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NPRFriday, December 19, 2014
President Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House during a media briefing last month.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Updated at 6 p.m. ET
President Obama spoke to reporters in a year-end news conference at the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House.
One of the topics that came up was Sony Pictures Entertainment's decision to cancel distribution of the film The Interview following North Korea's cyber attack against the company's servers.
The president said he thought Sony "made a mistake" and that it could set a dangerous precedent to allow "some dictator" to control free speech in America. (Update at 6:45 p.m. ET: The head of Sony Pictures defends his studio in an interview with All Things Considered.)
"I wish they'd spoken to me first," the president said of the film's producers. "I would have told them 'do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks."
On this week's White House announcement that the United States would move toward normalization relations with Cuba after five decades of diplomatic isolation, Obama said there were no plans for him to visit Cuba before his term as president is over nor for Cuban leader Raul Castro to visit the U.S.
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Update at 2:23 p.m. ET. Congress Must Lift Cuban Embargo
"We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo," Obama said.
There are bipartisan supporters of this approach; there are bipartisan detractors of this approach," he said of his decision to normalize relations with Havana.
"I don't anticipate overnight changes," he said.
He called the embargo "self-defeating."
Update at 2:20 p.m. ET. Cuba-U.S. Relations
The president said that it's not out of the question that Cuba could take actions that the U.S. did not like.
"That is true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy," he said.
"The whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us greater opportunity to have influence with the government than not," the president said.
Update at 2:15 p.m. ET. On Cuba
"We are glad the Cuban government has released slightly over 50 dissidents," the president said.
"I share the concerns of dissidents and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people," he said.
"What I know deep in my bones is that if you have tried the same thing for 50 years and nothing changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome," the president said.
"The more the Cuban people see what is possible, the more interested they will be interested in change. ... It may happen fast. It will probably happen slower than I'd like," Obama said.
Update at 2:38 p.m. ET. Race Relations
"Like the rest of America, black America is better off in the aggregate than it was when I cane into office," he said.
"The gap between the income and wealth of white and black America persists," he said. "This is a legacy of a troubled racial past. Jim Crow. Slavery. That is not an excuse for black folks, and I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it is not an excuse."
"I think it has been a healthy conversation that we have had," the president. "You're not going to solve the problem if it is not being talked about.
"I have been very pleased to see Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well," he said.
Update at 2:32 p.m. ET. Keystone Pipeline
"Keystone is not American oil. It is Canadian oil," Obama said. "It would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States to the the Gulf."
There's very little impact on U.S. gas prices, he said.
"Sometimes this is sold as if it is going to lower gas prices in the United States. It's not," he said.
He said it would add "a couple thousand temporary jobs" during the construction phase of the project.
He said it was important that if the project goes forward, it doesn't contribute to climate change.
Update at 2:25 p.m. ET. President Has No Plans To Visit Cuba
Obama said there were no plans for him to visit Cuba before his term as president is over. And likewise, the two countries are not at a stage where Cuban leader Raul Castro would visit the U.S.
"We are not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards," he said.
"I am a fairly young man, so I imagine at some point in my life I will have a chance to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban Cuban people," he said.
"There are bipartisan supporters of this approach," he said of his decision to normalize relations with Havana.
He called the embargo "self defeating."
"That's is true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy," he said.
"The whole point on normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with the government than not," the president said.
"I share the concerns of dissidents and human rights activists that there is still a regime that represses its people," he said.
"What I know deep in my bones is that if you have done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome," the president said.
"The more the Cuban people see what is possible, the more they will be interested in change. ... It may happen fast. It will probably happen slower than I'd like," Obama said.
Update at 2:10 p.m. ET: Chance For Tax Reform
Obama said that after talking to Speaker of the House John Boehner and incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that tax reform is possible.
"I would like to see more simplicity in the system. I would like to see more fairness in the system with respect to the corporate tax reform issue," Obama said.
"The devil is in the details," he said. "I am going to make sure we put forward some pretty specific proposals."
Update at 2:05 p.m. ET: Sony's Pulling 'The Interview' A Mistake
Obama said Sony Pictures' decision to cancel the release of 'The Interview' because of a North Korean hack attack was wrong.
Sony he said "made a mistake."
He said it was dangerous to allow "some dictator" to control free speech in America.
"I wish they'd spoken with me first," the president said. "I would have told them 'do not get into a pattern where you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks."
"I like Seth and James," he said of the movies co-stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco. But the president said it was ridiculous to suggest the comedy was a threat to North Korea.
Pyongyang's hackers, he said "caused a lot of damage.
"We will respond," he added.
Update at 1:55 p.m. ET: List Of Accomplishments
In his opening statement, Obama outlined many of the accomplishments of the year and of his presidency.
He said this year has seen the strongest job growth since the 1990s and that almost all the new growth has been in full-time positions.
"Wages are on the rise again," he said.
America, the president said "is now the number one producer of oil, the number one producer of natural gas."
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the number uninsured Americans are "at a near record low."
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