Obama talks agenda for second term

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama laid out his second-term agenda on Wednesday, expressing a willingness to work with Republicans in Congress and a resolve to defy them if necessary.

In his first full-scale news conference since March, Obama said he was willing to compromise with Republicans to forge a deal on the nation’s debt and taxes to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of budget cuts and tax increases that will kick in next year if such an agreement is not reached.

But he said he would not abandon his campaign pledge to allow Bush-era tax cuts on the top two per cent of US earners to expire.

He also launched a feisty defence of his United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice, pushing back against two Republican senators who said they would not support her nomination for a Cabinet post because she made misleading statements about the September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans.

“If Senator (John) McCain and Senator (Lindsey) Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” Obama said.

After a re-election campaign that critics said offered few details of his vision for the next four years, Obama discussed his priorities on policies from immigration to climate change during an hour-long press conference, his first since defeating former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on November 6.

“I hear you have some questions for me,” Obama told reporters at the White House before launching into familiar positions on raising taxes for wealthy Americans and protecting the middle class.

The president was relaxed, bantered with reporters who challenged him and expressed gratitude for having the chance to be in the White House for another four years. (Reuters)

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