A confident President Barack Obama opened his annual year-end news conference on Friday by rattling off a laundry list of his administration’s greatest hits.
“As I look back on this year, one thing that I see is that so much of our steady, persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big tangible ways,” Obama told a gathering of reporters at the White House before he and the first family jet off to San Bernardino, California, en route to Honolulu for their annual Christmas vacation.
Obama touted his administration’s early actions to rescue the economy, which he credited for the longest private-sector job growth on record, the halving of the unemployment rate and the increased growth rate of wages on his watch.
On health care, Obama pointed to the steady implementation of the Affordable Care Act as the key reason why the share of uninsured Americans has fallen below 10 percent, the lowest on record, as well as lower health care price growth and increased sign-ups in the federal marketplace.
“New customers are up over one third from last year, and the more who sign up the stronger the system becomes,” the president said, before pivoting to talking up his administration’s early efforts to stoke clean energy efforts, culminating in last week’s climate agreement in Paris between 195 countries.
He pointed to three incredibly partisan and contested aspects of his foreign policy — from the Iranian nuclear deal to reestablishing diplomatic ties to Cuba to praising the Trans-Pacific Partnership — as examples of the U.S. leading the way. As he has pledged in recent days, Obama said that the U.S. will hit the Islamic State “harder than ever,” urging Americans to remain calm and vigilant amid security concerns following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.
The president then turned to the recently passed $1.1 trillion spending bill, hailing it as a rare example of Washington functioning as intended.
“I do want to thank Congress for ending the year on a high note,” Obama said, praising lawmakers for new education and transportation legislation, as well as the reactivation of the Export-Import Bank. While Obama remarked that while is not “wild” about the omnibus budget passed Friday, “it is a budget that as I insisted that invests in our military and middle class without ideological provisions that would have weakened Wall Street reform or rules on big polluters.”
In hailing the stable and accelerating global marketplace for clean energy, Obama remarked that although the agreement was not legally binding, it would lead to greater private-sector investment in the longer term.
“And what you saw in this budget, which I think was really significant, was an extension of the solar tax credits and wind tax credits that we had helped to really boost early on in my administration and that it resulted in wind power increasing threefold, solar power increasing by twentyfold,” Obama said, remarking that even the Republicans campaigning for his job will be hard-pressed to pull back on his efforts.
He also took some shots at the GOP primary contenders, remarking that it would not be a “winner” for Republicans in the long run.
“Keep in mind right now the American Republican Party is the only party that I can think of in the advanced world that effectively denies climate change,” Obama said, remarking that most of the key signatories of the climate agreement came from center-right, even far-right governments that “don’t like immigrants.”
He even took credit for “stamping out Ebola” which he joked was “something you guys may recall from last year which was the potential end of the world.”
The president also pushed back on the escalating criticism of his foreign policy, especially in Syria, which his own former defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, derided in an interview published Friday.
“At each juncture, what we’ve said is American strength and American exceptionalism is not just a matter of us bombing somebody,” Obama said. “More often it’s a matter of us convening, setting the agenda, pointing other nations in a direction that’s good for everybody and good for U.S. interests, engaging in painstaking diplomacy, leading by example. And you know, sometimes the results don’t come overnight. They don’t come the following day. But they come.”
But he also signaled his intention to play an active role in pushing his agenda in the coming year, vowing to work with Congress in 2016 on job growth, increasing wages, criminal justice reform and other administration priorities, noting his commutation and pardons announced earlier in the day.
“Since I took this office, I’ve never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now,” Obama said of 2016. Next year, he said, “I’m going to leave it all out on the field.”
The president seemed eager to end the nearly hour-long Q&A session promptly, talking over reporters as they shouted questions while he walked away.
“OK, everybody. I’ve gotta get to Star Wars,” he said. “Thank you, thank you, guys. Merry Christmas, everybody. Merry Christmas. Everybody have fun with your families.”
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