Despite Setbacks, Obama Finds Bright Spots In 2013
President Obama wrapped up a rough year with a White House news conference before boarding Air Force One to Hawaii with his family for the holidays. Amid all the criticism of the troubled rollout of his health care law, the government shutdown and NSA snooping, the president highlighted greater energy independence and flickers of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And President Obama's in Hawaii today. His family flew there last night for their annual Christmas getaway. Just before leaving Washington, D.C., the president put a stamp on 2013 with a year-end news conference. At times, his parting encounter with reporters seemed as rough as the year just ending. NPR's Ari Shapiro was there.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: You could hardly call this a victory lap. After all, 2013 was the year that saw gun control fall short in the Senate and immigration stall in the House. 2013 was the year Edward Snowden leaked some of the country's most secret surveillance programs. And of course, 2013 was the year HealthCare.gov debuted with a thud. Yet despite all that, President Obama found things to herald in the year gone by: unemployment dropping, economy growing, deficits shrinking.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For the first time in nearly two decades, we now produce more oil here at home then we buy from the rest of the world.
SHAPIRO: The president even found some kind words for his favorite enemy, Congress, praising them for passing a budget agreement, albeit a modest one.
OBAMA: It's probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship, but it's also fair to say that we're not condemned to endless gridlock.
SHAPIRO: He said he pays no attention to his poll numbers, currently around the lowest of his presidency.
OBAMA: I mean, if I was interested in polling, I wouldn't have run for president. I was polling at 70 percent when I was in the U.S. Senate.
SHAPIRO: He's now just above 40 percent. Ultimately, Obama acknowledged that those low numbers reflect some real failures over the last year, like health care. Yet, even as he said the website's crash was his biggest regret from 2013, Obama insisted that the law as a whole is doing some good and getting better.
OBAMA: We've got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months despite the fact that probably the first month and a half was lost because of problems with the website and about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine. And yet, you've still got two million people who've signed up.
SHAPIRO: On NSA surveillance, the president said he welcomes the debate, but he was not about to forgive the man who precipitated that debate, leaker Edward Snowden.
OBAMA: This has done unnecessary damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy.
SHAPIRO: This week, Obama received a long list of recommendations on the NSA from a high-level panel he appointed himself. They were all about scaling back government spying programs, particularly the dragnet of phone and e-mail data that the government currently holds onto. Obama hinted that 2014 will likely bring some changes.
OBAMA: It is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular program may have may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse, and if that's the case there may be another way of skinning the cat.
SHAPIRO: Another prediction for 2014: Obama says when the U.S. hits the debt ceiling a few months into the new year, his line will be the same as it was in 2013.
OBAMA: No, we're not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued.
SHAPIRO: And this time, Obama says, maybe Republicans will even believe him.
OBAMA: I think that, hopefully, folks have learned their lesson, in terms of brinkmanship, coming out of the government shutdown.
SHAPIRO: In sum, he said, 2014 needs to be a year of action and, he added, he's sure he'll have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.View this story on npr.org