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Obama Races to Protect His Achievements From Trump

President Obama and team plan to spend the next two months aggressively defending and implementing policies despite GOP pledges to unravel that work.
Image: US President Barack Obama hosts press conference at the White House
President Barack Obama responds to a question from the news media during a press conference in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, DC, Nov. 14.SHAWN THEW / EPA

From the Iran nuclear deal to the Paris climate change agreement to Obamacare, President Obama and his team plan to spend the next two months aggressively defending and implementing these policies, despite President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises to end them once he takes office.

“To unravel a deal that is working and keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon would be hard to explain,” President Obama said on Monday, in his first press conference since Trump’s election victory.

“It becomes more difficult to undo something that is working,” Obama added.

The Obama administration argues that the election results should not prevent the sitting president from governing in his final weeks in office. And this approach could help Obama further entrench these policies and complicate Trump’s plans to unwind them.

Related: Despite 'Concerns,' Obama Hopeful for Trump Presidency

Obama, as he visits Greece, Germany and Peru this week and meets with a number of world leaders on his final foreign trip as president, is expected to encourage the international community to continue implementation of both the Paris and Iran agreements.

“We obviously believe in the importance of the Iran deal, which had significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program and averts yet another conflict in the Middle East. We believe in the importance of the Paris agreement, which encompasses almost every country in the world and offers an opportunity to fight climate change. So these are issues where our views are well known. We will run through the tape with the implementation of those policies,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser for Obama told reporters in a press call.

Related: How Trump Could Erase Key Parts of Obama's Legacy

Obamacare enrollment started on Nov. 1 and will end on Jan. 31, about 11 days after Obama leaves office. The president’s team wants to get 13.8 million people to enroll or re-enroll over the next few months.

“We’re all in,” said Marjorie Connolly, a spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, referring to Affordable Care Act enrollment.

More than 100,000 people enrolled for Obamacare coverage on Nov. 9, the day after the election.

“There was a day or two last week where I was as despondent over the election results as anyone, and I was deeply concerned that Trump being elected—combined with his promise to join the GOP in wiping out the ACA—would cause people to abandon the currently ongoing 2017 Open Enrollment Period,” said Charles Gaba, a Democrat and ACA supporter who has closely tracked enrollment under the law since its inception.

Related: Obamacare As We Know it May be Done For

He added, “Instead, the exact opposite appears to be happening...or, at the very least, the election results don’t seem to be keeping anyone from signing up.”

Cementing the ACA

Trump has softened some his anti-ACA rhetoric in the days since his victory, and a higher enrollment in the law could make it more politically challenging for Republicans to repeal it.

But for now, Obama the administration must enroll people in an environment in which congressional Republicans and Trump are suggesting they will repeal Obamacare as soon as possible after Trump assumes office.

Clinton aides likely would have used the last 11 days (Jan. 20 to Jan. 31) of the Obamacare enrollment period to make a big push for sign-ups. Trump’s administration is unlikely to do that.

Related: Iran Rejects Idea That Trump Could Scrap Nuke Deal

On the Iran agreement and climate change, Obama and his team are also trying to campaign for these ideas, both publicly and privately with the president-elect. Trump, in interviews, has suggested that Obama urged him to leave in place parts of Obamacare during the pair’s one-on-one meeting on Thursday.

In a speech on Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell argued that Obamacare is “now woven into the fabric of our nation.”

Keeping in Tact International Agreements

Obama aides are aware they have to convince Trump to essentially backtrack from what he promised during the campaign.

“We certainly know the positions that were taken throughout the course of the campaign,” Rhodes said. “We will, of course, fully continue to implement our commitments under the Iran deal and under the Paris agreement. We will fully brief the incoming team on those agreements. And you all have heard us repeatedly discuss the benefits of those agreements on American national security.”

But he added, “We recognize that the incoming administration will make their own determinations about those policies. “

Trying to protect their policies, Obama and his aides are at times projecting onto Trump views that there is little sign that he holds.

Related: How Trump Can Gut Obama’s National Security Policies on Day One

“The president will offer his reassurance to our allies that... historically, the United States of America, even across political parties, has been committed to not just upholding but also seeking to strengthen the alliances that we have with countries around the world,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in previewing Obama’s international trip.

“The view of Democratic and Republican presidents has been that the robust health of those alliances makes America safer. And presidents in both parties have been committed to investing in those alliances, and that certainly is what’s happened in the past,” he added.

Trump, during his campaign, sharply questioned many international agreements and alliances, calling NATO “obsolete.”

Image: NATO reacts after the USA elections
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg delivers remarks after the US elections at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Nov. 9, 2016.STEPHANIE LECOCQ / EPA

Obama aides say another goal is the continued battle to retake control of the city of Mosul, Iraq and more broadly fight ISIS. Trump is likely to continue the Obama’s administration policy of fighting ISIS.

Trump's Victory Permanently Ends Some of Obama's Hopes

To be sure, Obama will have fewer achievements in his final two months than if Hillary Clinton had won. Some Senate Republicans had suggested Obama nominee Merrick Garland could be confirmed for the Supreme Court in the post-election session of Congress, an idea which was premised on the expectation Clinton would win the election. Obama’s team had some hopes of getting congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The TPP and the Garland nomination are now effectively dead.

“President Trump will make a selection, and the Senate will act on it expeditiously,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court that has been vacant since Antonia Scalia died in February.

Funding for the federal agencies expires on Dec. 9. Republicans are expected to seek a budget deal with Obama that only extends that funding for a few months, allowing the Republican majority and Trump to shape a more conservative fiscal plan.