Image: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit Holy Name High School in Mumbai, India, on Sunday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/7/2010 7:45:37 PM ET 2010-11-08T00:45:37

Nearly halfway through his term, President Barack Obama on Sunday acknowledged he must make some "midcourse corrections" if he is going to win over a frustrated electorate and work with empowered Republicans.

Speaking on an economic tour of Asian nations, Obama told college students here that the midterm elections back home reflected the "right, obligation and duty" of people to express their unhappiness by voting out the incumbents.

The president himself wasn't on the ballot last week, but his Democratic Party took a beating. Republicans won control of the House, eroded the Democratic majority in the Senate and made huge gains in state legislatures.

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Obama said he will not change his determination to invest money in education, infrastructure and clean energy at a time when the pressures in Washington are to slash spending. But he said the election "requires me to make some midcourse corrections and adjustments."

He said how those will play out over the next several months will depend on his talks with Republicans.

While Obama's visit is mainly about boosting trade with India, the issue of regional stability in South Asia dominated a meeting on Sunday that Obama held with students at a college in Mumbai.

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India, Pakistan and regional security
Obama took a range of questions from students at St. Xavier College, a Jesuit institution, on a sweltering day in the financial hub of Mumbai. When one person challenged him on U.S. support of Pakistan, Obama said, "I must admit I expected it."

India is deeply suspicious of neighboring Pakistan as a threat to its security, with memories still fresh of a terrorist shooting rampage in Mumbai in 2008, at the hand of Pakistani militants.

Obama "will definitely discuss Pakistan" in the context of regional security and counterterrorism in his speech to the Indian parliament on Monday, a senior administration official said on Sunday.

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Obama drew criticism on Saturday after he paid tribute to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks but made no reference in his remarks to India's traditional foe Pakistan, which New Delhi blames for harboring anti-India militants.

Pakistan-based militants killed 166 people in a 60-hour rampage through Mumbai, India's financial hub, gunning down their victims at luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre. India says elements in the Pakistan state were behind the attacks.

Indians want a strong statement against Pakistan for fostering militants, but Washington must tread a fine line between appeasing New Delhi and supporting Islamabad, an important U.S. regional ally especially in the Afghanistan war.

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To the students, Obama said the United States cannot impose peace on India and Pakistan. But he tried to challenge the thinking of the students, defending U.S. support of Pakistan and saying the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan's stability is India.

"So my hope is that over time, trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins ... and that both countries can prosper," the president said. "That will not happen tomorrow."

Obama's Asia trip
Obama also reflected on the limits of his own success. He said he tries to follow the examples of the Rev. Martin Luther King and Mohandas K. Gandhi, particularly in making decisions that uphold people's rights and dignity everywhere.

"It's not always apparent that I'm making progress on that front," the president said.

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Obama continued his trip by flying to New Delhi later Sunday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greeted the president before he continued on to tour the Mughal-era Humayun tomb.

Slideshow: Obama's Asian tour (on this page)

He will also visit Indonesia, South Korea and Japan on an Asian tour that will see Washington push to prevent countries unilaterally devaluing currencies to protect their exports, a top theme at the Group of 20 heads of state meet in Seoul next week.

Obama's visit to Mumbai and New Delhi, the first legs of a 10-day Asian tour, has been hailed as moving the United States closer to India at a time when Washington is trying to revive a weak economy and gather support to pressure China on its currency.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Indian students drag Obama onto dance floor

  1. Transcript of: Indian students drag Obama onto dance floor

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: President Obama on day two of his 10-day swing through Asia is in New Delhi , India , tonight, where he's been facing some tough questions. Forced to publicly revisit last week's bruising election outcome back home, the president admitted he's going to have to make some midcourse corrections when he gets back to Washington . He also found himself having to defend American foreign policy on a highly delicate issue in India . It all happened during a surprisedly revealing question and answer session the president held with local university students. NBC 's Lee Cowan is traveling with the president and joins us now from New Delhi with more. Hello, Lee.

