Much to the chagrin of his successor, President Barack Obama is defying the myth of a lame-duck president in the months-long transition period between his administration and that of President-elect Donald Trump.
Since the November election, Obama set out on a flurry of activity. He ordered a bipartisan review on whether Russia directed the hacking of American political parties, blocked drilling for oil in the Arctic permanently, abstained from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution to condemn Israeli settlements, and is laying out a vision for the way forward in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. With less than a month left in office, he has now expelled Russian diplomats over the hacking allegations.
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All this activity has angered Trump, who via Twitter on Wednesday (28 December) spoke out against Obama's continuing exertion of his Presidential powers.
Trump accused him of positioning "roadblocks" for the incoming administration and said he was doing his "best to disregard the many inflammatory President Obama statements."
Although Obama is now a 'lame duck' – an elected official who begins to lose influence with other politicians because they only have a short time left in office – he is making attempts to safeguard his legacy. He still wields all the same presidential powers until noon on 20 January 2017 when Trump swears his oath of office. Since Obama does not have to worry about standing for re-election, he is free to make bold policy moves.
One of the boldest moves came Thursday (29 December) when Obama labelled 35 Russian diplomats 'persona non grata' and gave them 72 hours to leave the the country. The expulsion order arrived on Intelligence Agency findings that Russia had a hand in hacking and stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's election campaign. The messages were then published by WikiLeaks throughout the 2016 campaign.
Obama's sanctions angered some Republicans. Arizona Republican Representative Trent Franks said that "If anything, whatever [Russia] might have done, was to try to use information in a way that may have affected something that they believed was in their best interests." But the bottom line, Franks said, was that "if Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done."
Prominent Republicans, however, have backed Obama's move and said that, if anything, the sanctions should be strengthened in the next Congress.
Obama's ongoing review of CIA and FBI claims that Russia hacked the Democratic Party is unprecedented as no President has come up against such an issue during their administration. Trump has indicated he wouldn't pursue an investigation despite intelligence agency and bipartisan concerns that not enough has been done to investigate the claims.
The decision to ban offshore Arctic drilling relies on the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which allows a sitting US president to ban leasing of offshore resources indefinitely. Obama is pushing back against Trump's vows to dismantle efforts to fight climate change. An abstention from the UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements exercises a power available to the President whenever action is required on a resolution.
Obama's last ditch effort to lay out a vision for peace in the Middle East, via a speech by Secretary of State John Kerry, is nothing new, according to Dan Franklin, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.
Franklin's book Pitiful Giants: Presidents in Their Final Terms, describes the productivity of five American presidents who served two terms. "Every president tries to negotiate peace in the Middle East on their way out. Clinton tried it; Bush tried it," Franklin told the CBC in September. "That's a dramatic thing to restore the reputation of an administration."
In 1933 the beginning of a new Congress was moved from March to 3 January to better coincide with the presidential inauguration on 20 January and not prolong the transition period. But the President can continue to sign executive orders and any laws from the last congressional session that are put before them.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, George W Bush authorized the US Treasury to spend $700bn to buy bad mortgage-backed securities that caused the crisis and prop up banks and the economy when he signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act on 3 October. But Congress decided not to send Bush a spending bill for the fiscal year that started 1 October 2008 and instead passed temporary spending bills.
It is also somewhat of a tradition that outgoing presidents issue legal pardons, and campaigns have sprung up for Obama to pardon whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
In 2001, among 140 on his final day in office, President Bill Clinton issued a controversial pardon that absolved international fugitive and financier Marc Rich. Rich's wife had given large donations to the Democratic National Committee and the organisation that would become the Clinton Foundation. This led to a 2005 investigation that found no wrong doing on the part of the President.
Franklin predicts that Obama will "start to speak on broader themes to try to set the agenda for the future. 'This is what we ought to do; this is the world I envision.'" But when it comes to foreign policy, "it's hard to make any progress because he really doesn't have any leverage."
Note: This article has been updated to include information about Obama's sanctions on Russia.