Obama defends commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence

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WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: U.S. President Barack Obama holds the last news conference of his presidency in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. This was Obama's final question-and-answer session with reporters before New York real estate mogul and reality television personality Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

[Update: 3:21 p.m.]

President Barack Obama on Wednesday called the notion of voter fraud “fake news.” Speaking at his final White House news conference, he said efforts to limit to voting rights “traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.”

[Update: 3:11 p.m.]

President Barack Obama, discussing the Israel-Palestinian conflict Wednesday, warned that the current “status quo” in the region is “unsustainable,” adding that no two-state solution means Israel can’t be “both Jewish and a democracy.” “I came into this office wanting to do everything I could to encourage serious peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians,” Obama said at his final White House news conference, adding that “we cannot force” the two parties to “arrive at peace.” Obama added that the UN resolution vote in December was to “send a wakeup call.” Obama acknowledged that President-elect Donald Trump “will have his own policy” but cautioned him of the complexity of the issue, saying, “this is volatile stuff.”

[Update: 3:09 p.m.]

President Barack Obama conceded Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump may not take his advice on issues as he “won an election opposed to a number of my initiatives.” Obama said at his final White House news conference it would be appropriate for the President-elect to go forward with his vision and values but to not expect an “enormous” overlap in their initiatives. Obama added that once Trump gets into office and is hit with the “complexities” of issues, his thinking might shift on issues such as Obamacare and jobs. Obama described the phone calls between him and Trump as “constructive” and at times “lengthy.” Obama said the greatest advice he could give — and has given — to Trump, is to rely on others around him. “This is a job of such magnitude that you can’t do it by yourself,” Obama said.

[Update: 3:07 p.m.]

President Barack Obama offered a cautious note Wednesday on developing friendlier ties to Moscow, saying a constructive US-Russia relationship is “in America’s interest and the world’s interest.” But he said at his final White House news conference that fostering warmer ties during his presidency was stymied by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s combative stance when he returned to power in 2012. Putin’s “adversarial spirit” had “made the relationship more difficult,” Obama said.

[Update: 2:52 p.m.]

President Barack Obama demurred when asked Wednesday about the dozens of Democrats who aren’t attending President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. “All I know is I’m going to be there,” Obama said. “So is Michelle (Obama).”

[Update: 2:44 p.m.]

President Barack Obama on Wednesday defended the decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence, saying that she served a “tough prison sentence.” Obama said at his final White House news conference he looked at the particulars of the case the same way he had any other person whose sentence he had commuted. “I felt that in light of all the circumstances, that commuting her sentence was entirely appropriate,” Obama said from the briefing room.

[Update: 2:40 p.m.]

President Barack Obama on Wednesday issued a vocal defense of the White House press corps, insisting the reporters who covered his administration were an essential facet of a functioning democracy. The remarks were an implicit rebuke to his successor, President-elect Donald Trump. “We are accountable to the people who send us here. And you have done it,” Obama said. “You’re not supposed to be sycophants. You’re supposed to be skeptics.” “Having you in this building has made this place work better,” Obama went on. Trump’s team has floated the possibility of moving press briefings out of the West Wing, though on Wednesday, Trump’s incoming White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said his first briefing on Monday would take place in the White House Briefing Room.

[Update: 2:33 p.m.]

President Barack Obama said Wednesday his White House has been in touch with the family of former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, after both were hospitalized. “They have not only dedicated their lives to this country, they have been a constant source of friendship and support and good counsel” over the years, Obama said at a White House news conference. “They are as fine a couple as we know,” he said, calling the Bushes “really good people.”