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Presidential Press Conference
Aired November 14, 2012 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is CNN NEWSROOM. We want to welcome all of you to our special coverage of President Obama's first news conference since being re-elected. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Also, I want to welcome our international viewers, our viewers in the United States and around the world.
A scandal that's brought down the head of the CIA, a looming financial crisis, and lingering question about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. President Obama expected to face questions about all of that and more this hour when he meets with reporters over at the White House. He is scheduled to step up to the podium in about 30 minutes. You'll see all of it live right here on CNN.
We're bringing you special live coverage leading up to the president's news conference. I'm joined by our colleague Suzanne Malveaux. She's at the CNN center in Atlanta; we'll get to her shortly. Also, our panel here in Washington, our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, our CNN Political Contributors Donna Brazile and Castellanos, and our National Security Contributor Fran Townsend, she's also a member of the CIA's External Advisory Board. We also have our Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi standing by in New York, our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash and our Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin who will be at the news conference in the White House East Room getting ready to ask a question.
Jessica, I'll start with you. Set the stage for us. How much concern is there at the White House right now that this General Petraeus scandal could overshadow some of the other critical items on the president's agenda, especially dealing with the looming financial crisis?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the White House officials are well aware that that will be a topic of discussion here at the press conference that's coming up. But the president is also going to do his best to focus on the economy and keep our attention. He knows that will also be a topic of discussion with the meeting at the end of the week on Friday with Congressional leaders for fiscal cliff negotiations.
I expect you will hear questions on all those issues, on the fiscal cliff, whether he will sit down and meet with speaker Boehner one-on- one, will he take a more active role, as Fran Townsend just brought up, setting a tone inside the military for ethical behavior inside the military, questions, no doubt, about Benghazi, and how the second term will be different from the first term, in terms of avoiding gridlock, making legislative progress. And then, we don't know about further questions down the road.
He also pledged yesterday, in a meeting with progressive leaders to make immigration reform top priority and move on it quickly. Maybe he'll be able to talk about that coming up. He's said he'll take about eight questions. You know, he's pretty long winded so some other president's get more in inside an hour, that's about as much as this president gets to in an hour. So, we try to throw compound questions at him so we can get more insight on each question but we'll see how much we can cover from 1:30 to 2:30 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: If he asks -- gets to call on eight reporters, maybe each one of them can do two or three-part questions, and we'll get more information from the president. I know you got to go over to the East Room. Go ahead, Jessica, walk over there and get ready for your question or a three-part question, whatever you got. We'll check in with you shortly.
Let's bring in our panel right now. Jessica, let me -- Gloria, let me start with you right now. This is his first formal White House news conference, what, since March 6th. This is a president -- he doesn't like to do these news conferences, does he?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he doesn't. Just think, Wolf, if he had actually had his post-election news conference directly post-election, he wouldn't have to be answering all of these questions about General Petraeus and what's going at the CIA and, you know, the FBI and all the kinds of questions he now is going to answer -- have to answer about what he knew about this scandal and when he knew it and the implications for national security and what he is going to do about rejiggering his entire national security team, because there's a big hole in the middle of it. So, this is not the sort of post-victory news conference he would have wanted.
Having said that, he is going to take this opportunity, as Jess pointed out, to try to pivot, change the subject a little bit, and talk about the thing that's so important, which is the fiscal cliff and I will think lay out his opening bid, if you will, which seems, by the way, to be sort of $1.6 trillion in tax --
BLITZER: In tax increases.
BORGER: -- over the next 10 years. So, you know, you're talking about a president who is now saying, no exchange, you know, if you Republicans want to just cap deductions for the wealthy, I'm not going to make a trade with you on that in terms of how high my rates are going to go. My rates still seem to -- need to go higher, and that's going to be his sort of opening salvo.
BLITZER: Will he follow, Donna, in the footsteps of Senator Patty Murray, other Democrats who say, you know what? Go over the fiscal cliff, let the Republicans be blamed, if you will, taxes will go up on everyone, including the middle class, and then you'd start from scratch in the new Congress that takes -- that convenes in early January. Do you think he'll be that bold and he'll willing to make that assertion? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't want to make any news for the president. There's so much news out right now and so many scandals, so I wouldn't want to make any news. But, look, the president is going to outline, I'm sure, his agenda for the second term. He is also going to lay out the framework for the discussions that is will surround the so-called fiscal cliff. I have seen some progressives call it a staircase not a cliff. I mean, we're not totally going overboard, but clearly it's an opportunity for us to do a lot of big things and now that we have this rush of spending cuts as well as the taxes that will automatically go up, unemployment insurance expiring, et cetera. But the president, I'm sure, is going to address this recent controversy involving -- I get so excited when I have to talk about sex all week, but it's not the kind of sex that I like to talk about because it doesn't involve -- it doesn't involve anything in my life. But I've been reading about it and hearing about it, so the president is going to have to address that as well.
BLITZER: And then, I'm sure there will be a lot of questions on General Petraeus, lots of questions on General Allen. Right now, there's a new crisis that's developed in the last few hours with Israel --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Israel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, sure.
BLITZER: -- and the Palestinians in Gaza. I assume there's going to be questions on that. I want everyone to stand by. This country, as all of us know, is heading towards what's called the fiscal cliff. Though, later today, the president will be meeting with business leaders to talk about ways to prevent economic disaster. Ali Velshi on what all of this means, what it could cost. We're going to be speaking with Ali in a few moments as well as we wait for the president's first news conference since being re-elected.
BLITZER: We're waiting for President Obama's first news conference since his re-election. Actually, it's his first formal White House news conference since March. Let's bring in Suzanne Malveaux in -- at the CNN center in Atlanta. Like me, Suzanne, you used to cover the White House, you attended a lot of these presidential news conferences, you know what it's like for the reporters to prepare, for the president of the United States to prepare. What are you anticipating as you look forward to this news conference that's supposed to be given at the bottom of the hour?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I think a lot of people are going to be looking, Wolf, to see just whether or not there are any hints in terms of how he's going to govern any differently for the next four years. I mean, it was interesting, the first week of the presidency, pretty astonishing, right? He had a lot of these executive orders that he put out there one after another, the Lilly Ledbetter, Equal Pay Act, you had one that shut down Guantanamo Bay and others involving energy. So, you're going to take a look and see, does he feel as if he really has some sort of mandate here, that he is going to be able to govern, to move from the middle, but also to insist what this coalition of supporters has put on his plate? Is he going to move forth on immigration reform? Is he going to talk about specifically, if he is asked, whether or not there is going to be a benefit for a second Obama administration for the African-American community and how they're doing economically?
