From Keystone to "James Flacco": Highlights from Obama's year-end news conference

President holds final press conference of the year before heading to Hawaii

Published December 19, 2014 8:52PM (EST)

Barack Obama                                   (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Barack Obama (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

President Barack Obama conducted his final press conference of the year on Friday, weighing in on such hot-button issues as the U.S. diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba, the Keystone XL pipeline, and Sony's cancellation of a comedy about the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

The press conference also featured some decidedly colorful moments, as when Obama flubbed actor James Franco's name and made a dig at the Beltway publication Politico. Here are the highlights from today's presser.

Sony's "mistake" -- and Obama's

Anonymous hackers -- whom the FBI charges are linked to North Korea -- set off a firestorm when they leaked sensitive and often-embarrassing emails from Sony executives in retaliation for the planned release of "The Interview," the James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy that centers on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The hackers threatened anyone who would see the movie, prompting Sony to cancel its premiere -- a move that drew widespread criticism, to which Obama added his voice today.

"I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake," Obama said, adding that he wished "they'd spoken to me first" before canceling the film.

As he discussed the movie, Obama also affirmed his affinity for Rogen and "James Flacco" -- a flub that set off a social media reaction ranging from the mildly amusing to the downright dopey:

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"Change is going to come to Cuba"
Defending his administration's plan to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, Obama said that he was confident that the new policy would catalyze political change on the island, which has been ruled by the Castro brothers since 1959.

"It would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be. But change is going to come to Cuba," Obama said.

"They've been reliant for years on subsidies from the Soviet Union and then on subsidies from Venezuela. Those can't be sustained. And the more the Cuban people see what's possible, the more interested they are going to be in change," he added.

As for when that change will come, Obama said, "It could happen fast. It could happen slower than I would like. It's going to happen and this change in policy is going to advance that."

Touting economic progress

After the Democrats' midterm drubbing, some defeated candidates, including North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, assailed the president for not advertising the administration's economic achievements. On Friday, Obama forcefully did so.

“The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part, but as a country we have a right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Obama said. “Pick any metric that you want, and America’s resurgence is real. We are better off.”

Skepticism about Keystone

Obama hasn't yet declared his position on whether the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would transport oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico and has been vigorously opposed by climate change activists -- should be built, but he signaled serious skepticism on Friday.

The president said that the pipeline's economic benefits would be "nominal" and that it would have no significant effect on energy prices in the U.S., while he voiced concern about the pipeline's consequences for climate change.

Only calling on women

During the hour-long press conference, Obama only took questions from female reporters, starting with Politico's Carrie Rudoff Brown. He called on eight total:

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Dinging Politico

When he called on Brown, who is soon to begin a job at Politico's new Brussels bureau, Obama worked in a jab at the seven-year-old publication.

"I think there's no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico," Obama said, prompting reporters to erupt in laughter. He added that Belgium has "delicious" waffles.

By Luke Brinker

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