President Barack Obama said Monday he “absolutely” has concerns about Donald Trump but called the president-elect “pragmatic” and credited him for tapping into an enthusiasm that propelled him to the White House.
“He is coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don't think he is ideological,” Obama said in his first press conference since Trump’s stunning election victory. “I think ultimately, he is pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well as long as he has got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction."
"Some of his gifts that obviously allowed him to execute one of the biggest political upsets in history, those are ones that hopefully he will put to good use on behalf of all the American people," Obama added.
The president said he told Trump during their White House meeting last week that “gestures matters” when preparing his new administration and stressed the importance of reaching out to groups that opposed him during the tumultuous election.
“I emphasized to him that, look, in an election like this that was so hotly contest and so divided, gestures matter," Obama said. "And how he reaches out to groups that may not have supported him, how he signals his interest in their issues or concerns, I think those are the kinds of things that can set a tone that will help move things forward once he has actually taken office."
The president declined to comment on Steve Bannon’s appointment as Trump’s "chief strategist and senior counselor,” saying the Republican should be given space to allow his administration to take shape. Bannon has been linked to the “alt-right” movement that has ties to white nationalism.
“I think it's important for us to let him make his decisions. And I think the American people will judge, over the course of the next couple of years, whether they like what they see,” Obama said.
The presser took place before the president headed to Greece, Germany and Peru in what will be his final foreign trip in office and a chance to reassure nervous leaders abroad. Trump, Obama said, said he is committed to maintaining the country’s major international alliances — including NATO, which Trump railed against during the campaign.
But the president’s message was also aimed at Americans worried what a Trump presidency could mean for them.
“The federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat. It's an ocean liner, as I discovered when I came into office. It took a lot of really hard work for us to make significant policy changes, even in our first two years, when we had larger majorities than Mr. Trump will enjoy,” Obama said.
He added that there is “enormous continuity” in the day-to-day workings of the government that makes the country “indispensable.”
In remarks in the Rose Garden last Wednesday, the president pledged his help in ensuring a peaceful transition of power and said he is now “rooting for success in uniting and leading the country.”
Trump called it “a great honor” being with a man he once considered a bitter rival.
Before running for president, Trump helped fan the flames of the so-called “birther” movement by challenging the president’s birthplace. It resulted in Obama releasing his long-form birth certificate, as well as delivering a blistering takedown of Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner as the real estate mogul sat in the audience.
The rivalry reignited this year as Trump challenged Obama’s former secretary of state for the White House. The president became one of Hillary Clinton’s top surrogates and focused on trying to mobilize the same groups that voted for him in 2008 and 2012 to support Clinton.
Trump's election puts in doubt the future of many of the president's signature accomplishments, including the Affordable Care Act.
"It is not secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences," Obama said last week. “The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy."
Though Obama said Monday it wouldn’t be right for him to be “big-footing” the conversation about the future of the Democratic Party, he said they need to “compete everywhere” and work at the grassroots level.
“I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW Hall," Obama said.