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Obama 'Modestly Optimistic' On Cliff Deal; 'He Won,' Says Graham

President Barack Obama returned early from his holiday in Hawaii on Thursday for discussions on the "fiscal cliff."
Charles Dharapak/AP
President Barack Obama returned early from his holiday in Hawaii on Thursday for discussions on the "fiscal cliff."

President Obama went on the air to levy pressure on Congress Sunday as Senate leaders worked to negotiate a deal to avert the tax hikes and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff."

"I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don't yet see an agreement," Obama said in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press taped on Saturday. "Now the pressure's on Congress to produce."

The president continued to make it clear he feels he's reached out to congressional Republicans, as the AP reports:

Obama says his offers to Republicans "have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me." He cited a proposal he made to House Speaker John Boehner to reduce cost-of-living increases for Social Security beneficiaries.

Republicans, Obama said, have "had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers." It's worth noting that the only other appearance he's made on Meet the Press was at the height of the health care debate in 2009, another politically charged period where the president used the airtime to try to persuade viewers to his cause.

From another Sunday talk show came a sign he may succeed. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Fox News Sunday that the odds of a last-minute deal are "exceedingly good."

"This deal won't affect the debt situation; it will be a political victory for the president, and I hope we'll have the courage of our convictions when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling to fight for what we believe as Republicans," Graham said. "But hats off to the president. He won."

The Senate is scheduled to convene Sunday in a rare weekend session, but that's no guarantee of a vote. If it all falls through, the president said there's a backup plan. The first bill introduced in the new Congress, he said, would be a middle-class tax cut.

Gun Control Legislation In 2013

The fiscal cliff wasn't the only subject Obama touched on in his Sunday morning interview. With the Newtown school shooting still fresh in Americans' minds, the president took on gun control. Reuters reports:

"In his boldest terms yet, he vowed to rally the American people around an agenda to limit gun violence and said he still supports increased background checks and bans on assault weapons and high capacity bullet magazines."

He aims to pass new gun control in the coming year, he said, and was doubtful of the NRA's proposal to put armed guards in school.

"I am not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me. 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.

'Good Leads' In Benghazi

There are also "very good leads" on the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, the president said. Reuters again:

"Obama told NBC's 'Meet the Press' that the United States would carry out all of the recommendations put forward in an independent review of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed.

"'We're not going to pretend that this was not a problem. This was a huge problem. And we're going to implement every single recommendation that's been put forward,' Obama said in the interview, referring to security issues identified in the review."

Sen. Chuck Hagel For Defense Secretary?

And though he's made no decisions, the president also voiced support for former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as a possible candidate for U.S. defense secretary.

"I've served with Chuck Hagel," the president said. "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."

Hagel critics point to comments he made in 1998 about gay people serving in the diplomatic corps, as The Washington Post reports:

"At the time, Hagel said an 'openly aggressively gay' diplomat might be an ineffective representative of American values."

On this topic, Graham did not salute the president.

"I think a lot of Republicans and Democrats are very concerned about Chuck Hagel's positions on Iran sanctions, his views toward Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, and that there is wide and deep concern about his policies. All of us like him as a person," Graham said, but "there would be very little Republican support for his nomination. At the end of the day, there will be very few votes."

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