    LEE COWAN reporting: Well, Lester , more than half of India 's population is actually under the age of 30, so the fact that the president and Michelle Obama spent so much time with them this -- may not be too much of a surprise. But if he expected to get some pretty light questions, that didn't happen, and he certainly wasn't able to sidestep another request, to get out on the dance floor . For all the president's excitement about his first official visit to India , this morning he suddenly had reservations over a plea to dance. His moves were reluctant, polite and very brief, just a few seconds before he stopped dancing and started shaking hands. That's compared to the first lady, who for the second day in a row seemed to take to the dance floor with ease. It was left to her to introduce the president at a sweltering town hall meeting at Xavier University , in heart of the bustling city, and she almost dared students there to put her husband on the spot.

    Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: I want to urge you today to ask my husband some tough questions.

    COWAN: And they did. One questioner challenged the president on the US relationship with Pakistan , a bitter rival with India .

    Unidentified Woman: Why is Pakistan so important an ally to America so far as America has never called it a terrorist state?

    COWAN: But the president shot back with a challenge of his own.

    President BARACK OBAMA: It may be surprising to some of you to hear me say this, but I'm absolutely convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan 's success is India .

    COWAN: There were even questions about his political troubles back home. The Democrats ' thumping in the midterm elections posed a concern for one questioner, but the president tried to reassure him and the nation that, while it won't change his foreign policy , domestically, he said...

    Pres. OBAMA: But it also requires me to make some midcourse corrections and adjustments. And how those play themselves out over the next several months will be a matter of me being in discussions with the Republican Party , which is now going to be controlling the House of Representatives .

    COWAN: The president is now midway through his three- day trip to India , flying to New Delhi this afternoon. He and the first lady toured the gardens surrounding a spectacular tomb of a 16th century emperor before ending the night at a private dinner with India 's prime minister. Now, tomorrow the president is expected to address India 's Parliament where, once again, the subject of Pakistan and counterterrorism efforts are expected to come up again. The next stop on this trip, though, is Indonesia . But that's if conditions permit. The White House is watching that volcano in Indonesia very, very closely. So far they say there is no change in plans, and they're optimistic that some rain forecast there within the next couple of days could help to wash out that -- the volcanic ash that's in the air that's already canceled several flights in and out of the country. If the president did have to cancel this trip, Lester , it would be the third time in a row that Indonesia has missed out on a trip by the president. Lester :

