Washington Extra – Chastened, humbled… and shellacked
It was a subdued and chastened president who took the podium for his post-election news conference today. His tone flat, his eyes often downcast, his smile largely absent, Obama admitted the election results were “humbling.” At first, he tried to pin the blame on the tepid economic recovery, but as the questions ground on, he took more and more responsibility for the defeat on himself. For setting a bad tone with business, for not making enough progress on the economy, for failing to change the way Washington works.
Yet there was no contrition about the policies he pursued. Perhaps this was not the right venue for that, perhaps history will prove him right, but one had the feeling the president believed just as firmly as ever in the policies he had so painstakingly worked out in his long Oval Office deliberations. The Democrats who lost on Tuesday, he said, had already contacted him to say they had no regrets, because they felt “we were doing the right thing.”
Finally, Obama paused for reflection when Reuters correspondent Matt Spetalnick asked how he responded to the charge he was “out of touch” with voters’ economic pain, if he was now going to change his leadership style. His answer seemed to give a window into the human side of a president often described as aloof.
“You know, there is an inherent danger in being in the White House and being in the bubble,” he said. “I mean, 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, you know, I think they understood that my story was theirs.”
“ I might have a funny name. I might, you know, have lived in some different places, but the values of hard work and responsibility and honesty and looking out for one another that had been instilled in them by their parents, those were the same values that I took from my mom and my grandparents. And so, you know, the track record has been that when I’m out of this place, that’s not an issue. When you’re in this place, it is hard not to seem removed.”
In the end Obama said he had been on the receiving end of a “shellacking,” a version of the “thumpin’” Bush said he had received in 2006, a thumpin’ orchestrated by then Democratic campaign committee chief Rahm Emanuel.
Whether the president can escape the White House “bubble” and reconnect with the American people is going to be one of the most important and interesting questions of the second half of his presidency. This, just as much as working with Republicans, will be one of his greatest challenges.
Here are our top stories from Washington today…
Republicans promise to roll back Obama agenda
Exuberant Republicans vowed to exercise their new power in Congress to roll back some of President Obama’s key accomplishments, but a somber Obama said voters wanted both parties to work harder to find consensus. A chastened Obama called the result “a shellacking” and told a White House news conference Americans were frustrated and demanding solutions. But he acknowledged it would be hard to find common ground.
For more of this story by John Whitesides, read here.
For Andy Sullivan’s story on how the losses put Obama on the defensive, read here.
Fed takes bold, risky step to bolster economy
The Federal Reserve launched an unorthodox new policy, committing to buy $600 billion more in government bonds by the middle of next year. The decision, which takes the Fed into largely uncharted waters, is aimed at further lowering borrowing costs for consumers and businesses still suffering. “This provides the market with additional clarity,” one analyst said. “The question is whether this is enough.”
For more of this story by Pedro da Costa and Mark Felsenthal, read here.
Boehner says spending cuts are No. 1
“It’s pretty clear the American people want us to do something about cutting spending here in Washington and helping to create an environment where we’ll get jobs back,” the presumptive new House Speaker told reporters. Embracing the small government theme, House Republicans have promised to rein in government. In September, they said their first step would be to cut Washington’s spending back to 2008 levels, achieving $100 billion in savings immediately — a move that would do little to sop up the red ink on the ledger.
For more of this story by Richard Cowan and Kim Dixon, read here.
For a story on how Republicans could “tweak” health reform, by Susan Heavey, read here.
For a story on how Democrats and Republicans could work together on energy legislation, by Timothy Gardner, read here.
For a factbox on views of key Republican energy committee leaders, click here.
For a factbox on issues that might come up during the lame duck session, click here.
White House to business: Why can’t we be friends?
In 2009, President Obama hailed the “entrepreneurial spirit” of CEOs and said his goal was “not to disparage wealth but to expand its reach; not to stifle the market,” but to help spur innovation. Eighteen months later, oil and vinegar would be among the more polite ways to describe the state of the White House’s relationship with the business community.
For more of this special report by Caren Bohan on the White House’s struggles to get along with the business community, read here.
Elections down, U.S. presidential campaign begins
Is President Barack Obama beatable? Over the next few months more than a dozen Republican leaders will decide whether they can raise enough money and gain sufficient attention and voter support to seek the nomination for president. Republicans have no natural candidate like they have had in past elections, meaning a free-for-all is likely between the likes of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty and others.
For more of this analysis by Steve Holland, read here.
For a factbox on potential White House candidates, click here.
For a story on how the Tea Party could pose problems for Republicans, by David Morgan, read here.
Congress likely to be divided, gridlocked
“The newly elected crop of House and Senate Republicans will see their mission as not to compromise and cut deals with President Obama, but rather to destroy his remaining agenda and undo healthcare and financial services reform,” one analyst said. The two parties face a busy agenda of economic issues including whether to extend tax cuts implemented under former president George W. Bush, cutting the $1.3 trillion deficit and creating jobs.
For more of this analysis by Thomas Ferraro, read here.
Election raises hope for trade deals
Republican victories in congressional elections have boosted the chances for approval of three long-delayed free trade agreements and could mark the start of a cooperative effort between the White House and Congress to open new markets for exports. “I think there is a real opportunity for trade to be an area of collaboration” in the trade deals as well as the Doha round of world trade talks, said Ed Gresser, president of the Democratic Leadership Council.
For more of this analysis by Doug Palmer, read here.
Putin to Bush: My dog is bigger than yours
Vladimir Putin once boasted to President Bush about the size of his dog, in the ultimate “mine-is-bigger-than-yours.” Bush writes about the episode in his memoir, saying he had introduced Putin to his Scottish terrier, Barney, on a visit to Camp David. Putin returned the favor when Bush visited Russia. “A big black Labrador came charging across the lawn. With a twinkle in his eye, Vladimir said, ‘Bigger, stronger, faster than Barney,’” Bush writes. Bush says he later told the story to Canadian PM Stephen Harper, who replied: “You’re lucky he only showed you his dog.”
For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.
What we are blogging…
It wasn’t quite a Bill Clinton-style “I feel your pain” moment, but it was about as emotional as President Obama ever gets in public. Often criticized as aloof and cerebral, Obama showed his personal side at Wednesday’s news conference. His tone was that of a chastened leader, aware that voters had dealt him and his party a rebuke for their failure to fix the economy.
For Caren Bohan’s full post, read here.
Election is over, now can they get along?
It’s the day after the election, and the big question is will they play nice? The Tea Party’s coming to town, Republicans seized control of the House, and Democrats are still in charge of the White House and Senate. Soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner said he saw no problem with incorporating members of the Tea Party into the Republican Party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the goal was “how do we meet in the middle?”
For Tom Ferraro’s full post, read here.
Untested protégé slips into tank of oracle octopus
Paul, Germany‘s late World Cup oracle octopus, was replaced by Paul II on Wednesday — though his owners are unsure whether the new cephalopod has also been blessed with the gift of prophecy. “We haven’t tested him yet,” said a spokeswoman for the Sea Life Center in the western German city of Oberhausen. “The old Paul was supposed to teach him. But unfortunately he died before he could do that.”
For more of this story, read here.
Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama at post-election news conference)