TODAY   |  November 24, 2012

President facing tough agenda as year ends

“I think we’re all aware that we have some urgent business to do,” President Barack Obama said last week, as he faces challenges including the Middle East peace process, the fiscal cliff and criticism surrounding the handling of the attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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>>> egypt is just one of the challenges facing president obama these days. his biggest challenge here at home, finding a way to avoid that so called fiscal cliff that could raise your taxes and throw the economy back into recession. kristen welker is in our washington bureau. good morning.

>> reporter: president obama is also facing a number of challenges overseas, as you say, from the unrest in the middle east to the continuing fallout over the attack on the u.s. consulate in benghazi . but the fiscal cliff looms large. president obama returning from a post-thanksgiving round of golf, but off the links, the clock is ticking. lawmakers need to hammer out a deal to prevent the so called fiscal cliff. deep spending cuts and tax hikes set to take effect next year.

>> i think we're all aware that we have some urgent business to do.

>> reporter: after a meeting at the white house last week, congressional leaders struck a rare tone of bipartisanship.

>> we had a very constructive meeting with the president.

>> we feel very comfortable with each other.

>> reporter: but a major sticking point remains -- taxes. president obama wants to let the bush era tax cuts expire for the wealthiest americans . many republicans still oppose that idea. aides have been trying to work out a compromise.

>> none of this is pretty. it's actually ridiculous. pretty dysfunctional politics. we've set this crazy trap for ourselves and we're about to inflict a wound on our economy that really doesn't need that.

>> reporter: in addition, the fragile cease fire looms large in the middle east . some analysts say this could be an opening for mr. obama to engage more actively in a middle east peace process , something he failed to do during his first term.

>> we need to explore what is possible, but we have to be quite realistic and go in with our eyes open .

>> reporter: and then there's the attack against the u.s. consulate in benghazi . republican lawmakers have accused u.n. ambassador susan rice of providing false information after she appeared on the sunday shows days later saying the incident was spontaneous. this week, rice defended herself.

>> when discussing the attacks against our facilities in benghazi , i relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community .

>> now, rice has come under so much scrutiny, in part because she's been discussed as a possible replacement for secretary of state hillary clinton . senator john mccain and other republicans are not satisfied by rice's answers. they are calling for a select committee investigation. now, as for the fiscal cliff, if lawmakers can't agree to a deal by the first of the year, economists say eventually the country could slip back into another recession. erica?

>> so many people focused on that date. thank you.

>>> at 17 minutes past the