President Obama had a blunt response when asked Wednesday to explain how it felt to watch the Democratic Party suffer the worst electoral defeat in the House in more than half a century.
“It feels bad,” Obama said, facing the White House press corps a day after the election. He labeled the results a “shellacking.”
But while the president took responsibility for doing a poor job on a few issues, and said he wants to work with Republicans on matters such as energy, education and political ethics, he made clear that he does not regret passing the health-care overhaul that was a major factor in driving voter discontent.
“We’d be misreading the election if we thought the American people want to see us, for the next two years, relitigate arguments we had over the last two years,” Obama said when asked about Republican promises to dismantle the health-care legislation.
When he was reminded that one in two voters said they opposed the health-care bill, Obama shot back that the statistic “also means one out of two voters thinks it was the right thing to do.”
Obama signaled he is unwilling to compromise on his support for allowing tax cuts for those making $250,000 and above to expire on Jan. 1.
When asked whether he “didn’t get it,” Obama bristled.
“I’m doing a whole lot of reflecting,” he said.
He did signal he would be willing to cut a provision in the health-care bill that would require businesses to submit 1099 forms for all business to business transactions over $600.
“If it ends up just being so much trouble that small businesses find it difficult to manage, that’s something we should take a look at it,” he said.
The president said that the economy and jobs was the main reason that Democrats suffered such a stinging loss. He said that his policies had made the economy better, but that “clearly too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday.”
Later Obama acknowledged that while he does not believe the economy is going backward, “what you can argue is that we’re stuck in neutral.”
The president said he had not sufficiently worked with the business community or “[made] absolutely clear that the only way America succeeds is if businesses are succeeding.”
When asked whether he is out of touch with voters, Obama said that he may be perceived as such only because he spends too much time at the White House.
“There is a inherent danger in being in the White House and being in the bubble. Folks didn’t have any complaints about my leadership style when I was running around Iowa for a year. And they got a pretty good look at me up close and personal and they were able to lift the hood and kick the tires and they understood that my story was theirs,” Obama said.
“When you’re in this place, it is hard not to seem removed,” he said. “How do I meet my responsibilities here, here in the White House … but still have that opportunity to engage with the American people on a day to day basis, and give them confidence that I’m listening to them?”
Obama said that there was also something about an electoral rebuke to keep any commander-in-chief on his toes and aware of the will of the people.
“This is something every president needs to go through,” Obama said.
He added, to laughter: “I’m not recommending to every president that they take a shellacking like the one I took last night.”