President Barack Obama cast a reflective tone Wednesday as he weighed in on the devastating blow to his party during Tuesday’s midterm elections.
In his first appearance since Republicans claimed more than 60 seats in the House and six in the Senate, Obama took responsibility for his party’s losses and vowed to work harder — and across party lines — to ease public frustration over the pace of the economic recovery.
“There is not only sadness about seeing [Democrats] 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?’” he said.
Asked point-blank what it feels like to see so many of his colleagues lose, Obama replied, “It feels bad.”
A key message out of Tuesday’s election is that no one party will be able to dictate the direction of the country, he said. And while it will not be easy, Democrats and Republicans have no choice but to work together to address the nation’s “uncommonly difficult challenges.”
“I won’t pretend that we’ll be able to bridge every difference or solve every disagreement. There’s a reason we have two parties in this country, and both Democrats and Republicans have certain beliefs and certain principles that each feels cannot be compromised,” he said. “But I do hope to make progress on the very serious problems facing us right now. And that’s going to require all of us, including me, to work harder at building consensus.”
The president highlighted some missteps by his administration over the past two years: not doing enough to frame the stimulus as an emergency measure, which may have led the public to see it as just part of “the agenda,” and pushing through big-ticket issues without taking time to change how business is done in Washington.
“We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things got done. And I think that frustrated people,” he said.
Still, Obama rejected the GOP idea outright that his policies are taking the country in the wrong direction.
“Here’s the bottom line: When I came into office, this economy was in a free-fall. 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 backward. I think what you can argue is we’re stuck in neutral,” he said.
Obama added that “every president needs to go through” major setbacks in order to remember that he or she serves as the behest of the public.
“I’m not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night,” he said, drawing laughs. “I’m sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.