Obama signals issues he won't stay silent on

Freedom of the press and right to vote are among key principles that must be upheld, says outgoing president

Outgoing United States President Barack Obama at his last press conference, two days before handing over power to President-elect Donald Trump, underlined the importance of a free media and also outlined what issues might prompt him to speak out as a private citizen.

American presidents normally fade from political life, though at times staying active in social work.

The Obamas plan to stay on in Washington, which has triggered speculation about their future role, especially since the Democratic Party is groping for direction after the unexpected defeat of its candidate Hillary Clinton in the election.

Mr Obama would speak out if he saw "systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion; explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote; institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press; efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and to all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else".

KEY QUOTES FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA'S LAST PRESS CONFERENCE

DEFENDING CORE VALUES

There's a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake... that would merit me speaking out.

On what would prompt a reaction from him.

FACING THE FUTURE WITH HOPE AND RESILIENCE

What we've also tried to teach them is resilience and tried to teach them hope and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world... At my core, I think we're going to be okay.

On how his daughters were taking Mr Trump's election.

PICKING AN ABLE CABINET

I have offered my best advice... I can tell you that - this is something I have told him - that this is a job of such magnitude that you can't do it by yourself. You are enormously reliant on a team.

On why Mr Trump will need a strong team to turn to.

He also appeared to send a message to Mr Trump about the media, opening the conference by saying to the press: "Having you in this building has made this workplace better."

To observers, this seemed to clearly reference reports that Mr Trump will move the White House press out of the building, to another nearby, ostensibly over space constraints.

Mr Trump, however, in an interview on the pro-Trump Fox News aired a few hours before Mr Obama's press conference, said he would drop the idea.

"The press went crazy, so I said: 'Let's not move it.' But some people in the press will not be able to get in," the President-elect told the network.

"We have so many people that want to go in, so we'll just have to pick the people to go into the room - I'm sure other people will be thrilled about that," he said.

"And they'll be begging for a much larger room very soon, you watch."

Mr Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room that having the media there "keeps us honest, makes us work harder".

"You have made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we're able to deliver on what's been requested by our constituents," he said.

Asked about his conversations with Mr Trump, the president noted that they had been "cordial".

"At times, they've been fairly lengthy and they've been substantive. I have offered my best advice, counsel about certain issues both foreign and domestic," he said.

"It is appropriate for him to go forward with his vision and his values. It may be on certain issues once he comes into office and looks at the complexity of how to provide healthcare to everybody… that may lead him to some of the same conclusions I arrived at," he added.

"I think a lot of his views will be shaped by his advisers, the people around him, which is why it's important to pay attention to the confirmation hearings."

Confirmation hearings are ongoing - and have been quite argumentative lately as Democratic Party senators have grilled Mr Trump's Cabinet picks.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, however, on Wednesday approved the nomination of retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis as Defence Secretary, which makes his confirmation by the full Senate virtually assured.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2017, with the headline 'Obama signals issues he won't stay silent on'. Print Edition | Subscribe