President Obama said his priorities for the next four years are immigration, the economy, energy and debt reduction.

Story highlights

President speaks to NBC for nearly 30 minutes

Interview covers subjects like taxes, security at foreign embassies, gun control

Obama plans to introduce immigration legislation in next year

He thinks Chuck Hagel would be qualified to be next secretary of defense

CNN  — 

President Barack Obama appeared on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday, talking about the “fiscal cliff” negotiations and priorities for his administration in his second term.

The president told host David Gregory that he was optimistic something will be worked out to keep tax rates from rising on Tuesday – but if not, his first piece of legislation for the next Congress will be a bill to reduce tax rates on most Americans.

Obama slams GOP ‘priority’ as fiscal cliff hours away

The president also spoke about his second term and what he wants to accomplish. Here are highlights of what he said:

Gun control after the Newtown killings

“Something fundamental in America has to change,” said Obama, who visited on December 16 with families of victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings.

The president said Sunday he will put forth a proposal next year to change firearm laws. Among the things the legislation will address are assault-style rifles, high-capacity ammunition magazines and background checks on all firearm sales.

His comments echoed those made five days after the shootings in Newtown, where a gunman killed his mother at home, then 20 children and six adults at an elementary school.

Obama said he hopes that the Newtown killings spur Americans to take action and not let the shootings feel like “one of those routine episodes,” the emotions of which fade with memory.

“”It certainly won’t feel like that to me. This is something that, you know, that was the worst day of my presidency,” he said.

The president said he wanted to listen to all the parties involved in the gun control debate but was skeptical about the National Rifle Association’s call to put armed guards in every school as the only solution.

Obama said December 19 that a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden will have legislative recommendations in January.

Benghazi attack

Obama said the security failures that led to the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were “severe,” but he blamed human mistakes.

“There was just some sloppiness – not intentional – in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don’t have governments that have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies,” he said.

The State Department will implement all of the 29 recommendations by a review board headed by veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering.

The FBI also has some “very good leads” into who carried out the September attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others, Obama said.

Among the recommendations in the report sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were strengthening security, adding fire-safety precautions and improving intelligence collection in high-threat areas.

“But we’ll try to do more than that,” Obama said.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice

The president said verbal attacks on Rice for her comments on the Benghazi investigation were “puzzling.”

“Of all the people in my national security team, she probably had the least to do with anything that happened in Benghazi,” he said.

Rice said on Sunday news programs in the days following the attack that it was the result of a protest against an online anti-Islam film.

She was heavily criticized for those statements, to the point that she withdrew her name from consideration as the next secretary of state to avoid what she called a “lengthy, disruptive, and costly” confirmation process. Critics said Rice’s comments were out of line with the true intelligence about the incident and were an attempt by the administration to avoid tying it to terrorism.

“Most Americans recognize that these were largely politically motivated attacks as opposed to being justified,” Obama said.

Next secretary of defense

He has yet to make a decision as to who to nominate for secretary of defense, Obama said.

Sources have said they think the president will pick Chuck Hagel, a Republican, who has met with controversy since his name has been connected with the position.

Gay rights groups, which were strong supporters of Obama’s election campaigns, have hit Hagel for questioning in 1998 whether a nominee for an ambassadorship was suitable because he was “openly, aggressively gay.”

Obama, without calling Hagel his preferred candidate for the job, said: “I’ve served with Chuck Hagel (in the U.S. Senate). I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work.”

Hagel has apologized for those comments, Obama said. He added that he didn’t see anything in Hagel’s political record that disqualified him as a potential nominee.

Hagel currently is the co-chairman of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board. Leon Panetta, who has been secretary of defense since July 2011, has indicated he wants to return to private life next year.

Four issues for the next term

When asked about his priorities for the next four years, Obama listed immigration, the economy, energy and debt reduction.

He will introduce legislation to fix a broken immigration system in 2013, he said.

“We have talked about it long enough,” He said. “We know how we can fix it.”

Obama also wants to fix America’s infrastructure.

“If we are putting people back to work, rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, in part paid for by some of these broader long-term deficit reduction measures that need to take place, that will grow our economy,” he said

And he wants to increase further the amount of energy, especially green energy, that America produces.

“We are producing more energy and America can become an energy exporter. (The question is) how do we do that in a way that also deals with the environmental challenges that we also have at the same time,” Obama said.

But the most pressing quandary is the fiscal cliff.

“It is going to be very hard for the economy to sustain its current growth trends if suddenly we have a huge bite taken of the average American’s paycheck,” he said.