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Obama Delivers Year-End News Conference Before Holidays


President Obama meets privately in San Bernardino tonight with some of the victims of the terrorist attack there. From California, he travels onto to Hawaii to spend Christmas with his family. The San Bernardino attack has put the threat of terrorism on the front burner in this country. And it was the first question at Obama's year-end news conference. NPR's Scott Horsley was there, and he joins us now from the White House. Hi, Scott.


SHAPIRO: The president has been trying to find the right tone in addressing Americans' anxieties over terrorism and the self-described Islamic State. What did he say about that this afternoon?

HORSLEY: The president said, once again, that the U.S. and its allies are upping the military pressure on ISIS. But he cautioned that, even as the U.S. has taken steps to prevent another spectacular 9/11-style attack, would-be terrorists have evolved.


BARACK OBAMA: They're less likely to be able to carry out large, complex attacks, but as we saw in San Bernardino, obviously, you can still do enormous damage.

HORSLEY: The president defended some of the past comments he's made about the military progress that's been made against ISIS, but he said that doesn't mean the terrorist danger has been neutralized.

SHAPIRO: And when you talk about the terrorist danger being potentially neutralized, he's said that smaller-scale attacks like the one in San Bernardino are especially difficult to detect and prevent. There's been criticism of what government investigators may or may not look at in the effort to stop those kinds of attacks. What did the president say about that today?

HORSLEY: Well, the president suggested that some of the reporting on the San Bernardino attack may have garbled public understanding of this. There was a story in The New York Times, for example, that suggested Tashfeen Malik, one of the killers, had openly posted about her jihadist ambition and that government officials had overlooked that when she applied for a visa to enter this country. Both The Times and Obama now say that's not true. Obama says the government does review public postings on Facebook, for example, when someone applies for a visa, but that's not where Malik's alarming communications were carried out.


OBAMA: We're going to have to recognize that no government is going to have the capacity to read every single person's texts or e-mails or social media. If it's not posted publicly, then there are going to be feasibility issues that are -that are probably insurmountable at some level. And, you know, it raises questions about our values.

SHAPIRO: Well, Scott, beyond terrorism, as is tradition at these year-end new conferences, President Obama talked today about some of his successes in 2015. What were the highlights there?

HORSLEY: Yeah, some of those successes actually came in cooperation with the Republican Congress, which wasn't necessarily what the pundits were expecting this past year. Obama celebrated passage of a new transportation bill, a replacement for the No Child Left Behind law and, just today, passage of that omnibus spending bill, which note only keeps the government's lights on, but also cements some of the president's domestic priorities, including tax breaks for working families.


OBAMA: I'm not wild about everything in it. I'm sure that's true for everybody. But it is a budget that, as I insisted, invests in our military and our middle class without ideological provisions that would've weakened Wall Street reform or rules on big polluters.

HORSLEY: And given that success, Obama says he's optimistic there might be some chance to work with Congress again in the year ahead.

SHAPIRO: One area he's not seen a lot of cooperation with Congress is his effort to close Guantanamo Bay prison, which he announced his first day in office. This late in his administration, any hope for that left?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, there are some, like former White House Counsel Greg Craig, who argue the president has the authority to close Guantanamo without a green light from Congress, but Obama insists he's not going to push for that just yet.


OBAMA: I'm not going to be forward-leaning on what I can do without Congress before I've tested what I can do with Congress. And every once in a while, they'll surprise you.

HORSLEY: Ari, it certainly would be a surprise if Congress were to change its tune on Guantánamo right now - maybe in a galaxy far, far away. And the present did host a screening of the new "Star Wars" movie for Gold Star families here at the White House this afternoon.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure. 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.