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President Barack Obama, in his first appearance since big Republican gains in the midterm election, said Wednesday that Americans sent a clear message: “They want us to get the job done.”
“All of us have to give more Americans a reason to feel like the ground is stable beneath them,” Obama told reporters from the East Room of the White House. He made a point of addressing not just voters but the two-thirds of the electorate that stayed home.
“They expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do,” he said. “They expect us to focus on their ambitions and not ours.”
Obama singled out job creation, rebuilding infrastructure and boosting American exports as potential points of agreement when the next Congress takes over in January. He said he looked forward to welcoming leaders of both parties and both congressional chambers to the White House on Friday.
Even before the new Congress is seated, the president said, he plans to ask for more money to fight Ebola, seek a new authorization for military force against ISIS militants and try to get a budget passed.
“It’s time for us to take care of business,” he said. “There are things this country has to do that can’t wait until two years from now or another four years from now.”
He also again called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and raised the prospect of taking some action on immigration on his own by the end of the year — a step that is certain to anger some Republicans. He declined to provide details.
He said he was open to changes in his signature health care law but said he would not support eliminating its mandate that people buy insurance coverage.
The Republicans gained at least seven Senate seats on Tuesday. They will hold at least 52 in the next Senate and as many as 54, depending on the outcomes of undecided races in Alaska and Louisiana. In the House, Republicans will hold their largest majority in at least 65 years.
“There’s no doubt that Republicans had a good night,” he said. He avoided a similar characterization to what he called big losses in the 2010 midterms — a “shellacking.”
Just before Obama spoke, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, held his own press conference and said that Americans are clearly frustrated with dysfunction in Washington.
The Senate, McConnell said, “basically doesn’t do anything. We don’t even vote.”
Obama suggested he’d enjoy sharing a Kentucky bourbon with McConnell. The president struck a similar tone about gridlock, saying he had a unique responsibility “to make this town work.”
“The American people overwhelmingly believe that this town doesn’t work well and that it is not attentive to their needs,” he said. “And, as president, they rightly hold me accountable to do more to make it work properly. I’m the guy who is elected by everybody, not just a particular state or a particular district.”