President Barack Obama said he will push immigration reform and efforts to control firearms violence early in his second term -- issues that have been stalled since before he took office by deep political divisions in the U.S.
In a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that also covered the budget standoff and foreign policy, Obama said his second-term priorities also included expanding energy production and building roads, bridges and schools.
He didn’t put entitlement reform atop his priority list, saying Republicans need to be willing to raise taxes on the wealthy before he would consider cutting programs for the elderly, students and the disabled.
Obama called Dec. 14 -- the day a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, killed himself and 27 others, mostly children -- “the worst day of my presidency.”
Obama said he’s not ready to embrace gun-rights advocates’ support for placing armed guards at schools throughout the country.
“I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools, and I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem,” he said.
Obama said the Newtown shootings strengthened his resolve for an assault-rifle ban and other measures, such as regulating high-capacity ammunition clips, he expects to ask Congress to pass early next year. Vice President Joe Biden, a gun-control advocate since his days in the Senate, has begun preparing options for the president to propose.
“I’m going to be putting forward a package, and I’m going to be putting my full weight behind it,” Obama said.
Obama also said he would introduce legislation for “fixing our broken immigration system” next year.
“I think we have talked about it long enough. We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support,” he said. “That’s something we should get done.”
In the interview, taped yesterday, Obama described himself as “a pretty practical guy” who is “not driven by some ideological agenda.”
Obama said it’s “just not true” that the gridlock in Congress is the result of an equal unwillingness by both parties to cooperate. He laid the blame on Republicans, saying the stalemate on the deficit-reduction talks reflects “how far certain factions inside the Republican Party have gone.”
“Anybody objectively who’s looked at this would say that we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans,” he said.
“At a certain point, it is very important for Republicans in Congress to be willing to say, ‘We understand we’re not going to get 100 percent. We are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems,’ as opposed to be worrying about the next election,” Obama said.
Obama also defended former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel’s character against Republican and Democratic critics of his past stances on gays and Israel.
The criticisms surfaced after Hagel’s name was informally circulated as a leading contender for defense secretary in Obama’s second term. Obama said in the interview that he hasn’t decided on a nominee.
“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate. Somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who’s currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job,” Obama said.
Hagel, while in the Senate, said a a gay ambassadorial nominee might not be able to do an effective job. He has since apologized, which Obama said is “a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country.”
Asked whether he will commit to getting “significant” reform on entitlements passed by Congress in the first year of his second term, Obama said “no.”
Noting he has shown a willingness to limit inflation adjustments to Social Security, against the wishes of other Democrats, Obama said he has also made clear to Republicans that “you are not only going to cut your way to prosperity.”
“It is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, ’You are going to have to do with less, but we’re not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more.’”
To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at email@example.com