And also, you see this president over the last couple of weeks who is more emotional. We've seen him cry the last couple of times over the last couple of weeks. Is he going to feel that he can be a little bit more of himself, more open and really own this administration, own his policy, and be a more comfortable president in the next four years?
BLITZER: It's really an amazing moment, Suzanne, because he has been re-elected president of the United States, and he got re-elected rather decisively, 332 Electoral College votes. You only need 270 to be elected. So, he goes in right now with a lot of confidence. But you know what? All that confidence in the world can't help if the country is about to go over the fiscal cliff.
MALVEAUX: Yes, you know, I mean, it really is something, when you think about it, going into the second term that he is going to be dealing with something like this. There are -- there are some advisors who say, yes, call the bluff, go over the cliff. It's not going to be as bad as you think because you've got more leverage than you can imagine. But there are others who believe, look, you know what? This is going to be very costly.
I want to bring in Ali Velshi to talk a little bit about this. And, Ali, talk about the $7 trillion, because we're talking those tax increases in spending cuts that people don't really even realize are going to take effect very dramatically.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, the first part of it will start January 1st and 2nd. It's a bundle of things. Some of it is the expiration of the Bush era tax cuts and the payroll tax holiday, and some of it is the -- is the sequestration because they couldn't get a budget deal. But here is what will happen, 88 percent of households would see an increase in taxes, and they would see an average of $3,500 more in their annual taxes. This is not just income tax. This is taxes, deductions that go away, things like that.
Now, Suzanne, the biggest increase is going to come to those making $108,000 or more. You'll see an addition of about $14,000. Obviously, at the lower end of the scale, you won't see that. But it's an inefficient way to increase revenue. What President Obama is going to propose today is that he wants $1.6 trillion in additional revenue over 10 years, but they're going to do it in certain ways. Most of it is going to be on the backs of those earning more than $250,000. If it happens through the fiscal cliff, it will be an inefficient way of doing it, and that's part of the problem.
But he is showing some ability, some movement, as Wolf pointed out the other day, in his speech, he showed some flexibility. You're certainly seeing some flexibility from Republicans. And these business leaders who are at the White House are going to see pressure on them to talk to Republicans, to talk to Congressmen, to talk to people they have financially supported in the last election to say, you guys have got to move a little bit. We cannot afford no compromise and no movement by the end of the year.
MALVEAUX: Ali, how does the max (ph) shake out here? Because you hear the Republicans, you know, talking about closing tax loopholes and limiting deductions, --
MALVEAUX: -- rather than raising taxes. Do they get to the number they need to actually balance the budget?
VELSHI: Well, you don't get to the number you need if you believe -- if you have signed Grover Norquist's pledge to not increase any taxes. There is no way that that math works. There's no way to achieve -- it's just -- bottom line, you can't cut enough to get what you need. So, what President Obama is going to ask for, as a starting offer, is $1.6 trillion in more revenue over 10 years. Almost $1 trillion of that is going to come from increasing, letting the Bush tax cuts expire on the wealthy. Another half a billion dollars is going to come on other taxes having to do with the wealthy. So, you -- you're at -- you know, you're almost at $1.3 trillion out of $1.6 trillion just from the wealthy then it starts to get complicated. But, no, if you -- if the Republicans will not agree to any tax increase or the closure of any loopholes, it's a nonstarter.
MALVEAUX: All right. Ali, thank you, appreciate it.
Wolf, obviously, that's one of the things everyone is going to be asking about is the fiscal cliff, among other things, the scandal as well.
BLITZER: It's going to be fascinating to hear if the president actually uses the words that he's demanding increasing in tax rates, the word rates, very, very important for so many of these Republicans as opposed to increase in tax revenues. How do you get there? Suzanne, stand by for a moment. I just want to remind our viewers, the last time the president held one of these full-blown White House news conferences way, way back during the Republican presidential primaries back in March. In just a few minutes, the president will speak from the East Room for the first time since being re-elected. He's expected to address so many of these issues, including, of course, the looming financial crisis, and the scandal right now surrounding the former head of the CIA. All of this coming up in 15 minutes. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're awaiting the president's first press conference since his re-election. We got an excellent panel here accessing what's going on.
Alex Castellanos, let me bring you in to this conversation. Deal or no deal on the fiscal cliff before the end of the year?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, GOP MEDIA CONSULTANT: Both sides are hardening, Wolf, and it's looking -- maybe this is just the opening bids on both sides, and maybe it's emblematic of a serious negotiation is coming. But you know what I'd love to see and what I'm going to suggest to Republicans is, let's do this out in the open. The president had a health care summit in February, I think, when was it, of 2010, and it got Republicans together in front of the TV cameras. The president, when he was elected, said he wanted to do these kinds of things out in the open.
WOLF: Let C-Span air all the meetings --
CASTELLANOS: Let C-Span air them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about CNN?
CASTELLANOS: If Republicans are being intransigent, if Republicans are being obstructionist, then let's see it. If the president is the one who's not serious about budget cuts, and Republicans are concerned right now that the president is not putting any serious budget cuts on the tables, he's counting wars we're not going to fight the next 10 years. Well, guess what, we're not going to go to the moon in the, you know, five times in the next 20 years. We're not counting that either. There's lots of stuff we're not doing. There aren't -- the Republicans are concerned we're not seeing serious budget cuts coming from the president. And that's the real problem.
BLITZER: Don't hold your breath for those live coverage of all of those internal, back room negotiation that are going to go on.
CASTELLANOS: It's what the president -- it's what the president said we should do.
BLITZER: Don't hold your breath for that.
BLITZER: Fran --
CASTELLANOS: Well, you'd be foreseeing -- you'd be foreseeing the president in doing this out in the open, right?
BRAZILE: Of course. But I don't need a videotaping of the Republicans love gridlock and like being obstructionist.
BLITZER: I'll be -- I'll be --
CASTELLANOS: Flush them out.
