President Obama speaks during a press conference Nov. 14, 2012 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo: CBS)
WASHINGTON (CBS)- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he has seen no evidence to suggest that classified information was compromised because of the scandal that led to former CIA Director David Petraeus' resignation last week.
"I have no evidence at this point from what I've seen that classified information was disclosed in any way that would've had a negative impact on our national security," Obama said in his first White House news conference since winning re-election.
Petraeus abruptly resigned on Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair. Obama said that Petraeus did not meet his own standards to serve as CIA director because of his improper relationship with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
"It's on that basis that he tendered his resignation, and it's on that basis that I accepted" his resignation, Obama said.
Members of Congress have questioned why the White House only learned of the FBI investigation into Petraeus after the Nov. 6 presidential election. Obama declined to criticize the FBI's handling of the matter, citing its protocols for criminal investigations.
"I am withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding Gen. Petraeus came up. We don't have all the information yet," the president said. "But I want to say I have a lot of confidence generally in the FBI, and they've got a difficult job."
Obama stressed his respect for Petraeus, saying,"From my perspective, at least, he has provided this country with an extraordinary service. We are safer because of the work David Petraeus has done."
He noted that investigation began as a criminal investigation and "one of the challenges here is we're not supposed to meddle, and that's been our practice... That's traditionally how we do things in part because people are innocent until proven guilty and we don't want to prejudge."
Obama also stressed his respect for Petraeus, saying,"From my perspective, at least, he has provided this country with an extraordinary service. We are safer because of the work David Petraeus has done."
Wednesday's news conference was Obama's 20th White House news conference in which he took questions from the press. His last news conference was on March 6.
In addition to addressing the Petraeus scandal, Obama used the opportunity broach a far more expected crisis -- the looming "fiscal cliff." He stressed that unless Congress acts to avert the "fiscal cliff" all Americans could see their taxes could go up and the economy could fall back into a recession.
"Our economy can't afford that right now," Obama said. "Certainly no middle class family can afford that right now."
The so-called "fiscal cliff" refers to a series of tax increases and spending cuts slated to go into effect on Jan. 1. It includes the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and the expiration of the payroll tax holiday that Obama instituted. Around $1.2 trillion in cuts to both defense and non-defense programs are also set to kick in on January 1 unless Congress and the White House can find a way to offset them.
The president is holding a series of meetings on the issue this week to tackle the fiscal cliff. On Friday he meets with congressional leaders while this afternoon he meets with corporate executives. Yesterday, he met with progressive activists and labor union leaders.
"There's only one way to solve these challenges, and that's to do it together," he said today.
Obama's commitment to raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans puts the president at odds with congressional Republicans who are open to increasing tax revenues but do not want to raise rates.
"I'm open to compromise, and I'm open to new ideas," the president said. "What I'm not going to do is extend further tax cuts for folks who don't need it which would cost close to a trillion dollars."
Obama said that, even though he relented on this issue in 2010 and agreed with Republicans that year to extend the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, this year is different.
"Two years ago the economy was in a different situation," he said. "We were still very much in the early parts of recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
Furthermore, he said, his difference with Republicans on the Bush-era tax cuts was one of the clearest issues of the 2012 election. "Every voter understood that was an important debate and the majority of voters agreed with me," he said. "More voters agreed with me on this issue than voted for me."
Obama said he is insistent on raising tax rates on income over $250,000 because Republicans have yet to come up with a better, viable way to make up for that revenue.
He did, however, say, "I am open to new ideas, if the Republican counterparts or some Democrats have some great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn't getting hit, reduces our deficit, encourages growth -- I'm not going to just slam the door in their face. I want to hear ideas from everybody."
In addition to addressing the nation's economic concerns, Obama said Wednesday that he expects to see Congress tackle immigration reform "very soon after after my inauguration." Republicans, he said, are more willing to take on the issue now because of the high Latino turnout in the election. His staff, he said, is already discussing with members of Congress and their staff what a comprehensive immigration bill would look like.
"When I say comprehensive immigration reform, it's very similar to the outlines of previous immigration reform," Obama said. "I think it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we've taken. Because we have to secure our border. I think it should contain serious penalties for companies that are purposely hiring undocumented workers and taking advantage of them. And I do think that there should be a pathway for legal status for those who are living in this country, are not engaged in criminal activity, are here simply to work."
Undocumented immigrants granted a pathway to citizenship, he said, should pay back taxes, learn English and potentially pay a fine. Obama also said the executive order he signed granting legal status to certain upstanding undocumented youth should be codified into law.
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