President Barack Obama's Wednesday news conference was his first full-scale White House session with reporters since March. He answered questions on a wide array of issues, from the Petraeus scandal to criticism of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice by Senate Republicans, the looming "fiscal cliff" and immigration reform. Here are some highlights:
On U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice: "If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham want to go after somebody, they should go after me, and I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador that had nothing to do with Benghazi and simply making statements based on the intelligence she received, and besmirch her reputation, is outrageous."
The president's most spirited remarks came in response to a question about comments by Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham questioning the qualifications of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Earlier Wednesday, both senators vowed to block any promotion of Rice, with Graham saying he didn't "trust her." Their criticism relates to Rice's response to the Sept. 11, 2012 killings of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which she said the attack seemed to be in response to an anti-Islam video. Later intelligence reports revealed that the attack was planned by Islamic militants. Obama said Rice was speaking at the behest of the White House using what information was available at the time. "We've got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won't get any debate from me on that," Obama said. "But 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."
On General David Patraeus: “I have no evidence at this point from what I’ve seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security."
The scandal that took down CIA chief David Petraeus last week stemmed from a string of emails between him and his biographer, Paula Broadwell -- and widened to include communications between four-star Gen. John Allen and a woman that he and Petraeus had befriended. That has raised concerns about whether the commanders shared any classified information regarding national security. Obama said that doesn't appear to be the case, but it remains under investigation by the FBI. Obama also said he preferred to "withhold judgment" on whether the FBI should have told him earlier about the months-long investigation. "We don’t have all the information yet," he said.
On the "fiscal cliff" and taxes: “I’m less concerned about red lines … I'm more concerned about not finding ourselves in a situation where the wealthy aren’t paying more or aren’t paying as much as they should, and middle class families are making up difference. That’s the kind of status quo that's been going on here too long."
Obama has been very careful and deliberate in charting his path in negotiations with Congress over the across-the-board expiration of Bush-era tax cuts and spending cuts that comprise the "fiscal cliff" that looms on Dec. 31. The president has not indicated whether he was willing to accept tax increases for the wealthy that fall short of the rates they paid under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. When pressed on the issue, Obama stressed his commitment to compromise, indicating that he was willing to bend a bit on tax rates but would not reneg on his campaign pledge to allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire for Americans earning $250,000 or more. Republicans have said they won't budge on rates but have hinted at higher tax revenue through changes to the tax code by closing loopholes and deductions. Obama wants Congress to resolve the tax-cuts issue, then turn to reforming the tax code.
On Latinos: "I think what was incredibly encouraging was to see a significant increase in Latino turnout. This is the fastest-growing group in the country ... You're starting to see a sense of empowerment and civic participation that I think is going to be powerful and good for the country. And it is why I am very confident that we can get immigration reform done."
Asked about his plan to reform the nation's laws governing undocumented immigrants, including allowing more pathways to legal status, Obama said he believed that his re-election, in which a vast majority of Hispanic voters cast ballots for him, showed that he had the political capital to overcome GOP resistance. The president said that the election results should cause "some reflection on the part of Republicans" and lead to more compromise on immigration reform. "We need to seize the moment," Obama said.
On Washington politics: “I hope and intend to be a better president in my second term than I was in the first.”
This comment came in response to a reporter's questions about Obama's relationship with Congress, particularly the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. His first term was marked by political gridlock, and Obama has acknowledged that he hasn't always been the best communicator with his Washington rivals. And although he considers himself in possession of a mandate to lead the country, he said he intends to reassess his ways of dealing with Congress. "I don’t exempt myself from needing to do some self-reflection to see if I can improve our relationship," he said.