What Obama May Do with His Last Months in Office

October 28th 2016

Thor Benson

President Barack Obama has been working hard in the last year or so to make sure he leaves a lasting legacy as a president: He's done everything from opening up trade and tourism with Cuba for the first time in 50 years to signing the Paris Agreement to commuting hundreds of prison sentences.

The presidency can become even more interesting when the president never has to run for reelection again and his actions won't influence any other elections. The time after the upcoming Nov. 8 Election Day may turn out to be eventful.

Obama already has one thing benefiting him in his final months: his popularity. "The amazing thing about Obama's final year is to see how his popularity has been reinforced," Jack Rakove, a history professor at Stanford University, told ATTN:. "It is difficult if not impossible to think of any modern president who has been nearly as well-regarded as Obama is in his final year in office."

One thing's for sure: If Democrat Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, Obama will keep her first year in mind as he wraps up his administration.

"The relations between Obama and Clinton are good enough that it is hard to imagine him doing anything that would negatively impact her accession," Rakove said.

“It would not be helpful for Hillary Clinton if he left her with a big political problem on her hands,” Margaret O'Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington, told ATTN:.

We made a list of what Obama may try to do in his final months as president.

smoking weed

Call for rescheduling marijuana

Obama has remained hands off when it comes to marijuana. But nine states are voting on legalizing it in some form on Election Day, and he may speak up if the majority of those states approve legalization.

Clinton has already called for rescheduling marijuana, so if she wins the presidency, Obama may come out in support of it or even start the process himself to make that change.

merrick garland

Get Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court

Obama has already put two judges on the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. But Republicans in the Senate have so far refused to vote on Obama's third nominee, Merrick Garland.

If Clinton wins the presidency, and the Democrats take the Senate — which are both likely — then the Senate may change its tune and vote Garland in. Senators may not want to give Obama a third appointee, but the Republicans may not want to risk having Clinton nominate someone even more liberal than Garland

"With the Garland nomination, one has to wait to see whether the Republicans will lift their blockade and allow the nomination to proceed or mount a massive campaign to prevent the replacement of Scalia with someone well to his left," Rakove said. "It would be awkward for Obama to withdraw the nomination, but he might well want to discuss his options with Clinton."

It seems likely Obama will be dealing with the Supreme Court in some way in his final months.

president obama speech

Speak to the nation

The most dramatic thing a president has done in his final months is probably what President Dwight D. Eisenhower did a few days before he left office in 1961, O'Mara said. Eisenhower had seen war firsthand in World War II and had seen how the economy became dependent on military spending after that war.

Days before John F. Kennedy took office, he delivered a historic speech about what he called the "military-industrial complex":

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Obama is a great orator and may spend his final months speaking to the nation about where we are and where we need to go, O'Mara said. He may also use these speeches to lay the groundwork for Clinton's administration if she wins.



Sometimes presidents wait until their final months to pardon people, especially if the pardons may be controversial, O'Mara said. Such was the case when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon in late 1974.

Obama commuted 98 more prison sentences on Thursday, meaning he has commuted more sentences than the last 11 president combined. But he has not pardoned many people. Obama has granted fewer than 100 pardons during his two terms; President Bill Clinton pardoned nearly 400.

Obama has said he will focus on granting more pardons before he leaves office.


Try to close Guantanamo

"Guantanamo would be a real legacy-maker," O'Mara said.

Obama has said every year since taking office that he will close the Guantanamo military prison. But he has failed to do so. It's clear closing the facility is important to him, and it seems likely he will try one last time to accomplish that before he leaves office.

The number of prisoners at Guantanamo has been decreasing. Of the 780 detainees who have been kept there, only 60 detainees remain. Many who have been there have never faced a trial but have been subjected to torture-like abuse, such as waterboarding and rectal feeding.

One of the obstacles to Obama's plan to close Guantanamo is Congress, which has blocked it. The White House is also still trying to find places to relocate the remaining prisoners.