Image: Scott Brown
Robert F. Bukaty  /  AP
Scott Brown's victory gives Republicans 41 votes in the Senate, upending the Democrats' ability to stop filibusters and other delaying tactics.
updated 1/20/2010 7:43:08 PM ET 2010-01-21T00:43:08

Republican Scott Brown, fresh from a stunning Massachusetts Senate victory that shook the power balance on Capitol Hill, declared Wednesday that his election had sent a "very powerful message" that voters are weary of backroom deals and Washington business-as-usual.

Democrats scrambled to explain the loss, which imperils President Barack Obama's agenda for health care and other hard-fought domestic issues. Republicans greeted their victory with clear glee.

"The president ought to take this as a message to recalibrate how he wants to govern, and if he wants to govern from the middle we'll meet him there," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Obama said the Massachusetts vote reflected the mood around the country. "People are angry, and they're frustrated," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Democrats still exercise majority control over both the House and Senate. But Tuesday's GOP upset to win the seat long held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy — following Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey last fall for gubernatorial seats that had been held by Democrats — signals challenges for Democratic prospects in midterm elections this year. Even when the economy is not bad, the party holding the White House historically loses seats in midterms.

"If there's anybody in this building that doesn't tell you they are more worried about elections today, you should absolutely slap them," Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told reporters at the Capitol. "Of course everybody is more worried about elections. Are you kidding? It's what this place thrives on."

Brown, in his first meeting with reporters after the special election, portrayed his victory as less a referendum on Obama or the president's health care proposal and more of a sign that people are tired of Washington politics and dealmaking.

He said his victory sends "a very powerful message that business-as-usual is just not going to be the way we do it."

"I think it's important that we hit the ground running," Brown said. He said he would pay a courtesy call to the nation's capital on Thursday.

Video: Time to get to work, Brown says "Game's over. Let's get to work," he added. It was not clear how quickly he would be sworn in, but Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia said the Senate should not hold any further votes on health care until Brown is seated. That, said McConnell, probably means there will be no further Senate action until then.

At the White House, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said the president agreed with Webb. Brown won the election and "no one is going to circumvent that," Axelrod told MSNBC.

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Brown's victory gives Republicans 41 votes in the Senate, upending the Democrats' ability to stop filibusters and other delaying tactics. Counting the two Senate independents who usually vote with Democrats on procedural issues, the party will be able to muster only 59 votes, at most, one short of the number needed.

Brown said that, while he planned to caucus with Republicans, "I'm not beholden to anybody."

Democrats were licking their wounds and demonstrating that they got the message from voters and were willing to reach out.

White House tourists even got a surprise Wednesday when first lady Michelle Obama showed up as their greeter to mark the end of Obama's first year as president. She brought the family dog, Bo, to the Blue Room. She chatted with guests and hugged many of them as they filed in.

Video: Brown’s win to spur GOP comeback? Obama himself grimly faced a need to regroup in a White House shaken by the realization of what a difference a year made.

In addition to searching for ways to salvage the health care overhaul, the Democratic Party also faced a need to determine how to assuage an angry electorate, and particularly attract independent voters who have fled to the GOP after a year of Wall Street bailouts, economic stimulus spending and enormous budget deficits.

There was a sense that if Republicans could win in one of the country's most traditionally liberal states, Massachusetts, they could probably win anywhere.

"I think every state is now in play, absolutely," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Brown rode a wave of voter anger to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley, the attorney general who had been considered a surefire winner until just days ago. Her loss signaled big political problems for Obama and the Democratic Party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.

As if in a nod to voter disgust with Washington, Obama signed a directive Wednesday aimed at stopping government contracts from going to tax-delinquent companies. "We need to insist on the same sense of responsibility in Washington that so many of you strive to uphold in your own lives, in your own families and in your own businesses," Obama said.

Video: Election wasn’t about one issue, say W.H. officials Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's Republican presidential rival in 2008, likened Brown's win to the Revolutionary War's "shot heard 'round the world" in Concord, Mass., in April 1775. McCain said the message was clear: "No more business as usual in Washington. Stop this unsavory sausage-making process."

