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Obama says severity of political divide in Washington unexpected

Xinhua, January 16, 2017 Adjust font size:

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday that he was "surprised by the severity of partisanship" in Washington, noting that the political divide was a bigger obstacle than he thought it would be.

"I was surprised and -- and continue to be surprised by the severity of partisanship in this town," Obama said in the final interview of his presidency with the CBS' "60 Minutes" that was aired Sunday night.

"I will confess that I didn't fully appreciate the ways in which individual senators or members of Congress now are pushed to the extremes by their voter bases," he said, "I did not expect, particularly in the midst of crisis, just how severe that partisanship would be."

"Members of Congress -- on both sides of the aisle -- are motivated by all kinds of issues. They're sincerely interested in the economy, in terrorism, in social issues," Obama said in the interview. "But the one overriding thing they're interested in is getting reelected. And if they think that it's harder for them to get reelected by cooperating with each other, then they won't cooperate."

The United States still works even when Washington is "dysfunctional," said Obama, "but the problem is that, over time, big pieces of business that have to get done-- without leadership from Washington-- don't get done."

"And right now, the structure of the system is such where it makes it really hard for people to work together," the president said.

Obama sailed into office eight years ago on a campaign promises of transformative change and unifying the United States, but from time to time found himself becoming "a lightning rod for some partisan battles".

"In the first two years, when I had a strong majority in the House and the Senate-- we were as productive as any administration has been since the '60s," Obama said.

He did not mention that Obamacare, which Republican lawmakers now vow to repeal and replace, was passed in 2010 largely on party lines, without a single Republican vote in the Senate.

Democrats lost their majority in the House in 2010 and in the Senate in 2014. Afterwards, solid congressional gridlock holds Washington, Obama was reduced to a "pen-and-phone" strategy of signing executive actions, leaving American voters' confidence in the country's political system declining.

"To sustain a governing majority, that requires an ability for Republicans and Democrats to find some common ground," Obama said. Endi