WASHINGTON – Saying he understood the frustration that led to the strong electoral showing by Republicans, President Obama on Wednesday said he would work harder to build a political consensus that could deal with solving the country’s problems.
“Some election nights are more fun than others, some are exhilarating, some are humbling,” said Obama, who later described the results as a “shellacking.”
At his post-election news conference, Obama insisted his administration had made progress in dealing with economic problems, identified as the No. 1 issue, but that improvement had come too slowly.
“Yesterday’s vote confirmed what I heard from folks all across America,” he said. “People are frustrated; they’re deeply frustrated by the pace of our recovery.
“Over the last two years, we have made progress, but clearly too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday. As president, I take responsibility for that.”
But in the new world of divided political power in Washington, with Republicans controlling one house of Congress and more powerful in the other, Obama urged all parties to work together. The president acknowledged that cooperation could be easier said than done.
“No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here,” Obama said. “We must find common ground in order to make progress on some uncommonly difficult challenges.” But the president noted that finding such agreement will be difficult, given the different philosophical approaches of the parties and the upcoming presidential season.
“I think it is important to have an honest and civil debate,” Obama said. “I want to engage both Democrats and Republicans in serious conversations about where we’re going as nation. What the American people don’t want from us” is spending “the next two years fighting the political battles of past two.”
Noting the coming 2012 presidential elections, Obama said he was “not so naive to believe that politics could be put aside.
But “I do hope to make progress on the serious problems facing us right now,” he said. “That’s going to require all of us, including me, to work harder on building consensus.”
Obama said that both sides could work on economic issues, dealing with the budget deficit and that he was even open to some changes to the health care insurance overhaul, one of the centerpieces of his tenure and one of the GOP’s main targets during the midterm elections.
“If the Republicans have ideas for how to improve our health care system, if they want to suggest modifications that would deliver faster, more effective reform … I am happy to consider some of those ideas,” Obama said.
Fresh off of their election victory, Republicans earlier were cordial in their desire to work with Obama, but pointedly insisted that they would stick with the anti-administration agenda that had brought them victory.
“We hope he is willing to work with us on these priorities. But as I have said, our new majority will be the voice of the American people as they expressed it so clearly yesterday,” said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives. Boehner said Tuesday’s election was a mandate for his party to push the agenda on which it had successfully run and won control of one congressional chamber while picking up seats and influence in the Senate.
“The American people are concerned about the government takeover of health care,” he said at a morning media appearance before a formal news conference. “I think it is important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity and replace it with common-sense reforms that will bring down the cost of health care insurance in America.”
Boehner shied away from specifics, saying the party was studying how to proceed, but he made it clear the direction he wanted to move. The health care insurance overhaul was passed in the face of GOP opposition in both houses and became one of the main planks in the midterm elections.
“It’s pretty clear the Obama-Pelosi agenda is being rejected,” Boehner told reporters. “They want the president to change course, and I think change course we will.” Republicans picked up an estimated 60 seats in the House with perhaps two dozen races still undecided. On the Senate side, Republicans picked up six seats, with three contests still to be determined.
Boehner also said the economy was high on the GOP agenda.
“It’s pretty clear the American people want us to do something about cutting spending here in Washington and helping to create an environment where we’ll get jobs back,” he said.