In his first formal press conference since being re-elected, President Obama fiercely defended his pledge to make the nation's top earners pay their fair share in taxes to lower the federal deficit.
The president, who will meet with members of Congress on Thursday to discuss how to avoid the fiscal cliff, clearly sees his re-election as a mandate from the American public to ensure that the middle and lower income brackets aren't forced to make all of the sacrifices necessary to lower the deficit.
"They want compromise. They wanted 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," he said. "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."
The president vowed that he would not cave into Republican demands to extend the tax cuts implemented by former President George W. Bush for households earning more than $250,000 per year. The tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year. He said he's open to compromise and to new ideas, but will not support the current tax rates for the top 2 percent of wage earners.
In a rare show of pique, he also came to the defense of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who has come under fire from congressional Republicans over her response to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya that led to the death of four Americans.
Amid speculation that Obama may name Rice to replace current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she ultimately steps down, some Republican senators, notably the president's 2008 rival Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham, have said they would block her nomination. They are dissatisfied with her explanations in the aftermath of attacks on the consulate in Libya and consider them disqualifying.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” said Obama. “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.”
He said the lawmakers are going after the U.N. ambassador "because they think she's an easy target." In addition, he said that if he determines that Rice is the best person to serve as the next secretary of state, he will nominate her.
Reporters peppered Obama with questions about the sex scandal that has ended the illustrious career of CIA director Gen. David Petraeus and threatens the career of Gen. John Allen, his top military commander in Afghanistan.
The president said that he hoped the scandal would eventually be a "single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career" for Petraeus.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)