Obama’s parting words: ‘We’re going to be OK’

Updated 2:29 AM EST, Thu January 19, 2017
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Story highlights

George W. Bush held his final news conference a week before leaving office

A CNN/ORC poll showed 60% of Americans approve of the job Barack Obama is doing

(CNN) —  

Barack Obama used his departing words as President Wednesday to offer an assured – if not entirely optimistic – outlook for a country governed by Donald Trump.

“At my core I think we’re going to be OK,” Obama said as he concluded his final news conference at the White House. “We just have to fight for it, work for it, and not take it for granted.”

“I know that you will help us do that,” he told reporters assembled in the White House briefing room.

If the message was still hopeful, it was a sharp downgrade from the grand visions of progressive change that propelled Obama to the presidency eight years ago.

In his question-and-answer session with reporters, Obama said that after two terms of political warfare with Republicans, he was emerging unbowed in his faith in the US and its citizens. But he continued to express concerns about his successor’s stance on Russia and his readiness for office.

“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad,” Obama said. “I believe tragic things happen. I think there’s evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we’re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time.”

“That’s what this presidency has tried to be about,” he continued.

Conceding that Trump may not take his advice on issues, Obama said he would avoid weighing in on specific policy matters during his post-presidency, using his time instead to write and “not hear myself talk so darn much.”

’Core values’

But he predicted he would voice concern if “core values” are being threatened.

“I put in that category if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion. I put in that category explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise,” Obama said.

02:54 - Source: CNN
Obama gives final White House news conference

Obama said he was calmed by the notion of the Oval Office as a moderating factor on Trump’s bombastic tendencies.

He said once Trump gets into office and is hit with the intricate details of governing, his thinking might shift on issues such as Obamacare and jobs.

“Once he comes into office and he looks at the complexities of how to in fact provide healthcare for everybody, something he says he wants to do, or wants to make sure that he is encouraging job creation and wage growth in this country, that may lead him to some of the same conclusions that I arrived at once I got here,” Obama said. “But I don’t think we’ll know until he has an actual chance to get sworn in and sit behind that desk.”

In a news conference that will likely mark the final time Obama speaks in public before he departs the US Capitol on Friday as an ex-president, Obama described the phone calls between him and Trump as “constructive” and at times “lengthy.”

He said the greatest advice he could give – and has given – to Trump, is to rely on others around him.