Photos: Obama tours Asia

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  1. Barack Obama waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return on Nov. 14, in Washington, D.C. Obama returns from a 10-day Asian tour where he held bilateral talks with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Barack Obama visits the Great Buddha statue in Kamakura, Japan, on the sidelines of the ongoing APEC Summit, Nov. 14. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Barack Obama, left, talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders retreat in Yokohama on Nov. 13. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. U.S. President Barack Obama is escorted to his position by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his wife Nobuko Kan at the APEC Summit in Yokohama, Japan, Nov. 13. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, speaks with President Barack Obama during the opening plenary session of the G20 Summit in Seoul on Friday, November 12. (Andy Rain / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the G20 Summit in Seoul on Nov. 12. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. President Barack Obama gestures as he takes a seat at the G20 Working Dinner at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul on Thursday, Nov.11. Local beef and halibut from the Yellow Sea were on the menu as world leaders opened their G20 summit talks over a welcome dinner. (Yonhap / Pool via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. President Barack Obama is escorted to his position by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as First Lady Kim Yoon-ok looks on during the official arrival for the G20 Summit working dinner at the National Museum in Seoul on Nov. 11. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Yongsan War Memorial during a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul on Nov. 11, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. President Barack Obama greets military personnel at a Veterans Day event at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul on Nov. 11. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. President Barack Obama steps off Air Force One as he arrives in Seoul, Nov. 10. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama listen as Grand Imam Ali Mustafa Yaqub gives them a tour of the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta on Nov. 10. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Members of the audience cheer President Barack Obama after he delivered a speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta on Nov. 10. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. President Barack Obama waves as he arrives to deliver a speech at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta on Nov. 10. Obama said Muslim-majority Indonesia's national philosophy of unity bewteen people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds is an inspiration to the world. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama pose for an official photo with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife Mrs. Yudhoyono at the State Palace Complex Istana Merdeka in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Tuesday, Nov. 9. The two leaders began bilateral talks expected to focus on security and economic issues, on the second leg of Obama's ten-day Asian tour. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. President Obama walks with Michelle Obama along the red carpet with Indonesian officials upon arrival at the Halim Perdana Kusuma airport in Jakarta on Nov. 9. (Roslan Rahman / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The official band runs to get out of the rain moments before the arrival of President Obama for an official arrival ceremony at State Palace Complex-Istana Merdeka on Nov. 9. in Jakarta. Obama made a much-delayed homecoming of sorts to Indonesia, seeking to engage Muslims and cement strategic relations on the second leg of his Asia tour. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. President Obama and the first lady arrive in Jakarta on Nov. 9. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. President Obama toasts alongside India's President Pratibha Patil, right, during a state dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, on Monday, Nov. 8. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, right, argues with an official from the Indian Prime Minister's office after the travelling White House press pool was refused entry to the bilateral meeting between President Obama and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Nov. 8. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The feet of President Barack Obama, right, and First Lady Michelle Obama, left, are seen as they participate in a wreath laying ceremony at Raj Ghat on Nov. 8. The Obamas were visiting the location where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. President Barack Obama reviews the honor guard during an official arrival ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, India on Monday, Nov. 8. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sprinkle flowers after they laid a wreath at Raj Ghat, the Mahatma Gandhi memorial, in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 8. (Charles Dharapak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Activists and survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy sit at a protest against visiting U.S. President Barack Obama in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 8, 2010. The 1984 gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal killed about 15,000 people and sickened some 500,000. (Gurinder Osan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greet each other after a press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 8. (Saurabh Das / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are welcomed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gusharan Kaur as they arrive at Rashtrapati Bahavan in New Delhi on Nov. 8. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle Obama tour through Humayun's Tomb in New Dehli on Nov. 7. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Barack Obama bends down to shake hands with a young child as he tours through Humayun's Tomb in New Dehli on Nov. 7. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as first lady Michelle Obama and Gusharan Kaur, right, watch after arriving in New Delhi on Nov. 7. (Prakash Singh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Barack Obama, left, watches on as first lady Michelle Obama dances with children during their visit to the Holy Name High School in Mumbai, India, on Nov. 7. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting with students at St. Xavier College in Mumbai on Nov. 7. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Barack Obama shakes hands with students at St. Xavier College in Mumbai on Nov. 7. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Michelle and Barack Obama view the 26/11 memorial Saturday at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, site of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Obama flew into India's commercial capital on Saturday aiming to boost ties and seal big-ticket business deals to secure jobs and exports days after voters punished his Democrats in mid-term elections. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Activists of the Communist Party of India and members of various other organizations stage a demonstration Saturday against Barack Obama's visit in Mumbai. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. President Barack Obama waves to photographers through a window from backstage as he waits to deliver remarks at the U.S.-India business council and entrepreneurship summit Saturday in Mumbai, India. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after delivering remarks at the U.S.-India business council and entrepreneurship summit Saturday in Mumbai, India. Obama announced $10 billion in business deals. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Handwritten notes by President Barack Obama, top, and first lady Michelle Obama are seen in the guest book during their Saturday tour of the Mani Bhavan Ghandi Museum, where Mahatma Gandhi resided on his visits to Mumbai. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. An Indian shopkeeper shows a cushion with a painting of Michelle Obama designed by Arpita Kalra, in New Delhi, India, Saturday. (Manish Swarup / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Michelle Obama plays a game while entertaining underprivileged children Saturday during her visit to the Mumbai University. (Solaris Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Indian micro-artist Ramesh Sah, 47, shows the nail of his thumb painted with a miniature image of President Barack Obama on Saturday in support of Obama's visit to India in Siliguri. (Diptendu Dutta / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Barack and Michelle Obama descend Air Force One as they disembark Saturday on arrival at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, India. (Solaris Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Indonesian Muslims wear slippers during a protest against the planned visit of President Barack Obama outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday, Nov. 7. Obama is scheduled to visit the world's most populous Muslim nation next week. (Dita Alangkara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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