Martin Bashir | November 14, 2012
>> the east room of the white house , the president took to the podium to press his agenda for the next four years. quickly dispatching a first question on the petraeus affair, saying he had no evidence any classified information was disclosed. then it was on to dismiss concerns that he could cave again on tax cuts for the rich with the impending fiscal cliff.
>> what i said at the time is what i meant. which is, this was a one-time proposition. what i'm not going to do is to extend bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% that we can't afford, and according to economists, will have the least positive impact on our economy.
>> the president expressed confidence and urged action in reaching a deal to avoid the sudden increase of taxes and the imposition of spending cuts in january. but he reiterated time and again that he will not balance the budget on the backs of the middle class . saying that the election proved that the american people are behind him.
>> when it comes to how we reduce our deficit, i argued for a balanced, responsible approach. and part of that included making sure that the wealthiest americans pay a little bit more. i think every voter out there understood that that was an important debate. and the majority of voters agreed with me.
>> not just election results, though. new polling suggests the president has the upper hand going into the latest budget battle. in a new washington post /pew poll, 51% predict the president and republicans will not reach an agreement in time. 53% say republicans will bear more of the blame if no deal is struck. but at today's press conference it was another blame game that drew the president's ire, defending susan rice after comments by republican senators john mccain and lindsey graham that they would oppose her nomination to be secretary of state based on remarks she made about the benghazi attacks.
>> if senator mccain and senator graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. but for them to go after the u.n. ambassador, who had nothing to do with benghazi , and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence she had received, and to besmerch her reputation is outrageous.
>> indeed. let's get to our panel julian epstein, lynn sweet , washington bureau sweet for chicago "sun-times" and msnbc political analyst professor michael eric dyson of georgetown university . professor dyson ,fy might begin with you, perhaps the most hated moment in that press conference was the president's barely concealed anger that republicans have been attacking ambassador susan rice for the confusion surrounding the benghazi consulate attacks. this, as you know, has been the drum beat from republicans from the right wing media for weeks. do you think the president's response will do anything to silence the drums?
>> unfortunately, not, martin, because it's part of an overall republican strategy to compensate for their loss. they're closing ranks around this particular issue, trying to find what they think are weaknesses and exploit them. i think this is a way of revenge, so to speak, of the republican leadership to try to get back at obama , first for winning, and then for being able to have a successful foreign policy that was supposedly from the beginning his weakness, but which has turned out to be one of his real strengths. so, unfortunately, all of this -- this commitment to our patriotic togetherness and unity that we will govern this country across the aisles with bipartisan attention is being foiled, input president obama showed, as you said, rare, if you will, anger, a flash of real support for susan rice , and indicating he's up to the battle. that should he choose her to become part of his cabinet, he will put her forth with the full expectation that she will be vented in the ways she should be -- vetted, excuse me, in the way she should be without that rancor. you can be assure, the rancor will be following if she's nominated. this po
>> lynn, you were there in the east room when the president was speaking. can you recall him being so intense, so passionate about an issue as he was then?
>> that was a special moment, being in the room, you could feel the intensity. i was sitting a few feet from him. you could -- you could -- that steely gaze that he really was setting on mccain and graham was cutting. and his words, to be in the room to hear them, were a clear warning. and his body language was tense, too. so, it was -- people should know though, why. susan rice , who came out of the clinton white house , was a very early supporter of barack obama when he was running for the presidency. she was there practically on day one. he is intensely loyal to her.
>> indeed. julian , senator john mccain , who seems to be imbittered by his 2008 loss, took to the senate floor immediately after the press conference. take a listen to this, julian .
>> the united nations obama at the direction of the white house went on all sunday talk shows to allege that this was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. what did the president know? when did he know it? what did dough about it?
>> your reaction to mr. mccain there, julian .
