WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rebuffed his successor, Donald Trump, on Wednesday by issuing a vocal defense of the White House press corps, insisting the reporters who covered his administration were an essential facet of a functioning democracy.
“We are accountable to the people who send us here. And you have done it,” Obama said. “You’re not supposed to be sycophants. You’re supposed to be skeptics.”
His remarks stood in direct contrast to the incoming president, who has lambasted news organizations reporting on his transition as reporting “fake news.”
Trump’s team has floated the possibility of moving press briefings out of the West Wing, though on Wednesday Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said his first briefing on Monday would take place in the traditional room.
Obama argued Wednesday that having reporters in the West Wing was an essential facet of a functioning Democracy.
“Having you in this building has made this place work better,” Obama said.
Wednesday’s news conference is the final time Obama is expected to speak in public before he departs the US Capitol on Friday as an ex-president. His choice of venue is telling — Trump’s team has floated the possibility of scrapping the White House briefing room for a larger venue.
His concluding news conference comes amid a flurry of last-minute activity, including handing down a commutation for national security leaker Chelsea Manning and a pardon for Gen. James Cartwright, convicted of lying to investigators in a leak probe.
Obama defended the decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence, saying that she served a “tough prison sentence.” He said he looked at the particulars of the case the same way he had any other person whose sentence he had commuted.
“I felt that in light of all the circumstances, that commuting her sentence was entirely appropriate,” Obama said from the briefing room.
Obama was continuing a tradition of taking reporters’ questions for a final time before departing office.
George W. Bush held his final news conference a week before leaving office, reflecting on some of the disappointments of his administration but also defending the controversial decisions he made over two terms in the White House.
Unlike Bush, Obama is leaving office with near-record approval ratings. A CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday showed 60 percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing as president.