Barack Obama
President Obama said if congressional leaders cannot agree before March 1 to avert the defense sequester then should pass a stopgap measure that will give them time. REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning to discuss a wide range of issues facing the nation as the year draws to a close. His remarks touched on topics ranging from gun control and the fiscal cliff to the Benghazi consulate attack and congressional gridlock.

Obama spoke less than 48 hours before the deadline for the U.S. government to find a way to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, and thus the ongoing fight in Washington over the crucial issue consumed much of the prerecorded conversation with David Gregory.

"I remain an optimist," Obama answered when questioned whether he believed a deal could be reached on the fiscal cliff, but he tempered that by saying "the fact that it's not happening is an indication of how far some factions in the Republican Party have gone" away from popular centrist positions such as support for tax cuts for the middle class.

Obama predicted that one of two things will happen with the fiscal cliff.

The first possibility, the president said, is that "we're going to see an agreement within the next 48 hours" that will keep the country from going over the fiscal cliff, thereby allowing for the continuation of the tax breaks, unemployment benefits, and other economy-boosting measures that would lapse if a deal is not reached by the end of the year.

The second possibility Obama laid out is that Congress will not be able to come to an agreement that satisfies both sides of the aisle, and the nation will go over the cliff. But even that should not be a source of too much despair, he said, as if a deal indeed does not get done in time, then next year "the first bill will be to cut taxes on middle-class families."

Speaking on the topic of gun control, Obama drove home just how much he was personally moved by the shocking display of violence that left 20 children and six adults dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., this month when 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage.

"That was the worst day of my presidency," Obama told Gregory.

The president went on to explain that he supports a range of gun-control proposals, including an assault-weapons ban, bans on oversized clips, and background checks for gun purchasers. But Obama declined to outright denounce the National Rifle Association's proposal to put an armed security guard in every American school, although he said he does not believe that such a move alone would be enough to solve the problem of gun-related violence in the U.S.

Obama added he believes that if Americans were "shook up enough" by the Newtown massacre, then the public support will be there to do big things to address gun violence.