Nov. 3, 2010 — -- The era of President Obama's wide-sweeping progressive legislative agenda likely ended last night with the Republican conquest of the House, forcing the president to reach out to the presumptive Republican leadership in this morning's small hours to offer an olive branch.
"Obviously, his legislative presidency is over," said Larry Sabato Jr., Director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "He couldn't get a Mother's Day resolution passed in the House at this point. The G.O.P margin is just too large and there are so many strong opponents."
The president has signaled that he is willing to reach across the aisle. At a press conference this afternoon, Obama admitted to taking a "shelacking" but pledged to work with John Boehner, R-Ohio, the presumptive speaker of the house, and other Republicans.
"No one party will dictate where we go from here," Obama said. "We must find common ground... I'm eager to sit down with members from both parties."
He added: "I've been willing to compromise in the past and I'll be willing to compromise going forward."
The president said he did not believe the midterm results were a referendum on his policies, but were instead symbolic of voters frustrations with economy.
Obama must now be prepared to contend with newly ascendant Tea Party lawmakers who could attempt to undo legislation the Democrats pushed through during his first two years.
"They might tweak health care legislation. I don't think the Republicans have the guts to throw it out altogether, but they might want to make tweaks to things like malpractice insurance for doctors, or the impact on small businesses," said Torie Clarke, a Republican strategist who has served in three administrations.
"An obvious place to start is with not allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the time being," she said.
Beyond a legislative stalemate, Obama will also have to contend with Republican lawmakers who appear poised to launch time-consuming investigations. The new members of Congress can use their subpoena powers to investigate, and some might say annoy, the White House.
"The biggest change for the president is that he will now have to constantly look over his shoulder to see if investigators are after him, " said Sabato. "They're going to subpoena his lunch and dinner."
Democrats fear that Rep. Dan Issa, R-Calif., as presumptive chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will take a cue from his predecessors during the Clinton administration and bury the White House in subpoenas.
Issa, known for his partisanship, has indicated that he will double the number of investigators at his disposal if he is appointed committee chair. However, when asked about flooding the White House with subpoenas, Issa told reporters, that is ?not my plan at all," as long as the Democrats "work with us."
Obama is scheduled to speak from the White House this afternoon at 1 p.m. EST.
Obama's 2012 Prospects Likely Pegged to Economy
Republicans picked up 60 seats in the House last night, but only six in the Senate. The Democrat majority means the Senate will be able to effectively veto legislation coming out of the House, so President Obama won't have to use his veto.
It is not uncommon for a president's party to lose Congressional seats in a midterm election.
His new Republican counterparts may become a foil, as they did for Bill Clinton in 1996, to which Obama can compare himself favorably and blame for blocking legislation. Alternatively, or they may prove a formidable enemy, blocking the president's every move.
If his grandiose lawmaking period is over, Obama will have to concede to passing small bills or tweaking his signature legislation.
"There is going to be a lot of talking and a lot of getting down to brass tacks at first," Clark said.
Ultimately, Obama's chances for re-election in 2012 depend less on whether he works together or in opposition to the Republicans, and much more on the strength of the economy.
"If the economy doesn't improve, he is going to have a very long ex-presidency. It won't matter how he handles the Republicans. Clinton didn't win by using the Republicans as a foil because he was clever. He won using the Republicans as foil because the economy improved," said Sabato.
"It doesn't matter how handles the Republicans. Have you ever heard of a president being reelected with 9 percent unemployment?"