Obama warns on hacking threat to world's elections
Russians could have a hand in European polls, says the US president
Washington — President Barack Obama, following the intelligence report describing Russian hacking of the 2016 US election campaign, has said he was surprised by the extent to which false information had been able to influence the democratic process.
The president, going into his final weeks in the Oval Office, spoke in an interview aired on Sunday on ABC.
"I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies, our open systems," Obama said.
Obama said the ability of foreign countries to affect the US political debate partly reflected the cynicism many people had towards mainstream news.
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 in 2017, 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."
In a broad-ranging interview, Obama described his 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 has hinted he would like to change decades of policy on nuclear weapons and would like closer relations with Russia, even after the US intelligence report on hacking.
The president predicted the Affordable Care Act, his signature healthcare law, would survive in some form.
"It may be called something else," he said. "I don’t mind."
On healthcare and other initiatives Obama introduced, "my hope is that the president-elect, members of Congress from both parties [consider] ‘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 was a question of when, not if, Obamacare would be repealed but are less united on what will replace it.
"There ought not to be a great gap" between repealing the measure — first steps towards which could happen as soon as this week — and replacing it, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday on CBS. 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".
Even so, some elements of a theoretical replacement plan might 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."
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. "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."