Obama: National security not harmed

Updated Nov. 14, 2012 at 5:38 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- President Obama said Wednesday he hasn't seen any evidence that the scandal that led to the resignation of CIA chief David Petraeus harmed U.S. security.

Obama, in his first news conference since his re-election, also called on Congress, as he has in the past, to extend tax cuts for the middle class as quickly as possible then settle into discussions on revising the tax code, entitlement reform and reducing the country's debt and deficit.

"We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy," Obama said. "I won't pretend figuring out everything else will be easy, but [I am] confident we can do it. We have to."

Concerning the controversy surrounding Petraeus, who resigned Friday after admitting he had an affair, Obama said, "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."

He avoided answering directly whether he was angered that he wasn't informed about an FBI investigation into the scandal, noting the FBI "has it's own protocol on how it proceeds."

Obama pivoted the conversation to praise Petraeus for his long, distinguished career, noting "the country was much safer" because of his service.

Obama was visibly upset with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona for their withering criticism of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for her discussions about the deadly attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as information was still surfacing. McCain and Graham said they would do everything they could to block her from becoming secretary of state if Obama nominates her once Hillary Clinton steps down as she said she would.

"She made an appearance [on Sunday TV talk shows] at the request of the White House, in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence provided to her," he said. "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."

McCain and Graham had accused Rice of misleading the U.S. people about events surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks on the consulate in Libya and pledged to do everything in their power to block the nomination.

On another issue, Obama said he expects an immigration reform bill would be introduced soon.

Obama said comprehensive immigration would include strong border security measures, penalties for companies "that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and taking advantage of them," a pathway for legal status for undocumented immigrants living in this country and not engaged in criminal activity.

Concerning the pending fiscal cliff, Obama said Washington faces "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."

Speaking about reforming the tax code, Obama said loopholes could be closed and there should be an examination of how the process of deductions and filling out tax returns could be easier and 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 $1 trillion," he said. "And it's very difficult to see how you make up that $1 trillion -- if we're serious about deficit reduction -- just by closing loopholes and deductions. You know, the math tends not to work.

Obama declined to say he had a red line he wouldn't cross to prevent the country from going off that fiscal cliff of draconian spending cuts and the expiration of tax rate cuts enacted when George W. Bush was president, among other things.

"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," Obama said. "I'm confident it can be done."

What he won't do is "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," Obama said.

"I'm less concerned about red lines per se," Obama said. "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 and middle-class families one way or another are making up the difference."

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