President Barack Obama sought Wednesday to reassure angry voters, who rejected Democrats up and down the ballot and from coast to coast Tuesday, that he was paying attention.
“I want you to know that I hear you,” he said at the beginning of his traditional postelection press conference. But the thrust of the 73-minute exercise in self-immolation indicated that while he may have heard, he wasn’t following their advice.
Despite ceremonial overtures to Republicans on their retaking the majority, Obama appeared unmoved by the results Wednesday, promising to hear Republicans out, but not to stray from his path.
On immigration reform, Obama vowed to plow ahead with unilateral action. On minimum wage, he pledged to keep up the fight despite GOP opposition. Shaking up his White House staff? “Probably premature,” he said. He called, for the umpteenth time, for Congress to take up the banner of additional transportation infrastructure spending, which has fallen on deaf ears in each previous iteration.
Even if no one else is, Obama made it clear: he is still a believer. After his party’s latest rebuke, he is chastened, but not changed.
His only concession: the famously Washington-averse Obama said he’d consider sharing a bourbon with Mitch McConnell or playing another round of golf with John Boehner.
“I still believe in what I said when I was first elected six years ago last night,” Obama said. “For all the maps plastered across our TV screens today, and for all the cynics who say otherwise, I continue to believe we are simply more than just a collection of red and blue states. We are the United States.”
The President, who endlessly predicted his re-election would “break the fever” in Washington, seemed unfazed by the obvious fact that it had intensified.
“I maybe have a naive confidence that if we continue to focus on the American people, and not on, you know, our own ambitions or image or, you know, various concerns like that, that you know, at the end of the day when I look back I’m going to be able to say the American people are better off than they were before I was President,” he added.
If it seemed familiar, it was. In 2010, Obama was reading from much the same script. “I do believe there is hope for civility. I do believe there’s hope for progress,” he said, moments before declaring he’d been subject to a “shellacking.” In 2014, Obama dispensed with providing Republicans the satisfaction of characterizing his party’s defeat, saying only “Republicans had a good night.” But in doing so, he reinforced the perception that he’d internalized little of the results.
“It doesn’t make me mopey; it energizes me because it means that this Democracy’s working,” Obama said.
Obama’s approach contrasted with the newly promoted McConnell, who was more disciplined in a press conference of his own earlier Wednesday in Kentucky, choosing not to express his beliefs and instead to take a more workman-like approach about what he hopes to accomplish in the majority.
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