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Obama Talks Transition In First Post-Election News Conference


President Obama had a message today for President-elect Donald Trump and the incoming administration. Now comes the hard part. Obama took questions from reporters for the first time since the election. He suggested that despite their policy differences, there might be more continuity than many people expect when Trump moves into the White House.

NPR's Scott Horsley is with us now to talk about that. Hi, Scott.


MCEVERS: So the news conference comes as the president is preparing to head to Europe where he'll be meeting with a lot of leaders who are anxious about a Trump presidency. What's he going to tell them?

HORSLEY: Well, one reason those European leaders are anxious is because of Trump's campaign rhetoric about NATO, questioning whether that military alliance is still relevant, whether the U.S. could be trusted to come to the defense of countries that might not have spent enough money on their own military. President Obama says he discussed that with the president-elect when the two met last week at the White House, and he came away reassured.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In my conversation with the president-elect, he expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships. And so one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance.

HORSLEY: Now, of course that's not the only thing European leaders are concerned about. They also have worries about some of Trump's ideas on trade, and they're facing populist movements of their own.

MCEVERS: Back here, President-elect Trump has promised to undo much of President Obama's agenda. How concerned is the president about that?

HORSLEY: I think there's a lot of concern about that at the White House. Obama warned during the campaign everything he's accomplished over the last eight years could be out the window if Trump were elected. But today in front of the TV cameras at least, the president tried to put a brave face on. He suggested once Republicans are responsible for actually governing, they might look more kindly on some parts of Obamacare.

For example, Trump has said he wants to preserve some elements of that law. Likewise, Obama says it might be harder for the new administration to unwind some of his Clean Energy measures. And he also had a message for some of the people who've taken to the streets to show their dissatisfaction with the election.


OBAMA: The people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th president the United States. And it will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies. And those who didn't vote for him have to recognize that that's how democracy works.

HORSLEY: The president was asked about some of the more controversial staff picks that the Trump administration has announced. He declined to weigh in on that. He did say in general, though, that if Donald Trump really wants to be seen as a president for all Americans as he said, then gestures, including staff picks, will be important.

MCEVERS: Not only have Democrats lost the White House and both houses of Congress, but Republicans have also gained ground in state houses around the country. Where does that leave the president's party once he leaves office?

HORSLEY: Well, he said Democrats have some decisions to make, and he doesn't want to bigfoot that. He welcomed new ideas, maybe some new faces. He also talked about the importance of competing all around the country, comments that might be reticent as an implicit criticism of Hillary Clinton's campaign.


OBAMA: We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. We have to work at a grass roots level, something that's been a running thread in my career. You know, I won Iowa and 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.

HORSLEY: And the president offered some reassurance for beaten-down Democrats. He said things can change pretty fast.

MCEVERS: NPR's Scott Horsley, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.