Update: 3:00 p.m. EST-- President Barack Obama touched on a range of issues during his final news conference of 2015 Friday, looking back on a year in which many of the ideas that he had been working on throughout his presidency had come to fruition. Obama expressed optimism that his administration will be able to work with lawmakers on a narrow set of policy ideas in his last year in office, including finishing up the Trans Pacific Partnership and passing criminal justice reform.
The president made special mention of former House Speaker John A. Boehner for using his last few weeks in office to construct a budget outline that paved the way for the budget agreement that recently passed in both the House and the Senate. During his address he ticked off several policy achievements and outcomes seen over the last year including a 5 percent unemployment rate, the successes of Obamacare, a clean energy boom, the Paris climate agreement and the refunding of the Export-Import Bank.
“As I look back on this year, the one thing I see is that so much of our steady, persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways,” he said. “I just want to point out that interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter and we are only halfway through. I do want to thank Congress for ending the year on a high note.”
Obama said that next year he hopes to finish the work he had already started on the Trans Pacific Partnership, clean out and close Guantanamo Bay and continue to work on combatting climate change.
The U.S. has slowly been sending detainees in Guantanamo to overseas partners in order to get the population low enough that Congress may be willing to relocate the most dangerous detainees to American facilities, he said. He refused to say whether or not he believed that he has the executive authority to move those detainees stateside on his own.
On foreign policy, the president stood by his strategy toward Syria and defended his record in Libya and Egypt, saying that history had been repeatedly revised on those issues. In Egypt, the U.S. had a working relationship with former leader Hosni Mubarak and did not implement a coup to remove him, Obama said. In Libya, while there were mistakes, the United States had acted to prevent mass slaughter, the president said. Finally, in Syria, he renewed his call for President Bashar Assad to step down.
Polishing off a penultimate year in office that has been defined by dueling notes of hope and despair ranging from a major climate agreement to deadly terrorist attacks, President Barack Obama is scheduled Friday to deliver his final press conference of 2015 at 1:50 p.m. EST. Following the press conference, the president is expected to leave with the first family for a two-week vacation in Honolulu.
The year-end press conference is an annual tradition that gives reporters the chance to ask questions before the holidays begin. It will be Obama's third press conference this week, and you can watch a live stream of it below as it happens.
Obama has been anything but a lame-duck president in the past year, advancing major policy through executive action and foreign diplomacy. Earlier this year, his administration brokered a historic deal with Iran to end nuclear enrichment in the Persian country. Just this month, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change that the Obama administration helped make possible was forged in Paris, fulfilling one of his main campaign promises from 2008.
Not all of the year's achievements were specifically Obama-made, but his public endorsement of protections and equal rights for the homosexual community paid off as the Supreme Court ruled in June in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages.
But, while those highlights have marked Obama’s year as a productive one for his presidency, international turmoil has cast a shadow on 2015, as well. Increased tension in Syria and the terrorist attacks last month in Paris and this month in San Bernardino, California, that were inspired or planned by the Islamic State militant group have captured the attention of the country, calling into question the president’s strategy to combat the terrorist organization. Republicans have criticized the president for being meek in his approach to terrorism, while Obama has held steady on his plans in the Middle East.
Obama will return to Washington, D.C., Jan. 4, 2016, to begin his final year in the White House.