Outgoing president does not intend to be his successor’s constant critic but will speak out if policies breach certain values
President Barack Obama has warned Donald Trump he won’t be able to pursue many of his more controversial policies once he is in office.
In his final international speech before he leaves the White House in January, Obama said he could not guarantee Trump would not try to implement controversial positions he took during campaign but he could guarantee “reality will force him to adjust” how he approaches the issues.
Speaking at the Apec meeting in Peru, Obama also said he did not intend to become his successor’s constant critic – but reserved the right to speak out if Trump or his policies breached certain “values or ideals”.
The speech offered a rare glimpse into his thoughts on his post-presidency.
Obama suggested once he was out of office he would uphold the tradition of ex-presidents stepping aside quietly to allow their successors space to govern. He heaped praise on former president George W. Bush, saying he “could not have been more gracious to me when I came in” and said he wanted to give Trump the same chance to pursue his agenda “without somebody popping off” at every turn.
But Obama suggested there might be limits to his silence.
“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 or go to core questions about our values and ideals, and if I think that it’s necessary or helpful for me to defend those ideals, I’ll examine it when it comes,” he said.
Obama, who has consistently praised Bush for the way he has handled his ex-presidency, faces a conundrum about how to handle his own. Though he has vowed to ensure a smooth handover of power, Obama is keenly aware he is being replaced by someone whose views on many issues are antithetical to his own.
The president spoke out vigorously throughout the campaign against Trump’s calls for banning Muslim immigrants, deporting millions of people living in the US illegally, reinstating waterboarding, repealing “Obamacare” and canceling the Paris climate deal, to name a few. Those policy proposals and others like them have stoked fear for many Americans who oppose Trump and are hoping that vehement opposition from Obama and other Democrats might prevent Trump implementing them.
Yet Obama suggested that while he might not always hold his tongue, his goal wasn’t to spend his time publicly disparaging the next president.
“My intention is to, certainly for the next two months, just finish my job,” Obama said. “And then after that, to take Michelle on vacation, get some rest, spend time with my girls, and do some writing, do some thinking.”
Obama’s remarks at the news conference in Lima offered some of his most specific indications to date of how he feels Democrats and Trump opponents should handle the next four years. Asked whether Democrats in the Senate should follow Republicans’ example of refusing to even consider a supreme court nominee, Obama said they should not.
“You give them a hearing,” said Obama, whose own supreme court nominee, Merrick Garland, has lingered for more than half a year due to the GOP’s insistence that no Obama nominee be considered. Obama said he certainly didn’t want Democrats to adopt that tactic spearheaded this year by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
“That’s not why the American people send us to Washington, to play those games,” Obama said.
He declined to weigh in explicitly on whether House Democrats should stick with Nancy Pelosi as minority leader, arguing it was improper to meddle in the vote. But he said of the California Democrat, who faces a challenge for the leadership post: “I cannot speak highly enough of Nancy Pelosi.”
Obama’s remarks came as he concluded his final world tour as president. For Obama, it was the last time he would take questions on foreign soil, a staple of his overseas trips that his administration has seen as an important symbol of America’s commitment to a rigorous free press.