A chastened President Barack Obama admitted he had suffered a “shellacking” in this week’s US mid-term elections, but refused to see it as a repudiation of his transformative domestic agenda.
He instead blamed the loss of the House of Representatives and Republican gains in the Senate on deep voter frustration at the sluggish recovery and his failure to clean up the “ugly mess” in Washington.
“It feels bad,” Obama said, digesting his defeat in a White House news conference.
His comments set the tone for a looming period of divided government and political confrontation in which he must now chart his 2012 reelection bid.
He took “direct responsibility” for the sorry state of the US economy, saying voters’ concerns and frustration about the slow pace of progress had driven them to oust Democrats and usher in a Republican wave.
“I have got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington does,” the president said.
Savoring deep countrywide gains, Republican leaders promised to seek common ground where possible, but warned that voters had sent a signal that Obama’s reform plans had gone too far and had to be halted.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, in line to replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, in January, said Obama had to “change course”. He described the president’s signature health care reform law as a “monstrosity.”
Pelosi herself, in her first post-election interview, said she had “no regrets” about her tenure as the nation’s first woman speaker, and blamed the Democrats’ major losses on the poor economy.
“If people don’t have a job, they’re not too interested in how you intend for them to have a job. They want to see results,” she told ABC News.
Some pundits have already warned that the rout — which saw several states that voted for Obama and his Democrats in 2008 flip Republican on Tuesday — could augur ill for Obama’s reelection hopes.
But the president noted that predecessors Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had won second terms despite suffering mid-term setbacks.
“I’m not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night,” he said, noting how hard it was in the White House “bubble” to feel the pain of ordinary Americans.
But Obama, whose old Senate seat in Illinois was lost to a Republican, repeatedly declined to concede that his sweeping agenda, including health care reform, had extended beyond his 2008 mandate.
And he urged Democrats and Republicans to seek common ground on improving the economy.
“I told John Boehner and Mitch McConnell last night, I am very eager to sit down with members of both parties and figure out how we can move forward together,” Obama said.
He said he’d also be willing to “tweak” his health care law if Republicans “want to suggest modifications that would deliver faster and more effective reform.”
Republican leaders spoke the language of compromise, but left no doubt they seek to turn back the social reform drive Obama launched after taking office, starting with the health care law.
“Our first goal is to repeal it and replace it,” McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said on Fox News.
Republicans, bouncing back from their own election drubbing by Obama in 2008, had picked up 60 seats in the 435-seat House by Wednesday, well more than the 39 they needed for a majority.
They also grabbed an extra six seats in the 100-member Senate, with two outstanding races yet to be decided, setting the stage for a likely gridlock in Washington, despite voter demands for both parties to work together.
Conservative hero Rand Paul, who won a US Senate seat in Kentucky, warned of a “Tea Party tidal wave,” in a coming-of-age moment for the movement set up to challenge what it calls Obama’s “big-government” takeover of American life.
Obama’s top Senate ally Harry Reid meanwhile savored his victory over Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. While he acknowledged Obama was in a “hole,” he argued history suggested he could bounce back.
“We have to work together. We have so many problems in this country that we can’t have people saying no to everything,” Reid told MSNBC television.
The Republican rout is all the more stunning given the moribund state of the party after the Democrats’ sweeping victory of 2008 and is evidence of a period of sharp volatility in US politics ahead of the looming White House race.
Democrats will hand over the House leaving a historic legacy, including health care reform and a Wall Street overhaul, and claim they staved off a second Great Depression.
But they paid a heavy price for the sluggish economic recovery that has yet to be felt nationwide, with unemployment pegged at 9.6 percent.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press