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Obama’s last press conference: What we learned

On Wednesday President Barack Obama gave his final news conference from the White House press room. Here's some of his key points

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Obama’s last press conference: What we learned

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On Wednesday President Barack Obama gave his final news conference from the White House press room.

The ever-vigilant White House Press corp questioned the 44th President on the most pressing issues of the day, and here’s what we learned:

Manning to be released

Chelsea Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst who sparked controversy by leaking hundreds of thousands of secret documents and videos to WikiLeaks, will be released in May 2017 thanks to President Obama’s commutation of her 35-year sentence.

Questioned on the decision, Obama defended his move as “entirely appropriate”, saying “I feel very comfortable that justice has been served”.

Critics have argued that releasing Manning early would encourage espionage and future leaks of top secret information. But Obama, using one of his most famous catch phrases, rebuffed the claims, saying “Let me be clear: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence”.

Expanding on the reasons behind commuting her sentence, Obama said it has been his long-held view that Manning “took responsibility for her crime”, and so “it makes sense to commute- not pardon- her sentence”.

Obamas will attend Trump’s Inauguration

Barack Obama cannot be president forever, and on Friday he will cede power to Donald Trump.

But the New York real estate mogul has ruffled feathers in Washington DC, even before taking office.

As a result, as many as 50 Democrat lawmakers say they will not attend his inauguration.

But Obama told the press that he and his wife Michelle will attend the ceremony at the US Capitol in Washington DC.

He even spared a joke for the press, saying “I have been checking the weather and I’m heartened by the fact that it won’t be as cold as my first inauguration”.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Obama administration began his presidency optimistically, and hoping to secure peace in the Middle East. On Wednesday the president said: “I came into this office wanting to do everything I could to encourage serious peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians” but he appeared to concede defeat in March 2016.

In his final press conference, Obama said that he remains “significantly worried about the Israeli-Palestinian issue”, adding that the “status quo is unsustainable”.

In perhaps his strongest statement on the issue, Obama questioned whether one can “even call them (Palestinians) citizens necessarily”, due to their position in Israeli society.

LGBT rights take pride of place in Obama’s achievements

Questioned on marriage equality and the steps taken to end discrimination, Obama said he “could not be prouder” of the progress made, including the legislation passed under his leadership.

Obama paid tribute to the “primary heroes” in what he called “our growth as a democracy”, while using an American Football analogy to explain how he feels the administration helped: “maybe we provided a good block downfield to help the movement advance”.

And although Obama admits that “there’s still going to be some battles”, he is confident changes to the law and marriage system won’t be changed, as LGBT equality is “sort of burned into” the younger generation of US citizens.

What Obama worries about

Asked about civil rights, and his status as the first black president, Obama said that there are some things he will continue to worry about, though they are not all concerning race.

Obama said that the US economy will not continue to thrive if the separation between American citizens continues, saying: “there are a whole bunch of folks who voted for the president-elect because they feel forgotten and disenfranchised”.

But Obama also added that voting rights need to improve, and that the current situation (“We are the only country in the advanced world that makes it harder to vote rather than easier”) is a direct descendant of “Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery”.

Handover of power

As has been the norm so far, Obama did not go into detail about his conversations with President-elect Trump.

However he said he has “offered (his) best counsel”, though one would have to “ask him (Trump) whether I’ve been convincing or not”.

And in what might be seen as a guarded warning to the man who will be the 45th leader of the United States, Obama stated “reality has a way of biting back if you’re not paying attention to it”.

Obama’s return to frontline politics?

Obama has previously said that he will fight for the rights of DREAMers (the name given to those who benefit from Obama’s landmark immigration legislation, the DREAM Act, which allows for a path to citizenship for young undocumented migrants).

But again the president was sure to “be absolutely clear” on this point, and insisted he “did not mean I was going to be running for anything anytime soon”.

But Obama was also clear that he is still a citizen, and will act as such to defend what he calls “our core values” such as the freedom of the press. He added that there were some actions, such as “explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise”, which would “merit me speaking out”.