President Obama’s ‘take your lumps’ news conference

December 20, 2013

President Obama closed the book on 2013 with a White House news conference that felt largely obligatory, breaking little new rhetorical or policy ground and highlighting, yet again, how difficult 2013 was for him politically.


President Obama smiles during his end-of-the-year news conference in the Brady Press Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. Obama is scheduled to depart later for his home state of Hawaii for his annual Christmas vacation trip. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

After an opening statement focused on how some good things have happened this year despite the various setbacks -- self-inflicted and not -- his administration has weathered, Obama was brought back to political reality by AP's Julie Pace who asked: "Is this the worst year of your presidency?" (Sidebar: We awarded Obama the "Worst Year in Washington" last weekend.)

Obama largely dodged the question -- in his defense, he's not going to just say "yes" -- but Pace's question set the tone for the entirety of the news conference. Obama faced tough questions on the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, Iran sanctions and why he wasn't going to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The entire news conference had a sort of "let's get this over with" feel to it -- which, undoubtedly, is how Obama feels about 2013. The simple reality is that by any objective measure this year has been an extremely difficult one for Obama -- whether it's the problems with his signature health-care law, Edward Snowden and the NSA or the lack of legislative accomplishments he had hoped to be touting in this year-end presser. Obama seemed little interested in trying to change that narrative. Asked about his sinking poll numbers, for example, Obama responded: "If I was interested in polling, I wouldn't have run for president." So there.

This was a take-your-lumps press conference and Obama knew it.  "I am sure I will have even better ideas after a few days of sleep and sun," Obama said at one point, as close as you will ever get to a president admitting that he's tired and a little worn down and needs some time to recharge his batteries.

The question Obama's year-end news conference left hanging is what -- if any -- carryover his difficult 2013 will have for 2014. "2014 needs to be a year of action," Obama insisted at one point. " I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America," he said at another. And yet, he gave few reasons to back up that optimism even acknowledging at one point that "it's probably too early to say bipartisanship has broken out".

For Obama to succeed in 2014, he has to put 2013 behind him as quickly possible and reboot as soon as possible. Friday's press conference was proof that he's trying to do just that -- and how difficult such a reset will be.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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