WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Barack Obama on Wednesday opened the door to compromise regarding the impending fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts.
In his first full-blown news conference at the White House since March 6, the president said he was encouraged by recent comments from members of the Republican Party surrounding the need for more revenue from the wealthiest Americans as part of a plan to reduce the deficit.
"Both parties voted to set this deadline, and I believe both parties can make these decisions together ... in a balanced and responsible way," Obama said.
Standing by his previous statements about tax rates, the president called on House Republicans to agree to Senate-passed proposals that would extend current tax rates for those making $250,000 a year while allowing rates to return to higher levels for those making over that amount. He insisted that he would not accept a lower tax rate for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
His comments should not come as a surprise, he said, given his statements during the election.
"I've got one mandate to help middle class families and families working hard to get into the middle class," Obama said.
The president is often criticized for not forging relationships with Congress, to the detriment of his agenda. On Wednesday he acknowledged that history and said he can "always do better."
His relationships haven't "always manifested itself in the kind of agreement I'd like to see between Democrats and Republicans," he said.
Obama's post-news conference agenda included meeting with major CEOs, some of whom flexed their political muscle to defeat Democrats in elections last week.
He is expected to find backing for some of the administration's positions ahead of negotiations with Congress on avoiding the fiscal cliff. Leaders of the largest companies have indicated they are holding back hiring and spending because they are worried about Washington gridlock over the fiscal cliff.
On Tuesday, the president sat down with labor leaders and the heads of six independent groups involved in organizing grassroots support for progressive causes. He told them that he intended to allow the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while preserving them for middle-income earners, according to several people at that meeting.
"The president was very strong on saying there's going to be an end to the Bush tax cuts one way or another," said one participant who requested anonymity to discuss the off-the-record meeting.
Obama is to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the White House on Friday.
Other conference notes:
* President Obama called out Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain for their "outrageous" comments saying they would block U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice if she is nominated for secretary of state.
"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after someone they should go after me," Obama said. "When they go after the U.N. ambassador apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me."
Earlier Wednesday, Graham and McCain said they would block Rice's nomination, should it be made, over her characterization of the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
* President Obama said he was unaware of any disclosure of classified information from the scandal engulfing former CIA Director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, that could damage national security.
"I have no evidence at this point from what I've seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security," Obama said.
Addressing the ongoing controversy for the first time publicly, the president said Petraeus tendered his resignation because his actions "did not meet the standards he felt were necessary as the director of the CIA."
The former four-star general admitted last Friday that he had had an extramarital affair with a woman who was later identified as a co-author of his biography.
The FBI is also investigating Allen over his contacts with another woman whose complaints about anonymous, harassing e-mails led to the discovery of the Petraeus affair.