WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delivered a staunch defense of his record Friday, saying that decisions made earlier in his term had produced a stronger economy and improved quality of life for Americans.
"As I look back on this year, the one thing I see is that so much of our steady persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways," the president said. "So I just want to point out I said at the beginning of this year that interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter, and we are only halfway through. … I'm going to leave it all out on the field."
In his final news conference of the year before leaving for two weeks of vacation in his home state of Hawaii, Obama struck a confident, upbeat tone. Even as he fielded questions on terrorism and national security, he sought to highlight some of his domestic and foreign policy achievements over the past year.
With his approval numbers lackluster, the president pointed to the slow but steady economic recovery and highlighted a new surge of people signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He noted that Tuesday was the busiest sign-up day yet for health insurance under the ACA, with 600,000 users on the site, and that 6 million Americans had signed up for coverage starting Jan. 1. The number of uninsured Americans has fallen to 17 million.
The president also praised the bipartisan tax and spending measure Congress drew up this week.
On Friday, Obama commuted the sentences of 95 nonviolent drug offenders, the latest sign of his intensified focus on racial disparities within the criminal justice system. Obama has surpassed the number of 88 commutations granted by the previous four presidents — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — combined.