Marc Maron on Obama's N-word: 'Taking it out of context does a disservice'

Obama Uses N-Word During Honest Podcast Interview

Podcaster Marc Maron landed what is easily the interview of his career when President Barack Obama stopped by the comedian's Highland Park home garage on June 19 for a stripped down conversation on his WTF podcast about race, gun violence, comedy and absentee fathers.

Here the star and creator of IFC's comedy Maron offers a play by play of what happened before the interview (which, by the way, had been solicited by Obama's team), the talking points that most surprised him, the crushing blow of the Charleston tragedy, why the media is misinterpreting the president's use of the N-word, and why Maron's comedian pal Louis CK is feeling pretty good about himself today.
How are you feeling? It's been quite a whirlwind few days for you.

I feel good! The interview was on Friday. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday were a bit intense, but I feel ok today. What day is today? Monday? It's all been very exciting. Maybe I'm exhausted ... I don't think so. I'm very excited about all of it. It's kind of amazing that I'm not sure I fully believe the weight of it all. The actual president coming over. I was so set on with connecting with him as a person that and staying focused, and I think that happened. And now I have these moments where I'm like, "What??? The President was in my house?? Why didn't somebody tell me? And just a few days ago I was on vacation in Hawaii reading Obama's book, Dreams from my Father."

How clean did your house have to be?

The Secret Service had some requests that led to some tidying. They wanted a lot things taken off the floor, out of the path of the president.

Like what?

Piles of books, my guitars and amps, and there were some items on the desk that had to go. The Secret Service said, 'We have to lose the hammer and the pocketknife.' But mostly it about was cleaning comic books off the floor.

Describe the moments leading up to when you first met him. What were your immediate impressions?

I was amazed. I was nervous. I didn't know how to approach it all. I fill my head with stuff. My driveway was tented, there was a long path, we had to wait for the motorcade. I had to hit record before he came in, and it was only me and my producer Brendan McDonald who could be inside. Outside were his team and law enforcement. Service Service guys were standing my garage door. Then I was told to stand at the end of my driveway and wait for him. I saw the police vehicles approach and then the motorcade. Half a dozen staffers and Secret Service were all on the driveway. I couldn't identify what was happening. Then out of this little crowd, through my gate I hear, "Marc!" I was like "Oh my God, that's the president of the United States waving at me in my driveway." I was like, "Mr. President. He came up and put his arm around and said, "This is going to be fun, let's have some fun." The weird thing was he put me at ease.

How much did your neighbors know about what was going on?

They knew a lot. Secret Service had been working out a strategy for days. They wanted a sniper on the garage roof but it was too noisy, so they had snipers on my neighbor's roof instead. LAPD was here. They closed the streets, which was annoying for some people, but ultimately everyone was pretty excited. I'll tell you man, it's a pretty amazing operation. Secret Service were very gracious and polite. They were like, "Was everything ok for you? Was it a good experience? I mean, the day before, they had to secure Tyler Perry's estate, and then Chuck Lorre's house. So my one bedroom, one bathroom cabin on a hill in Highland Park -; they were probably like, "Oh this is easy. Piece of cake." But the president left the Hilton and then went to Santa Monica airport and took a chopper to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena so he didn't stranglehold the city traffic-wise more than it already was.

Where were your cats during all this?

Well they had to bring in the bomb sniffing dogs. I told them I locked my cats in the bedroom and they said, "OK, we will do that room by hand so you don't have to cage them up." Monkey and Lafonda were thinking, "Who are these people? We're not dangerous. Why are they looking at us? This is our special hideout!"

How familiar was Obama with you and your work?

I think they'd played the Mel Brooks podcast for him. He was definitely familiar with me and my relationship with Louis C.K. I'm not sure how much he'd listened, but I think he might have been surprised that it wasn't a lightweight fluff interview; that I was capable of shouldering some harder topics. I thought it was a very well-rounded conversation.

What surprised you most about what he said?

I think the way he framed his father and the idea of working on a craft. Working at something long enough, getting older, realizing you're becoming fearless with wisdom, age and experience. That connected with me a great deal. It's a weird moment when you get older and you've achieved a certain amount in your life because you've worked hard, and a lot of the things that used to be terrifying on a personal level are almost meaningless now. You just notice it one day. The stuff about his father not being present and how his family didn't demonize him gave Obama some distance from the reality of his father's weaknesses, allowed him to become his own man without falling victim to some of what his father experienced.

That's a narrative not dissimilar to many of the comedians you regularly interview on your podcast.

Yes it is. That's very true. There's a part of me that wishes we'd talk about that more, but there wasn't enough time.

