As he kicks off his seventh year in office, President Barack Obama said he believes he has a chance to concentrate on issues that he didn’t have time for earlier in his presidency when he was consumed by the economic downturn and healthcare.
“At the end of 2014, I could look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically; that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we've done is now beginning to bear fruit,” Obama said in an interview on NPR. “And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn't always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier...in my presidency.”
In response to a question, Obama said it’s fair to say that he is shifting from things he had to do to things he wants to do.
Obama said he will try to work with the new Republican-controlled Congress, but that he may have to veto bills more often that he has before.
“There are going to be areas where we agree and I'm going to be as aggressive as I can be in getting legislation passed that I think help move the economy forward and help middle class families,” he said. “There are going to be some areas where we disagree and, you know, I haven't used the veto pen very often since I've been in office...Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that pen out. And I'm going to defend gains that we've made in health care; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water.”
In response, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said Democrats and Republicans can solve some issues if the president is willing.
“While construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and other bipartisan job creation legislation was blocked in a Democrat-led Senate, that will begin to change in January with Republicans in charge,” McConnell said in a statement. “Bipartisan jobs bills will see the light of day and will make it to the president’s desk, and he’ll have to make decisions about ideology versus creating jobs for the middle class. There’s a lot we can get done together if the President puts his famous pen to use signing bills rather than vetoing legislation his liberal allies don’t like.”
Obama conducted the wide-ranging interview with Morning Edition Host Steve Inskeep prior to leaving for a two-week family vacation to Hawaii. The interview, which addressed domestic and foreign affairs is airing Monday through Wednesday.
On race relations, Obama said he thinks it's probably the United States is probably less racially divided in its day-to-day interactions despite a slew of national protests this year over the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers. Despite those comments, many experts say relations between blacks and whites are arguably worse in communities across the nation.
“I actually think that the issue has surfaced in a way that probably is healthy,” he said. “It's understandable the polls might say, you know, that race relations have gotten worse because when it's in the news and you see something like Ferguson or the Garner case in New York, then it attracts attention. But I assure you, from the perspective of African Americans or Latinos in poor communities who have been dealing with this all their lives, they wouldn't suggest somehow that it's worse now than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago.”