President Obama has wrapped up his first press conference since the election, with, surprise, surprise, the David Petraeus scandal and the fiscal cliff at the top of the agenda, reports the AP. But he also made headlines with a strong defense of UN ambassador Susan Rice. The full transcript is here. Some highlights:
- Petraeus: Obama again praised the general for his "extraordinary career" but said Petraeus fell short of his own personal standards. Asked whether classified information had leaked, Obama said he was not aware of any and deferred to the ongoing FBI investigation. “I have no evidence at this point from what I’ve seen that classified information was disclosed that would have in any way have had an impact on our national security.”
- Fiscal cliff: He reiterated that he is "open to compromise" but again insisted that tax cuts should not be extended for those making more than $250,000 a year. At the same time, he wants Congress to immediately pass a bill extending the cuts for those who make less. “We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts on the wealthy,” he said, declaring that he had a "mandate" on the issue, notes Slate. Later, of the looming deadline: "I believe this is solvable.
- Benghazi: "If people don't think that we did everything" we could to protect Americans, then they don't understand how the Pentagon, the CIA, or the State Department operates, said Obama, who promised to turn over all information from the follow-up investigations.
- Susan Rice: He also issued a strong defense of his UN ambassador (and secretary of state contender), who has come under Republican criticism for her initial public response to the Benghazi attack. If John McCain "and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," he said. “I don’t think there’s any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed that’s a problem. ... But when they go after the UN ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me.”
- Climate change: Obama said his administration didn't do enough in his first term and pledged to start a "national conversation" in his second.
- Immigration reform: He said work on legislation should start immediately, adding that the heavy Latino turnout in the election should "cause some reflection on the part of Republicans," reports the New York Times.
- Mitt Romney: He said he hasn't reached out to Romney yet but hopes to meet with him before the end of the year.
- Syria: Obama said he was among the first world leaders to call for Bashar al-Assad to go, but he didn't follow France's lead of recognizing the new rebel coalition. “One of the things we have to be on guard about, particularly when we start talking about arming the opposition, is that we’re not putting arms in the hands of people who would do Americans harm, or do Israelis harm.”