By William Branigin
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 4:10 PM
President Obama, appearing somber and reflective after what he described as a "shellacking" at the polls Tuesday night, conceded Wednesday that his connection with Americans has grown "rockier" over the last two years and expressed sadness over the defeats of congressional Democrats who supported him.
In a news conference a day after midterm elections handed Republicans control of the House and gains in the Senate, Obama said he was eager to work with GOP leaders and listen to "good ideas wherever they come from." But he said it would not be easy to reach agreement on contentious issues.
"People are frustrated," Obama said in an opening statement. "They're deeply frustrated with the pace of our economic recovery and the opportunities that they hope for their children and their grandchildren. They want jobs to come back faster."
He said he told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the new presumptive speaker of the House, that he is "very eager to sit down with members of both parties and figure out how we can move forward together." He added, "I'm not suggesting this will be easy. I won't pretend that we'll be able to bridge every difference or solve every disagreement."
Obama nevertheless said he believes "there is hope for civility." And he urged elected officials to remember "that our first allegiance as citizens is not to party or a region or a faction, but to country. Because while we may be proud Democrats or proud Republicans, we are prouder to be Americans."
He cited energy independence and education as two areas of "potential common ground" for congressional action.
In response to questions, Obama said the federal rescue of banks and auto companies two years ago had given people the impression that "government was getting much more intrusive into people's lives than they were accustomed to." He described the actions as justified because "it was an emergency situation," but he said he was "sympathetic" to people who considered them to be a federal "overreach."
Asked about GOP plans to work for repeal of his health-care legislation, Obama said that "we'd be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years." But he said he would be "happy to consider" modifications to reform the legislation, such as an adjustment to a tax-related record-keeping provision that "appears to be too burdensome for small businesses."
Obama acknowledged that "without any Republican support on anything, then it's going to be hard to get things done."
In response to a question about how he felt when some of his Democratic friends and supporters in Congress lost their reelection bids, Obama said: "It feels bad. You know, the toughest thing over the last couple of days is seeing really terrific public servants not have the opportunity to serve anymore, at least in the short term." Not only is he sad to see them go, he said, "but there's also a lot of questioning on my part in terms of, "could I have done something differently or done something more so that those folks would still be here?' It's hard. And I take responsibility for it in a lot of ways. "
Obama also expressed regret that he has not managed his relations better with the U.S. business community, which has emerged as a leading opposition force.
"As I reflect on what's happened over the last two years, one of the things that I think has not been managed by me as well as it needed to be was finding the right balance in making sure that businesses have rules of the road and are treating customers fairly . . . but also making absolutely clear that the only way America succeeds is if businesses are succeeding."
Obama reflected that presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had experienced similar midterm defeats.
"You know, this is something that I think every president needs to go through, because . . . the responsibilities of this office are so enormous and so many people are depending on what we do, and in the rush of activity sometimes we lose track of . . . the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place," Obama said. "Now, I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night. You know, I'm sure there're easier ways to learn these lessons."
He conceded that after peaking at an "incredible high" with his election two years ago, his relationship with the American people "has gotten rockier and tougher" over the last two years during "some very difficult times."
He said he was sure that this relationship would "have some more ups and downs" during the rest of his presidency.