(The Root) — Clearly frustrated with how his message on finding a compromise to avert a fiscal cliff is being received by Congress, President Obama decided to take his message directly to the American people with a fiery appearance on NBC's Meet the Press. Taped on Saturday, Dec. 29, and aired on Sunday, the appearance was particularly noteworthy because it was his first interview on the program in nearly three years.
With fewer than 36 hours to go before America officially goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff," resulting in automatic, across-the-board program cuts and tax hikes that will affect most Americans, the president made the case that he has attempted time and again to compromise with the Republican-controlled House. (Click here to see how fiscal-cliff talks most directly impact black Americans.) The message was loud and clear: If America goes over the fiscal cliff, we'll know who's to blame, and it's not the commander in chief.
Calling the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting "the worst day of my presidency," the president also highlighted some of his other second-term policy priorities.
Below, read some of the president's most noteworthy moments on the show:
On the fiscal-cliff negotiations:
"We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over. They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers. Yesterday I had another meeting with the leadership, and I suggested to them if they can't do a comprehensive package of smart deficit reduction, let's at minimum make sure that people's taxes don't go up and that two million people don't lose their unemployment insurance, and I was modestly optimistic yesterday but we don't yet see an agreement and now the pressure is on Congress to produce. If they don't, what I've said is that in the Senate we should go ahead and introduce legislation that would make sure middle-class taxes stay where they are and there should be an up or down vote. Everybody should have a right to vote on that. If Republicans don't like it, they can vote no, but I actually think there is majority support for making sure that middle-class families are held harmless."
On automatic spending cuts:
"But so far at least Congress has not been able to get this stuff done, not because Democrats in Congress don't want to go ahead and cooperate but because I think it's been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit as part of an overall deficit reduction package."
On whether he bears responsibility for the absence of a fiscal-cliff deal:
"At a certain point if folks can't say yes to good offers then I also have an obligation to the American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn't fall on seniors who are relying on Medicare. I also have an obligation to make sure that families who rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren't carrying this burden entirely. I also have an obligation to middle-class families to make sure they're not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes. There is a basic fairness at stake in this whole thing that the American people understand, and they listened to an entire year's debate about it. They made a clear decision about the approach they prefer, which is a balanced, responsible package. They rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down. They believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out. At a certain point it is very important for Republicans in Congress to be willing to say, 'We understand we are not going to get 100 percent. We are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems instead of worrying about the next election.' "
On the necessity of entitlement cuts:
"What I'm not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student-loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that make our economy grow."
On pushing gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting:
"We're not going to get this done unless the American people decide it's important, and so this is not going to be simply a matter of me spending political capital. One of the things you learn — and I've now been in this office for four years — is that old adage of Abraham Lincoln, 'With public opinion there's nothing you can't do, and without public opinion there's very little you can get done in this town.' So I'm going to put forward a package and I'm going to be putting my full weight behind it, and I'm going to make an argument to the American people about why this is important and why we have to do everything we can to make sure that something like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary does not happen again."
On whether he left Susan Rice hanging:
"Why she was targeted individually for the kind of attacks that she was subjected to was puzzling to me and I was very clear in the days after those attacks that they weren't acceptable, so the good thing is I think she will continue to serve in the UN and do an outstanding job, and I think most Americans recognize that these were politically motivated attacks as opposed to being justified."
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.