President Obama held his last press conference of the year on Friday afternoon, and in a somewhat rare move for a full presser, skipped over all of the cable and broadcast news reporters. Rather than a snub, this sort of move is intended more as a gift, a balancing of the scales to reporters who spend the rest of the year watching TV correspondents engage in frequent, long exchanges with the resident and his spokesmen.
Working from a "naughty or nice" list from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, a very confident and upbeat president fielded questions on the big news of the week, and made news by saying that Sony "made a mistake" by canceling the theatrical release of The Interview in the face of threats of violence, and by confirming FBI reports that implicate the government of North Korea in the Sony cyberattacks. Obama also spoke at some length about his normalization of relations with Cuba, as well as more granular issues like tax reform and the Keystone pipeline. Here's a question-by-question breakdown.
The president took a few minutes to talk about the challenges the country faced in 2014, as well as to talk up the positive direction of the economy. He also gave a rather upbeat assessment of his final two years in office:
"My presidency is entering the fourth quarter, interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter. I'm looking forward to it."
Sony "Made a Mistake"
For his first question, the president was asked about Sony's decision to cancel the Christmas Day release of The Interview, and to describe what the U.S. response might be to North Korea's attack. Obama was fairly mum on the latter subject, but surprisingly blunt on the former:
"Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake."
Next, president Obama was asked about the prospects for tax reform, and he replied with familiar boilerplate about common ground, fairness, and simplicity, but also indicated that he would expect tax reform to be accompanied by infrastructure investments. Republicans typically want tax reform to be "revenue neutral":
"Historically, infrastructure has not been a Democrat or Republican issue and I would like to see us return to that."
Cuba, Cuba, Cuba
The next several reporters asked extensive questions about Cuba. The president shared some color from his conversation with Cuban president Raul Castro, and discussed the possibility of a visit to Cuba in the future. He also was asked if North Korea was working with China on the hack, which the president said there is no indication of:
Asked what he thinks the effect of his executive action on immigration will be on his ability to work with Congress, the president sounded hopeful about reaching compromises, but also made no bones about vetoing measures he disagreed with strongly:
"The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree? If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me. If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no. I am confident I will be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions."
For the almost-last question, the president was asked how the drop in gas prices affects his thinking on the Keystone XL pipeline. The president made the same strong case against Keystone that he always does, low gas prices or not:
"In terms of oil prices and how it affects the decision, I think it will not have a significant impact, except perhaps in the eyes of folks, when gas prices are lower, they may be less susceptible to the argument that this will"be the answer to lower gas prices. It was never going to be the answer to lower gas prices, because the oil that's being pumped into the pipeline goes into the world market."
Finally, Obama called an audible, and gave his last question to AURN's April Ryan, who used the opportunity to ask the president to address black Americans on what progress has been made since he took office. The president again walked the fine line he has walked of late, but did not shy away from tough criticisms:
"People are basically good and have good intentions. Sometimes our systems and our institutions don't work as well as they should. Sometimes you have a police department that has gotten into bad habits over time and hasn't maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around. But there are practical solutions. This is not a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and die. I think that troubles everybody. There is an opportunity for all of us to come together and take a practical approach to these problems."
Update: Also, he skipped all the dudes, which I didn't even notice.