And then he ignored them.
From all appearances Wednesday, the president won't change—not his policies, not his style, not his staff, not nothing. Defiant and begrudging, the president said he would meet with GOP leaders, seek their suggestions for common ground, and maybe grab a drink with Senate Majority Leader-to-Be Mitch McConnell.
Beyond that, meh. "It's probably premature" to consider personnel changes, Obama said when pressed by a reporter for the type of reflection and resetting undertaken by President Clinton after his 1994 midterm trouncing.
Moments earlier, McConnell urged Obama not to take executive action to legalize undocumented immigrants, saying such a momentous policy change by fiat would "be like waving a red flag in front of a bull." The newly reelected Kentucky senator also called it a "poison pill."
Obama shrugged. While willing to consider any immigration legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Congress, "What I'm not going to do," Obama said, "is wait."
Republicans risk alienating Hispanic voters for a generation or more by their insistence on labeling any immigration reform amnesty. And yet, Democrats had an opportunity to legalize millions of undocumented residents when they controlled Congress in 2009 and 2010, but failed to do so—partly out of a desire to maintain the issue as a wedge between the GOP and Hispanics.
Under fire from Hispanics who twice helped to elect him, Obama promised to reform the system by executive action over the summer. He held up, pressured by Democratic candidates running in red states, and is now in a box of his own building. He can either break his promise to Hispanics, or throw a polarizing bomb into an already dysfunctional political system.
Speaking of dysfunction, voters are tired of it. A pre-election poll suggested that, second only to the economy, breaking gridlock is a major issue for voters. In an election that cost Democrats control of the Senate and scores of other races, exit polls suggested that a majority of voters disapprove of Obama; 80 percent disapprove of Congress; 60 percent give low marks to the leadership of the White House and Congress; only 44 percent think well of the Democratic Party; and even fewer give the GOP high marks. Only two of every 10 voters think the next generation will do better than theirs; the American dream is dying.
The results were not a referendum on the GOP as much as they were a repudiation of Washington, the two-party system, status-quo politics, and Obama himself. Rather than face the latter verdict, Obama seized the former and said, "The most important thing I can do is get stuff done."
That would be nice, but how are things going to get done with no changes at the White House? Obama suggested that because the House and Senate are now controlled by a single party, Republicans might be emboldened to pass legislation he deems worthy. He said he is open to hearing what the GOP offers in the way of potential compromises—then quickly added, "Now, that isn't a change."
Right—no change at all, which makes me wonder whether he was listening.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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