JUDY WOODRUFF: He has given his final major speech, and now President Obama has also held his final news conference. He spent an hour before the White House press corps today, two days before his presidency ends.
John Yang was there.
JOHN YANG: In his 22nd and final time facing reporters in the White House Briefing Room, President Obama today defended his decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking U.S. military and diplomatic secrets.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence. So, the notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital classified information would think that it goes unpunished, I don't think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served.
JOHN YANG: Most of the news conference was spent looking ahead to the fate of his own accomplishments after president-elect Trump takes office.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My working assumption is that, having won an election, opposed a number of my initiatives and some aspects of my vision for where the country needs to go, it's appropriate for him to go forward with his vision and his values. And I don't expect that there's going to be, you know, enormous overlap.
JOHN YANG: He also shed light on the counsel he's offered Mr. Trump.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is a job of such magnitude, that you can't do it by yourself. You are enormously reliant on a team, your Cabinet, your senior White House staff, all the way to fairly junior folks in their 20s and 30s, but who are executing on significant responsibilities.
That's probably the most useful advice and most constructive advice that I have been able to give him.
JOHN YANG: He said he hoped he could take a pause from politics, but made clear he will speak out when he feels compelled to.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake. I put in that category if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion. Efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and, for all practical purposes, are American kids, and send them someplace else, I think, would be something that would merit me speaking out.
JOHN YANG: And he weighed in one last time on an issue that has dogged presidents for generations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you do not have two states, then, in some form or fashion, you are extending an occupation. We have believed, consistent with the positions that have been taken with previous U.S. administrations for decades now, that it was important for us to send a signal, a wakeup call, that this moment may be passing.
JOHN YANG: Mr. Obama also reflected on how America has changed during his presidency, on social issues, like attitudes on LGBTQ rights.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don't think it is something that will be reversible, because American society has changed. The attitudes of young people in particular have changed. That doesn't mean there aren't going to be some fights that are important, legal issues, issues surrounding transgender persons. There are still going to be some battles that need to take place.
JOHN YANG: The president lamented what he sees as undue restrictions on voting rights, which he said was a lingering vestige of slavery and Jim Crow.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This whole notion of election or voting fraud, this is something that has constantly been disproved. This is fake news, the notion that there are a whole bunch of people out there who are going out there and are not eligible to vote and want to vote.
We have the opposite problem. We have a whole bunch of people who are eligible to vote who don't vote.
JOHN YANG: As Mr. Obama, the nation's first black president, prepares to leave office, after the first female presidential nominee was defeated, he expressed confidence that more barriers will be broken in the future.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If, in fact, we continue to keep opportunity open to everybody, then, yes, we're going to have a woman president, we're going to have a Latino president, we will have a Jewish president, a Hindu president.
You know what? Who knows who we're going to have. I suspect we will have a whole bunch of mixed-up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.
JOHN YANG: Once he becomes a former president, Mr. Obama says he is looking forward to writing, being what he called quiet. He said he doesn't want to hear himself talk quite so much in the future, and also being a consumer of news, rather than the subject of news — Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: John, I also thought it was interesting that the president acknowledged the role that economic inequality played in the results of the election.
JOHN YANG: That's exactly right.
He spoke about that in the context of a question about inclusion and diversity. He said it's important for all Americans to feel a part of the growing economy. He said he thought there were a lot of people who voted for Mr. Trump because they felt forgotten and disenfranchised and looked down upon.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, John, you had a busy day, because I know, before the president's news conference, you were — you attended a briefing by the Trump transition team, and they were talking about getting ready for the inauguration.
JOHN YANG: That's right.
Sean Spicer, who is going to be the press secretary here at the White House on Friday, starting on Friday, said that Mr. Trump has been rehearsing his inaugural address. He said that he wrote it himself with some input from policy adviser Stephen Miller, from Kellyanne Conway, from Reince Priebus, who's going to be White House chief of staff, from Steve Bannon, who's going to be White House counsel — counselor, rather.
He said that it's going to talk about common goals that — and Mr. Trump himself said that the theme is going to be America first. Sean was asked — Sean Spicer was asked if any part of the speech is going to reach out to Americans who didn't vote for Mr. Trump. He said that Mr. Trump doesn't feel he should be judged on his rhetoric or symbolism, but wants to be judged on his actions and his successes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All really interesting.
John Yang, keep holding down the fort for us at the White House and with the Trump transition team. Thank you.