Yet he acknowledged that victory’s glow has its limits. He characterized climate change as a pressing problem, for example, but said there is no support in Congress for a tax on carbon.
First, Obama must work to avoid a potential economic crisis. On Friday, he will gather congressional leaders at the White House for a first meeting on how to avert automatic tax increases and spending cuts, known collectively as the “fiscal cliff,” that are set to take place at year’s end. Many economists think that not doing so could send the economy back into recession.
Obama, though, made clear that Congress, facing midterm elections in two years, should be feeling most of the the pressure to secure a deal.
As he put it: “Obviously, we can all imagine a scenario where we go off the fiscal cliff — if despite the election, if despite the dangers of going over the fiscal cliff and what that means for our economy, that there’s too much stubbornness in Congress.”
But Obama also linked his election victory to the most contentious element of his position: that the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans must expire at the end of the year.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney opposed allowing any of the Bush tax rates to rise. Obama pledged to allow the highest rate to expire and preserve the rest — something he again called on Congress to do now as negotiations begin.
“I think every voter out there understood that was an important debate, and the majority of voters agreed with me,” Obama said.
Perhaps the defining moment of the news conference was about an attack on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and became a major flash point in the presidential campaign.
Much of the Republican criticism has focused on Rice, a candidate to replace departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In mid-October, Rice said on news programs that the Benghazi attack appeared to have arisen spontaneously from public demonstrations sweeping the Middle East over a video disparaging the prophet Muhammad.
Those remarks, which came from White House-approved “talking points,” have since been clouded by evidence indicating that the attack was planned and carried out by members of al-Qaeda in North Africa. Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) said Wednesday that Rice is unqualified to head the State Department because of her allegedly misleading account.
The criticism sparked a strong challenge from Obama, who reminded Republicans again that voters had just spoken in his favor and suggested that he would fight for her appointment as secretary of state if he nominates her.
“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” the president said. “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 added: “And, you know, we’re after an election now.”
Within minutes, Graham issued a terse response: “Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as commander in chief before, during, and after the attack.”