On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama, in his first news conference since winning re-election, reiterated his promise to work with Republicans to create jobs and improve the economy. Judging by the barrage of tough questions he faced, however, he'll be confronted with one politically charged issue after another as he prepares to begin his second term. The reporters who filled the East Room of the White House for Obama's first full-fledged question-and-answer session in eight months pressed him on everything from the fiscal cliff to the David Petraeus affair, and from taxes to climate change. Here's how Obama responded on four of the most controversial issues he's facing:
1. Taxes and the fiscal cliff
The looming "fiscal cliff" has Washington's attention, with the potentially devastating collection of spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled to automatically take effect at year's end. Obama vowed to avert calamity by pushing through a deficit-reduction deal. He reiterated his pledge that any agreement would have to increase taxes on the wealthy, meaning he wouldn't agree to extending Bush-era tax cuts for families making more than $250,000. He said Congress has a choice: Let all the Bush cuts expire, or extend the breaks for people who make less than $250,000. In other words, says the Baltimore Sun in an editorial, "Republicans who think they can blackmail the president into backing down on that question, as he did two years ago, had better think again."
2. The David Petraeus affair
Obama was clearly ready for questions on the resignation last week of his CIA director, David Petraeus, and the extramarital affair that provoked it. Obama praised Petraeus for his service to the country, both in the CIA and in the military. The president also offered assurances that national security had not been compromised by Petraeus' affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. "Obama chose his words carefully and made sure to emphasize that he was withholding judgment until a fuller picture of the situation emerged," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. He said he had "no evidence," for example, that classified information had been disclosed that would undermine national security. Thanks to cautious remarks like that, "Obama was able to keep the Petraeus matter on the backburner," which is just where he needs it to be as he presses ahead on the fiscal cliff and putting together his next cabinet.
The subject of the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate came up in the context of Obama's effort to put together his next cabinet. One reporter asked Obama for his response to comments from Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who warned that they would do everything in their power to prevent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from becoming the next secretary of state if Obama nominates her, because of statements she made suggesting the attack might not have been a planned act of terrorism. Obama bristled. "If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," he said. "And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? And to besmirch her reputation is outrageous." Wow, says Peter Nicholas at The Wall Street Journal. For a guy who's "known to be emotionally reserved, the president showed some fire in defending U.N. Ambassador Rice."
4. Climate change
After Hurricane Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Obama over Mitt Romney, citing the Democrat's policies on climate change — which some said stoked Sandy's fury. Obama was asked whether he'd be willing to go as far as, say, considering a tax on carbon to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. "I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior," Obama said. He added, however, that Republicans and Democrats would have to make "some tough political choices" to make a dent in the problem, and he wouldn't support any policies that would hurt job growth. Translation: Americans are too worried about the economy to ask businesses to spend money to cut pollution, says Richard Adams at Britain's Guardian: "So, don't hold your breath (even if it does reduce carbon emissions)."