President Obama passionately defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's record during his first press conference with the White House press pool since wining re-election. In fact, it was the first time he spoke to White House reporters in over eight months.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham both attacked Rice earlier Wednesday morning for her handling of the Benghazi situation. Responding to rumors Rice is being considered for Secretary of State, McCain said he would consider filibustering Rice if the President tried to nominate her.
The President did not take kindly to their posturing. "Let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work," Obama said. And that's when he really fell on his sword for her:
As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others 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, 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.
Besmirch! Invites for attacks! Gosh, the President hasn't been this excited about a question in a while. (Probably because he hasn't answered questions in a while, but we digress.) He was far from done, though. He threatened if McCain and Graham are going after Rice because, "they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me."
Graham already responded in a statement given to reporters after the press conference. "Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi," Graham said.
Obama's last quote on the matter was directed right at John McCain:
And should I choose — if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity — the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.
Elsewhere, the President continued to stress the importance of making a deal so they don't risk driving over the fiscal cliff. When asked about the chance of potentially letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire, he stressed that wouldn't happen again. "I said what I meant…that this was a one-time proposition," Obama said. "Half of the the fiscal cliff is eliminated if we take this step," he argued.
He also had a habit of bringing up consumer spending on the potential ruining of the holiday season if they fail to get a deal done. Points to the President for using the holidays as leverage to encourage compromise. If Congress ruins Christmas, too, there will be anarchy in the streets.
The Love Pentagon was brought up a few times but the President was hesitant to go into too much detail. He compliment Petraeus on his years of service, and praised his decision to step down. When asked, Obama said he was withholding his judgement to see if he should have been told about the affair sooner. He's taking a wait and see approach on whether or not he should have been informed. But he also joked the press would have yelled at him for interfering in a criminal investigation had he known any earlier.
The other notable answer was the President's cooling on climate change. Obama was asked if he had any plans to implement a carbon tax. The shortest version of his answer: no. "We can attribute any particular weather event to climate change," he says, but "I am a firm believe that climate change is real." He ended up bringing the talking point back to the need to stabilize the economy. If they can do that and focus on climate change at the same time, "that's something I'm sure America would support."
A full round-up, including a video of the press conference playing on a loop, can be found below.
Video and live updates below:
01:33 p.m. The President is three minutes late, but here we go... "I hear you have some questions for me," he quips. Obama came out swinging on the economy. He's warning against letting taxes go up for the middle class, and steering away from the fiscal cliff. "We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy," he says.
1:40 p.m. The AP's Ben Feller asks if he can guarantee no classified information was leaked in the Love Pentagon. "I have no evidence, that I've seen, that classified information has been disclosed," he says.
1:42 p.m. Next reporter brings it on Obama's extending of the Bush tax cuts. "Why should the American people and the Republicans believe you won't cave again?" Obama cites the state of the economy at the time as a good reason to keep them at the time. "I said what I meant…that this was a one-time proposition," he says. Unemployment is down. Things are on the way up. It worked, he argues, but it has to stop.
"Half of the the fiscal cliff is eliminated if we take this step," he says.
1:47 p.m. He's mentioned consumer confidence going into the "holiday season" a few times. The President is using Christmas to leverage Republicans in the fiscal cliff negotiations. "I want a big deal, a comprehensive deal," he says. "I want to make sure that taxes on middle class familes don't go up, and there's an easy way to do that. We could do that next week."
1:51 p.m. Next question is on immigration reform. "I am very confident that we can get immigration reform done," Obama says.
"We have to secure our borders," he says. "I do think there should be a pathway to legal status," for those who without a criminal record and who are living here to work.
1:53 p.m. Chuck Todd asks if he's withholding judgement on how the General Petraeus investigation was handled and if he should have been informed sooner. "I am," the President confirms. "I'm going to wait and see."
Todd also asked if a return to Clinton-era tax rates are a hard and fast rule for a tax package. "I am open to new idea," Obama says. If someone comes up with a new idea, from either side of the aisle, he's open to it. "I don't expect the Republicans to simply adopt my budget. That's unrealistic... We're going to have to compromise."
1:58 p.m. Reporter asks if Obama has spoken to Mitt Romney since the concession call on election night. "We haven't spoken yet," Obama says. "Everyone seems to forget the election was only a week ago." He's open to bringing him to the negotiation table, though, he says he wants to talk to Romney and see if they can't work together.
2:02 p.m. Obama on his relationship with Congress: "There's no doubt I can always do better."
2:04 p.m. The President just fell on his sword for Susan Rice. Jon Karl asked about John McCain's comments from this morning. "She has done exemplary work," he says. "She made an appearance at the request of the White House where she gave her best understanding of the intelligence given to her. If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham want to go after anyone, they can go after me."
2:08 p.m. On mandates: "I've got one mandate, I've got one to help middle class families... that's my mandate."
2:11 p.m. "Can you imagine any scenario where we do go off the fiscal cliff?" a reporter asks.
"We can all imagine a scenario where we go off the fiscal cliff," he says. Welp. If things go poorly and stubbornness dominates the negotiations, then we could drive the car straight over the cliff. He brought up Christmas and holiday shopping again. The fiscal cliff can ruin the holidays, you guys.
2:15 p.m. On Iran: "We are not going to let Iran get a nuclear weapon."
2:16 p.m. On the rumored nuclear negotiations with Iran: "That was not true," he says, before clarifying... "It is not true at this moment."
2:21 p.m. Reporter asks the President about a potential carbon tax. He says it's unlikely, but gives some strong quotes on climate change. "We can attribute any particular weather event to climate change," he says, but "I am a firm believe that climate change is real." Relates everything back to creating jobs and stabilizing the economy. If they can do that and focus on climate change at the same time, "that's something I'm sure America would support."
2:23 p.m. Last question is about the Syrian conflict, oddly. Asked if the President will acknowledge the rebels as the true leaders in Syria and if they'll consider arming the rebels. Obama points out they've contributed humanitarian aid and helped the rebels organize so they won't get slaughtered. "I was one of the first world leaders to say Assad has to go," Obama says.
2:27 p.m. We have a rogue questioner! "That was a great question, but it would be a horrible precedent for me to answer it just because you yelled it out," the President responds. The questions was about house spending from what we could hear. The asker wasn't speaking into a mic.
Original: President Obama is going to hold his first formal presser after winning re-election last Tuesday. It's been so long, the White House press corps can barely remember the last time they spoke. The last time Obama held a formal press conference at the White House, and took questions from the corps, like this was on March 6, over eight months ago. (Eight months and eight days, but who's counting?) It got to the point where Republicans tried to turn Obama's not speaking with the press into a campaign attack. (Hint: it didn't work.)
A lot has happened since March, so the press corps will likely be coming in with their homework done and their questions sharpened. If one reporter catches the President off guard, drinks are on him or her afterwards.