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Obama on Democratic losses: ‘It feels bad’

Obama Loses

A noticeably somber President Obama acknowledged that his party took a "shellacking" at the polls Tuesday night, telling a White House news conference that he takes "direct responsibility" for the frustration voters feel, particularly on the economy.

Yet Obama repeatedly refused to say that historic GOP gains across the country were a widespread rejection of the policies his administration has pursued. Instead, the president argued that voters were more angry at the lack of progress in crafting effective policies, and the perception that business as usual in Washington wasn't changing. "We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things got done," the president said, promising to "work harder" to build consensus with Republicans.

The election, Obama said, "underscores for me that I have to do a better job."

Obama's message wasn't so different from George W. Bush's in 2006, when the then-president went before reporters after Democrats took control of Congress and admitted his party had suffered a "thumpin'." Like Bush, Obama echoed the opposing party's call for "greater civility" and pledged to work together.

"I've been willing to compromise in the past, and I'll be willing to compromise going forward," the president said.

During the news conference—which marked the White House's first comments on the 2010 elections—Obama repeatedly cited energy reform and education as possible areas of common ground with the Republican caucuses in both chambers of Congress. But asked about health care reform, a bill that GOP leader John Boehner and other Republicans have pledged to repeal, Obama signaled that while he was willing to entertain some efforts to "tweak" the law, he would not cede any major ground.

"We'd be misreading the election if we thought that the American people would want to see us for the next two years re-litigate the arguments we had for the last two years," Obama told reporters.

The president was noticeably more subdued in this news conference than at others over the last two years. He offered few smiles and dialed back some of the soaring rhetoric he had once employed in challenging his GOP opponents. The only real moment of levity during the hourlong news conference occurred when a reporter jokingly wondered whether Obama would host Boehner at the White House for  "a Slurpee"—a reference to a line from Obama's stump speech on the trail. Obama laughed and said he might. "They are delicious drinks," he said, grinning.

Obama admitted that Tuesday had been a "long night" for him. Asked about how he felt personally, he replied bluntly: "It feels bad."

The "toughest thing," he said, was bidding goodbye to "really terrific public servants" who were forced out in Tuesday's vote. Obama said he worries that he didn't do enough to help his congressional allies.

"There's also a lot of questioning on my part in terms of: Could I have done something differently or done something more so that those folks would still be here?" Obama said. "It's hard."

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