WASHINGTON President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he has seen no evidence that national security was compromised as a result of the affair between former CIA director David Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell of Charlotte.
But the president said he is reserving judgment about how the FBI has handled the investigation that began in the summer but didn’t reach his desk until after last week’s election.
“I have a lot of confidence, generally, in the FBI,” Obama said, qualifying his words of support for the agency and its actions in the case.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Obama emphasized the need for a deal to settle budget issues before the end of the year, but he also was pressed on the scandal that forced the resignation of Petraeus.
Maintaining that “people are innocent until proven guilty,” the president said that while he did not want to “meddle” in the investigation, he hoped the scandal “ends up being a single side note on … an extraordinary career.”
“My main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on,” Obama told reporters. “Gen. Petraeus has had an extraordinary career.”
The president used his first official news conference since June to urge haste in budget negotiations meant to avert abrupt shifts in taxes and spending at the end of the year, and he called on Congress to extend middle-class tax cuts immediately, before lawmakers begin working on a complete deficit agreement.
He insisted that he would not agree to a similar extension of Bush-era tax rates on the highest levels of income.
“We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts on the wealthy,” the president declared in an opening statement. Appearing before reporters in the East Room of the White House, he said that “right now, our economy is still recovering from a very deep and damaging crisis, so our top priority has to be jobs and job creation.”
He reiterated his pledge to push for increasing taxes on the wealthy but added that an extension of the middle-class tax cuts must go into effect at once.
He described two choices on taxes for the lame-duck Congress: either allow taxes to rise across the board at all income levels, or pass a bill extending tax cuts for all but those in the highest tax brackets.
He said extending tax cuts at lower income levels would provide a stimulus and help avert a recession that some economists have warned would accompany the steep spending cuts and tax increases that have come to be called the “fiscal cliff.”
“Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step,” he said. “We cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.”
Obama and the four top congressional leaders are set to meet Friday in the first round of what are likely to be grueling negotiations aimed at averting the year-end fiscal pileup of expiring tax breaks and across-the-board spending cuts.
Speaker John Boehner has been careful in his public comments so far to say that Republicans are willing to consider additional federal revenue raised through changes in the tax code and closing loopholes. The president has not so far insisted that tax rates will have to be raised, but analysts and congressional Democrats say the revenue needed to make a dent in the deficit can’t be generated solely through closing loopholes.
In a sign of the rapidly emerging clout of the Latino community, the third reporter the president called on was from the Spanish-language network Telemundo, and she asked him about immigration. That gave him the opportunity to call for lawmakers to begin work on immigration legislation immediately after his inauguration.
He said that he believed that the increase in Latino turnout at the polls should “cause some reflection on the part of some Republicans,” adding that he wanted to see the Dream Act made into law to assist people who grew up in this country in becoming citizens. Immigration reform, he said, “has not historically been a partisan issue.”
Obama said he had not yet reached out to his defeated Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, but, when asked, he said he was looking forward to getting ideas from Romney and looking for ways to work together. He specifically mentioned Romney’s work on the Salt Lake City Olympics as an example of his managements skills.
Looking far more relaxed than he did during much of the campaign, Obama said he hoped to be a better president in the second term than he was in the first.
“I don’t have to run for re-election again,” he said, seeming relieved.
On Syria and its president, Bashar Assad, Obama proclaimed himself “one of the first leaders around the world who said that Assad had to go.”
After the news conference, Obama was scheduled to meet with about a dozen business chief executives at the White House as part of his effort to get both business and labor to support raising around $1.6 trillion in new revenues over 10 years, largely through taxes on business and the wealthy.
The Associated Press contributed.