A day after Republicans took control of the Senate and gained seats in the House, President Obama today admitted the GOP “had a good night" on Tuesday.
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“Obviously, Republicans had a good night and they deserve credit for running good campaigns,” the president said during a news conference in the East Room of the White House.
“What stands out to me though, is the American people sent a message,” he continued. “They expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do. They expect us to focus on their ambitions and not ours. They want us to get the job done.”
In a devastating night for Democrats, Republicans took control of the Senate, picking up at least seven Democrat-held seats -- in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.
With the Louisiana Senate race headed to a runoff between Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican challenger Bill Cassidy and the Virginia and Alaska Senate races too close to call, there’s a chance the GOP could gain three additional seats by December.
The Republican party also picked up more than a dozen seats in the House and several Democratic-held governorships.
“There are times you’re a politician and you’re disappointed with election results,” the president acknowledged. But, “it doesn’t make me mopey, it energizes me because it means that this democracy’s working.”
Obama, who was largely absent from the campaign trail in key battleground states this cycle, brushed off the suggestion that Democrats may have shied away.
"I love campaigning. I love talking to ordinary people," Obama responded. "But I’m also a practical guy, and ultimately every candidate out there had to make their own decisions about what they thought would be most helpful for them."
"If it was more helpful for them for me to be behind the scenes, I’m happy to do it," he added.
Asked if the results of last night’s election would force him recalibrate his agenda during his final two years in office, Obama said he’d continue to push for his policies but would work with Republicans to identify areas of agreement.
"The American people overwhelmingly believe that this town doesn’t work well ... and as president, they rightly hold me accountable to do more to make it work properly. I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody,” Obama said. "They want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through the gridlock, and get stuff done. So the most important thing that I can do is just get stuff done.”
"I’m looking forward to [Republicans] putting forth a very specific agenda,” he added. “If there are ideas that the Republicans have that I have confidence will make things better for ordinary Americans, the fact that a Republican’s suggesting it as opposed to a Democrat, that’ll be irrelevant to me.”
"I maybe have a naive confidence that if we continue to focus on the American people and not on our own ambitions or image … 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."
On the issue of immigration reform, Obama said he felt “obligated to do everything I can do lawfully” to reform the nation’s broken immigration system, but promised that any executive orders would be “replaced and supplanted by action by Congress.”
“You send me a bill that I can sign, and those actions go away,” the president said. “But what I’m not going to do is just wait.”
“Actually, I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” he added.
Obama and McConnell spoke by phone earlier today, Obama told reporters.
According to a White House official, McConnell missed the president’s initial congratulatory call at 1 a.m. because he’d already retired for the night.
The president also phoned dozens of House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates from both parties, including the current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as well as Democratic Senator-elect Gary Peters, and Republican Senators-elect Tom Cotton, Mike Rounds, Shelley Moore Capito and James Lankford, according to a White House official.
ABC’s Mary Bruce and Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.