President Barack Obama opened his first press conference in months — and first since the election that gave him a second term — with a vow to work with both parties in Congress to tackle the so-called "fiscal cliff" and revive the economy. He also said he had "no evidence" that the scandal that led David Petraeus to resign in disgrace from his job as CIA director had led to breaches in classified national security material.
"Right now our economy is still recovering from a very deep and damaging crisis, so our top priority has to be jobs and growth," Obama said in opening remarks in the East Room of the White House.
"Both parties can work together" to address the fiscal challenges "in a balanced and responsible way," he said, before pushing Republicans to sign on to his call for raising taxes on the richest Americans.
In response to the first question, regarding Petraeus, Obama said he had "no evidence at this point from what I've seen" that there had been any national security breaches. And the president praised the retired general, saying "we are safer because of the work Dave Petraeus has done."
Asked later for his appraisal of the FBI's work in bringing to light the marital infidelity that Petraeus cited in his resignation message, and why he learned of the probe only earlier this month, Obama said "I am withholding judgment" on that process but expressed "a lot of confidence generally in the FBI."
Turning to his tax battle with Republicans, Obama stuck by his vow to oppose any legislation that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. The president, asked why he had agreed to extend them in the 2010 lame duck session of Congress, said that "was a one-time proposition" and that "we cannot afford" to do so again.
Obama said he would be willing to look at raising tax revenues by closing loopholes but said that "the math tends not to work" when it comes to making up that way for extending the tax rate reductions on income above $250,000. And he reiterated that he does not want a stopgap agreement with Congress.
"I want a big deal, I want a comprehensive deal," he said. "Fair-minded people can come to an agreement."
Obama, who won the Latino vote by a lopsided margin, also vowed to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in his second term.
"We need to seize the moment," he said, predicting that "we will have a bill introduced and we begin the process in congress very soon after my inauguration."