Photo: White House
President Barack Obama held his first press conference since re-election today, where he addressed a wide array of issues: the looming “fiscal cliff,” the fallout from former CIA Director David Petraeus’ resignation last Friday in the wake of an extramarital affair, and international affairs in Iran and Syria.Obama pushed hard the idea of his mandate on tax policy during the press conference, saying the “majority of voters agreed with me.”
He also gave an impassioned defence of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who has come under heavy criticism by Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham today as speculation about her being nominated to become Secretary of State increases.
Full recap of the press conference below:
Opening statement: Obama begins by talking about the fiscal cliff, saying he’s “open to compromise and open to new ideas.” He compliments “Republican after Republican” who have been advocating “new revenue from wealthy Americans” in the past week.
“We should not hold the middle-class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy,” Obama said.
Obama advocates the idea that he has a mandate. It was a “very clear result” last week, Obama said.
FIRST QUESTION: It comes on Petraeus. Obama has “no evidence…that classified information was disclosed that would have an impact on our national security.”
“We’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations,” he says.
He took time to praise Petraeus’ time as CIA director.
“We are safer because of the work that David Petraeus has done,” Obama said.
SECOND QUESTION: The next question comes from CNN reporter Jessica Yellin, who asks a blunt question on extending the Bush tax cuts:
“Respectfully sir, why should the American people and Republicans believe you won’t cave this time?”
Obama’s answer is that last year’s extension of the Bush-era tax cuts was a “one-time proposition.” “We cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy” this time, he says, but he says the government needs to make sure that middle-class taxes do not increase.
“There are loopholes that can be closed, and we should look at the process of deductions that can make the filing process easier and simpler,” Obama says.
Obama pushes the idea of a mandate hard, saying that more Americans agree with his tax plan than voted for him (a fact that exit polls confirm).
“The majority of voters agreed with me. More voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me,” he says.
THIRD QUESTION: The third question comes from Telemundo, which asks about immigration reform. Obama says it was “encouraging” to see such high Latino turnout during the election.
“This has not historically been a partisan issue,” Obama says, citing John McCain and George W. Bush. “We need to seize the moment.”
He says he expects to receive a bill “very soon” after his inauguration.
“I think there should be a pathway for legal status,” Obama said. He says the bill should continue to include strong border protection measures.
QUESTION NO. 4: NBC’s Chuck Todd follows up on the first two questions.
“I am withholding judgment as to how the entire process around Gen. Petraeus came up,” Obama says.
He says that if he had been told, Todd would be asking “why we were interfering in a criminal investigation.”
“I think it’s best right now for us to see how this process unfolded,” Obama says.
On the fiscal cliff, Obama reiterates that he is “not going to just slam the door” in the face of Republicans. “I want to hear ideas from everybody. I believe this is solvable.” He closes the door on the top tax rate of 35% for the wealthy under George W. Bush, but does not commit to the 39% level under Bill Clinton.
“The American people understood what they were getting when they gave me this incredible privilege of being in office for a second term,” Obama says.
QUESTION NO. 5: Obama gets asked about a meeting with former GOP nominee Mitt Romney that he talked about on election night. He says it has yet to be scheduled.
“My hope is by the end of the year we’ll get a chance to sit down and talk,” he says. He says he thinks Romney could be “very helpful,” and did a “terrific job” running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
QUESTION NO. 6: ABC’s Jon Karl asks about Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said they would fight a speculative nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State. Obama says he won’t speculate on Cabinet nominations, but goes out of his way to defend Rice.
“She has done exemplary work.”
He says on Benghazi, Rice gave the best understanding of the intelligence given to her when she made the Sunday talk-show rounds the weekend after the attack.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham want to go after somebody they should go after me,” he says. “And I am happy to have that discussion.”
More: “When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me.”
QUESTION NO. 6: Fox News’ Ed Henry asks if Obama thinks he has a mandate.
“I’ve got one mandate,” Obama says, “I’ve got a mandate to help middle-class families.”
But: “I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in 2nd terms.”
QUESTION NO. 7: It’s another one about the fiscal cliff.
“Well obviously we can all imagine a scenario where we go off the fiscal cliff,” Obama says. He warns “it would be a bad thing” and that it is “not necessary.”
He was also asked the status of relations with Iran. “I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem. … We’re not going to let Iran get a nuclear weapon.”
He adds: “We want to get this resolved, and we’re not going to be restrained by diplomatic niceties.” But: “I can’t promise Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through.”
QUESTION NO. 8: It comes on climate change, centering on Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement right before the election and the effects of Superstorm Sandy. He is asked about a potential carbon tax.
Obama says that while we “can’t attribute any specific weather event to climate change,” the temperature around the globe “is increasing.” He says he is a “firm believer that climate change is real.”
Obama does not, however, commit to any climate change legislation, saying jobs and the economy take precedence. But he says we’ll “hear from” him more on the issue.
QUESTION NO. 9: Obama is asked about arming Syrian rebels.
“I’m encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group,” he says.
He will not commit to arming the rebels, suggesting it’s too risky that the arms fall in the wrong hands.
On the opposition, he says: “We’re not yet ready to recognise them as some sort of government in exile.”
Obama gets shouted one more question, but he ends the press conference there.
You can watch a replay of the press conference here:
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