Obama Defends Actions on Cuba and Promises Some Compromise With Congress
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISDEC. 19, 2014
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday rejected criticism that he should
not have reopened American relations with Cuba because of the nation’s
human rights record, saying the historic thaw would give the United
States more sway over the Cuban government.
“I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists
that this is still a regime that represses its people,” Mr. Obama said
at a wide-ranging news conference after a period of extraordinary
domestic and foreign policy changes at the White House.
But even as he acknowledged that Cuba might take actions the United
States opposes, Mr. Obama said, “The whole point of normalizing
relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence
with that government.”
“Change is going to come to Cuba,” he said. “It has to.”
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It was the first time Mr. Obama had taken questions from reporters since
his announcement on Wednesday that he would move to normalize relations
with Cuba, establishing an embassy in Havana and relaxing trade and
financial restrictions that have been in place for a half-century.
At his end-of-year news conference, President Obama talked about his
executive action on immigration and his hopes that Congress will work
with him to pass a variety of bills. Video by Associated Press on
Publish Date December 19, 2014. Photo by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times.
He also scolded Sony Pictures for pulling back the movie “The Interview”
after a cyberattack for which the White House is blaming North Korea. “I
think they made a mistake,” he said.
As in previous years, the president used his annual late-December news
conference to make the case that his policies had helped the economy and
burnished the United States’ reputation around the world. “We’ve set the
stage for this American moment,” he said, “and I’m going to spend every
minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.”
Mr. Obama was upbeat in the nearly hourlong exchange with the news
media, in which he called only on women. It was his last public event
before departing Friday for a vacation with his family in Hawaii.
He said he had shown that he could tackle steep challenges, including
the fight against the Islamic State militant group, the Ebola outbreak
in West Africa and a mass migration of unaccompanied minors from Central
America across the border.
Mr. Obama vowed to seek compromise with Republicans in Congress where
possible, such as on a tax overhaul and rebuilding infrastructure, but
pledged to veto efforts to roll back his health care law and financial
He also indicated that he had no intention of pulling back on his
executive measures to circumvent Congress, which he has used in recent
weeks to take sweeping unilateral action on immigration, re-establish
diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba and strike a climate agreement
“I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing,” he said, “which is
where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American
people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m
going to do it.”
Still, the president acknowledged that he would have to work with
Congress on contentious issues, including lifting the 54-year-old
American trade embargo against Cuba. “We cannot unilaterally bring down
the embargo,” he said, although his administration is undertaking a
major effort to loosen key elements.
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“Ultimately, we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I
think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re
interested in,” he said. “But I don’t anticipate that that happens right
While he said he had no plans to visit Cuba in the near term, he
recounted friendly moments during a telephone call this week with
President Raúl Castro. He said the two had joked about being long-winded
and about Fidel Castro, Raúl’s brother.
After Mr. Obama apologized for speaking for so long during the call, he
said, Mr. Castro told him, “You’re still a young man, and you have still
the chance to break Fidel’s record: He once spoke seven hours straight.”
Then, Mr. Obama added, the Cuban president proceeded to speak for twice
as long as he had.
Closer to home, Mr. Obama told reporters he was eager to compromise with
the new Republican-controlled Congress, including on revamping the
nation’s tax system, which he said he would push to make simpler and fairer.
“I want to work with this new Congress to get things done,” the
president said. “We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are
going to be areas of agreement, and we’ve got to be able to make that
happen, and that’s going to involve compromise once in a while.”
Mr. Obama said he would push to change rules that allow “corporate
inversions,” when American companies move their headquarters “on paper”
to another country in order to avoid taxes.
He reminded Republicans that they would also have to consider his
priorities. “In order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to
have to sign off,” he said, “and that means they have to take into
account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to take into
account the issues that they care about.”
Mr. Obama refused to say what he would do if Congress tried to force his
hand on approving the Keystone XL pipeline, saying only, “I’ll see what
But he played down the advantages of the pipeline and said he wanted to
make sure it would not accelerate climate change.
“There’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic
formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper
where exactly they’re getting that information,” he said.
Mr. Obama said he would seek to carry out quickly the recommendations of
a task force he named this week on law enforcement and race relations,
some of them by executive order and some by legislation.
The public conversation set off by the deaths of unarmed black men at
the hands of white police officers in places like Ferguson, Mo., and
Staten Island is healthy, he said, adding that he was willing to take on
“My presidency is entering the fourth quarter,” Mr. Obama said.
“Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter, and I’m looking
forward to it.”
Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker contributed reporting.
Source: Obama Defends Actions on Cuba and Promises Some Compromise With
Congress – NYTimes.com –