BLITZER: I'll be contrarian. If they have all -- as much as I love transparency, as a journalist I want to see everything. If they're all catering and they're posturing for their constituencies, there won't be a deal. Sometimes you need to go behind the scenes, work it out, and then announce what the compromise is, otherwise there's not going to be a compromise. But let me -- let me move on to Fran before I let her run away from us.
Fran, hovering over all of this right now is the last thing I assume the president of the United States wanted with this crisis involving the CIA director, General Petraeus, now gone. The man who was going to be the supreme allied commander in Europe, General John Allen, his confirmation process now on hold. All amidst allegations of sexual affairs of all of this kind of stuff. This is the last thing the president wanted to have to discuss right now.
FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR TO THE UNITED STATES: No. Look, any White House doesn't want the president, on the eve of a press conference, to deal with this sort of sordid, salacious material. And so I expect what we're going to hear, Wolf, is, the president will hide between the age old bromide, it's an ongoing investigation. The DOD inspector general has it. The FBI has --
BLITZER: Well, when he's asked, Mr. President, were you shocked that you were not informed by your people, people who work for you in the executive branch of the U.S. government, that the head of the CIA was being investigated, should you have been told? What does he say then?
TOWNSEND: I think he pivots. I think he avoids the question, Wolf. That's what we normally see, right? I think --
BLITZER: Well, what if the -- if the journalist then follows up and says --
BLITZER: Mr. President, you didn't answer -- with all due respect, you didn't answer the question.
BLITZER: Were you -- should you have been told over these months what was going on?
TOWNSEND: And I think, Wolf, he's going to -- look, I think White House staffs try to protect the president, right? They hold the information until they can give him a complete story. And so whoever knew in the White House and whenever they found out probably didn't tell the president until the last moment. I think what you'll find the president to say is, look, I was certainly disappointed and then pivot to Petraeus has had a storied and very credible and really colorful military career, very successful. And so, of course, I was disappointed to see it end this way. We're grateful for his service and we're going to await the outcome.
CASTELLANOS: Did someone in the White House try to protect the president from alienating the head of the CIA because of Benghazi, because he didn't want to alienate someone who then might be a little too forthcoming on Benghazi, whom you --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the president can't answer that question. I mean that's --
CASTELLANOS: No, but somebody on the White House staff may be able to. Somebody in the CIA. I think Fran's right, people do protect, plausible deniability. (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: The attorney general of the United States knew about this investigation, Eric Holder. The FBI director, Bob Muller, knew about this investigation. They knew about it for months and months and months. They never mentioned it to anyone at the White House? They never mentioned it to the director of national intelligence? They never mentioned it to the vice president, the national security advisor, the president, John Brennan?
There are a lot of questions that have to be answered right now.
CASTELLANOS: A lot of (INAUDIBLE) protecting (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Let's see if the president answers any of them or he does what Fran says he might do, a pivot. Let's see if the reporters let him pivot.
The scandal just one of the issues the president is expected to address in a few minutes. Our special coverage of President Obama's first news conference since his re-election, that continues right after this.
BLITZER: This is the CNN NEWSROOM. We're continuing our special coverage right now. The president's first news conference since being re-elected. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We also want to welcome our viewers not only in the United States but around the world.
I'm joined by our colleague, Suzanne Malveaux. She's at the CNN center in Atlanta. Also my panel here in Washington, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our CNN political contributors Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos, our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She's also a member of the CIA's external advisory board. Also joining us our chief business correspondent Ali Velshi is New York, our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, who is now inside the East Room, where the president will be walking in momentarily. Only minutes away from the president taking the podium there in the East Room of the White House.
He's expected to face lots of questions, including questions about the scandal that brought down the head of the CIA, the looming financial crisis, lingering questions about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Another question is cabinet. Let's go to Dana Bash first.
Dana, he's almost certainly likely to be asked about his picks for Treasury secretary, secretary of state, secretary of defense. What do you expect to hear?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well certainly we do expect to hear questions about it. Whether he's going to answer it is a different issue. I can you, just from the perspective of Capitol Hill, just in the last hour, Wolf, there was a pretty intense press conference from a couple of Republicans, actually three Republicans, but two of whom are kind of his chief foes on -- particularly on this Benghazi issue. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. And on the issue of cabinet, they made very clear that they will do whatever it takes if the president who decides to nominate Susan Rice, who is currently the ambassador to the U.N., move her over to the State Department, that they are going to say no way because they think that she was, at the very least, in their words, incompetent with regard to the public remarks that she made that it turned out to be wrong about Benghazi. So that's where we stand on that.
The other interesting thing I want to point out, the juxtaposition. You and Fran were talking earlier about the fact that the president certainly didn't know about what was going on with David Petraeus until just the day before he resigned. As we speak, right now on Capitol Hill, the director of the FBI and his deputy are here briefing the heads of the House Intelligence Committee about that investigation because, guess what, they were not informed either. So there's a lot going on behind the scenes as the president is speaking publicly about these scandals that have really embroiled his administration.
BLITZER: Jessica Yellin is inside the East Room of the White House getting ready for the news conference, and getting ready for -- I assume the president will start, Jessica, with an opening statement. Is that your understanding?
YELLIN: Start with some opening remarks, Wolf. I would point out that, obviously, those of us in the media are very interested in asking him about General Petraeus, asking him about Dana's remarks about the incident in Benghazi, asking him about the negotiations on the fiscal cliff. But there is something worth pointing out that two years, ago after another election, he held a press conference and came in and had to address a very different set of results. He talked about the shellacking he took and how he was going to have to adjust his position vis-a-vis Congress and negotiations because of a very different outcome in the election. And it will be interesting to see how his posture is different, if it is different, this time because this time Democrats didn't lose. They had a much more positive outcome in their view. He won re-election. Democrats gained a very few number of seats, but still a nominal gain in the Senate, in the House, and they see that as something of a gain in leverage for the president. So we'll be watching for his mood, his tone, his body language on all of that and how it will translate into his negotiating position with members of Congress on all these issues as we enter the beginning of the second term, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me bring Ali Velshi in. Ali, these CEOs the President's going to be meeting with after the news conference major CEOs, I assume - what do you assume their message to the President will be? Avoid the fiscal cliff obviously, but will it be a similar message from all of them? Do they speak with one voice?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're representing a lot of different companies: you've got Honeywell, Ford, Pepsi, ETNA, IBM, Xerox. These are not banks. Keep in mind they are not banks. Ken Channell from American Express will be there, AETNA, obviously is a major insurer, but generally these are not banks. They're going to be talking about a couple things. One in keeping the tax regime such that these companies can afford to bring some money back and invest in America. Making it attractive for them to do so.
