Obama Strikes Concillatory Tone In Reaction To Trump Victory

Nov 9, 2016
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The Affordable Care Act isn't the only piece of President Obama's legacy that could be undone when Donald Trump takes office. The president-elect has vowed to roll back much of what Obama's tried to do both domestically and in foreign policy over the last eight years. And with a friendly Republican Congress, Trump could have a free hand to do just that. Nevertheless the president struck a conciliatory tone as he discussed the election results today. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: When President Obama gets philosophical, he sometimes likens the presidency to a relay race. He was hoping to pass the baton to Hillary Clinton, who'd promised to keep running in much the same direction. Instead he'll give way to Donald Trump, who's promised the opposite. But speaking to reporters at the White House this afternoon, Obama says he'll still try for a smooth handoff.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is no secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember. Eight years ago, President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush's team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running.

HORSLEY: Obama spoke with Trump by telephone early this morning, and he's invited the president-elect to the White House tomorrow to discuss the upcoming transition.

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OBAMA: We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country.

HORSLEY: While Obama was speaking in the Rose Garden, construction crews on the opposite side of the White House were busy assembling the reviewing stand where in a couple of months Trump and his family will watch the parade celebrating his inauguration. Every tap on a nail was a hammer blow to Obama's signature policies, a point the president made plain as he campaigned for Clinton in recent days.

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OBAMA: Understand this. All the progress we've made over these last eight years goes out the window if we don't win this election.

HORSLEY: In addition to the Affordable Care Act, power plant rules at the heart of the president's climate agenda are also on the chopping block along with protection for immigrants who were illegally brought into the country as children and hard-fought Wall Street reforms.

Political analyst Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College says Trump's election won't just change policy. It could also change the way Obama's presidency is remembered.

JACK PITNEY: In the initial draft of history, people are going to see this election as a repudiation of President Obama.

HORSLEY: That's a bit surprising since Obama's personal approval ratings are among the highest they've been during his presidency. Obviously Clinton's own liabilities played an important role in yesterday's results. But given the lopsided margin by which white voters opted for Trump and the president-elect's own racially-charged rhetoric during the campaign, Pitney says some will interpret this election as a backlash against the nation's first African-American president.

PITNEY: I don't think that was the main driver of this result. I think a lot of it was economic dissatisfaction and the sentiment that it was time for a change. But it would be naive in the extreme to say that race had nothing to do with it.

HORSLEY: Pitney cautions, though, that first draft of history often gets rewritten over time. Harry Truman took a beating at first when Dwight Eisenhower was elected in a Republican landslide. But historians eventually came to see Truman in a more favorable light. Obama said today America doesn't always move forward in a straight line. It zigs and zags. He urged his staff and supporters to keep their heads up.

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OBAMA: Everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we're actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first.

HORSLEY: It was a return to the hopeful, unifying brand that first distinguished Obama on the national stage a dozen years ago. The president says he heard a similar message early this morning in Trump's victory speech. Obama says he hopes the president-elect maintains that inclusive spirit in the months to come. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.