Obama looks toward legacy in final year

Honolulu (CNN)For President Barack Obama, the final round is about to begin.

Currently wrapping up his annual Hawaii getaway, Obama is preparing to enter his last year in office with an eye to his presidential legacy, vowing a rapid-pace end to his eight years in office.
He's running with a tailwind: 2015 proved to be a fruitful year for much of his agenda, including securing deals on trade, climate, and Iran's nuclear program; opening diplomatic ties with Cuba; and seeing same-sex marriage legalized in all 50 states.
But polls show more Americans than not still disapprove of the job he's doing, and the Republican-led Congress has shown little appetite for passing any of his legislative proposals.
And the President's agenda could be upended by setbacks in the war on ISIS, a foreign policy crisis that might complicate plans to have Obama campaign heavily with the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
The White House is optimistic, though. "I plan on doing everything I can with every minute of every day that I have left as President to deliver on behalf of the American people," Obama said before he departed for vacation. "Since taking this office, I've never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016, I'm going to leave it out all on the field."
Setting the ambitious tone: a package of executive actions on gun control, Obama's long-promised response to a string of mass shootings in the United States. The moves are expected to be revealed next week before Obama's final State of the Union address on January 12.
The actions are expected to focus on the so-called "gun show loophole," which allows some firearms sellers to avoid conducting background checks on their customers. The White House argues the President's moves will be within his executive authority, and in line with polls that show broad support for tightening background checks.
"The President absolutely believes that the most impactful step we could take is if Congress takes common sense measures on this front," said Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz. "But he's also acutely aware of the political realities facing Congress. So he asked his own team to look at what can do administratively."
Vowing to fight the move, the nation's biggest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, said through a spokeswoman the President "is doing what he always does when he doesn't get his way, defying the will of the people and using executive action."
Another controversial proposal coming in the New Year: a plan to shut down the terror detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a facility Obama may close on his own if lawmakers balk at the White House plan.
Obama has admitted getting Congress on board will be an "uphill battle" given staunch opposition on Capitol Hill to moving detainees into the United States. Officials have previewed a plan that would allow Obama to move some detainees into the country if they cannot be transferred to their home countries.
The White House is currently awaiting a final closure plan from the Pentagon; an initial proposal was deemed too expensive. But finally closing the facility would fulfill one of Obama's longest-held vows as president, one he campaigned on twice.
The President also hopes to travel to Cuba if political conditions on the ground — including treatment of dissidents — meet the United States' standards.
Cuba is one of more than a dozen countries Obama is expected to visit next year in what amounts to a global farewell tour. He's slated to visit Japan, China, Poland and Peru for annual summits, and may stop by the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
This week the White House announced Obama would travel to Germany in April for an industrial technology conference, paying a last visit to one of his closest foreign allies, Chancellor Angela Merkel, before he leaves office.
Other items Obama hopes will cement his legacy, including making progress on criminal justice reform and advancing his actions on climate change, are similarly slated to play a major role in the White House's year-ahead.
Schultz said Obama would be a "very active campaigner" in 2016.
"He'll not only be a credible messenger for his own record, but a key messenger for important Democratic constituencies," Schultz said.
The prospect of Obama as campaigner-in-chief could put both he and Hillary Clinton on the trail again — a reversal of roles from when Clinton campaigned for her formal rival in 2008.
Obama has already predicted he'll be replaced by a fellow Democrat.
"I think we will have a strong Democratic nominee," he said in mid-December. "I think that nominee will win."