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Obama Cites 'A Moment For Reflection' In Election Results

President Obama answers questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, one day after Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate and captured their biggest majority in the House in more than 60 years.
Larry Downing
President Obama answers questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, one day after Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate and captured their biggest majority in the House in more than 60 years.

Speaking one day after his party lost control of the Senate to the Republican Party, President Obama says, "I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell."

We'll update this post with news from the president's remarks, made in an hourlong news conference in the East Room of the White House on the afternoon after Election Day.

Update at 4:10 p.m. ET: The Democrats' Message

Asked about the idea that some of his policies did better as ballot issues in Tuesday's votes than some Democratic candidates, Obama tells NPR's Scott Horsley that Democrats need to communicate their party's goals.

He adds that last night's results also made him think of the "two-thirds of people who were eligible to vote and just didn't vote."

Obama went on to say that if some of his tactics haven't worked, he'll try new ones.

"Whatever I think might make a difference in this, I'm going to be trying out — up until my last day in office," he says.

The president ended his remarks by saying, "I am really optimistic about America."

Acknowledging that that position might sound strange given many Americans' current unease, the president listed positive signs, from U.S. economic gains to the country's military to its progress in fighting Ebola.

"So all that makes me optimistic," he said. And he added that part of his job in the coming two years will be "to show people why we should be confident."

The president said he's not "mopey" over the trouncing Democrats endured Tuesday but rather that the result energizes him as a president.

Update at 4:03 p.m. ET: Democratic Candidates' Aversion

"I love campaigning," Obama says, recalling shaking hands and meeting regular Americans.

"But I'm also a practical guy," he adds, saying that each candidate had to made decisions about how to run in their own region.

"One of the nice things about being in the sixth year of your presidency," he added, is that "you've gotten more than your share of attention."

Update at 4 p.m. ET: On Being A Lame Duck

Asked about being a lame duck, Obama says there's much work to be done.

"I'm going to squeeze every last little bit of this opportunity to make this world a better place over these last two years," Obama says.

He then states that one goal would be to make U.S. agencies work better, to be more responsive.

He also notes that in the last two years of most presidencies, "all kinds of stuff happens."

Obama also said he won't be satisfied as long as he meets people who can't find jobs, and young people who are saddled with college debt.

Update at 3:55 p.m. ET: The Republican Agenda And Keystone

Asked about the GOP leadership's approach to immigration, President Obama repeats his view that if Congress approves a bill that addresses the "broken immigration system," his executive actions will be made null.

Obama goes on to say he'll cooperate with Republicans if they take up the issue.

On the subject of the Keystone pipeline, Obama said it's being handled in an independent process.

I will note," he added, that while a debate over Canadian oil has been raging, "we've seen some of the biggest increases" in production of American oil and natural gas.

He goes on to say that America's energy sector is booming, including the clean energy industry.

Update at 3:46 p.m. ET: On The New U.S. Health Care System

The president says that while he's open to some changes to the new health care system, there's a limit. Repeal of the entire law or of the individual mandate, for instance.

"There's no law that's ever been passed that's perfect," he adds.

Obama says that if McConnell and Boehner want to make responsible changes, he'd be receptive to hearing them. But he adds, "the law works," saying that predictions that raised fears of health care inflation weren't accurate.

Update at 3:40 p.m. ET: A Shift In Course?

Asked by Ed Henry of Fox News whether he sees a need to change his approach or whether he'll "double down," President Obama says he's committed to being open to dealing with the Republican leadership.

He added that the fact that Republicans will control both chambers of Congress could change the dynamics in Washington, as McConnell and Boehner might have more leverage.

Obama went on to list modest but important goals, such as helping young people get into college and helping workers find good jobs.

"Even if I'm not getting a whole loaf," he says, he wants to help improve life for Americans.

On the question of the effort to combat the extremist group known as ISIS or the Islamist State, Obama said America's goal is to isolate the group — not to solve the entire Syria crisis.

