, U.S. senator and president full circle. When he won the White House in 2008, Chicago hosted a victory rally in Grant Park.