For any politician, losing the public — and the message they are sending — is a dangerous thing. And in the wake of one of the worst drubbings for his party in memory, due in large part to his own persistent unpopularity, President Barack Obama didn’t seem to have any answers Wednesday.
At a lengthy news conference after another shellacking, the president avoided using any new word to describe his party’s epic defeat and offered up no plans for substantive change either in his policy approach or his personnel.
He offered no new legislative olive branch to Republicans other than his desire to listen to their ideas.
He doubled down on his plans to thumb his nose at Congress and act on immigration on his own.
He offered no mea culpa to angry Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have fumed ever more openly about a White House they see as overly insular, politically tone-deaf and prone to gaffes. Asked repeatedly about what he would do differently or what message voters were sending him, he refused to engage.
Obama did make vague statements about changing his approach but prefaced them with "if."
"If the way we are talking about issues isn’t working, then I’m going to try some different things. If the ways that we’re approaching the Republicans in Congress isn’t working, I’m going to try different things — whether it’s having a drink with Mitch McConnell or letting John Boehner beat me again at golf, or weekly press conferences — I don’t know if that would be effective. ... Whatever I think might make a difference in this, I’m going to be trying out up until my last day in office."
Obama said he was "energized" by Tuesday's exercise of democracy. He said it while looking, to those inside the room at least, like he had gotten little sleep. He seemed resigned to characterizing the final two years of his presidency as a slog to the finish. He spoke of what sounded like pep talks he was giving to his own staff.
One day after Democrats lost at least eight Senate seats and more than a dozen House races, the president wasn't inclined to second-guess his own administration's lack of legislative creativity or its inability to master the art of legislative horse-trading and congressional glad-handing.
Obama did joke about finally having drinks with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is about to ascend to be the Senate majority leader, and resuming his golf matches with Boehner.
But there was little discernible enthusiasm for either.
Obama did mention a few areas of possible agreement — a transportation package tied to corporate tax reform — something he’s already been pushing for years without action in Congress — and boosting exports. (Trade and tax reform are two areas that McConnell has mentioned as possible areas of agreement.)
He vowed to veto, however, any major changes that would undermine the Affordable Care Act — such as nixing the individual mandate.
He demurred when asked about the Keystone XL pipeline or the medical devices tax.
Instead, a series of small ball items appear to on the menu. He's asking for $6.2 billion for dealing with Ebola — something some Republicans sound amenable to giving him — and avoiding a government shutdown.
And he said he will ask Congress for a new authorization for his war against the ISIL.
But if voters were hoping Obama would have some new epiphany, it's not yet apparent.
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