Obama hard on higher taxes and Rice, punts on Petraeus

In his first full-scale press conference since being re-elected last Tuesday, President Barack Obama ratcheted up his rhetoric for raising taxes on the highest wage-earners and strongly defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice against congressional criticism of her performance in the Libyan tragedy of September 11.

Calling on ten reporters from the standing-room-only crowd in the East Room today, Mr. Obama punted on the issue the White House press corps–and, the American public–were most interested in: the sensational scandal that brought down CIA Director David Petraeus and has now touched the president’s choice to be Supreme Commander of U.S. forces in Europe, Gen. John Allen.

“There’s no evidence from what I have seen,” Mr. Obama said in response to the opening question from the AP’s Ben Feller, that there was any breach of national security in the Petraeus scandal. But, he quickly added, there is “an ongoing investigation” and that was a sure sign he planned to say nothing else beyond the now-familiar praise of Petraeus for “an extraordinary career” in the U.S. military and the hope that “he and his family move on.”

He later voiced his complete confidence in the FBI in its investigation of the scandal and, in reply to a question from NBC-TV’s Chuck Todd, the president said, “had we been told [of the scandal earlier], it’s entirely possible you’d have been asking why we’re interfering in a criminal investigation.”

In all likelihood, what the president said today is the most one will get out of him on Petraeus and Allen until FBI Director Robert Mueller presents him with the Bureau’s final report on the scandal.

Mr. Obama was much more vocal and spirited in his defense of Ambassador Rice against harsh criticism from Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (S.C.) over her handling of the Libyan tragedy. Praising Rice’s “skill, professionalism, and toughness,” the president said she gave her best presentation “based on the intelligence that had been provided” on Libya and if the senators want to go after her, “go after me.”

Although he stopped short of confirming he would nominate Rice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama’s strong tough talk today was a clear signal to Republican senators he was headed in that direction.

Mr. Obama also gave his strongest language yet that he would not give in to congressional Republicans and extend all of the tax cuts, as he reluctantly did in December 2011.

“What I’m not going to do is extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent [of the public],” he told CNN’s Jessica Yellin, saying that his acquiescence on this point two years ago “was a one-time proposition.”

Mr. Obama also said he hoped to meet with defeated Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney before the end of the year and he made his strongest statement since becoming president on his belief that climate change exists and is man-made.