WASHINGTON >> President Barack Obama defended his economic, health care and foreign policies Friday, declaring in a year-end news conference that he has brought about a new U.S. resurgence and is energized about his final two years in office.
“We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time,” Obama said in a wide-ranging year-end question-and-answer session that ended a period of extraordinary domestic and foreign policy changes at the White House.
Obama also said Sony Pictures erred by deciding not to release “The Interview” movie after hackers threatened violence if the movie about an assassination of the North Korean leaders was released.
“Yes, I think they made a mistake,” he said. “I wish they would have spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern where you are intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.'”
The president rejected critics who said he should not have opened relations with Cuba because of the nation’s human rights record, arguing that decades of history had shown that maintaining the current policy would do nothing to improve matters on the island nation.
“I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people,” Obama said. “I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.”
And while he said he had no plans to visit to Cuba in the near term, Obama recounted a friendly telephone call this week with President Raul Castro of Cuba. Obama said the two joked with each other about being long-winded and about Fidel Castro.
After Obama apologized for speaking for so long during the call, he said, Castro told him: “You’re still a young man, and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record: He once spoke for seven hours straight.”
The president’s remarks came as he faces questions about how his administration will respond to the North Korean cyberattack and manage a historic opening with Cuba, as well as an array of other foreign and domestic challenges.
The news conference ends a six-week period when Obama aggressively used his presidential powers to take sweeping unilateral action on immigration, re-establish diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba, strike a climate agreement with China and press for strong rules on keeping the Internet free and open.
Obama suggested he has no intention to back down on that approach.
“My presidency’s entering the fourth quarter,” he added. “Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Obama told reporters he is genuinely eager to forge compromises with the Republican Congress, including on revamping the nation’s tax system, and said he would push for changes that make it simpler and fairer. He said he has been encouraged by conversations with some Republican leaders.
“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 awhile.”
He said the lame-duck session of Congress that closed this week showed that “perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.”
Obama said he would push for changes to rules that allowed U.S. companies to “on paper” move their headquarters to another country in order to avoid taxes.
“I think that needs to be fixed,” he said.
After the news conference, Obama plans to leave for his annual family trip to Hawaii.
He ended the news conference with a “mahalo” and wished reporters a “Mele Kalikimaka.”