Obama blames election rout on economy

2010-11-03 22:22

Washington - US President Barack Obama would not concede on Wednesday that a Republican election rout marked a massive repudiation of his agenda, but did shoulder the blame for deep voter frustration over the economy.

Hours after Republicans captured the House of Representatives and slashed the Democratic majority in the Senate, a subdued Obama said in a White House news conference that voters were mostly preoccupied with the slow recovery.

"I think that there is no doubt that people's number-one concern is the economy," Obama said. "And what they were expressing great frustration about is the fact that we haven't made enough progress on the economy."

"I have to take direct responsibility for the fact that we have not made as much progress as we have to make," Obama said.

"I have to do a better job - just like everybody else in Washington does."

But Obama repeatedly avoided the chance offered by journalists to concede that his sweeping political agenda, including health care reform, had been an overreach of his 2008 mandate.

Obama did admit that the election defeat "feels bad," and bemoaned the fact that many fellow Democrats had lost their jobs in the Republican tide.

Core concerns

As he contemplated the new Washington, in which Republicans can now thwart his agenda and launch investigations into his White House, Obama promised to work across the aisle and seek common ground with Republicans.

"Moving forward, I think the question's going to be: can Democrats and Republicans sit down together and come up with a set of ideas that address... core concerns?"

Republicans, bouncing back from their own election drubbing by Obama in 2008, had picked up 60 seats in the 435-seat House of Representatives by midday on Wednesday, more than the 39 they needed for a majority.

They also grabbed an extra six seats in the 100-member Senate, with three outstanding races yet to be decided, setting the stage for a likely gridlock in Washington, despite voter demands for both parties to work together.

Republicans also spoke the language of compromise, but left no doubt that they believed they were emboldened by the election to turn back the social reform drive that Obama launched after his euphoric election.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, in line to replace the first woman speaker Nancy Pelosi in January, said Obama must "change course".

"I think it's pretty clear that the Obama-Pelosi agenda is being rejected by the American people," Boehner told reporters, and called Obama's signature health reform law a "monstrosity".


Eric Cantor, Boehner's number two, reflected the view that Tuesday's election was less a vote of confidence for Republicans than an angry repudiation of incumbent US politicians.

"The American people have had it with Washington. Last night's vote was a vote to say, you know what, Washington better start listening to the people again," he said.

Obama's top Senate ally, Harry Reid, meanwhile savoured his victory over conservative Tea Party favourite Sharron Angle, and admitted on MSNBC that Obama was in a "hole," but argued that history suggested he could bounce back.

"We have to work together. We have so many problems in this country that we can't have people saying no to everything," Reid told MSNBC.

The Republican rout is all the more stunning given the moribund state of the party after the Democrats' sweeping victory of 2008, and is evidence of a period of sharp volatility in US politics ahead of the 2012 White House race.

Democrats will hand over the House leaving a historic legacy, including healthcare reform and a Wall Street overhaul, and claim they staved off a second Great Depression.


But they paid a heavy price for the sluggish economic recovery that has yet to be felt countrywide and unemployment pegged at a stubborn 9.6%.

In a true embarrassment for Obama, Republicans won his former US Senate seat, as Mark Kirk beat presidential friend Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois.

Democrats did manage to reclaim the governor's mansion in the most populous state, California, as Jerry Brown defeated former eBay CEO Meg Whitman to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But Republicans were jubilant.

"We've come to take our government back!" cried Rand Paul, a hero of the Tea Party movement, after winning a Senate seat in Kentucky.

"There's a Tea Party tidal wave," he said, in a coming-of-age moment for the movement set up to challenge what they call Obama's "big-government" takeover of American life.

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