Obama talks Petraeus probe, reforming government in post-election news conference

Wednesday - 11/14/2012, 5:36pm EST

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By ASSOCIATED PRESS

In his first news conference since Election Day, President Barack Obama took questions from reporters on a range of issues.

Obama said he would work with Congress to avert the fiscal cliff — a combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect early next year — but that he would not back down on refusing to extend tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners.

The President also said he hoped to meet with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney before the end of the year to discuss some of his campaign rivals' ideas for making the government more efficient.

Shifting to the widening sex scandal that ensnared his former CIA director David Petraeus and top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, Obama said he has seen no evidence that national security was threatened.

The President also told critics of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, a potential candidate to lead the State Department after Hillary Clinton's expected departure, that they should "go after me" — not her — if they have issues with the administration's handling of the deadly attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Obama: Romney has good ideas on reforming government

President Barack Obama says he hasn't yet scheduled a meeting with Republican Mitt Romney, as he said he would do in his election-night address. But said he hopes to have the chance to talk with Romney before the end of the year.

Obama said the election was only a week ago, and that everybody needs to catch their breath.

"There are certain aspects of Gov. Romney's record and his ideas that I think could be very helpful," Obama said, citing the "terrific job" Romney did overseeing the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

"That skill set of trying to figure out how do we make something work better applies to the federal government," Obama said. "There are a lot of ideas — that I don't think are partisan ideas — but are just smart ideas ... How do we make the federal government more customer-friendly? How can we make sure that we're consolidating programs that are duplicative? How can we eliminate additional waste?

Obama said he actually agreed with some of Romney's campaign proposals on those issues.

Obama 'open to new ideas' on deficit-reduction

Turning back to the economy, the president vowed not to cave to Republicans who have pressed for tax cuts first passed by George W. Bush to be extended for all income earners. Obama has long opposed extending the cuts for families making more than $250,000 a year, but he gave into GOP demands in 2010 when the cuts were up for renewal.

That won't happen this time around, he said Wednesday.

"Two years ago the economy was in a different situation," Obama said. "But what I said at the time was what I meant. Which was this is a one-time proposition."

The President and Congress are also seeking to avoid across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, scheduled to take effect because lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the federal deficit. Failure to act would slash Defense Department and civilian agency budgets, alike. .

Obama said he was "open to new ideas" but would not allow current tax rates to continue for the top 2 percent of wage earners, drawing a line for Republicans who say they will not tolerate any tax rate increases. Asked if the tax rates for the rich had to return to Clinton-era levels, Obama indicated he was open to negotiations.

Obama makes first comments on Petraeus probe

Obama says he has no evidence that the scandal that ended former Gen. David Petraeus' career had a negative impact on national security and that no classified information was disclosed that would harm national security.

The President spoke five days after Petraeus resigned as head of the Central Intelligence Agency after disclosing he had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Obama said he hoped the scandal would be a "single side note" in Petraeus' otherwise extraordinary career.

Obama brushed aside questions about whether he was informed about the FBI investigations that led to the disclosures quickly enough. White House officials first learned about the investigations last Wednesday, the day after the election, and Obama was alerted the following day.

"My expectation is that they follow the protocols that they've already established," Obama said. "One of the challenges here is that we're not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations and that's been our practice."