WASHINGTON — Closing out a tumultuous year, President Barack Obama sought to lay the groundwork Friday for his last year in office by vowing not to fade in the background but instead use his remaining months to push longstanding goals to fruition.
“In 2016, I’m going to leave it all out on the field,” he said.
In his annual year-end news conference, Obama portrayed 2015 as one of significant progress for his agenda, pointing to diplomacy with Iran and Cuba and an Asia-Pacific trade agreement as big wins for his administration. He also praised a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and a congressional rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law as further victories for causes he’s made central to his presidency.
Still, he said, he plans to do much more in 2016.
“I said at the beginning of this year that interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter — and we are only halfway through,” Obama said.
Calling attention to his signature legislative achievement, Obama announced that 6 million people had signed up for health care so far this year under the Affordable Care Act, a surge that officials say illustrates the program’s durability.
After the news conference, Obama was to depart for San Bernardino, California, where he planned to meet with families of the 14 victims of the recent mass shooting. He then will fly to Hawaii to spend Christmas and New Year’s with his family. Obama has vacationed in Hawaii every year since taking office.
Hours before his departure, Congress passed a major bipartisan budget package that staved off a potential government shutdown and extended tax cuts for both families and businesses. The White House has indicated Obama will sign it.
Obama said lawmakers had ended the year on a “high note” with additional legislation on transportation and education. He noted optimistically that by averting a funding crisis for the next nine months, Congress had cleared a path for cooperation with him next year on areas of common ground, such as criminal justice reform.
“Congress and I have a long runway to get some things done for the American people,” he said.
Obama took questions as he closed out a turbulent year marked by successes on restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, clinching a nuclear deal with Iran and finalizing an unprecedented global climate treaty. Those successes have been tempered by a lack of progress on the president’s other priorities, like closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Obama said he’d present a long-delayed plan to close the prison to Congress early next year, then wait for lawmakers’ reaction before determining whether to take action on his own to shut it.
The end of 2015 marks a major transition point for the president, who has one year left to try to finish as many of his projects as possible. He won’t be rolling out sweeping new policy proposals that would be unlikely to get serious consideration amid the focus on electing his successor. The White House is promising Obama will deliver a “non-traditional” State of the Union address in January laying out an agenda that includes securing congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, taking further steps on climate change and bolstering gun control measures.