Obama Faces A New Political Reality
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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NPR's Scott Horsley reports on the first day of the president's new reality.
SCOTT HORSLEY: It was a long and humbling night for the president, telephoning winners and losers in the midterm elections. Most all of the losers came from his own party, and Mr. Obama said it felt bad saying goodbye to so many Democrats, many of whom had cast tough votes in support of his agenda.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
BARACK OBAMA: There's not only sadness about seeing them go, but there's also a lot of questioning on my part in terms of could I have done something differently or done something more so that those folks would still be here. It's hard, and I take responsibility for it in a lot of ways.
HORSLEY: The president said many of the lawmakers told him they don't regret those tough votes, and Mr. Obama seems to have few regrets of his own. He defended the stimulus, the bank bailout and the auto company rescues as necessary responses to an economic crisis, even, as he admitted, they contributed to yesterday's political backlash.
OBAMA: It's understandable that folks said to themselves, you know, maybe this is the agenda as opposed to a response to an emergency. And that's something that I think, you know, everybody in the White House understood was a danger. We thought it was necessary. But, you know, I'm sympathetic to folks who looked at it and said, this is looking like potential overreach.
HORSLEY: The president blamed most of the Democratic losses on voters' frustration with the slow pace of economic recovery. Unemployment stands at 9.6 percent and could climb higher on Friday, when October's figure is released. Mr. Obama flatly rejected Republican claims, though, that his economic policies had made things worse.
OBAMA: When I came into office, this economy was in a freefall, and the economy has stabilized. The economy is growing. We've seen nine months of private sector job growth. So I think it'd be hard to argue that we're going backwards. I think what you can argue is we're stuck in neutral.
HORSLEY: Throughout the campaign, Mr. Obama had accused congressional Republicans of driving the U.S. economy into a ditch, then standing on the sidelines drinking a Slurpee as Democrats did the hard work of trying to push it out. Mr. Obama now says he wants to find common ground with the GOP, and he even joked about inviting House Republican leader John Boehner to a Slurpee summit. Boehner, who is expected to become House speaker next year, says he's willing to listen.
JOHN BOEHNER: We discussed working together on the American people's priorities - cutting spending, creating jobs. And we hope that he will continue to be willing to work with us on those priorities.
HORSLEY: Comprehensive energy and climate legislation is off the table, but there may be room for more modest energy bills, and Mr. Obama said he's willing to consider GOP improvements to the health care overhaul. Republicans have said they want to repeal that measure, but they don't have the votes to go that far. The president also acknowledged the need to mend fences with the business community, saying he hasn't always found the right balance in crafting business regulations.
OBAMA: The most important thing we can do is to boost and encourage our business sector and make sure that they're hiring.
HORSLEY: When a reporter asked today if his party's losses meant the president was out of touch with voters' economic pain, Mr. Obama paused for a long moment. Connecting with the American people is a growth process, he said, one that every president has to go through.
OBAMA: A couple of great communicators, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, were standing at this podium two years into their presidency getting very similar questions.
HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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