Cuba: President Obama Determined to 'Chip Away' at 'Hermetically Sealed' Country

"I know, deep in my bones," that my decision was wise, Obama said.

ByABC News
December 19, 2014, 2:27 PM
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 19, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 19, 2014.

— -- President Obama's decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba "chips away" at the nation's "hermetically sealed society," the president said today at what is likely his last news conference of the year.

"This is still a regime that represses its people," the president acknowledged. "But what I know deep in my bones is that if you've done the same thing for 50 years and nothing's changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome."

"Suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it hasn’t been before," he continued. "Over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society and, I believe, offers the best prospect of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people."

In the wide-ranging press conference, Obama also addressed Republicans' anger over his executive action on immigration.

"If executive actions on areas like minimum wage or equal pay or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is, pass bills," he said, adding that he had "showed not only great patience, but flexibility” as he waited for the House to pass an immigration bill he could sign.

He also commented on race relations in America -- a persistent issue the president called the "legacy of a troubled racial past."

Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner's death in Staten Island, New York highlighted "what many communities of color have known for some time," he said. "There are specific instances, at least, where law enforcement doesn't feel as if its being applied in a colorblind fashion."

Obama promised to implement "concrete, practical" fixes to correct the "bad habits" that some law enforcement organizations had developed over time.

"I think people want to fix these problems," he said. "This isn't a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying. I think that troubles everybody."

Of course, the president touted his economic accomplishments this year.

"Pick any metric you want, America's resurgence is real," President Obama said. "We are better off."

“In terms of my own job, I am energized. I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years," Obama said, adding he wasn’t going to be “stopping for a minute” in his quest to "make life better for ordinary Americans."

“My presidency’s entering the fourth quarter,” he said. “Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.”

The president leaves Washington on a high note, having made progress on several top priorities as he heads into the final two years of his presidency.

In recent weeks, the president negotiated an unprecedented climate deal with China, took unilateral actions to reform the nation’s immigration system and announced a historic thawing of relations with Cuba.

Despite these successes, the president’s approval rating remains dismally low, hovering around 40 percent.