Obama on the Midterms: 'Obviously Republicans Had a Good Night'

The president explained on Wednesday how he plans to work with a GOP-controlled Congress.

President Obama recognized the obvious on Wednesday afternoon.

"Obviously, Republicans had a good night," he said, speaking from the East Room. "There's no doubt Republicans had a good night."

Obama congratulated the GOP, which gained control of the Senate and a bigger majority in the House. Then he turned his attention to voters. "To everyone that voted, I want you to know that I heard you," the president said. "To the two-thirds of voters that chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you too."

Obama said he is "eager" to work with the Republican-controlled Congress. But it's not always going to be smooth sailing. "Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign," the president said. "I'm sure I'll take actions take some in Congress will not like."

One of those actions could include immigration reform, which the president has suggested he may soon act on unilaterally. "The Senate on a bipartisan basis passed a good bill. It wasn't perfect," Obama said. "It wasn't exactly what I wanted."

And the deadline for reform is drawing closer, Obama said. "Before the end of the year, we're going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take, that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system," he said. "That will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern."

He added: "What I'm not going to do is just wait."

Obama pushed back against the argument that acting on immigration unilaterally would hurt the chances for a bipartisan bill. "I think that the best way, if folks are serious about getting immigration reform done, is going ahead and passing a bill. And getting it to my desk. And then the executive actions that I take go away."

Obama said that his "hope" is that Mitch McConnell, the presumptive next Senate majority leader, and House Speaker John Boehner have "some specific things they want to do" that they can work together to get done.

"I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell," Obama said. "I think we can have a productive relationship."

Obama said that it's "premature" to discuss any personnel changes at the White House following Tuesday's losses.

In his remarks, Obama also praised voters in Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Illinois for passing laws to raise the state minimum wage.

"In the five states where a minimum-wage increase was on the ballot last night, voters went five for five to increase it," Obama said. "That should give us more reason to get it done for everybody."

The press conference wasn't all about the midterms. One reporter asked Obama whether the ongoing U.S. mission to combat the Islamic State terrorist group was working.

"Well, I think it's too early to say whether we are winning because, as I said at the outset of the ISIL campaign, this is going to be a long-term plan to solidify the Iraqi government, to solidify their security forces, to make sure that in addition to our air cover, that they have the capacity to run a ground game that pushes ISIL back from some of the territories that they had taken," the president said, using a different name for the group.

On health care, Obama suggested that there are "places" in Obamacare that could be changed, but he obviously would not sign off on any kind of repeal. "The individual mandate is a line I can't cross," he added.

The midterm elections served as a referendum on the president's health care and foreign policies, which pushed voters to embrace the GOP. Obama campaigned for his party in only the safest races, and stayed clear of districts in which Republicans threatened to defeat Democrats. And defeat the Democrats they did, easily taking over the Senate and picking up at least nine seats in the House.

Some Democrats' displeasure with the president was on full display Wednesday morning. "The president's approval rating is barely 40 percent," David Krone, current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's chief of staff, told The Washington Post. "What else more is there to say? ... He wasn't going to play well in North Carolina or Iowa or New Hampshire. I'm sorry. It doesn't mean that the message was bad, but sometimes the messenger isn't good."

Obama is already trying to cast off the perception that he's a lame-duck president.

"I'm going to be busy for the next two years," he said. "And the one thing that I want the American people to be confident about is that every day, I'm going to be filling up my time trying to figure out how I can make their lives better. And if I'm doing that at the end of my presidency, I'll say we played that fourth quarter well and we played the game well, and the only difference between, I guess, basketball and politics is that the only score that matters is how did somebody else do, not how you did. And that's the score I'm keeping."

On Tuesday night, Obama called "dozens" of Republican and Democratic lawmakers to either congratulate them or console them. That included soon-to-be-former Majority Leader Reid; Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Sen.-elect Tom Cotton; and Sen. Mark Pryor, who lost to Cotton in Arkansas.

Republican control of the Senate could upend the White House's agenda on some hard-fought issues, from the Affordable Care Act to the Keystone XL pipeline. Come January, Obama and his fellow Democrats have three strategic options: stride ahead with executive actions; find ways to compromise with Republicans without looking like they're capitulating; or be forced to accept the sort of stagnation Democrats have been railing against for the past four years.

The president said he's still waiting on a Keystone decision. "On Keystone, there's an independent process. It's moving forward, and I'm going to let that process play out," he said. "Ultimately, is it going be good for the American people? Is it going to be good for their pocketbooks? Is it actually going to be good for jobs?"

Obama will meet with bipartisan congressional leaders at the White House on Friday. Press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the group could talk about potential compromises, particularly on keeping the government funded, childhood education and a jobs program.

Just before Obama spoke, McConnell laid out his vision that Obama will now have to contend with.

"There is only one Democrat who counts," McConnell said. "The president."

Matt Berman contributed to this article