The other thing is, I think they're going to try to have some peace talks about the fact that in general the business community, which supported President Obama in 2008 supported Mitt Romney in 2012. Not all of these people, not these CEOs, not necessarily their companies, but how they move forward with one voice in avoiding the fiscal cliff and in getting America back on a greater growth track including, because of what's going on in Europe and a slow-down in Asia. And finally, Wolf, I think the President is going to ask for their support in bringing Republicans into line. They've benefited from the support of corporate America, what can corporate America do to make sure that hard-line Republicans who do not want to see any tax increases will compromise a little bit. Because the President is going to be clear - he wants one 1.6 trillion dollars over 10 years in new revenue and that has to mean tax increases, particularly on the wealthy, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by. I want everyone to stand by. You know it's very interesting, Fran Townsend as we await the President, there's all of a sudden a crisis developing in the Middle East. Not Libya, necessarily, or in Syria, but between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Hamas specifically. In Gaza the Israeli air strikes killed the top Hamas military commander. I assume this issue will come up. The President will have to deal with this in some way.
TOWNSEND: This is very delicate, Wolf. As he steps out, this is -- we have rockets, we have attacks, we have the leaders killed, the military leader killed. This is a really delicate developing crisis. I expect that the National Security Advisor behind the scenes is dealing with this as we speak, and so the President will want to be very careful in his remarks not to make this, in any way, worse.
BLITZER" On the one hand, the U.S. is trying to get a peace process going again in the second term, but it doesn't necessarily bode well, Alex, politically speaking. This could be problematic as well as we wait for the president?
CASTELLANOS: Well, this is how a president is tested, and a new administration, again, as he embarks on his second term, the kind of relationships is he is going to have with Republicans while the rest of the world sees us working all these things out. People take, I think, advantage of the uncertainty right here that we're seeing.
BLITZER: Gloria, you know, we heard from Jessica earlier. The President will take eight questions. That means eight reporters will have a chance. I assume based on all the years I have been covering presidents he has a list of reporters he knows which reporters he is going to call on going into this news conference.
BORGER: I assume he knows that, and I assume reporters are ready with a half a dozen questions because, of course, you don't know what questions will be asked first, what questions will be asked second, and reporters in the White House Press Corps, as you know, wolf, trying and ask three questions in one so they can sort of ask their follow-ups while they're asking their initial question.
BLITZER: The White House has been known to suggest questions to reporters.
CASTELLANOS : That's not new, we all do.
BLITZER: Here's the President of the United States. He is walking in right now. The reporters are standing up. He has opening remarks.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat.
I hear you have some questions for me.
But, let me just make a few remarks at the top and then I'll open it up.
First of all, I want to reiterate what I said on Friday. Right now, our economy is still recovering from a very deep and damaging crisis, so our top priority has to be jobs and growth. We've got to build on the progress that we've made because this nation succeeds when we've got a growing, thriving middle class.
And that's the idea at the core of the plan that I talked about on the campaign trail over the last year: rewarding manufacturers and small businesses that create jobs here, not overseas; providing more Americans the chance to learn the skills that businesses are looking for right now; keeping this country at the forefront of research, technology and clean energy; putting people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges and our schools; and reducing our deficit in a balanced and responsible way.
Now, on this last item, we face a very clear deadline that requires us to make some big decisions on jobs, taxes and deficits by the end of the year. Both parties voted to set this deadline and I believe that both parties can work together to make these decisions in a balanced and responsible way.
Yesterday, I had a chance to meet with labor and civic leaders for their input. Today, I'm meeting with CEOs of some of America's largest companies. And I'll meet with leaders of both parties of Congress before the week is out, because there's only one way to solve these challenges and that is to do it together.
As I've said before, I'm open to compromise and I'm open to new ideas, and I've been encouraged over the past week to hear Republican after Republican agree on the need for more revenue from the wealthiest Americans as part of our arithmetic if we're going to be serious about reducing the deficit. Because when it comes to taxes, there are two pathways available. Option one, if Congress fails to act by the end of this year, everybody's taxes will automatically go up, including the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year, and the 97 percent of small businesses who earn less than $250,000 a year. That doesn't make sense. Our economy can't afford that right now. Certainly, no middle class family can afford that right now. And nobody in either party says that they want it to happen.
The other option is to pass a law right now that would prevent any tax hike whatsoever on the first $250,000 of everybody's income. And by the way, that means every American, including the wealthiest Americans, get a tax cut. It means that 98 percent of all Americans and 97 percent of all small businesses won't see their taxes go up a single dime.
The Senate has already passed a law like this. Democrats in the House are ready to pass a law like this. And I hope Republicans in the House come on board too. We should not hold the middle class hostage, while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy. We should at least do what we agree on, and that's to keep middle class taxes low.
And I'll bring everyone in to sign it right away, so we can give folks some certainty before the holiday season. I won't pretend that figuring out everything else will be easy, but I'm confident we can do it, and I know we have to. I know that, that's what the American people want us to do.
That was a -- the very clear message from the election last week. And that was the message of a letter that I received over the weekend. It came from a man in Tennessee who began by writing that he didn't vote for me. Which is OK. But, what he said was, even though he didn't give me his vote, he's giving me his support to move this country forward. And he said the same to his Republican representatives in Washington.
He said that, he'll back each of us regardless of party as long as we work together to make life better for all of us. And he made it clear that if we don't make enough progress he'll be back in touch.
So my hope, he wrote, is that we can make progress in light of personal and party principles, special interest groups and years of business as usual. We've got to work together and put our differences aside.
I couldn't say it better myself. That's precisely what I intend to do. And with that, let me open it up for your questions. And I'm gonna start off with Ben Feller of AP.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Can you assure the American people that there have been no breaches of national security or classified information in the scandal involving Generals Petraeus and Allen?
