The president refuses to say he’d hold to the tradition of avoiding public comment or political attacks on the successor.
President Barack Obama on Sunday started mapping out his vision of Democrats’ path back—and all but pledged to be part of it himself.
In his fourth press conference in a week of sounding out to Americans and world leaders what he thinks they should think about President-elect Donald Trump, Obama urged congressional Democrats not to follow Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) model of lockstep resistance against him eight years ago, but to quickly activate all over the country and avoid “micro-targeting.”
This came as Obama expressed a version of confidence about Trump that on Sunday had him saying, “reality will force him to adjust how he approaches many of these issues,” even as he revealed that he’d told the president-elect in their post-election Oval Office meeting to hire “a strong White House counsel” to help prevent the conflict of interest and corruption issues that many see potentially starting to take shape as Trump and his children continue to mix business dealings and transition policy decisions.
And though Obama said he wouldn’t get involved in every fight—including some fights likely to be about Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress ripping out his legacy—he very deliberately refused to say he’d hold to the tradition of presidents avoiding public comment or political attacks on their successors.
“I want to be respectful of the office and give the president-elect an opportunity to put forward his platform and his arguments without somebody popping off in every instance,” Obama said, but “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 but go to core questions about our values and our ideals, and if I think that it’s necessary or helpful for me to defend those ideals, then I’ll examine it when it comes.”
Obama was speaking at a press conference in Peru just before flying back from a week-long foreign trip that he said was “likely” his last as president (a potential shift, as he and aides had until Sunday been definitive in calling this his last foreign trip), at the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit where he’d met with, among others, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese President Shinzo Abe, who have all had different interests in the election results.
Obama’s refusal to sit back will be welcome news to many Democrats who are searching for party leadership and who are still largely in love with him. But his advice about not waging all-out war on Trump and the Republicans isn’t what many in the shell-shocked party want to hear.