White House officials acknowledged that one of the lessons from Massachusetts was the intensity of voter anger, but they said it wasn't so much with Obama as with Washington's failures in general and with the moribund economy.

"There are messages here. We hear those messages," said Axelrod. "There is a general sense of discontent about the economy. And there is a general sense of discontent about this town"

Congressional Democrats were urging their House and Senate candidates to embrace in their campaigns against Republicans the populist appeal the president had made on Sunday as he rushed to Boston to try to save Coakley and the Senate seat held by Democrats for more than a half-century.

His attempt didn't work, but House and Senate Democrats insisted that the pitch — Democrats work for the people, Republicans work for Wall Street — was simply made too late.

Brown, 50, will finish Kennedy's unexpired term, facing re-election in 2012. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to seat Brown immediately, a hasty retreat from pre-election Democratic threats to delay his swearing-in until after the health bill passed.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Brown's Senate win puts DC in spin

  1. Closed captioning of: Brown's Senate win puts DC in spin

    >> good evening. tonight we continue our coverage of the disaster, the unfolding human suffering going on in haiti, except this evening, we must begin with a big story in this country. a development that may affect this nation's foreign policy , health care policy, perhaps the remainder of the obama presidency. it happened in massachusetts . a special election to fill the seat of the late senator ted kennedy . all the analysts were saying it was a shoo-in for the democrats. the problem is they didn't ask the voters who elected the republican instead, who represented something new. he is now senator-elect scott brown . we begin in our new york studios with our political director, chief white house correspondent chuck todd . hard to believe it happens on the one-year anniversary of the swearing-in of president obama .

    >> in washington today, for the president, martha coakley stood for a symbol of voter anger.

    >> what a great crowd. i bet they can hear this cheering all the way in washington , d.c.

    >> reporter: everything in official washington heard something, but what they heard depended on who they are. for republicans, scott brown 's surprise upset was about one issue, health care .

    >> the people of massachusetts have spoken for the rest of america. stop this process.

    >> they don't want the government taking over health care . they made that abundantly clear last night.

    >> the people of massachusetts stood up and said, enough is enough.

    >> reporter: but the president said his party's loss was about something bigger. in fact, he told abc that the same voter sentiment that got him elected president in 2008 swept brown into office tuesday.

    >> people are angry and they're frustrated, not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years.

    >> reporter: white house aides admit it was partly about health care .

    >> we heard from folks around the country.

    >> reporter: the president told abc he wants some version of health care reform passed quickly. brown's campaign focused criticism on the president's management of the terror threat. and daif the conservative website "the drudge report " began touting him as a presidential candidate. who is he? he will be the first senator in history to have posed nude for a woman's magazine, back when he used his income for modeling to help pay for law school . if his daughter looks familiar, that's because she was a finalist in the 2005 " american idol " season. his wife is a boston tv anchor . he is a career massachusetts politician who towed the republican line. today at his first press conference as senator-elect, he proclaimed independence.

    >> maybe there is a new breed of republican coming to washington . maybe people will finally look at somebody who is not beholding to the special interest of the party and who will look just to solve problems.

    >> reporter: the atmosphere in washington , inside the democratic party right now is toxic. lots of arrows being slung from one side of pennsylvania avenue to senate democrats and house democrats who are second-guessing everything the president and his team led by rahm emanuel are doing.

    >> everyone is saying what this means is the death of the president's health care initiative. what do you think? game it out, what do you think happens to health care ?

    >> reporter: the next 48 hours are duck and cover time for the white house . i talked to some aides and they admit it. they compare it to the 48-hour period after they lost the new hampshire primary when they were geniuses the day before and said we'll take our lumps for a couple of days. let them get it out of their system. friday, the sun will come out, they hope, and they can have another conversation about this and possibly figure out a way to take that senate bill maybe and get it passed in the house, avoiding another senate vote or doing some slimmed-down version. they feel like they expended way too much political capital to give up now so they do believe they are going to pass something and something soon.

    >> chuck todd is our nbc news political director, chief white house correspondent, good to have you on this night here in new york with us.

    >> now, as promised, to haiti.

    >>>

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