Obama at A+E Networks Event: "I Still Have Not Driven a Car"

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The former U.S. president has been facing criticism after it was reported he will receive $400,000 to speak at a health care conference in September.

Former President Barack Obama appeared at an A+E Networks event on Thursday (April 27) in Manhattan, one of his first public appearances since leaving office last January. The former president posed for pictures with attendees of the "History Makers" lunch at The Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side. He delivered remarks about the need to do the "hard work" of reconciliation instead of taking the "easy" route toward the politics of exclusion and "nationalism."

He also joked that he has a backlog of A+E series Pawn Stars and Storage Wars on his DVR.

He then sat for a 90-minute discussion with presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who asked him if he has driven a car since leaving office. He has not, he noted. But without the presidential motorcade he admitted: "I now experience traffic."

In his opening remarks he also noted that life outside of the White House cocoon moves much more slowly. By way of an example he relayed that setting up a meeting about his forthcoming book took 10 days, which Obama was surprised about since he found that while he was at the White House, the attitude was much more, "if we don't meet about it in half an hour someone dies."

He said among the best advice he received when he got to the White House was from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had worked for several administrations and whom Obama kept on into 2011. "He said, 'You have 2 million people working for you, somewhere, somehow somebody is screwing up.'" And it was important to manage problems - big and small - methodically.

Goodwin noted that Abraham Lincoln dealt with anger over issues in the White House by writing "hot" letters and then putting them in a drawer and not sending them. She asked Obama how he kept his anger under wraps during his presidency. Obama offered, "For starters, by not having a Twitter account." But he added that he's generally pretty even tempered, which he attributed to his upbringing in Hawaii. "The weather's great, what's the problem?"

The hyper speed of the 21st Century media where "everyone has a megaphone" was among the issues discussed. And Obama reflected that his administration spent a lot of time reacting to media fires and should have spent more time pro-actively selling their policies through better messaging.

The New York Times reported April 26, that Obama is set to receive $400,000 for a speech in September at a health care conference run by Wall Street investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald. That is the same amount as received each year as president, as his government salary. The New York Post reported that Obama received $400,000 to appear at the A+E event.

Presidents have long cashed in with paid speeches once they leave office. Ronald Reagan made $2 million in a week for a series of speeches in Japan. Bill Clinton earned about $200,000 per speech once leaving office. And President George W. Bush averaged about $175,000. Hillary Clinton's paid speeches to Wall Street became a yoke for her during the presidential campaign.

Obama has been criticized lately for his paid appearances. Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed she was "troubled" by the amount. And President Trump retweeted to his more than 28 million followers a Fox News tweet about Warren's criticism of Obama. 

Obama appeared at the University of Chicago on April 24, his first public appearance since leaving the White House. He is scheduled to give a speech May 7 at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.