He adds that the most difficult part of the problem is finding a group in Syria that could serve as a desirable U.S. ally to help regain territory and to take part in potential negotiations about Syria's future.

Update at 3:27 p.m. ET: On Relationships With Republicans

Asked whether he could have done more to build relationships with congressional Republicans such as McConnell, the president sighs.

He acknowledges wondering about that question in the past.

"I'm certainly going to be spending a lot more time with them now," he adds, "because that's the only way we're going to get stuff done."

Asked whether he would get a drink with the presumptive majority leader, Obama says, "I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell." He says the senator has always been cordial and has never made a promise on which he didn't deliver.

Update at 3:24 p.m. ET: On The Punishment Democrats Took

President Obama lists some of his administration's accomplishments, but he says he understands that Americans hold him more accountable than most for Washington's dysfunction.

Asked whether an executive action would spoil the chances of reaching a compromise with Republicans, the president said that he hadn't seen any congressional action on immigration.

"There's a cost to waiting," he adds, noting the influx of young immigrants at the U.S. Southern border this summer.

He says that if Republicans want immigration reform, they now have the capacity to get it passed in Congress.

"The sooner they do it, from my perspective, the better," he says.

Update at 3:17 p.m. ET: 'Get Stuff Done'

Saying that the message of the past several elections boils down to "Get stuff done," President Obama goes on to list the problems faced by regular Americans.

On the subject of immigration, he says he wants Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform. He goes on to say that America's policies need to allow the best and the brightest to live there.

Lauding a bipartisan bill that came out of the Senate, Obama revisits the effort to get the bill up for a vote in the House. He says that when that didn't happen, he took executive action — and that his action would be rescinded when Congress acts.

"What I'm not going to do is just wait," he says.

Update at 3:12 p.m. ET: 'A Moment For Reflection'

"I think that every election is a moment for reflection," Obama says.

He adds that he and the White House staff won't change their principles. But he later adds that if Republicans have ideas that he thinks will help Americans, he'll support them.

Update at 3:08 p.m. ET: Working With Republicans

With the first question citing a "devastating" night for Democrats, Obama responds by saying the American people believe Washington isn't attentive to their needs.

"I'm the guy who's elected by everybody," he says, explaining that the public expects the president to get the U.S. government to produce.

"In terms of agenda items," he notes that American voters endorsed some of his own policies, particularly a minimum-wage increase, in ballot initiatives in Tuesday's elections.

Obama goes on to say that there will be areas where he and the Republicans don't agree — and some on which they do.

"Let's get started on those things where we agree," Obama said. "Even on those things where we don't agree 100 percent," he added, it's important to get to work on them, to build trust.

Update at 3:05 p.m. ET: Plans For Ebola And ISIS

The president lists actions he's taking — and on which he wants help from Congress. They include new funding to bolster America's fight against Ebola and new plans for attacking ISIS extremists.

Update at 3:03 p.m. ET: Areas Of Common Interest

Listing areas where the Republicans and his administration could work together, Obama lists repairing America's infrastructure and foreign trade.

He adds that both he and the GOP's leaders are interested in helping youth.

Obama also noted that "voters went five for five" in voting for minimum-wage increases in last night's ballot initiatives.

Update at 3 p.m. ET: 'As Productive As Possible'

Obama says he spoke to both House Speaker John Boehner and McConnell, telling them that he looks forward "to finishing up this Congress' business" and then working in the next Congress. He noted that he'll be meeting with congressional leaders

The president said that in Tuesday's election, "the American people sent a message" that the public expects their elected leaders to work as hard as they do.

"All of us have to give Americans more of a reason" to feel better about their lives and their futures, Obama said.

The president added that he wants the government's next years to be "as productive as possible."

Our original post continues:

The president spoke shortly after presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held his own news conference in Kentucky, where the Republican said the Senate "needs to be fixed" — and that he and his Republican colleagues are willing to work with President Obama on some issues.

Earlier Wednesday, the White House sent a letter to the speaker of the House, requesting emergency appropriations to help the U.S. fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak that has struck three nations in West Africa.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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