It was unavoidable that you'd discuss the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, which had happened only two days earlier. What his emotional state and demeanor during this part of the interview?

I didn't even know if the whole thing was going to happen because of Charleston. So we felt it necessary to bring it up. What's interesting about him, he's a guy, a man, who operates on several different frequencies. He's able to tap into emotion. So I think when he showed up he felt, "I have to put certain things on hold now." Brendan and I knew we needed to talk about it. But it was interesting because were were having a very nice, "Hey what's up this and that," chat and I wanted to get the Charleston stuff out at the beginning, which may or may not have been the right idea. It definitely changed the tone very dramatically. I told him, "I'm sorry you lost this friend of yours, it's horrible." And I saw his face change, I felt the weight of that part of him. We had fairly serious conversation about race, violence and guns and eventually came back to something more casual, but it was definitely a different interview than both of us anticipated.

Did his use of the n-word surprise you?

I don't know, I heard the point of what he meant. I'm a comedian, I spent a lot time with [comedian] Patrice O'Neal before he died talking about this. Louis C.K., too. In my world, we talk about words a lot, so it didn't register to me like "What just happened??" I think that it's now being taken out of context is a disservice to the larger point.

How much pressure do you feel now moving forward to top yourself after this?

I don't think that way. I remain pretty much detached from what's going on outside my office. I'm not going on social media. Only talking to a few people about it. I don't care how cynical you are, or what side you're on any of that stuff, but there's something that struck in me as an American about doing this, and I'm going to honor that. It was an amazing experience, period. Hopefully now that the president has come over, I get to talk to Albert Brooks, Lorne Michaels or Lily Tomlin. Maybe more thinkers? But does this mean I'm going to be like Larry King and service political campaigns? No! I've never had a politician on WTF, and I don't really talk about politics. What happened on Friday was that I was honored and privilege to have this opportunity as an American who works out of his garage.

No better interview could encapsulates the WTF ethos. What are you doing the rest of the week?

Yes. Eventually I have to get back to work, do comedy. Also moving everything around my house has made want to clean now. Also, I'm going to talk to Louis today too. He's probably excited that the president mentioned him. He loves Obama. He was one of the few people I told about it in advance.

Did he have any questions or advice for you on what to talk about?

He said, "Ask him about comedy," but what I heard was him saying "Ask him about me directly." (Laughs)

Barack Obama through the years
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Marc Maron on Obama's N-word: 'Taking it out of context does a disservice'

Barack Obama, graduate of Harvard Law School '91, is photographed on campus after was named head of the Harvard Law Review in 1990.

(Photo by Joe Wrinn/Harvard University/Corbis via Getty Images)

Barack Obama poses in the office of The Harvard Law Review on Monday, Feb. 5, 1990, after being named President of The Harvard Law Review.

(Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Barack Obama, graduate of Harvard Law School '91, is photographed on campus after was named head of the Harvard Law Review in 1990.

(Photo by Joe Wrinn/Harvard University/Corbis via Getty Images)

Barack Obama, graduate of Harvard Law School 1991 yearbook photo.

(Photo by Joe Wrinn/Harvard University/Corbis via Getty Images)

Newly-elected president & former community program dir. Barack Obama.

(Photo by Steve Liss/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is seen with his wife Michelle in a family snapshot from their October 18, 1992 wedding day released by Obama's US presidential campaign, February 4, 2008. Obama, now a 46-year-old first-term U.S. senator from Illinois who would be the first black US president if elected, heads into Super Tuesday's slate of 22 Democratic state primaries and caucuses in a tight race with Hillary Clinton to become the party's presidential nominee.

(REUTERS/Obama For America/Handout)

Barack Obama as student at Harvard university, c. 1992

(Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

In this May 31, 2002 file photograph, state senator Barack Obama from Chicago is pictured during session in the senate chambers in Springfield, Illinois. As Democratic presidential hopeful in the 2008 campaign, Obama is considered the 'Great Communicator in Training.'

(Photo by John Lee/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Barack Obama (2nd R), wife Michelle and their daughters Malia (R), 3, and Sasha (L), 6, spend time in their Chicago hotel room, November 2, 2004. Obama faces Republican candidate Alan Keys in the first Senate race with two African American candidates.

(REUTERS/John Gress)

Barack Obama, candidate for a Senate seat in Illinois and one of the keynote speakers of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, addresses delegates during the second night of the event at the FleetCenter in Boston, July 27, 2004. More than 4,000 delegates to the convention will nominate John Kerry on Wednesday to challenge President George W. Bush in a November battle for the White House that is essentially a dead heat.

(REUTERS/Gary Hershorn)

Democratic candidate for the United States Senate in Illinois, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama wave to the crowd at the Democratic National Convention at the Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday, July 27, 2004.