And do you think that you as commander in chief and the American people should have been told that the CIA chief was under investigation before the election?
OBAMA: Well, 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. Obviously, there's an ongoing investigation. I don't want to comment on the specifics of the investigation.
The FBI has its own protocols in terms of how they proceed, and I'm gonna let rector Mueller and others examine those protocols and make some statements to the public generally.
I do want to emphasize what I've said before. General Petraeus had an extraordinary career. He served this country with great distinction in Iraq, in Afghanistan and as head of the CIA. By his own assessment, he did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary as the director of CIA with respect to this personal matter that he is now dealing with with his family and with his wife. And it's on that basis that he tendered his resignation and it's on that basis that I accepted it.
But I want to emphasize that from my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service. We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done. And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side-note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.
OBAMA: You know, again, I think you're going to have to talk to the FBI in terms of what their general protocols are when it comes to what started off as a potential criminal investigation. You know, one of the challenges here is that we're not supposed to meddle in, you know, criminal investigations and that's been our practice.
And, you know, I think that there are certain procedures that both the FBI follow or DOJ follow when they're involved in these investigations. That's traditionally been how we view things in part because people are innocent until proven guilty and we want to make sure that we don't pre-judge these kinds of situations.
And so my expectation is that they followed protocols that they already established.
QUESTION: Mr. President, on the fiscal cliff, two years ago, sir, you said that you wouldn't extend the Bush-era tax cuts, but at the end of the day, you did. So, respectfully, sir, why should the American people and the Republicans believe that you won't cave again this time?
OBAMA: Well, two years ago the economy was in a different situation. We were still very much in the early parts of recovering from the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression, and ultimately we came together, not only to extend the Bush tax cuts, but also a wide range of policies that were going to be good for the economy at that point; unemployment insurance extensions, payroll tax extension, all of which made a difference and is part of the reason why what we've seen now is 32 consecutive months of job growth, and over 5.5 million jobs created, and the unemployment rate coming down.
But what I said at the time is what I mean, which is this was a one- time proposition. And, you know what I had told leaders privately as well as publicly, is that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. What we can do is make sure that middle-class taxes don't go up. And so, the most important step we can take right now, and I think the foundation for a deal that helps the economy, creates jobs, gives consumers certainty, which means gives businesses confidence that they're going to have consumers during the holiday season is if we right away say, 98 percent of Americans are not going to see their taxes go up, 97 percent of small businesses are not going to see their taxes go up.
If we get that in place, we are actually removing half of the fiscal cliff. Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step. And what we can then do is shape a process whereby we look at tax reform -- which I'm very eager to do. I think we can simplify our tax system. I think we can make it more efficient. We can eliminate loopholes and deductions that have a distorting effect on our economy.
I believe that we have to continue to take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements, because health care costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits.
So there is a package to be shaped, and I'm confident that parties -- folks of goodwill in both parties can make that happen. But what I'm not going to do is to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent that we can't afford and, according to economists, will have the least positive impact on our economy.
QUESTION: You've said that the wealthiest must pay more. Would closing loopholes instead of raising rates for them satisfy you?
OBAMA: I think that there are loopholes that can be closed, and we should look at how we can make the process of deductions, the filing process easier, simpler. But when it comes to the top 2 percent, what I'm not going to do is to extend further a tax cut for folks who don't need it, which would cost close to a trillion dollars.
And it's very difficult to see how you make up that trillion dollars -- if we're serious about deficit reduction -- just by closing loopholes and deductions. You know, the math tends not to work. And I think it's important to establish a basic principle that was debated extensively during the course of this campaign.
I mean, this shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. This was -- if there was one thing that everybody understood was a big difference between myself and Mr. Romney, it was, when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, I argued for a balanced, responsible approach, and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more. I think every voter out there understood that, that was an important debate, and the majority of voters agreed with me. Not -- by the way, more voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me. So, we've got a clear majority of the American people who recognize, if we're going to be serious about deficit reduction, we've got to do it in a balanced way.
The only question now is are we going to hold the middle class hostage in order to go ahead and let that happen?
Or, can we all step back and say, here's something we agree on, we don't want middle class taxes to go up. Let's go ahead and lock that in. That will be good for the economy. It will be good for consumers. It will be good for businesses. It takes the edge off the fiscal cliff, and let's also then commit ourselves to the broader package of deficit reduction that includes entitlement changes and it includes potentially tax reform as well as I'm willing to look at additional work we can do on the discretionary spending side.
So, I want a -- big deal. I want a comprehensive deal. I want to see if we can, you know, at least for the foreseeable future, provide certainty to businesses and the American people so that we can focus on job growth, so that we're also investing in the things that we need, but right now what I want to make sure is that the taxes on middle class families don't go up, and there's an easy way to do that. We could get that done by next week.
Rory Montenegro (ph), Telemundo.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
QUESTION: On immigration reform, the criticism in the past has been that you did not put forth legislation with specific ideas and send it up to the Hill. This time around, you have said again that this will be one of the top priorities for a second term. Will you, then, send legislation to the Hill? And exactly what do you envision is broad immigration reform? Does that include a legalization program?
And also, what lessons, if any, did Democrats learn from this last election and the Latino vote?
OBAMA: Well, I think what was incredibly encouraging was to see a significant increase in Latino turnout. This is the fastest-growing group in the country and, you know, historically what you've seen is Latino vote -- vote at lower rates than the broader population. And that's beginning to change.
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'm very confident that we can get immigration reform done. Before the election, I had given a couple of interviews where I predicted that Latino vote was going to be strong and that that would cause some reflection on the part of Republicans about their position on immigration reform. I think we're starting to see that already.
I think that's a positive sign. This has not historically been a partisan issue. We've had President Bush and John McCain and others who have supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past. So, we need to seize the moment.
And my expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration.
And, in fact, some conversations I think are already beginning to take place among senators and congressmen and my staff about what would this look like. And when I say comprehensive immigration reform, it's very similar to the outlines of previous immigration reform. I think it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we've taken. Because we have to secure our border. I think it should contain serious penalties for companies that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and -- and taking advantage of them.
