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Obama Holds First Post-Election News Conference


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.

President Obama continues to insist that any agreement to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff next year must include higher taxes on the wealthy. In his first White House news conference since winning reelection, though, the president left the door open to structuring that tax increase in various ways. He's hoping to strike a bargain with congressional Republicans that would prevent a broader tax hike on the middle-class that could send the country back into recession.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama is set to meet tomorrow with leaders of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. With the election now behind us, he says, it's time for both parties to set aside their most stubborn talking points and climb down from the fiscal cliff.


HORSLEY: The president is not surrendering his own demand, though, that people earning more than a quarter-million dollars a year should pay more in taxes. That was a point he made repeatedly throughout the campaign, and a key difference with his Republican rival Mitt Romney.


HORSLEY: But Mr. Obama told reporters gathered in the White House East Room there are various ways to meet that goal. Asked if he'd insist on higher tax rates - a non-starter for many Republicans - Mr. Obama said he's open to new ideas.


HORSLEY: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell also yielded slightly to the election results, hinting he might be open to higher taxes on the rich, if he gets something in return.


HORSLEY: But if that sounds like the makings of a grand bargain, there's still plenty of friction between Mr. Obama and his Republican adversaries. It reached a boiling point yesterday on the subject of Libya. Senator Lindsey Graham and others demanded a Watergate-style investigation of the attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Graham is angry that during a round of Sunday talk shows days after that attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice failed to label it an act of terrorism.

Graham vowed to block any effort to promote Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has yet to nominate anyone for the top State Department job, but he angrily defended his U.N. ambassador.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was also asked yesterday about other priorities for his second term, including immigration reform. He says he expects to introduce a bill soon after the inauguration. And he thinks it will garner more Republican support next year, as the GOP tries to win back votes among the fast-growing Latino population.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he'll also look for new ways to tackle climate change, though he added a carbon tax is probably not politically possible for now. Mr. Obama acknowledged that despite his reelection, many voters still disagree with him. And he promised to be careful to avoid second-term overreach.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says his only mandate is to help middle class families and those trying to break into the middle class. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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