Barack Obama signals issues on which he will not stay silent

US President Barack Obama (right) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, US, on Nov 10, 2016.
US President Barack Obama (right) meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, US, on Nov 10, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Outgoing 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 may prompt him to speak out as a private citizen.

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

Barack and Michelle Obama plan to stay on in Washington, which has triggered some speculation on their future role especially given the Democratic Party is groping for direction after the unexpected defeat of its candidate Hillary Clinton in the Nov 2016 election. 

He 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".

He also appeared to send a message to Mr Trump on the media, opening his press conference saying "Having you in this building has made this work place better."

To observers, this seemed to clearly reference reports that Mr Trump will move the White House press out of the building, to a different building 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 have to 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 said 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 health care to everybody… that may lead him to some of the same conclusions I arrived at.

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

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

The Senate Armed Services Committee however, on Wednesday (Jan 18) approved the nomination of retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis as Defence Secretary, which makes his confirmation by the full Senate virtually assured.