And I do think that there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here to -- simply to work. I've -- it's important for them to pay back taxes. It's important for them to learn English. It's important for them to potentially pay a fine, but to give them the avenue whereby they can resolve their legal status here in this country, I think is very important. Obviously making sure that we put into law what -- the first step that we've taken administratively dealing with the DREAM Act kids is very important as well.
The one thing that I'm -- I'm very clear about is that young people who are brought here through no fault of their own, who have gone to school here, pledged allegiance to our flag, want to serve in our military, want to go to school and contribute to our society, that they shouldn't be under the cloud of deportation. That we should give them every opportunity to earn their citizenship. And so, you know there are other components to it, obviously. The business community continues to be concerned about getting enough high-skilled workers.
And I am a believer that if you've got a PhD in physics, or computer science who wants to stay here, and start a business here, we shouldn't make it harder for them to stay here, we should try to encourage him to contribute to this society. I think that the agricultural sector, obviously has very specific concerns about making sure that they've got a workforce that helps deliver food to our table. So there're gonna be a bunch of components to it, but I think whatever process we have needs to make sure border security's strong, needs to deal with employers effectively, needs to provide a pathway for the undocumented here, needs to deal with the DREAM Act kids.
And I think that's something that we can get done.
Chuck Todd? Where's Chuck?
QUESTION: Mr. President, I just want to follow up on both Ben's question and Jessica's (ph) question. On having to do with Ben's question...
OBAMA: How about Laurie's (ph) question, you want to follow up on that one too? (LAUGHTER)
QUESTION: I -- I -- you know -- no, I feel like you answered that one completely.
Are you withholding judgment on whether you should have known sooner that there was a potential -- that there was an investigation into whether your CIA director -- potentially there was a national security breach with your CIA director? Do you believe you should have known sooner or are you withholding judgment until the investigation is complete on that front?
And then the follow-up to Jessica's (ph) question, tax rates. Are you -- is there no deal at the end of the year if tax rates for the top 2 percent aren't the Clinton tax rates, period? No ifs, ands or buts and any room in negotiating on that specific aspect of the fiscal cliff?
OBAMA: I am -- I am withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding General Petraeus came up. You know, we don't have all the information yet. But I want to say that I have a lot of confidence generally in the FBI.
And they've got a difficult job. And so I'm gonna wait and see to see if there's any other...
OBAMA: Well, I mean, Chuck, what I'll say is that if -- it is also possible that had we been told, then you'd be sitting here asking a question about why were you interfering in a criminal investigation? So, you know, I -- I think it is best right now for us to just see how this whole process is unfolding.
With respect to the tax rates, I -- I just want to emphasize, I am open to new ideas. If the Republican counterparts, or some Democrats, have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn't getting hit, reduces our deficit, encourages growth, I'm not going to just slam the door in their face. I want to hear -- I want to hear ideas from everybody.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) red line.
OBAMA: Well look, I believe this is solvable.
I think that fair minded people can come to an agreement that does not cause the economy to go back into recession, that protects middle class families, that focuses on jobs and growth, and reduces our deficit. I'm confident it can be done. My budget frankly doesn't. I understand that I don't expect the Republicans simply to adopt my budget. That's not realistic. So, I recognize we're going to have to compromise. And, as I said on election night, compromise is hard. And not everybody gets 100 percent of what they want, and not everybody is going to be perfectly happy. But, what I will not do is to have a process that is vague, that says we're gonna sort of, kind of raise revenue through dynamic scoring or closing loopholes that have not been identified.
And the reason I won't do that, is because I don't want to find ourselves in the position, six months from now or a year from now, where low and behold, the only way to close the deficit is to sock it to middle-class families or to burden families that have disabled kids or, you know, have a parent in a nursing home, or suddenly we've got to cut more out of our basic research budget that is the key to growing the economy in the long term.
So, that's my concern. I'm less concerned about red lines per se. What I'm concerned about is not finding ourselves in a situation where the wealthy aren't paying more or aren't paying as much as they should. Middle-class families one way or another are making up the difference. That's the kind of status quo that has been going on here too long, and that's exactly what I argued against during this campaign.
And if there's one thing that I'm pretty confident about is the American people understood what they were getting when they gave me this incredible privilege of being in office for another four years. They want compromise. They want action. But they also want to make sure that middle-class folks aren't bearing the entire burden and sacrifice when it comes to some of these big challenges. They expect that folks at the top are doing their fair share as well, and that's going to be my guiding principle during these negotiations, but more importantly during the next four years of my administration.
QUESTION: Mr. President, on election night you said that you were looking forward to speaking with Governor Romney, sitting down in the coming weeks to discuss ways that you could work together on this nation's problems. Have you extended that invitation? Has he accepted? And in what ways do you think you can work together?
OBAMA: You know, we haven't scheduled something yet. I think everybody forgets that the election was only a week ago. And I know I've forgotten. I forgot on Wednesday.
So I think everybody needs to catch their breath. I'm sure that Governor Romney is spending some time with his family.
And my hope is before the end of the year, though, we have a chance to sit down and talk. You know, there -- there're certain aspects of Governor Romney's record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful. And, well, to give you one example, I do think he did a terrific job running the Olympics. And, you know, that skillset of trying to figure out how do we make something work better applies to the federal government.
There are a lot of ideas that I don't think are partisan ideas but are just smart ideas about how can we make the federal government more customer friendly, how can we make sure that, you know, we're consolidating programs that are duplicative; you know, how can we eliminate additional waste.
He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with. And so it'd be interesting to talk to him about something like that.
There may be ideas that he has with respect to jobs and growth that can help middle-class families that I want to hear.
So, you know, I'm not either prejudging what he's interested in doing nor am I suggesting I've got some specific assignment, but what I want to do is to -- is to get ideas from him and see if -- see if there's some ways that we can potentially work together.
QUESTION: But when it comes to your relationships with Congress, one of the most frequent criticisms we've heard over the past few years from members on both sides is that you haven't done enough to reach out and build relationships. Are there concrete ways that you plan to approach your relationships with Congress in the second term?
OBAMA: Look, I think there is no doubt that I can always do better. And so I will, you know, 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. You know, I've got a lot of good relationships with folks both in the House and the Senate. I have a lot of relationships on both sides of the aisle. It hasn't always manifested itself in the kind of agreements that I'd like to see between Democrats and Republicans.
