President Obama basked in a series of legislative victories Wednesday, saying the lame-duck session of Congress that drew to a close was "the most productive postelection period we've had in decades" and capped "the most productive two years that we've had in generations."
Hours after he signed into law a historic repeal of the U.S. military's ban on openly gay service, Obama also hinted that he may one day decide that he can support gay marriages, as well -- but not yet.
"If there's any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it's that we are not doomed to endless gridlock," Obama said in the year-end news conference in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. "We've shown in the wake of the November elections that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together."
Even as he took a little victory lap before flying off to Hawaii for a delayed family vacation for Christmas, Obama expressed deep disappointment that he couldn't get enough congressional support for giving illegal immigrants' children a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military.
He also acknowledged that Democrats and Republicans likely will lock horns in the next Congress over budget and spending issues.
Getting his agenda through may be much harder once Republicans take control of the House and hold a stronger minority in the Senate.
Still, Obama insisted that voters expect the two parties "to find common ground on challenges facing our country. That's a message that I will take to heart in the New Year, and I hope my Democratic and Republican friends will do the same."
Obama's assessment came on a day of major accomplishments that began with his signing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and was followed by the Senate's ratification of the administration's nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia and its approval of $4.2 billion to pay for health care for first responders who contracted ailments after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
Earlier this month, the White House and Senate Republicans also struck a deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts for Americans of every income level. Congress finally adjourned just after 8 p.m. Wednesday when the Senate followed the House out of session.
"One thing I hope people have seen during this lame-duck, I am persistent," Obama said. "If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it."
But the president also lamented what he didn't accomplish. "Maybe my biggest disappointment was the Dream Act vote," Obama said of the immigration measure. "I get letters from kids all across the country -- came here when they were 5 -- came here when they were 8. Their parents were undocumented. The kids didn't know. And suddenly they come to 18, 19 years old and they realize, 'I'm at risk of deportation.' And it is heartbreaking. That can't be who we are."
Obama expressed pride in ending the 17-year-old Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy that kept gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. As a candidate, Obama said he considered marriage to be only between a man and woman, but in recent interviews with gay media, he has been saying that he's struggling with the issue and hinting that his stance might change.
He reiterated that in the news conference, saying that "my feelings about this are constantly evolving" as he sees how important the issue is to gays who are friends or on his staff. But he indicated he's not changing his stance just yet. "At this point," he said, "what I've said is that my base line is a strong civil union that provides protections and the legal rights that married couples have."