President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that voters frustrated by the pace of economic recovery dictated a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in elections, adding, “As president I take responsibility” for a failure to restore job growth more quickly.
Mr. Obama ruefully called the Republican victories in Tuesday’s election “a shellacking.”
The President opened his post-election news conference by saying voters who felt frustrated by the sluggish pace of economic recovery had dictated the Republican takeover in the House.
Asked to reflect on the returns, he said, “I feel bad,” adding that many Democrats who went down to defeat had done so knowing they risked their careers to support his agenda of economic stimulus legislation and a landmark healthcare Bill.
The President said he was eager to sit down with the leaders of both political parties “and figure out how we can move forward together.”
“It won’t be easy,” he said, noting the two parties differ profoundly in some key areas.
The election was a humbling episode for the once-high-flying President, and the change showed during his news conference. Largely absent were his smiles and buoyant demeanour, replaced by sombreness and an acknowledgment that his policies may have alienated some Americans.
“I think people started looking at all this, and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people’s lives than they were accustomed to,” he conceded. But he wasn’t talking surrender either.
He sought to tread a careful line, suggesting he would cooperate with Republicans where it was possible and confront them when it was not.
“No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here,” he said, a clear warning to Republicans that he won’t simply bow to their demands for a sharply conservative switch in economic policy.
With his comments, Mr. Obama largely followed the lead of Republican leaders who said earlier in the day they were willing to compromise — within limits.
With unemployment at 9.6 per cent, both the President and the Republicans will be under pressure to compromise. Yet neither must lose faith with core supporters — the Republicans with the ultraconservative Tea Party activists who helped them win power, Mr. Obama with the voters whose support he will need in 2012.
The President said the economy had begun a recovery since he took office but Americans became wary when they saw government bailouts of failing banks and two of the Big Three U.S. automakers.
“I think people started looking at all this, and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people’s lives than they were accustomed to,” he conceded.
Many Republicans campaigned by calling for repeal of the health care legislation Mr. Obama won from Congress, but the President said repeal was a nonstarter.
“If Republicans have some ideas” for cutting costs of health care or making other changes in the Bill, he said he would be glad to take a look.