President Obama, after his party suffered bruising midterm defeats in races that Republicans deemed a referendum on his policies, vowed anew Wednesday to work across the aisle in his final two years in office – while at the same time, vowing to press ahead with controversial executive action on immigration.
The president addressed his party’s losses at a White House press conference. While not going so far as to concede a “shellacking,” as he did after the GOP wave of 2010, Obama readily acknowledged, “Republicans had a good night.”
And he added: “To everyone that voted, I want you to know, I hear you.”
The GOP gained at least seven U.S. Senate seats and built their House majority to historic levels, giving them full control of Congress. The president chalked up the results in part to a frustration with Washington dysfunction. “They want us to get the job done,” Obama said.
On Wednesday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, poised to become majority leader, said the results reflected dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. But he, too, conceded that Washington “dysfunction” was a big factor in Tuesday’s elections.
Both he and Obama vowed to try and work together over the next two years.
Whether that can happen remains to be seen. Both sides have made similar bipartisan appeals before, to little result.
On Wednesday, Obama vowed to pursue immigration action that could quickly sour any bipartisan spirit.
“Before the end of the year, we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take” to improve the system, Obama said. He said he still wants Congress to pass legislation, but wants to figure out “what we can do lawfully through executive actions” in the meantime. He promised that if Congress passes a bill, it would make any executive actions “go away.”
There may be areas of agreement, though, and Obama said he wants to find the “overlap” between his administration’s priorities and those of the incoming Republican-controlled Congress. Obama is calling congressional leaders to the White House on Friday for a meeting.
The president outlined a few agenda points to start with, including a $6 billion request for emergency funds to battle Ebola in West Africa and in the U.S., and a congressional authorization to use military force against the Islamic State.
Shortly before Obama spoke, McConnell held his own press conference and spoke most directly about changing the way the Senate works.
“The Senate in the last few years basically doesn’t do anything,” McConnell said. “The first thing I need to do is get the Senate back to normal.”
He said all sides could try, again, to work together on tax reform. He also called for chipping away at unpopular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including a medical device tax which the industry has blasted as crippling.
“The American people have spoken. They've given us divided government. The question for both the president and for both the speaker and myself and our members is, what are you going to do with it?” McConnell said. “And I've already said I want to first look for areas that we can agree on and their probably are some. And that's what we're going to be talking about in the next few weeks.”
Obama reiterated Wednesday he would not sign any outright repeal of the health care law.
But he suggested there is no personal animus between him and McConnell, calling him a “straightforward” negotiator who never made a promise he couldn’t deliver.
“Actually I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” Obama said.