5 things to watch for at President Obama’s news conference

November 14, 2012

President Obama will take questions from the White House press corps for the first time since August(!) this afternoon. It's also his first extended public dialogue since winning a second term convincingly eight days ago.

The Fix loves a good news conference -- best one ever: Mark Sanford after returning from the "Appalachian Trail" -- and in anticipation of Obama facing the press corps, we offer up a few things to keep an eye on.

1. Obama's opening statement: Remember that aside from the professional political class and the political junkies who are a little too obsessed with this stuff (bless each and every one of you), most people aren't going to watch a press conference at 1:30 pm live.  What they will consume of it will come from the clips that the evening news and the big media outlets choose to highlight.  That reality gives Obama an opportunity to drive his preferred message through his opening remarks -- assuming, of course, he can avoid any of the messaging pitfalls that await him later in the press conference. (More on that later.) Assuming Obama wants to put the fiscal cliff debate -- and his opening bid of  $1.6 trillion in revenue increases -- as the centerpiece of today's press conference, his opening statement gives him the best chance to do just that.

2. How do you solve a problem like Petraeus?: If Obama wants to talk about the fiscal cliff, it's a near-certainty that the media wants to talk about the swirling scandal surrounding former CIA Director David Petraeus and Gen John Allen. The tawdriness of the situation -- coupled with the prominence of Petraeus and Allen as well as the sense that there's more to come in regards the story -- is like catnip to the media. Obama and his team may not like that but they know the Petraeus/Allen questions are coming. And, they also know that there aren't any great answers for it.  How does Obama navigate the questions given that he really doesn't want to make news on that front? And how long does the media stay on Petraeus/Allen once it becomes clear that Obama isn't answering (and isn't going to answer)?

3. Confrontational or conciliatory?: No matter how you slice it, the results last Tuesday proved that a majority of the country preferred President Obama and his agenda to the alternative being offered by Mitt Romney and Republicans.  The question is how much Obama rubs Republicans' collective face in what happened eight days ago in his answers today. Obama's comments on the fiscal cliff last week contained some conciliatory words but also made quite clear that the incumbent saw the election as a mandate for his approach to reducing the debt.  And, the coverage out of Tuesday's White House meeting with labor and progressive leaders suggested that Obama is going to bring a campaign approach to the fiscal cliff fight -- an approach that will almost certainly not sit well with Republicans if Obama goes the more confrontational route.

4. Show some leg on Cabinet jobs?: The chattering class loves vice presidential speculation more than anything else in the whole world. But, a close second is speculation about changes in a President's Cabinet. White House press secretary Jay Carney has been loathe to engage in any discussion of who's in and who's out (Boooooo!) and Obama will almost certainly follow that same blueprint. But that won't stop reporters from asking about Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry at Defense or whether U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice can get confirmed if she is nominated at State.  Does the President have any news to make -- or even news to hint at -- on the Cabinet front?

5. A Benghazi wildcard: Obama has not faced the White House press corps since the September attack in Libya that left four Americans -- including Ambassador Chris Stevens -- dead.  Republicans have demanded more answers while the White House has repeatedly noted the investigation into what happened is ongoing.  Expect at least a few questions about the Administration's response to Benghazi and, if the press corps judges Obama to be unnecessarily evasive, perhaps a whole lot more than that.  Like the Petraeus scandal, our guess is that Obama wants to make as little news as possible on Benghazi. But, will he be able to make good on that strategy?

Read more from PostPolitics:

Obama faces questions on economy, national security

The Fix: Why Nancy Pelosi will stay on as House minority leader

Paul Ryan explains why he lost his home county

Read more from Washington Post Politics

Obama faces reporters for first time since August

Transcript of President Obama's news conference

The Fix: Why Nancy Pelosi stayed

Petraeus scandal: It's not about the sex

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · November 14, 2012