President Obama, somber and chastened in defeat, today pledged to listen to what voters were saying when they voted Democrats out of control of the House and state legislatures across the country.
“Yesterday’s vote confirmed what I’ve heard from folks all across America,” he said in an opening statement at a postelection news conference in the East Room of the White House. “People are frustrated. They’re deeply frustrated with the pace of our economic recovery.”
He claimed to have made “progress” in ending the recession. But he acknowledged, “Too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday. And as president, I take responsibility for that.”
Watching so many of his allies go down to defeat, he said, was particularly tough personally.
“It feels bad,” he said. “The toughest thing over the last couple of days is seeing really terrific public servants not having the opportunity to serve anymore, at least in the short term.”
Many of those who lost, he called “just terrific,” adding, “There’s not only sadness but also a lot of questioning on my part, as far as, could I have done something different or something more so that those folks would still be there? It’s hard, and I take responsibility for it.”
The election also showed, he said, “that no one party will be able to dictate where we go from here.”
But he pledged to work with the newly triumphant Republicans.
Clearly stung by the drubbing Democrats took in Tuesday's elections, the president said there are areas where his administration must change. “I’m doing a whole lot of reflecting,” he said, “and there are going to be areas where we have to do a better job.”
He also acknowledged one particular fault of his administration after his historic victory in November 2008. "We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how it got done,'' he said, adding that he had signed bills with controversial earmarks that drove up government spending.
Even a day before, Obama had harbored hopes that his late campaigning and an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort could save many of the Democrats who had supported his proposals. Now the president faces the reality that Congress -- both the Republican House and a decidedly more conservative Senate -- will be hostile to almost everything on his domestic agenda.
But despite those numbers, he insisted that Washington can still get things done in the next two years.
“With so much at stake, what the American people don’t want from us, especially here in Washington, is to spend the next two years fighting the political battles of last two,” he said. “We just had an election. We’ll have another in 2012. I’m not so naïve as to think that people will put aside politics until then. But I do hope to make progress on the very serious problems facing us right now.”
And he made clear that the progress has to be on the economy.
“I think that there is no doubt that people’s No. 1 concern is the economy, and what they were expressing great frustration about is that we haven’t made enough progress on the economy,” he said.
People will be looking for “the bottom line -- results,” he said. And he admitted they held him responsible for their economic frustration.
“They understand that I’m the president of the United States... and so I think I’ve got to take direct responsibility for the fact that we’ve not made the progress that we’d hoped.”
He said Democrats and Republicans must find ways to work together.
"On a whole range of issues, there are going to be areas where we disagree,” he said. “I think the overwhelming message that I’ve heard from voters is, 'We want everybody to act responsibly in Washington.'"
He added that there is “no doubt that as I reflect on the results of the election, it underscores for me that I’ve got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington does.”
He said Republicans have some good ideas he is willing to consider.
“We’re not going to rule out ideas because they’re Democrat or Republican.” He said. “We just want to see what works. Ultimately, I’ll be judged as president by the bottom line: results.”
He cited one Republican proposal he would consider, noting that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip, “said today he wanted a moratorium on earmarks. That’s something I think we can work on together.”
Looking back on mistakes he may have made, he said that many people were excited by his promise to change the way Washington operated. But then, he said, people were "frustrated" when that change didn't come.
The pace worked against him, he said. “With all that stuff coming at folks fast and furious... it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people’s lives than they were accustomed.” He suggested he didn’t really have the option of going slower because “it was an emergency situation.” He said, “I’m sympathetic to folks who looked at it and said this feels like potential overreach.”
George Condon contributed contributed to this article.