Obama Outlines What Went Wrong, What's Next
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STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And Im Renee Montagne. Good morning.
This week's election guarantees that President Obama's next two years in office will be very different from his first two. With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, it will be much more difficult for the White House to get legislation through Congress. Mr. Obama held a news conference at the White House yesterday, to describe his plans for working with a divided Congress.
NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro
ARI SHAPIRO: When Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006, President George W. Bush called it a thumping. Twelve years before that, when Democrats lost the House and Senate, President Clinton said: We were held accountable.
Keenly aware of how history repeats itself, President Obama, yesterday, seemed to take some solace in what happened to his predecessors. He called the experience a growth process, and said: This is something I think every president needs to go through.
President BARACK OBAMA: Now, I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking, like I did last night.
(Soundbite of laughter)
President OBAMA: You know, I'm sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons.
SHAPIRO: That moment of levity was the exception in an otherwise somber post-mortem with the media. One reporter after another asked him, in essence, how does it feel?
President OBAMA: It feels bad.
(Soundbite of murmuring)
President OBAMA: You know, the toughest thing, over the last couple of days, is seeing really terrific public servants not have the opportunity to serve any more.
SHAPIRO: The president spent much of the news conference defending his policy choices. He said he believes the backlash against his party was largely due to the sluggish economic recovery.
President OBAMA: If, right now, we had five percent unemployment instead of 9.6 percent unemployment, then people would have had more confidence in those policy choices.
SHAPIRO: But he also talked at length about how he can work with Republicans in the next two years, hoping to reverse what has been a near total lack of bipartisanship until now.
Mr. Obama's rhetoric yesterday recalled, at several points, the message that President Clinton tried to deliver in 1994, and even President Reagan's speech on the morning after the 1982 midterms.
President RONALD REAGAN: We look forward to working with this Congress now, in bipartisan fashion, to solving the major problems that still have to be solved.
SHAPIRO: That was then. This is now.
President OBAMA: And that's going to require all of us, including me, to work harder at building consensus...
Responsibly in Washington, we want you to work harder to arrive at consensus.
The question's going to be, can Democrats and Republicans sit down together and come up with...
Again, the question's going to be, do we all come to the table with an open mind and say to ourselves what do we think is actually going to make a difference...
I've been willing to compromise in the past, and I'll going to be willing to compromise going forward...
SHAPIRO: It's similar to the message Mr. Obama has delivered from time to time for the last two years, that no one party has a monopoly on good ideas.
Mr. Obama named specific areas where he thinks the two parties can reach agreement: Cutting the deficit, improving education, simplifying the tax code, and ending earmarks. His tone, on the whole, was more conciliatory than combative; very different from some of the newly-empowered Republicans in Congress.
The top Republican Senator, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, held a press conference on Capitol Hill, yesterday, where he said the American people voted for change, and there are two ways to get there.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky, Minority Leader): Our friends on the other side can change now, and work with us to address the issues that are important to the American people - that we all understood. Or, further change obviously can happen in 2012.
SHAPIRO: This back and forth sounds very familiar to Pat Griffin, who was Legislative Affairs director in the Clinton White House.
Mr. PAT GRIFFIN (Former Director, Legislative Affairs, White House): I think the real question is, whether or not the opposition really sees it in their self-interest to cooperate on any matter; and if so, what matter and then, when.
SHAPIRO: In the '90s, there was a year and a half of outright war between congressional Republicans and President Clinton. Eventually, the two sides decided to work together on issues such as updating welfare.
Mr. GRIFFIN: Both sides have to say it is our now-political self-interest to try to find a way to make a deal. I don't think that threshold decision has been made either in general or in specific.
SHAPIRO: It's a decision both sides will consider, as they prepare for the Washington realignment that takes effect when the new Congress takes office in January.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: We're hearing many voices, throughout the program today, on the results of the election. Elsewhere, we've heard from John Boehner, the presumptive speaker of the House; members of the Tea Party Movement; Democrats; Republicans; analysts. And you can get the full picture at NPR.org.
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