President Obama says he does not think the past year was his "worst year" in office, as U.S. political analysts have labeled 2013.
Mr. Obama acknowledged during Friday's news conference that his opinion poll numbers are low, but said his ratings have gone up and down a lot throughout the course of his career. He said if he were interested in polling, he never would have run for the presidency.
Instead, the president said he is focused on "moving the ball" and creating greater opportunities for the American people.
He said that while there have been "ups and downs" and "frustrations," and a lot of his administration's legislative initiatives in Congress have not moved forward as rapidly as he would like, but he is going to "keep at it." And he noted progress in certain areas such as education, manufacturing and energy.
Mr. Obama also expressed optimism that legislation to reform the nation's immigration system will move forward in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives next year.
On the controversy over the NSA surveillance activities that came to light this year, President Obama said he is taking the issue and privacy concerns raised "very seriously." He called it a "debate that needed to be had" and said he will make a definitive statement about the way forward in January, after evaluating all the recommendations made by the independent panel.
Many have expressed concern about the extensive monitoring of phone calls both inside and outside the U.S. President Obama again defended the activity, saying the NSA program began as an attempt to prevent any repetition of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He said it is important for U.S. authorities to be able to track known terrorists outside the U.S. by monitoring their telephone calls into the country.
President Obama said the NSA disclosures, through leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have been damaging to the United States, its intelligence capabilities and its diplomacy.
While Obama acknowledged that the debate over U.S. surveillance activities is an important one the country needed to have, he said he thinks there was a way to have the conversation without the damage.
The president said the leaks have led to a "pretty distorted" view. He said for all its "warts," the United States is a country that abides by the rule of law and cares deeply about privacy and civil liberties; but, he said the disclosures have allowed other countries that actually do the things Snowden says he worries about, such as spying on their own citizens, targeting political dissidents and suppressing the press, to sit on the sidelines and act like the U.S. is the country with the problems.
The president refused to comment on whether he might consider amnesty for Snowden as Rick Leggett, head of the NSA's Snowden task force, has said could be worth considering. Obama said he will leave weighing in on the Snowden case to the U.S. attorney general.
The president defended the health care reforms, saying that 85 percent of Americans have already been benefiting from them; but, he acknowledged that problems emerged for those as they sought to buy insurance, sometimes for the first time in their lives.
He pledged that the government will continue to work to fix the problems people have encountered.
He said "the basic structure of that law is working," but acknowledged the rollout has been a "messy process."