(Photo by Jim Rogash/WireImage)

State Senator from Ill. and U.S. Senate Candidate Barack Obama keynote speaker Tuesday night at the DNC the second night. 

(The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, smiles as he finishes up his sound check on the podium at the FleetCenter, site of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, July 27, 2004. Obama is the keynote speaker for the second night of the convention, which will also feature a speech by Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Senate candidate Barack Obama, D-Il., the night before the Democratic National Convention 2004 in front of the Illinois delegation party at the Ye Olde Oyster House in Boston, Ma.

(Photo By Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Democratic Convention Keynote speaker and Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama hugs a supporter before speaking at the League of Conservation Voters Environmental Victory Rally at Christopher Columbus Park July 27, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is expected to accept his party's nomination later in the week.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama speaks to the media September 15, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama unveiled his proposal to make college education more affordable and accessible to working families and their children.

(Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Candidate for the U.S. Senate Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) holding his daughter Malia with wife Michelle and youngest daughter Sasha (R) celebrate his victory with supporters over Repulican rival Alan Keyes November 2, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama was expected to easily defeat Keyes in this first ever senate race featuring two major-party African-American candidates.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Democratic Senator Barack Obama drives from his home on December 8, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois. The Senator will give the keynote address at the Chicago Economic Club.

(Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)

US Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and his wife Michelle after a swearing in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Obama, 43, is the only African-American in the Senate, and the fifth in its history.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

 Barack Obama attends the 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards

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Academy awarding-winning actor George Clooney (C) smiles alongside Senator Barack Obama (R)(D-IL) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) as he speaks about his recent visit to the Darfur region of Sudan at a Washington press conference April 27, 2006. Clooney and his father, journalist Nick Clooney, have just returned from a week-long trip to southern Sudan and eastern Chad where they met with dozens of individuals affected by the crisis and documented the brutal and worsening conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama, carrying his daughter Sasha and accompanied by William Lay (front R), leave the memorial park of the former United States Embassy, a target of an August 1998 bombing, in Kenya's capital Nairobi, in this file picture taken August 25, 2006. U.S. President Barack Obama, who last visited Kenya as a U.S. senator in 2006, is expected to arrive in Nairobi on July 24, 2015 for a three-day state visit.

(REUTERS/Noor Khamis/Files)

Senator Barack Obama, R, (D-IL) listens to proceedings during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on overhauling lobbying on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 8, 2006. Obama, along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) offered their views on lobbying reform to the committee.

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Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (R) talk prior to the first debate of the 2008 presidential campaign April 26, 2007 at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The debate, featuring eight Democratic presidential candidates, comes 263 days before the first ballot will be cast in the Iowa caucus next January.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Democratic Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) with his daughters Malia and Sasha and his wife Michelle vist the Iowa State Fair August 16, 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs until August 19th and is expected to draw about 1 million people. John Edwards also made a campaign stop at the fair today.

(Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen Barack Obama of Illinois addresses a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally, June 24, 2007 at Sunset Station, in San Antonio, Texas. Backstage at the event Sen Obama was joined by Bruce Bowen of the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs.

(Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)

Senator Barack Obama during a July 4th campaign stop with his daughter Sasha, 6, in Beaver Creek, Iowa.

(Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)

U.S. Democratic President-elect Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and his running mate, Vice-President-elect Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) wave during their election night rally in Chicago November 4, 2008.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

US Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) wave to the crowd during a campaign rally in Orlando, Florida October 20, 2008.

(REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo)

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama speaks to the media aboard a military plane at Chicago Midway Airport January 4, 2009 before flying to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. Obama is moving to Washington 16 days before being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States on January 20.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance at the Home States Ball in Washington January 20, 2009. Obama took power as the first black U.S. president on Tuesday and quickly turned the page on the Bush years, urging Americans to rally to end the worst economic crisis in generations and repair the U.S. image abroad. Michelle Obama is wearing a custom-made dress by Taiwanese designer Jason Wu.

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U.S. President Barack Obama departs Andrews Air Force Base in Washington enroute to Copenhagen to promote Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games October 1, 2009. No incumbent U.S. President has ever addressed an IOC session before. Obama is trying to woo International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and is poised to make phone calls on his flight to Denmark to urge them to pick Chicago as host of the 2016 Summer Games.

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U.S. President Barack Obama smiles alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their press conference at the Rathous (City Hall) in Baden-Baden, Germany, April 3, 2009. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military alliance is celebrating its 60th anniversary this week at a summit co-hosted by Germany and France.

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U.S. President Barack Obama laughs during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, June 23, 2009.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

US President Barack Obama gestures toward the crowd after playing a round of golf at the Mid Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii, on December 31, 2009. The First Family is on vacation.