And so, I think all of us have responsibilities to see if there are things that we can improve on, and I don't exempt myself from needing to, you know, do some self reflection and see if I can improve our working relationship.
There are probably going to be still some very sharp differences, and as I said during the campaign, there are going to be times where there are fights, and I think those are fights that need to be had, but what I think the American people don't want to see is a focus on the next election, instead of a focus on them. And I don't have another election.
And, you know, Michelle and I were talking last night about, you know, what an incredible honor and privilege it is to -- to be put in this position. And there are people all across this country, millions of folks, who've worked so hard to help us get elected, but they're also millions of people who may not have voted for us, but are also counting on us.
And, you know, we take that responsibility very seriously. I take that responsibility very seriously. And I hope and intend to be an even better president in the second term, than I was in the first.
Jonathan Karl? QUESTION: Thank you Mr. President. Senator John McCain, and Senator Lindsey Graham both said today that they want to have Watergate-style hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and said that if you nominate Susan Rice to be secretary of State, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination. Senator Graham said, he simply doesn't trust Ambassador Rice after what she said about Benghazi. I'd like your reaction to that? And -- and would those threats deter you from making a nomination like that?
OBAMA: Well first of all I'm not going to comment on various nominations that I'll put forward to fill out my cabinet for the second term. Those are things that are still being discussed. But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill, and professionalism, and toughness, and grace. 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. And, you know, we're after an election now.
I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi and I'm happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have and we will continue to provide information. And we've got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress.
And I don't think there's any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that's a problem. And we've got to get to the bottom of it and there needs to be accountability. We've got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won't get any debate from me on that.
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. And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity at the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a determination that I've made yet.
QUESTION: I want to take Chuck's lead and just ask a very small follow-up, which is whether you feel you have a mandate not just on taxes, but on a range of issues because of your decisive victory? But I want to stay on Benghazi, based on what John asked, because you said, "If they want to come after me, come after me."
I wanted to ask about the families of these four Americans who were killed. Sean Smith's father, Ray, said he believes his won basically called 9-1-1 for help and they didn't get it. And I know you've said you grieve for these four Americans; that it's being investigated. But the families have been waiting for more than two months.
So, I would like to -- for you to address the families, if you can. On 9/11, as commander in chief, did you issue any orders to try to protect their lives?
OBAMA: Ed, you know, I'll address the families not through the press. I'll address the families directly, as I already have. And we will provide all the information that is available about what happened on that day. That's what the investigation is for.
But as I said repeatedly, if people don't think that we did everything we can to make sure that we saved the lives of the folks who I sent there and who were carrying out missions on behalf of the United States, then you don't know how our Defense Department thinks or our State Department thinks or our CIA thinks. Their number one priority is obviously to protect American lives. That's what our job is.
OBAMA: ... Ed, we're -- I'll put forward -- I will put forward every bit of information that we have.
I can can tell you that immediately upon finding out that our folks were in danger that my orders to my national security team were do whatever we need to do to make sure they're safe. And that's the same order that I would give anytime that I see Americans are in danger, whether they're civilian or military, because that's our number one priority.
With respect to the issue of mandate, I've got one mandate: I've got a mandate to help middle-class families and families that have been working hard to try to get into the middle class. That's my mandate. That's what the American people said. They said, 'Work really hard to help us. Don't worry about the politics of it. Don't worry about the party interests. Don't worry about the special interests. Just work really hard to see if you can help us get ahead, because we're working really hard out here and we're still struggling, a lot of us. That's my mandate.
I don't presume that because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything. I'm more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that. On the other hand, I didn't get re-elected just to bask in re- election. I got elected to do work on behalf of American families, and small businesses all across the country who are still recovering from a really bad recession, but are hopeful about the future. And I am too.
The one thing that I said during the campaign, that maybe sounds like a bunch of campaign rhetoric, but now that the campaign is over I'm gonna repeat it, and hopefully you guys will believe me. When you travel around the country, you are inspired by the grit, and resilience, and hard work, and decency of the American people. And it just makes you want to work harder. You know, you meet families who are -- you know, have overcome really tough odds, and somehow are making it and sending their kids to college. And you meet young people who are doing incredible work in disadvantaged communities, because they believe in, you know, the American ideal, and it should be available for everybody.
And, you meet farmers who are helping each other during times of drought, and, you know, you meet businesses that kept their doors open during the recession, even though the owner didn't have to take a salary. And you -- when you talk to these folks, you say to yourself, "Man, they deserve a better government than they've been getting. They -- they deserve all of us here in Washington to be thinking every single day, how can I make things a little better for them? Which isn't to say that everything we do is going to be perfect, or there aren't just going to be some big, tough challenges that we have to grapple with. But I do know the federal government can make a difference. We're seeing it right now on the Jersey coast and in New York.
People are still going through a really tough time. The response hasn't been perfect, but it's been aggressive, and strong, and fast, and robust, and a lot of people have been helped because of it. And that's a pretty good metaphor for how I want the federal government to operate generally, and I'm going to do everything I can to be sure it does. Christi Parsons? Hi.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations by the way.
QUESTION: One quick follow up...
OBAMA: She was there in -- when I was running for state Senate, so...
QUESTION: That's right, I was.
OBAMA: ...Christi and I go back a ways.
QUESTION: I've never seen you lose.
QUESTION: I wasn't looking that one time.
OBAMA: There you go.
QUESTION: One quick follow up, and then I want to ask you about Iran. I just want to make sure I understood what you said. Can you envision any scenario in which we do go off the fiscal cliff at the end of the year? And on Iran, are you preparing a final diplomatic push here to resolve the -- the nuclear program issue? And are we headed toward one-on-one talks? OBAMA: Well obviously, we can all imagine a scenario where we go off the fiscal -- fiscal cliff. If -- if despite the election, if despite the dangers of going over the fiscal cliff and -- and what that means for our economy, that there's too much stubbornness in Congress that we can't even agree on giving middle-class families a tax cut, then middle-class families are all going to end up having a big tax hike. And that's going to be a pretty rude shock for them, and I suspect will have a big impact on the holiday shopping season, which in turn will have an impact on business planning and hiring and we can go back into a recession.
