US President Barack Obama meets president-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office in the White House to discuss transition plans on November 10 2016. Picture: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama meets president-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office in the White House to discuss transition plans on November 10 2016. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — President Barack Obama says he has been surprised by the extent to which false information has been able to influence the nation’s democratic processes.

The president, talking to ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos as he enters his final weeks in the Oval Office, was commenting on an intelligence report describing Russian hacking of the 2016 US election campaign,

"I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyber hacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies, our open systems," Obama said. The interview was conducted on Friday.

Obama said the ability of foreign countries to affect the US political debate partly reflected the cynicism many people had toward mainstream news.

"In that kind of environment, where there’s so much scepticism about information that’s coming in, we’re going to have to spend a lot more time thinking about how do we protect our democratic process," Obama added.

The type of interference that US intelligence agencies linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin had been going on for some time, and could happen again during elections in Europe this year, Obama said.

"What is true is that the Russians intended to meddle, and they meddled," he said. "And it could be another country in the future."

Social media

In a broad-ranging interview, Obama described his recent conversations with president-elect Donald Trump, whom he termed "very engaging and gregarious".

The president said he had warned Trump about the dangers posed by unfiltered use of social media after his inauguration on January 20: "The day that he is the president of the US, there are world capitals and financial markets and people all around the world who take really seriously what he says, and in a way that’s just not true before you’re actually sworn in as president."

Trump has roiled individual share prices with Twitter messages about the activities of certain companies. In other recent tweets he’s hinted he’d like to change decades of policy on nuclear weapons; indicated he’d like closer relations with Russia even after the US intelligence report on campaign hacking; and said the UN was a "club for people to get together".

Obamacare’s future

The president predicted the Affordable Care Act, his signature healthcare law, would survive in some form. "It may be called something else," he said of Obamacare. "I don’t mind."

On healthcare and other initiatives, "my hope is that the president-elect, members of Congress from both parties look at, ‘Where have we objectively made progress, where are things working better?’ Don’t undo things just because I did them," he said.

Republicans have suggested it’s a question of when, not if, Obamacare will be repealed, but have been less united on the kind of health coverage that will replace it for about 20-million Americans.

"There ought not to be a great gap" between repealing the measure — first steps toward which could happen as soon as this week — and replacing it, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, said on the same programme that "it would be ideal" if repealing and replacing the act could be done "in one big action".

Democratic losses

Even so, some elements of a theoretical replacement plan could require 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, Priebus said. Republicans have 52 seats. "The full replacement may take more time than an instantaneous action, but our intent is to make it happen as quickly as possible, the repeal and the full replace as fast as we can," he said.

Obama said he took "some responsibility" for the Democratic Party’s losses during his two terms among House and Senate members and in state legislatures.

"I couldn’t be both chief organiser of the Democratic Party and function as commander-in-chief," he said. "We did not begin what I think needs to happen over the long haul, and that is, rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level."


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