Barack Obama promised upon leaving the White House that he would stay out of President Trump’s hair unless it was really, really important.
Increasingly during 2017, Mr. Obama found really important topics on which to challenge Mr. Trump.
When Mr. Trump pushed Congress last March to repeal Obamacare, Mr. Obama jumped in to save his signature program with one of his first public comments as a private citizen.
“Reality continues to discredit the false claim that this law is in a ‘death spiral,'” Mr. Obama said, using Mr. Trump’s favorite phrase for criticizing the Affordable Care Act. “Likewise, this law is no ‘job-killer.'”
After Mr. Trump reversed Mr. Obama’s decision and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement in June, Mr. Obama criticized his successor’s move as “a difficult position to defend.”
And in a preview of the 2018 campaign, Mr. Obama recorded a robo-call in early December for Democrat Doug Jones, who defeated the Trump-endorsed Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election. Strong black voter turnout was credited with helping Mr. Jones win.
From his post-presidential perch at homes in Chicago and in Washington, Mr. Obama watched as Mr. Trump unraveled his policies on a broad front, from killing Obamacare’s individual mandate to building the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, from rolling back hundreds of business regulations to ending amnesty for young illegal immigrants.
Cecilia Munoz, who served as Mr. Obama’s top domestic policy adviser in the White House, keeps in touch with the former president and others from his team, and acknowledges a deep level of frustration generally over Mr. Trump’s actions.
“What’s frustrating about watching current events really has to do with the people that we went into office to work for,” Ms. Munoz said. “President Obama’s legacy was never really about himself, but he cares a lot about tens of millions of people having access to affordable health coverage. That’s the very hardest part. Knowing that 13 million people will lose their health coverage as a result of the tax bill is incredibly painful.”
Longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett said Mr. Obama is “concerned” about Mr. Trump’s efforts to roll back much of his legacy.
“Of course he’s concerned,” she said on MSNBC recently. “A lot of the very important steps that he took to level the playing field, ensure that we have a culture of inclusion where every child has a fair shot, many of those provisions and steps are being rolled back.”
People close to Mr. Obama say there has been a growing clamor on the left for him to speak out even more often; one person said his team is continually evaluating those options to “preserve his voice for the right moment.”
Ms. Munoz said Mr. Obama appreciated former President George W. Bush staying on the sidelines after leaving office.
“President Obama feels it is important to provide the same respect to the current administration that was provided to him by the Bush administration,” she said. “President Bush and his team gave President Obama and his team the space to do our jobs, and did not come forward and comment on every decision that we made. And surely they disagreed with a lot of what we were doing. So President Obama has been giving the same space to the current administration.”
In a rare interview that aired on BBC Radio on Wednesday, Mr. Obama told Britain’s Prince Harry that “the things that are important to me haven’t changed.”
“I still care about making sure that the United States and the world is a place where kids get a decent education, where people who are willing to work hard are able to find a job that pays a living wage,” Mr. Obama said.
Again without mentioning Mr. Trump’s name, Mr. Obama warned in the interview that leaders must use social media, such as Twitter, responsibly.
“All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet,” Mr. Obama said. “One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”
For Mr. Obama, the return to private life at noon on Jan. 20, 2017, began as you might expect for someone who was shedding eight years of the accumulated weight of the Oval Office.
“I wake up later,” Mr. Obama told the BBC. “It’s wonderful to be able to control your day in a way that you just can’t as president.”
He spoke of a “satisfying feeling” upon leaving the White House.
“That was mixed with all the work that was still undone. Concerns about how the country moves forward but, you know, overall there was serenity there,” Mr. Obama said. “More than I would have expected.”
In February, he and his wife, Michelle Obama, vacationed in the British Virgin Islands at the private resort of Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson.
No longer fretting over the classified presidential daily briefing, Mr. Obama instead learned how to kite-surf.
“Being the former president of America, there was lots of security around, but Barack was able to really relax and get into it,” Mr. Branson blogged.
Later that month, the Obamas signed a record-breaking book deal, a reported $60 million contract for two books with Penguin Random House. That total would far surpass Bill Clinton’s memoir, which reportedly went for $15 million; George W. Bush’s book about the presidency brought $10 million.
Mr. Obama then ensconced himself at an eco-friendly resort in the French Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, where villas fetch as much as $13,000 per night, to begin writing his memoir.
Later in the year, he accepted an offer of $400,000 to speak at a health-care conference run by the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald.
As the year progressed, the former president also became more involved in two long-term endeavors: leading the Obama Foundation, and working with former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. at the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is promoting an array of Democratic candidates nationwide ahead of the 2020 census that will determine how new congressional districts are drawn.
In July, Mr. Obama headlined his first fundraiser for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which raised $10.8 million in the first six months of 2017 to support Democratic candidates, to fund legal challenges against district lines drawn by Republicans, and to support ballot initiatives to create independent commissions to draw legislative maps.
In October, Mr. Obama announced NDRC’s partnership with Organizing for Action, the spinoff of his reelection campaign, and “encouraged OFA’s grass-roots activists to get involved in the fight against gerrymandering,” said NDRC spokesman Patrick Rodenbush. He also discussed the group’s strategy with Mr. Holder throughout the year.
“We expect he will be engaged in similar activity with our work next year,” Mr. Rodenbush said.
Mr. Obama also campaigned in the fall for Democrats Ralph Northam in Virginia and Phil Murphy in New Jersey, both of whom won their races for governor.
“Folks don’t feel good right now about what they see — maybe they don’t feel as if our public life reflects our best,” Mr. Obama said at a rally in Virginia without mentioning Mr. Trump. “Our democracy is at stake.”
At the Obama Foundation, which is also overseeing the creation of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s South Side, the former president hosted a community leaders’ summit for about 500 people in late October.
“It’s really the basic idea of getting folks involved in their local communities and helping them to get the change that they want to see where they live,” said a person close to the foundation.
His future presidential center, still in the planning stages, has drawn some opposition in the neighborhood from residents who want a legal commitment from Mr. Obama to hire local people on its staff. Mr. Obama has resisted, saying his $500 million presidential center shouldn’t be treated like a for-profit enterprise.
“We are a nonprofit and aren’t making money,” he told residents in September. “We are just bringing money to the community.”
Through the Foundation, Mr. Obama also has held town-hall meetings with young leaders during the year in Germany and in New Delhi, India.
“He’s mostly focused on the work of his Foundation: creating an institution to identify and lift-up the next generation of leaders,” said an adviser close to Mr. Obama who requested anonymity. “He also wants to be helpful to the Democratic Party, as you saw him support candidates around the country and he’ll continue to do so. But he firmly believes the best way for the Democratic Party to rebuild is support and grow the party’s roster of talented leaders.”
Said Ms. Munoz, who saw Mr. Obama at the summit in Chicago in late October, “President Obama looks relaxed. If President Obama has been consistent about any one thing, this is a guy who can see and focus on the long game. I was encouraged to see him focused on building the next generation of activists and leaders.”
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