Obama pushes through controversial moves before Trump takes over

Posted at 8:01 PM, Jan 17, 2017

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A flurry of actions from the President Barack Obama's White House, first noted by CNN in late December, seem designed specifically to help enshrine his legacy and potentially foil some policy priorities of his successor. And the outgoing Democrats have not slowed down as they get ready to hand over the keys of the White House to Donald Trump and Republicans on Friday at noon. 

Here are some more of Obama's most recent actions, how they fit into his legacy, and how they might be viewed by the President-elect. 

High-profile pardons and commutations 

Obama issued his splashiest grants of clemency on Tuesday when he reduced the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, who provided sensitive information to Wikileaks, and pardoned Gen. James Cartwright, who was convicted of lying to investigators during a leak probe. In both cases, Obama faced resistance from Republicans, who have accused Manning of being a traitor. 

But he's not finished just yet. Already an avid user of his presidential clemency powers, Obama is expected to hand down additional grants on Thursday to non-violent drug offenders, who sentences he's been commuting at a rapid pace as he prepares to depart office.

Wet foot, dry foot 

Last week, Obama announced he was ending a decades-long immigration policy that allowed Cuban migrants to gain legal residency if they made it safely onto US soil. The policy had been derided as preferential, but advocates said it was still necessary to help those fleeing political persecution on the island. 

Prominent Cuban-American lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, blasted the move. But administration officials said it was a natural extension of Obama's reopening of ties to Cuba, the future of which remains uncertain in a Trump administration.

Appointments and nominations

Just as he has for the past eight years, Obama is churning out the thousands of nominations and appointments required to keep the federal government running. Most of his latest don't require Senate confirmation, including naming a slate of top aides and allies to various boards and panels. But a few, including a new ambassador to Congo, would need a vote to proceed -- all but impossible in the few remaining days of his administration. 

"Even if they are not confirmed for the position that they've been nominated for, there may be future opportunities in a similar area where they could continue to serve the United States," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

Guantanamo transfers

Ten former Guantanamo Bay detainees arrived in Oman this week, the latest attempt by Obama's administration to empty the naval facility. One of Obama's first acts in office was ordering the facility closed. 

Earnest conceded Tuesday the goal would remain elusive. But he suggested the transfers wouldn't stop. 

"At this time, I don't anticipate that we will succeed in that goal of closing the prison, but it's not for a lack of trying, I assure you," Earnest said. "The possibility of additional transfers remains a possibility."

Education decision

As his term wraps up, Obama is considering a final policy shift forcing hundreds of school districts to cut spending at well-financed elementary and secondary schools and move nearly $1 billion dollars to schools with large numbers of low-income students. The policy, written by the Education Department, is under review by the White House budget office and has drawn fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers and school administrators. 

It was first proposed in September, but the department appears to have rushed to adopt it since Trump won the presidential election. Adopting the regulation before Friday at noon would bind the incoming Trump administration unless Congress overturns it. 

New monuments 

Making last-minute use of his conservation powers, Obama designated a set of landmarks in the American South as national monuments last week. 

The sites all mark the civil rights movement: A Birmingham hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. strategized, an Alabama monument to the Freedom Riders, and a South Carolina site that tells the story of reconstruction. Obama has used his unilateral powers under the Antiquities Act to preserve land and marine areas from around the Pacific island of Midway to undersea mountain ranges in the Atlantic.