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Obama To Hold White House News Conference


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


And I'm Linda Wertheimer in for Renee Montagne.

Later today, President Obama will hold a news conference in the East Room of the White House, the first since his reelection. And he's got a lot of big questions facing him.

Joining me now for a look at what is on the president's plate and on reporters' minds is NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what is the latest we know about the scandal involving General David Petraeus, and possibly General John Allen?

LIASSON: Well, this is really turning into the nation security soap opera. General John Allen, who is the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is now under investigation for possibly sending inappropriate emails to a woman who was supposedly being threatened by David Petraeus's mistress, Paula Broadwell.

WERTHEIMER: You need a map, a chart.

LIASSON: Yes, you need a chart. John Allen was up for a promotion to be the supreme commander of NATO in Europe. But that promotion is now on hold. And the FBI searched the home of Paula Broadwell.

The president is sure to be asked about all of this. He'll be asked why the White House wasn't informed earlier by the FBI about the investigation; whether he's still confident in General Allen; and what this says about the culture of his national security team.

WERTHEIMER: Now, General Petraeus was supposed to testify about Benghazi this week before he stepped down. The CIA plan to run in a substitute? Some folks on the Hill say they still want Petraeus.

LIASSON: Yes and I...

WERTHEIMER: (Unintelligible)

LIASSON: I think they still will get him, even if he has to testify in a closed session.

WERTHEIMER: The fiscal cliff, that's obviously going to come up, the December 31st deadline to beat automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. Talks are going on now at the White House

LIASSON: That's right. I think the president will get a lot of questions about this today. Yesterday, he met with labor leaders. Today he's meeting with business leaders. He'll be asked how adamant he is that income tax rates go up, not just revenues on the rich. Yesterday, Tim Geithner, his Treasury secretary, said he just can't get enough money if you merely cap deductions.

He'll be asked about proposals from other Democrats like Tim Kane, the newly elected senator from Virginia, or New York Senator Charles Schumer, about raising taxes on people will make over $500,000 or a million dollars instead of 250,000, which is the president's proposal. He'll certainly be asked about what kind of entitlement reforms he envisions, what he wants to do with the capital gains differential.

The White House has said that the president doesn't want to be boxed in and he doesn't want to box anyone else in. But still, his opening bid is his budget proposal to raise $1.6 trillion in taxes, that's about twice as much as John Boehner was willing to offer him last year. And that proposal was rejected, 99 to zero in the Senate.

So I think the big question is: is the president willing to actually go off the cliff as several Democrats have suggested.

WERTHEIMER: Now, as usually happens, the president has to deal with these hot topics that are upfront. But do you think there's anything else coming? Are we likely to hear about plans for the new term?

LIASSON: I think the president will be asked about - on cabinet appointments. He has some very big positions to fill: Treasury, State, and now CIA, also Defense. I think he might be asked about immigration reform. He says he wants to get that done this term. The stars seem aligned now for a comprehensive immigration reform proposal. You have Republicans, from John Boehner to Rand Paul, saying they're willing to contemplate a path to legalization or citizenship. I think he'll be asked about the incident in Libya, why the Benghazi consulate was so poorly protected.

So the president has a tremendous amount on his plate and he'll get questions about all of it today.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think we're likely to see any more of these big-time news conferences, Mara? There weren't many last year.

LIASSON: No, there weren't. The last time the president appeared before the White House press corps in the East Room was March 6th. The last time he answered questions from White House reporters was August 20th in the Briefing Room. I think this was supposed to be a kind of triumphant post-reelection press conference. But now, it will be dominated by that sex scandal and a whole bunch of other thorny issues.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.