USA Politics First Look

What's next for the Obamas?

The former first family plans to take some time away from the limelight after President Trump's inauguration. But after that, Barack and Michelle Obama say they will plunge back into civic life.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama prepare to greet President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania for tea at the White House before the inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters | Caption

Barack Obama is no longer the president of the United States, but he and former first lady Michelle Obama have no plans of receding into the background.

Following President Trump’s inauguration, Mr. Obama took his final flight aboard the presidential aircraft to retreat with his family to the Palm Springs desert in California’s Coachella Valley, where he plans on taking time out with the family. But after a bit of respite, he and the former first lady plan to dive back into civic life.

“I want to do some writing,” Mr. Obama told reporters this week. “I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much. I want to spend precious time with my girls.”

But following this period of rest, the president will return from the estate at Sunnylands to Washington, D.C., where the former first couple plans to begin a multi-stranded life of civic engagement, patterned on his roots as a community organizer.

Much of that work will be enacted through the former president's foundation, whose major initial task will be raising funds to build his presidential center on the Southside of Chicago. In a video calling for suggestions from the American public about what should be included in the project, Obama said he hopes the center would be “more than library or museum, it will be a living, working center for citizenship.” He added that he expects its reach to be national and global.

Obama has made it clear he won’t be appearing on any ballots in the near future, but given his experience in Washington, political analysts are expecting him to play a key but informal role in shaping Democratic policy.

“I would not be surprised if he maintains a really important behind-the-scenes role in helping craft Democratic strategy,” Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this month. “The question is, in a media-saturated environment, whether he can keep those types of maneuverings under wraps. But I can see him privately being called upon to provide strategic support, giving advice to people, providing institutional memory.”

Obama’s plans also likely include bolstering support for the outside group Organizing for America, which supported his two presidential campaigns and is now morphing its efforts to focus on training activists and recruiting Democratic candidates.

Obama has also indicated that he will work with former Attorney General Eric Holder and the organization he heads, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, to focus on the redrawing of congressional districts due after the 2020 census. Gerrymandered districts have long been seen as strongly contributing to the polarized extremes in America’s national politics.

“When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes,” Obama said earlier this month.

The former president has made it clear that he does not intend to speak out against Mr. Trump, but that he will if he feels fundamental American values are under attack. One issue that the president has indicated would likely lure him back to the podium would be efforts to deport some of the 750,000 young adults, often called Dreamers, who work and study in the country but do not have legal status because their parents brought them into the country illegally when they were young children.

"President Obama is enormously grateful President Bush gave the president space to do his job when he took office, and he'll do the same for President Trump," Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told the Los Angeles Times. "President Obama won't weigh in on the day-to-day churn of Washington, but if there's something that's counter to what he believes America stands for, he might consider speaking out."

However, Obama has indicated he may continue to offer occasional counsel to Trump, as is tradition among former and current commanders-in-chief.