Obama on election at day-after news conference

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 4:49 PM

-- President Barack Obama's assessment of the election results at a White House news conference Wednesday:



Obama said "I take responsibility" for the fact that many Americans expressed with their votes that they do not feel the economic progress he says is happening, despite his campaign promise to tackle the country's challenges and give voice to everyday people's concerns.

Said he told both Republican leaders - presumptive House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell - that he is "very eager" to sit down with members from both parties and "figure out how we can move forward together."

Added that he takes "direct responsibility" for the country not making as much progress as it needs to.



Obama sympathized with people he says were startled by the administration's early decisions, including the economic stimulus bill and pumping billions in federal aid to Wall Street banks and U.S. automakers. He defended the actions.

"I think people started looking at all this and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive in people's lives than they were accustomed to. ... We thought it was necessary but, you know, I'm sympathetic to folks who looked at it and said this is looking like potential overreach."



Obama defended the health care law. Republicans oppose the law and have pledged to repeal it.

Said he tells himself "this was the right thing to do" whenever he thinks about people who won't have to mortgage their homes to pay for cancer treatment or parents who are happy their children will get to stay on health insurance plans until age 26.

Said he expects the issue of repeal to come up in discussions with Republican leaders and that if the GOP has ideas for how to fine-tune the health care system, he'd happily consider them.

Told of exit polls showing that one in two voters would like to see the law overturned, he countered by saying that "also means ... one of out of two voters think it was the right thing to do."



Obama said he's "absolutely" willing to negotiate with Republicans on a series of Bush-era tax cuts that expire at year-end. Obama has insisted that Congress extend the tax cuts for households with incomes up to $250,000. Republicans have insisted that the tax cuts be maintained for everyone, including the top 2 percent of wage earners.

Obama said the "single most important thing" Washington can do for the economy is to make sure that middle-class families don't pay higher taxes next year, and that the issue must be dealt with in the final session of Congress before a new, more Republican Congress convenes next year. He expressed interest in discussing the issue with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders in the next few weeks.



Obama said he "feels bad" for Democrats who lost their seats in Congress, especially those who voted with him on such issues as health care because they thought it was the right - and not the politically expedient - thing to do. Said he admires their courage and conviction and feels sad about their defeat. He also questioned whether he could have done something more or better that would have produced a different outcome.



Obama virtually abandoned his bill for providing economic incentives to reduce the carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles and other sources that are blamed for global warming. The bill passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.

Obama said that particular bill was "just one way of skinning the cat," adding that he'd be looking for other ways to address the problem. During the campaign, Republicans criticized the bill as a "national energy tax" and a jobs killer. Democratic candidates also sought to emphasize their opposition during re-election campaigns.



Obama said there's still a chance to overturn the ban on gay servicemembers during the lame-duck session of Congress. He said a pending Pentagon review of the policy "will give us time to act," potentially before the new Congress convenes next year.

He said lawmakers must end the uncertainty created by multiple court decisions on the constitutionality of the policy.



Obama rejected the idea that the election outcome could suggest that voters think his policies are taking the country backward. He said an economy once in free-fall has stabilized and is growing, although not fast enough to shrink a steady 9.6 percent unemployment rate.

"So I think it would be hard to argue that we're going backwards. I think what you can argue is we're stuck in neutral. I think we're not moving the way we need to to make sure that folks have jobs."



Obama said he could have found a better balance between regulating businesses and showing his support for the private sector. He has faced criticism that his administration has been antibusiness. He said he realizes he needs to make clear to the business community and the country at large that the most important thing the administration can do is encourage businesses and create a climate for them to be able to hire.

He said setting the right tone publicly is important. He acknowledged that's something he didn't do very well.



Obama predicted there will be more ups and downs in his relationship with the American people. He said the relationship built slowly and reached an "incredible high" during the campaign but became "rockier and tougher" after he took office.

He said a humbling election night is something every president should experience, though not necessarily the "shellacking" he suffered Tuesday when Republicans won back control of the House and chipped away at the Democratic majority in the Senate. The demands of the office and the rush of activity, he said, sometimes cause presidents to lose touch with how they connected with voters in the first place.

© 2010 The Associated Press