President Obama Talks Terrorism In Year-End Press Conference Terrorist attacks and the ongoing battle with the Islamic State cast a shadow over some of the accomplishments the president tried to highlight in his year-end news conference on Friday.
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President Obama Talks Terrorism In Year-End Press Conference

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President Obama Talks Terrorism In Year-End Press Conference

President Obama Talks Terrorism In Year-End Press Conference

President Obama Talks Terrorism In Year-End Press Conference

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/460379023/460379024" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Terrorist attacks and the ongoing battle with the Islamic State cast a shadow over some of the accomplishments the president tried to highlight in his year-end news conference on Friday.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Obama met privately last night with the families of those who died in the San Bernardino attacks. Terrorism and the ongoing battle with the Islamic State cast a shadow over some of the accomplishments the president tried to highlight in his year-end news conference. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama says intelligence agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere are sharing more information in an effort to catch would-be terrorists before they act. But he cautioned killers like those in San Bernardino, who worked largely on their own, are especially difficult to spot.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

BARACK OBAMA: It's not that different from us trying to detect the next mass shooter. You don't always see it. They're not always communicating publicly. And if you're not catching what they say publicly, then it becomes a challenge.

HORSLEY: An inaccurate newspaper report this week suggested the government had overlooked jihadi postings on social media when it granted a visa to one of the San Bernardino killers, Tashfeen Malik. Obama stressed the government does check social media when reviewing visa applications. But the FBI notes Malik's postings were not on a public site like Facebook. They were private messages. And Obama questioned whether any government has the resources or the right to cast that wide a dragnet.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: Keep in mind it was only a couple of years ago where we were having a major debate about whether the government was becoming too much like Big Brother. And overall, I think we've struck the right balance.

HORSLEY: Obama touted progress the White House has made in other areas this year, including the nuclear deal with Iran and the big Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement. The U.S. economy continues to rebound, he says, with unemployment falling to just 5 percent. And yesterday, the administration announced nearly two and a half million new customers have signed up for health insurance on the government's exchanges.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: So much of our steady persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big tangible ways.

HORSLEY: Obama also thanked Congress for ending the year on what he called a high note, passing a long-term highway bill, an education bill to replace No Child Left Behind and a wide-ranging spending bill that rolls back government austerity measures. Obama gave some of the credit for that last measure to the former Republican House speaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: John Boehner did a favor to all of us, including now Speaker Ryan, by working with us to agree on a top-line budget framework. That was the basis for subsequent negotiations. He was able to do that because he was going out the door.

HORSLEY: Obama says he's forged a good working relationship with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan who replaced Boehner as House speaker, even though he acknowledged they disagree on a whole bunch of other stuff. The president sees opportunities for some compromise with the GOP-led Congress next year in a few narrow areas. He's still trying to persuade lawmakers to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where just over 100 inmates are now housed.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: We are, you know, essentially at this point detaining a handful of people, and each person is costing several million dollars.

HORSLEY: Congress has repeatedly blocked the president's efforts to close Guantanamo, though some argue Obama could go around lawmakers with his powers as commander in chief. The White House is also mulling an executive action next year on gun control, possibly narrowing the loophole that allows private sales without a background check. Obama insists he's not slowing down.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

OBAMA: Since taking this office, I've never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016, I'm going to leave it out all on the field.

HORSLEY: A year earlier, Obama said his presidency was entering the fourth quarter, when interesting stuff happens. He repeated that observation yesterday and added, we're only halfway through. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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Obama Wraps Up 2015 With Year-End News Conference

President Obama speaks to the media during his year-end news conference at the White House on Friday. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

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Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Obama speaks to the media during his year-end news conference at the White House on Friday.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Obama wrapped up 2015 by taking another round of questions from the press.

At the traditional end-of-year news conference Friday afternoon, Obama began with a list of achievements, including the legalization of same-sex marriage across America and progress made toward addressing global climate change.

He also thanked Congress for sending him an education bill, a transportation bill and a budget deal to sign late this year, and reiterated his commitment to fighting the Islamic State.

Then he opened the floor for questions. Some highlights:

  • The difficulty of detecting terrorist threats like the one conducted in San Bernardino, Calif. "It's not that different from us trying to detect the next mass shooter," Obama said. "You don't always see it. They're not always communicating publicly." But the government is working to strengthen information-sharing both between agencies and with other countries, he said.
  • The question of mandatory monitoring of social media posts by visa applicants. The president distinguished between public posts (which are constantly monitored, he said, including in the visa review process) and private communications — which couldn't be monitored in their entirety, both for feasibility issues and because of concerns over civil liberties.
  • The potential use of executive authority to close Guantanamo over Congress' objections. Congress has consistently moved to block Obama from transferring Guantanamo detainees to the U.S., but Obama said he is going to present a plan to close the facility and is "not going to automatically assume that Congress says no." And until they do say no, he won't comment on using his executive authority to close Guantanamo. "Every once in a while they'll surprise you," the president said of Congress.
  • The role of the U.S. in the Middle East, especially in regard to regime change. In Egypt, Obama said, it wasn't the U.S. but the Egyptian people who prompted Hosni Mubarak's fall; in Libya, the entire international community failed, Obama said. And in Syria, the idea that the U.S. would "stand by and say nothing" would be contrary to U.S. values. Bashar Assad will have to leave for Syria to reach a peace, Obama said.
  • The impact of Paul Ryan stepping into the role of speaker of the House. Obama gave Ryan credit for shifting Congress away from brinkmanship and back toward a more typical dynamic. "We've gotten kind of used to last-minute crises and shutdown threats," Obama said, but the passage of a spending and tax bill this week was more representative of how U.S. democracy should work. He said he's now hoping to stitch together congressional support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and for criminal justice reform.
  • The possibility that a Republican successor could undo progress toward fighting climate change. Obama jokingly pointed out that he would have been supporting a Democratic nominee no matter what happened in the Paris negotiations, and says he does expect a Democrat to win in 2016. He also argued that changing market dynamics will help the fight against climate change. "There's a big monetary incentive to getting this right," Obama said.
  • The question of whether Bashar Assad must leave power for ISIS to be defeated. Obama said again he's committed to destroying the Islamic State, and said reducing instability in the region is key to that goal. Syria's civil war has to end, and Assad must leave, for that kind of stability to be achieved, Obama said.
  • The principles he'd use to reduce mass incarceration. "I strongly support the Senate legislation that's already been put forward," Obama said. The key is pairing sentencing reform with strategies to reduce recidivism and support ex-offenders, he said. But he also noted that he can only directly address federal prisons, and can't directly reduce the number of individuals incarcerated at the state level.

Then he headed out — telling the crowd of reporters, "OK, everybody, I've got to get to Star Wars."

After the conference, Obama is scheduled to travel to San Bernardino, Calif., to visit families of victims of this month's terrorist attack, before heading to Hawaii for his annual family vacation.

You can watch the full news conference here:

YouTube