President Barack Obama said last night that a sex scandal involving CIA director General David Petraeus has evidently not resulted in the disclosure of classified information that has damaged American national security.
In his first White House news conference since winning a second four-year term in last week’s election, Mr Obama emphasised the need for a deal to settle US budget issues before year end, but he was also pressed on the scandal that forced the resignation of Gen Petraeus as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Maintaining that “people are innocent until proven guilty”, Mr Obama said that while he did not want to “meddle” in the investigation, he hoped that the scandal surrounding Gen Petraeus “ends up being a single side note on what ends up being an extraordinary career”.
His remarks were his first on the scandal.
“My main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on,” Mr Obama told reporters.
The president urged haste in budget negotiations meant to avert abrupt shifts in taxes and spending at the end of the year, and he called on Congress to extend middle-class tax cuts immediately, before it begins working on a deficit deal.
Presidents often use their first post-election news conference to set a tone and direction for the second term, as George W Bush did in 2004 when he declared he would spend his “political capital” accumulated through his recent victory.
Mr Obama insisted he would not agree to a similar extension of Bush-era tax rates on the highest levels of income.
“We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts on the wealthy,” he declared. Appearing in the East Room of the White House, he told the press that “right now, our economy is still recovering from a very deep and damaging crisis, so our top priority has to be jobs and job creation”.
He reiterated his pledge to push for increasing taxes on the wealthy, but added that an extension of the middle-class tax cuts must go into effect at once.
He described two choices on taxes for the lame-duck Congress, in which the Senate is controlled by the Demorats and the House by the Republicans: either to allow taxes to rise across the board, or to pass a bill extending tax cuts for all but those in the highest tax brackets.
He said extending tax cuts at lower income levels would provide a stimulus and help avert a recession that some economists have warned would accompany the steep spending cuts and tax increases that have come to be called the “fiscal cliff”.
“Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step,” he said. “We cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy,” he insisted.
Mr Obama and the four top congressional leaders are set to meet tomorrow in the first round of what are likely to be grueling negotiations aimed at averting the year-end fiscal pile-up of expiring tax breaks and across-the-board spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner has been careful in his public comments so far to say that Republicans are willing to consider additional federal revenue raised through changes in the US tax code and closing loopholes. The president has not so far insisted that tax rates will have to be raised, but analysts and Congressional Democrats say the revenue needed to make a dent in the deficit can not be created solely through closing loopholes.