President Obama on Wednesday said that he would oppose incoming president Donald Trump if he instituted policies of “systematic discrimination" where the country’s “core values may be at stake.”
Obama's comments came during his final news conference, where he said he believes the advances in LGBT rights under his administration are not reversible, that the country still has a lot of work to do in regards to race relations and that voting rights issues — a product of discrimination — need to be remedied.
The president said he looked forward to a quiet first year out of office. But, he said, issues that would cause him to take notice included “systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion” by Trump's administration and if there was “explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote.”
He also listed “institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press” or if rights were taken away from the American-born children of undocumented immigrants, saying “efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else” would worry him.
“They are our kids' friends and their classmates, and are now entering into community colleges or in some cases serving in our military,” Obama said. “The notion that we would just arbitrarily, or because of politics, punish those kids when they didn't do anything wrong themselves I think would be something that would merit me speaking out.”
Still, Obama said, “It doesn't mean that I would get on the ballot anywhere.”
Issues of voter fraud raised during the election were “fake news,” that have “constantly been disproved,” he said. The answer came after being askedwhat he thought were the remaining “gaps” in society were in regards to civil rights.
“The notion that there are whole bunch of people out there who are not eligible to vote and want to vote,” Obama said, “We have the opposite problem.”
“We have a whole bunch of people who are eligible to vote who do not vote,” he continued, adding that political gerrymandering is the real issue that threatens the nation, and the legacy of the Voting Rights Act.
The president, when asked if there would be another black president, said he believes the nation, if equal opportunity was given to all citizens, would have presidents of all ethnicities, religions and gender. “We're going to have a woman president, a Latino president, a Jewish president, a Hindu president. Who knows who we are going to have,” Obama said. “I suspect we will have a whole bunch of mixed up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.”
Obama defended his commutation of most of Chelsea Manning's prison sentence on Tuesday.
"Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence," he said. "So the notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think it goes unpunished, I don't think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea manning has served."
Manning was an Army intelligence analyst arrested in 2010 and sentenced to 35 years in prison for the biggest breach of classified information of US national security history. She announced she was a transgender woman while in prison.
"It has been my view that, given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers have received, and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it makes sense to commute — and not pardon — her sentence," Obama said.
Obama said he is proud the way his administration advanced LGBT rights by helping “society to move in a better direction” — including repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and pushing for the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage — but that it wouldn’t have been possible without the work done by activists.
“The heroes are … all the individuals activists and sons and daughters and couples who courageously said this is who I am and I’m proud of it,” Obama said. “That opened people’s minds and opened their hearts...and eventually laws caught up.”
Obama added that he doesn’t believe the advancements achieved so far are are reversible because “American society has changed,” in particular the attitudes of the younger generation.
“If you talk to young people, Malia and Sahsa’s generation, even if they’re republicans and conservatives,” many will say ‘I don’t understand how you could discriminate against someone on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Obama refused to comment on the dozens of Democratic US Representatives who are boycotting Inauguration Day as a way to protest President-elect Donald Trump.
He did mention the "most useful advice" he's given the incoming commander-in-chief: "if you find yourself isolated because the process breaks down, or if you are only hearing from people who agree with you on everything, or if you haven't created a process that is fact-checking and probing and asking hard questions about policies or promises you have made, that is when you start making mistakes."
When asked how he and first lady Michelle Obama talked to their daughters about the meaning of the past election, Obama said that Sasha and Malia were disappointed, but didn’t "get cynical.”
While disappointed with the outcome of the election, Obama said he tries to teach his daughters resilience, hope, “and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.”
“You get knocked down, you get up, brush yourself off and get back to work and that’s tended to be their attitude,” he added.
When asked about Trump saying he was considering lifting sanctions on Russia regarding nuclear weapons, Obama said, he thinks that when Russian President Vladimir Putin took office again, he ushered in "escalating anti-American rhetoric."
He added that Russia has "been unwilling to negotiate. If President-elect Trump is able to restart those talks in a serious way, there remains a lot of room for our countries to reduce our stockpiles."