* Obama says willing to compromise on debt and taxes
* Launches spirited defense of U.N. ambassador over Libya
By Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON, Nov 14 President Barack Obama laid
out his second-term agenda on Wednesday, expressing a
willingness to work with Republicans in Congress and a resolve
to defy them if necessary.
In his first full-scale news conference since March, Obama
said he was willing to compromise with Republicans to forge a
deal on the nation's debt and taxes to avoid the "fiscal cliff,"
a combination of budget cuts and tax increases that will kick in
next year if such an agreement is not reached.
But he said he would not abandon his campaign pledge to
allow Bush-era tax cuts on the top 2 percent of U.S. earners to
He also launched a feisty defense of his United Nations
ambassador, Susan Rice, pushing back against two Republican
senators who said they would not support her nomination for a
Cabinet post because she made misleading statements about the
September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that
killed four Americans.
"If Senator (John) McCain and Senator (Lindsey) Graham and
others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,"
After a re-election campaign that critics said offered few
details of his vision for the next four years, Obama discussed
his priorities on policies from immigration to climate change
during an hour-long press conference, his first since defeating
former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on Nov. 6.
"I hear you have some questions for me," Obama told
reporters at the White House before launching into familiar
positions on raising taxes for wealthy Americans and protecting
the middle class.
The president was relaxed, bantered with reporters who
challenged him and expressed gratitude for having the chance to
be in the White House for another four years.
"I don't have another election. And Michelle and I were
talking last night about what an incredible honor and privilege
it is to be put in this position," he said, referring to his
wife as he noted that millions of people who voted for and
against him are counting on his leadership going forward.
"I take that responsibility very seriously," he said. "And I
hope and intend to be an even better president in the second
term than I was in the first."
Critics of his first term say Obama did not do enough to
reach out to lawmakers, particularly Republicans who still hold
a majority in the House of Representatives. Obama took a
conciliatory tone toward Congress while sticking to his
positions on issues that divide Democrats and Republicans,
including tax rates and reducing the budget deficit.
"Look, I think there's no doubt that I can always do better,
and so I will examine ways that I can make sure to communicate
my desire to work with everybody, so long as it's advancing the
cause of strengthening our middle class and improving our
economy," he said.
His conciliatory tone broke down when a questioner asked
about McCain and Graham's criticism of Rice, a contender to
succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
"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," Obama said.
If he decided Rice was the best person to succeed Clinton at
the State Department, he would nominate her, Obama said, adding:
"That's not a determination that I've made yet."
The controversy over former CIA director David Petraeus'
extramarital affair and subsequent resignation dominated the
initial questions for the president, who said the former
four-star general had an "extraordinary career" and served the
United States with distinction.
On fiscal matters, Obama did not go so far as to claim a
strong mandate to push through everything he wanted.
"I've got a mandate to help middle-class families and
families that are working hard to try to get into the middle
class," Obama said. "That's my mandate. That's what the American
"I don't presume that because I won an election that
everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything," he said. "I'm
more than familiar with all the literature about presidential
overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that."
Obama was not cautious about putting timetables on the
policy priorities he has set for his second term, however.
He said he expects to introduce a bill in Congress on
comprehensive immigration reform "very soon" after his January
inauguration, and he promised to engage scientists, engineers
and elected officials in a conversation about reducing carbon
emissions in the coming weeks and months.