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Subdued Obama Hopes for Better 2014

After the toughest year of his presidency, Barack Obama on Friday called on Congress to make 2014 “a year of action” and promised to keep pushing for an immigration overhaul, an extension of unemployment benefits and other items.

“I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America,” he said.

It’s clear that 2013 was not.

At his end-of-year news conference before heading to Hawaii for a family vacation, the president’s first question, from The Associated Press’ Julie Pace, was whether this was “the worst year of his presidency” — and there was plenty more along those lines.

Obama smiled through that first question but repeatedly brushed off this year’s failures and said he would continue to get up every day trying to do better.

He lamented that some of his executive actions haven’t gotten much attention even as he acknowledged his bottled-up agenda on firearm background checks and assorted other items.

And he repeatedly talked about the difficulties of the health care rollout, balancing out the flawed launch of — saying, “We screwed it up,” — by announcing new numbers showing millions of people will have signed up for health care by Jan. 1.

And he pointed to the economy, which is stronger than it has been since before he took office in the middle of a financial collapse, as a sign of better things ahead.

He warned Republicans against repeating brinkmanship over the debt limit — vowing again not to negotiate — and sounded modestly hopeful that immigration legislation and other issues could finally reach the finish line in 2014.

He praised the budget deal and its modest rollback of the sequester spending cuts and said he hopes it is a sign of things to come.

“It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship, but it’s also fair to say that we’re not condemned to endless gridlock,” he said.

That should start with restoring extended unemployment benefits, Obama continued.

“They should pass it, and I’ll sign it right away,” he said.

He spoke most hopefully of immigration.

“There are indications in the House that, even though it did not get completed this year, that there is a commitment on the part of the speaker to try to move forward legislation early next year. And the fact that it didn’t hit the timeline that I prefer is obviously frustrating, but it’s not something I end up brooding a lot about,” he said.

He again defended the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs while refusing to weigh in on Edward Snowden’s legal status. He said he is willing to make some changes to assuage the public’s concern, but still believes the programs have not been abused — and that Snowden’s disclosures hurt the United States even though they provoked a necessary discussion.

Obama brushed aside his poor poll ratings.

“If I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run for president,” he said. “I took this job to deliver for the American people, and I knew and will continue to know that there are going to be ups and downs on it.”

He also spoke positively about his new hires, including John Podesta as a new counselor, saying he would increase the White House’s “bandwidth” to take on issues and said he had been trying to bring him on since his transition in 2008.

And he said that more changes would be coming, including some adjustments to his health care team once the rollout is complete.

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