But as he completed a brief victory lap, Obama also turned toward governing again, arriving early Wednesday evening in the same divided Washington that has vexed him for the past two years.
Obama now has an opportunity to change the way his administration operates and expand the agenda it pursues. Almost immediately, he will address a host of expected departures in his senior staff, giving him the chance to fill out the top levels of his administration with new people best suited to achieve his second-term ambitions.
“There’s a lot of flexibility in how you do it,” said Martha Kumar, a Towson University professor of political science who specializes in presidential transitions. “You work with what you’ve got and the environment you’re in, and right now for this president that’s the fiscal-cliff issues.”
The campaign season has effectively frozen the business of Washington for much of the past year. Obama now faces a year-end fiscal showdown with a Congress largely unchanged by the recent election, as well as his own second-term staffing issues in the White House and at key Cabinet agencies.
The ratification he received Tuesday with a decisive electoral win is already being challenged by some Republican congressional leaders, who have warned that the victory should not be viewed automatically as a broad mandate for tax-rate increases on wealthy Americans and other issues on which Obama campaigned.
But other Republicans took a step back Wednesday from promised opposition, as the party and its leaders reviewed the demographic data showing just what doomed their presidential candidate and cost them a net loss of two Senate seats.
“I hope there’s going to be some real soul-searching [in the] Republican Party about what they’re willing to cooperate on,” Vice President Biden told reporters traveling aboard Air Force Two.
Referring to the election results, Biden said, “I think the real takeaway is: What is the takeaway going to be on the part of our Republican colleagues?”
Beyond the immediate fiscal concerns, Obama will use some of his remaining first term to set out an agenda for his second.
Even before Tuesday, White House officials identified immigration reform as one issue Obama would seek to work on with Republicans if reelected.
Given the large Latino turnout in Obama’s favor — he won that vote by more than 40 points — Republican leaders may be more encouraged to collaborate with the president on the issue and improve their image with a fast-growing section of the electorate.
“I feel very optimistic about, in my view, immigration reform,” Biden said Wednesday. “Because as we talked about with most of the Hispanic communities I spoke with over the last month, it played a major role. And that’s got to be a wake-up call for a lot of my Republican colleagues.”