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Admitting ups and downs of 2013, Obama looks forward to new ‘breakthrough year’

December 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
President Obama concluded his fifth year in office with an annual year-in-review press conference. Although the president saw sinking approval ratings in 2013, he suggested 2014 can be a "breakthrough year for America." Jeffrey Brown reviews the topics Mr. Obama covered, from the economy to the health care law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House Briefing Room was the scene this afternoon, as President Obama sized up his fifth year in the Oval Office. He conceded his administration has been buffeted by high-profile problems, but he voiced hope for the year to come.

Jeffrey Brown has our report.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president faced the White House press corps after a difficult year that’s seen his approval ratings sinking. But he insisted he’s not downcast.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years, was running for president for two years before that. And, for those of you who cover me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs.

And what I have been focused on each and every day is, are we moving the ball in helping the American people, families have more opportunity, have a little more security to — to feel as if — if they work hard, they can get ahead?

JEFFREY BROWN: The beleaguered rollout of the health care law has contributed heavily to the president’s slump in the polls, from’s many problems to the cancellation of millions of policies.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Since I’m in charge, obviously we screwed it up.

And I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who’ve been signing up.

But, you know, having said all that, the bottom line also is, is that we’ve got several million people who are going to have health care that works. And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self-reflection here. I promise you, I probably beat myself up, you know, even worse than you or Ed Henry does on any given day.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: But I have also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day and that we keep moving forward.

JEFFREY BROWN: There were several questions about revelations that have continued to grab headlines throughout the year: the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of phone calls and e-mails from ordinary Americans and foreign leaders alike.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around, but I also recognize that, as technologies change and people can start running algorithms and programs that map out all the information that we’re downloading on a daily basis into our telephones and our computers, that we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence. And I’m going to be working very hard on doing that.

And we’ve got to provide more confidence to the international community.

JEFFREY BROWN: On an upbeat note, the president suggested 2014 can be a breakthrough year for the economic recovery.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The economy is stronger than it has been in a very long time. Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody benefits from that, not just a few folks.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, on Iran, he again defended his decision to negotiate on ending its nuclear program.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now, I have been very clear from the start, I mean what I say. It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but I sure would rather do it diplomatically. I’m keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that’s how we should do it.

And we lose nothing during this negotiation period. Precisely because there are verification provisions in place, we will have more insight into Iran’s nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama and his family leave for their Christmas break in Hawaii tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  We will return to the health care issue and developments of the last 24 hours right after the news summary.

President Obama also announced today that he’s nominating Senator Max Baucus to be ambassador to China.  The Montana Democrat has served in the Senate since 1978, but he’s said he won’t seek reelection next year.  In a statement, the president said Baucus is perfectly suited to build on economic agreements between the U.S. and China.