It would be a bad thing. It is not necessary. So, I want to repeat. Step number one that we can take in the next couple of weeks, provide certainty to middle-class families, 98 percent of families who make less than $250,000 a year; 97 percent of small businesses; that their taxes will not go up a single dime next year. Give them that certainty right now. We can get that done.
We can then set up a structure whereby we are dealing with tax reform, closing deductions, closing loopholes, simplifying, dealing with entitlements. And I'm ready and willing to make big commitments to make sure that we're locking in the kind of deficit reductions that stabilize our deficit, start bringing it down, start bringing down our debt. I'm confident we can do it.
It's -- and, look, I've been living with this for a couple of years now. I know the math pretty well. And it's -- it really is arithmetic. It's not calculus. There are some tough things that have to be done, but there is a way of doing this that does not hurt middle-class families; that does not hurt our seniors; doesn't hurt families with disabled kids; allows us to continue to invest in those things that make us grow like basic research and education, helping young people afford going to college.
As we've already heard from some Republican commentators, a modest tax increase on the wealthy is not going to break their backs. They'll still be wealthy. And it will not impinge on business investment.
So -- so we know how to do this. This is just a matter of whether or not we come together and go ahead and say -- Democrats and Republicans, we're both going to hold hands and do what's right for the American people. And I hope that's what happens.
With respect to Iran, I -- I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem. I was very clear before the campaign, I was clear during the campaign, and I'm now clear after the campaign, we're not gonna let Iran get a nuclear weapon. But I think there is still a window of time for us it resolve this diplomatically. We've imposed the toughest sanctions in history. It is having an impact on Iran's economy. There should be a way in which they can enjoy peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon.
And so, yes, I -- I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran and not just us, but the international community to see if we can get this thing resolved.
I can't promise that Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through, but that would be very much the preferable option.
OBAMA: I won't talk about the details and negotiations, but I think it's fair to say that we want to get this resolved and we're not gonna be constrained by diplomatic niceties or protocols. If Iran is serious about wanting to resolve this, they'll be in a position to resolve it.
QUESTION: At one point, just prior to the election, there was talk that talks might be imminent...
OBAMA: That was not true and it's not -- it's not true as of today. OK.
Just going to knock through a couple of others.
Mark Landers (ph). Where's Mark? There he is. Right in front of me.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
In his endorsement of you a few weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg said he was motivated by the belief that you would do more to confront the threat of climate change than your opponent.
Tomorrow you're going up to -- to New York City, where you're going to, I assume, see people who are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which many people say is further evidence of -- of how a -- a warming globe is changing our weather.
What specifically do you plan to do in a second term to tackle the issue of climate change?
And do you think the political will exists in Washington to pass legislation that could include some kind of attacks on carbon?
OBAMA: You know -- as you know, Mark, we can't attribute any particular weather event to climate change.
What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing. Faster than was predicted even ten years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting, faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been extraordinarily -- there -- there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe.
And I am a firm believer that climate change is real. That it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we've got an obligation to future generations to do something about it. Now, in my first term, we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That will have an impact. That will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. We doubled the production of clean energy, which promises to reduce the utilization of fossil fuels for power generation. And we continue to invest in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.
But we haven't done as much as we need to. So, what I'm going to be doing over the next several weeks -- next several months is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what can -- what more can we do to make short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then, you know, working through an education process that I think is necessary -- a discussion, a conversation across the country about, you know, what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations that's going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.
I don't know what -- what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because, you know, this is one of those issues that's not just a partisan also. I also think there's -- there are regional differences. There's no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices. And, you know, understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's gonna go for that. I won't go for that.
If on the other hand we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that's something that the American people would support.
So, you know, you can expect that you'll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps moves this -- moves this agenda forward.
QUESTION: It sounds like you're saying (OFF-MIKE)
OBAMA: That -- that I'm pretty certain of. And, look, we're -- we're still trying to debate whether we can just make sure the middle- class families don't get a tax hike. Let's see if we can resolve that. That should be easy. This one's hard. But it's important because, you know, one of the things that we don't always factor in are the costs involved in these natural disasters. We just put them off as -- as something that's unconnected to our behavior right now.
And I think what -- based on the evidence we're seeing is that what we do now is gonna have an impact and a cost down the road if -- if we don't do something about it.
All right, last question.
Mark Felsenthal? Where's Mark?
QUESTION: Thank you.
Mr. President, the Assad regime is engage in a brutal crackdown on its people. France has recognized the opposition coalition. What would it take for the United States to do the same? And is there any point at which the United States would consider arming the rebels?
OBAMA: You know, I was one of the first leaders, I think around the world, to say Assad had to go in response to the incredible brutality that his government displayed, in the face of what were initially peaceful protests. Obviously the situation has seriously deteriorated since then. We have been extensively engaged with the international community as well as regional powers to help the opposition. We have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to humanitarian aid to help folks both inside of Syria, and outside of Syria.
We are constantly consulting with the opposition on how they can get organized so that they're not splintered, and divided in the face of the onslaught from the Assad regime. We are in very close contact with countries like Turkey and Jordan that immediately border Syria, and obviously Israel which is having already grave concerns, as we do, about for example, movements of chemical weapons that might occur in such a chaotic atmosphere.
And they could have an impact, not just within Syria, but on the region as a whole. I'm encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they've had in the past. We're going to be talking to them. My envoys are going to be traveling to, you know various meetings that are going to be taking place with the international community, and the opposition. We consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people. We're not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile, but we do think that it is a broad-based representative group.
One of the questions that we're going to continue to press is, making sure that that opposition is committed to a democratic Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.
We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition. And, you know, one of the things that we have to be on guard about, particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures, is that we're not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm, or do Israelis harm, or otherwise engage in -- in actions that are detrimental to our national security.
So we're -- we're constantly probing, and working on that issue. The more engaged we are, the more we'll be in a position to make sure that -- that we are encouraging the most moderate, thoughtful elements of the opposition that are committed to inclusion, observance of human rights, and working cooperatively with us over the long-term.
Alright? Thank you very much.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) on spending, the $1.2 trillion figure, is that something you see in the short-term or is there...
OBAMA: That was a great question, but it would be a horrible precedent for me to answer your question just because you yelled it out.
So thank you very much, guys.
(END LIVE FEED)