(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama calls to congratulate new British Prime Minister David Cameron in the Oval Office of the White House May 11, 2010 in Washington, DC. Cameron, the Conservative leader, took over as prime minister after Gordon Brown resigned earlier. The Conservatives won support from the Liberal Democrats after they fell short of a majority in last weeks election.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama speaks with small business owners during a meeting at the Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, New Jersey, July 28, 2010.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he tours Skana Aluminum Company, an aluminum manufacturer, as part of his administration's White House to Main Street Tour in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, January 26, 2011.

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US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walk to a ceremony to mark the return of the US Forces - Iraq colors December 20, 2011 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The event marks the end of the Iraq war after the last US combat troops rolled out of Iraq into Kuwait on December 18.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 25, 2011. U.S. President Barack Obama challenged Republicans on Tuesday to adopt limited spending cuts and invest in new research and education to generate a job-creating "Sputnik moment" for America in a speech designed to revitalize his leadership.

(REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool)

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with House Speaker John Boehner, as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden looks on, upon arriving to address a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington September 8, 2011.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

In this handout provided by the White House, President Barack Obama holds a child after delivering remarks on the American Jobs Act beneath the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge September 22, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Obama appealed to U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to pass his jobs bill.

(Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama does push-ups while playing basketball during the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn in Washington April 9, 2012.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama applauds retired U.S. Army Captain Florent Groberg, 32, after presenting him with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House in Washington November 12, 2015. Groberg received the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a personal security detachment commander during combat operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on August 8, 2012.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

US President Barack Obama boards Air Force One on March 21, 2012 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Obama is headed to Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio to highlight his energy policy.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama makes his way to board Air Force One July 19, 2012 before departure from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Obama was headed to the state of Florida for two days of campaigning.


U.S. President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders about the administration's new gun law proposals as children who wrote letters to the White House about gun violence, (L-R) Hinna Zeejah, Taejah Goode, Julia Stokes and Grant Fritz, look on in the Eisenhower Executive Office building, on January 16, 2012 in Washington, DC. One month after a massacre that left 20 school children and 6 adults dead in Newtown, Connecticut, the president unveiled a package of gun control proposals that include universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama reacts after missing a putt on the first green at the Farm Neck Golf Club at Oak Bluffs on Marthas Vineyard, August 11, 2013.

(REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo)

U.S. President Barack Obama poses with player David Ortiz for a "selfie" as he welcomes the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, April 1, 2014.

(REUTERS/Larry Downing)

President Barack Obama attends a hurricane preparedness meeting at FEMA Headquarters May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery/WHITE HOUSE POOL)

US President Barack Obama greets a young child dressed as the Pope and riding in a 'Popemobile' as he hands out treats to children trick-or-treating for Halloween on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, October 30, 2015.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

United States President Barack Obama, along with daughters Sasha (L) and Malia (R), attend the 68th annual pardoning of Thanksgiving turkey Abe in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington November 25, 2015.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a "Get Out the Early Vote" campaign event for Hillary Clinton in Columbus, Ohio, U.S. November 1, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

President Barack Obama reacts to a shot during the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll on March 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. 

(Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

President Barack Obama waves as he exits The White House before boarding Marine One on November 6, 2016 in Washington, DC. President Obama will travel to Orlando to campaign from Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.

(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip welcome U.S President Barrack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on their arrival at Windsor Castle for a private lunch, in Windsor, Britain, April 22, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jack Hill/Pool)

U.S. President Barack Obama puffs out his cheeks at a baby as he greets people in the crowd after his remarks at a Hillary for America campaign event at the Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S. November 4, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

President Obama departs Marine One and walks toward the Oval Office after visiting wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda at White House on August 26, 2016 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Leigh Vogel/FilmMagic)

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama pose with Britain's Prince William, his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, upon arrival for dinner at Kensington Palace in London, Britain April 22, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File photo)

Golden State Warriors players Draymond Green (L) and Stephen Curry (R) flank U.S. President Barack Obama who holds up a jersey given to him at an event honoring the 2015 NBA basketball champions at the White House in Washington February 4, 2016.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participate in the National Christmas Tree lighting in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Barack Obam, left, laughs with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden after presenting the Medal of Freedom during an event at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Obama awarded Biden with the highest civilian honor, commemorating an 'extraordinary man with an extraordinary career in public service.'

(Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.


U.S. President Barack Obama embarks on Air Force One in sub-freezing weather as he departs Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, for the wedding of a White House staffer in Jacksonville, Florida, January 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he leaves the White House during his departure for Chicago, Illinois, in Washington, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)


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