>> i think, first of all, just to respond to how the president dealt with it, i think if there's a headline coming out of the press conference today with the president, it is this, no more mr. nice guy . that was the message on the fiscal cliff. that was clearly the message to-o susan rice . john mccain used to have a lot of respects from democrats, including myself. i think that has all but evaporated. john mccain happens to be wrong on the allegations he's making. the comments susan rice made four days after the benghazi attack were perfectly and entirely consistent with the intelligence that she was getting from the cia. when we believed that the attacks were a spontaneous protest and reaction to the video. what we've learned since then was that two things may have been happening. one, the spontaneous protests could have been occurring while an al qaeda -like organization was also planning an attack and trying to take advantage of the unrest that occurred as a result of the video. so, both things could have -- both things are likely to have been accurate. but the fact of the matter is that susan rice 's comments were entirely consistent with the intelligence that she was getting from the cia at the time. and republicans tried to scandalize her on fast and furious . it turns out they were wrong on the facts. they've gone away from that. they tried to attack the president on solyndra. you don't hear anything else about that. they were wrong on the facts. and i bet you a dollar to a doughnut here, as soon as the republicans are forced to actually back up their rhetoric in a committee hearing , they will see they have absolutely no substance backing them up and that susan rice , who's been a superb ambassador, was doing exactly what they should have been doing, reporting to the american people what the best intelligence was telling us at the time.
>> professor dyson , to julian 's point, the president was also categoric on taxes saying if he has a mandate, it's to work on behalf of the middle class . now, does that mean, professor dyson , americans earning over $250,000 should expect to revert to the 39.6% tax rate under president clinton ?
>> well, certainly they're moving toward that particular goal. the president indicated that, look, the people who are wealthier have to pay their fair share . i think an overwhelming number of those who voted for him understood that. even those who didn't vote for him understood that would be the case. the president has been clear and at any time here. those tax cuts -- those tax rates under president clinton led to an unprecedented era, if you will, of enjoying being in the black and not in the red. that was reversed summarily by george bush . i don't think many people are arguing with the president about a return to tax rates that led us to tremendous benefits and advantages in the economy and led us into the black, so to speak, and put us on good footing. the concern is not simply about the middle class but those who are working poor and poor. the president is saying, we don't want to give tax cuts it to the fat cats and those who make $250,000 and top 1% earners in this country. we want to make sure the middle class is stocked, retains enough of its own earnings so they'll be able to contribute to the economy just as well. god knows the poor people have to be taken care of as well.
>> lynn, in the light of what professor dyson has just said, how does the president win over mitch mcconnell , paul ryan , speaker boehner, who have already openly said, no increases in tax rates ?
>> well, you have to splinter off some republicans , in the senate it will be easier because you just have to get to 60. you might pass the december 31st deadline where you have a few more democrats in the senate. but the problem is always going to be the house. i think there may be a bargain in the -- in the side of coming to republicans and saying, here are cuts. but the price of those cuts will be that 2%. republicans will face a very tough choice in just a very short time. are they the ones that are going to be responsible for giving 98% of americans tax hikes? do the republicans want to be known as the party that raised your taxes for everybody but 2%?
>> right. and i think, martin --
>> so, the 2% solution may be a noose around the republicans ' neck.
>> i think the republicans have little leverage. not just for that reason but a couple of other reasons. if you consider the fact that taxes are at 15% of gdp, spending is at 24%, even the paul ryan budget proposes we only reduce spending to 20% of gdp. that means five percentage points have to be made up if you want a balanced budget from tax increases. you can't do that alone where just --
>> loopholes and reductions.
>> the argument that obama has is eeb simpler --
>> no, republicans are losing leverage on the substance. they're losing leverage on the politics of this, as the polls showed. and losing leverage because if they do nothing taxes will go up on everyone. this is the republicans being hoisted with their own -- they showed the debt as a principle issue during the 2011 debt ceiling extension talks. they're the ones that brought this to the fore. what obama is now doing is performing a jujitsu. he's taking their issue and using it to maximize leverage to get his agenda accomplished. because taxes are going to go up on everybody if the republicans try to play obstructionism, obama clearly has the upper hand here. combine that with the fact that he's taking this no more mr. nice guy attitude, and this will be a deal done on president obama 's terms, i guarantee that.
>> and the democratic base is giving him a lot of pressure not to cave.
>> indeed. thank you all so much.