In his first news conference since Election Day, President Barack Obama took questions from reporters on a range of issues.
Obama said he would work with Congress to avert the fiscal cliff — a combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect early next year — but that he would not back down on refusing to extend tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners.
The President also said he hoped to meet with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney before the end of the year to discuss some of his campaign rivals’ ideas for making the government more efficient.
Shifting to the widening sex scandal that ensnared his former CIA director David Petraeus and top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, Obama said he has seen no evidence that national security was threatened.
The President also told critics of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, a potential candidate to lead the State Department after Hillary Clinton’s expected departure, that they should “go after me” — not her — if they have issues with the administration’s handling of the deadly attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Obama: Romney has good ideas on reforming government
President Barack Obama says he hasn’t yet scheduled a meeting with Republican Mitt Romney, as he said he would do in his election-night address. But said he hopes to have the chance to talk with Romney before the end of the year.
Obama said the election was only a week ago, and that everybody needs to catch their breath.
“There are certain aspects of Gov. Romney’s record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful,” Obama said, citing the “terrific job” Romney did overseeing the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
“That skill set of trying to figure out how do we make something work better applies to the federal government,” Obama said. “There are a lot of ideas — that I don’t think are partisan ideas — but are just smart ideas … How do we make the federal government more customer-friendly? How can we make sure that we’re consolidating programs that are duplicative? How can we eliminate additional waste?
Obama said he actually agreed with some of Romney’s campaign proposals on those issues.
Obama ‘open to new ideas’ on deficit-reduction
Turning back to the economy, the president vowed not to cave to Republicans who have pressed for tax cuts first passed by George W. Bush to be extended for all income earners. Obama has long opposed extending the cuts for families making more than $250,000 a year, but he gave into GOP demands in 2010 when the cuts were up for renewal.
That won’t happen this time around, he said Wednesday.
“Two years ago the economy was in a different situation,” Obama said. “But what I said at the time was what I meant. Which was this is a one-time proposition.”
The President and Congress are also seeking to avoid across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, scheduled to take effect because lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the federal deficit. Failure to act would slash Defense Department and civilian agency budgets, alike. .
Obama said he was “open to new ideas” but would not allow current tax rates to continue for the top 2 percent of wage earners, drawing a line for Republicans who say they will not tolerate any tax rate increases. Asked if the tax rates for the rich had to return to Clinton-era levels, Obama indicated he was open to negotiations.
Obama makes first comments on Petraeus probe
Obama says he has no evidence that the scandal that ended former Gen. David Petraeus’ career had a negative impact on national security and that no classified information was disclosed that would harm national security.
The President spoke five days after Petraeus resigned as head of the Central Intelligence Agency after disclosing he had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Obama said he hoped the scandal would be a “single side note” in Petraeus’ otherwise extraordinary career.
Obama brushed aside questions about whether he was informed about the FBI investigations that led to the disclosures quickly enough. White House officials first learned about the investigations last Wednesday, the day after the election, and Obama was alerted the following day.
“My expectation is that they follow the protocols that they’ve already established,” Obama said. “One of the challenges here is that we’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations and that’s been our practice.”
Obama defends Rice, no decisions on Cabinet appointments
President Barack Obama is defending U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in the aftermath of the deadly Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya and calling Republican criticism of her outrageous.
At a White House news conference Wednesday, Obama pushed back against GOP senators who said they would do whatever is necessary to scuttle Rice’s nomination if the president picks her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The president said if Sen. John McCain wants to go after someone, he should challenge the president, not Rice.
McCain told reporters earlier Wednesday that he would do all he could to block a Rice nomination.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said he didn’t trust Rice.
Obama will have to face the departure of several key Cabinet secretaries and White House staffers. Among those expected to leave are Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry are the leading candidates to replace Clinton. Rice is a favorite of the president, but she has faced intense criticism for her role in the initial administration response to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, during an attack
“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,” Obama said. “And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America, in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.”
(Federal News Radio’s Jack Moore contributed to this report)
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 8-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.