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Obama Vows to Work With Republican Congress

  • Aru Pande

A day after his Democratic Party was trounced in midterm elections, President Barack Obama vowed to work with the new Republican majority in Congress to ensure a prosperous future for Americans.

Conceding that Republicans had a “good night,” winning a 52-seat majority in the Senate, Obama struck a measured tone, saying Americans had sent a clear message with their vote.

“They expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do," he said. "They expect us to focus on their ambitions and not ours. They want us to get the job done. All of us in both parties have a responsibility to address that sentiment."

At a White House news conference, the president cited areas of possible common ground with Republicans, such as building infrastructure and boosting exports. He said he would meet with Republican congressional leaders Friday to get a sense of their agenda.

Obama said that in the next few weeks, he hoped to work with lawmakers on boosting funding for those on the front lines of the Ebola fight in West Africa and getting congressional authorization for the use of military force in the battle against Islamic State militants.

“The world needs to know we are united behind this effort, and the men and women of our military deserve our clear and unified support,” he said.

One area where Obama stood firm was immigration. He said he had hoped Congress would pass comprehensive reform that would strengthen the borders, improve the U.S. economy and give opportunity to those who are undocumented.

But in the absence of such congressional action, Obama said he was prepared to act on his own and use his executive authority on immigration before the end of the year.

“What I am not going to do is just wait," he said. "I think it is fair to say that I have shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I am planning to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let us figure out what we can do lawfully through executive action to improve the functioning of the existing system.”

Throughout the press briefing, which lasted more than an hour, Obama deflected questions about whether he is a lame-duck president and how it feels to be rejected by members of his own party who distanced themselves from during the midterm campaign.

Instead, Obama said he was optimistic about America’s future and planned to spend his last two years continuing to work hard for the American people.

Republicans take over U.S. Senate

Republicans take over U.S. Senate

Meanwhile, the presumptive Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he would work with Obama to win approval on international trade pacts and tax reform, and said they agreed in a telephone call to look for issues where they could reach accord.

McConnell said one message of the election was that a politically divided government need not result in continued gridlock in Washington.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky holds a news conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 2014.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky holds a news conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 2014.

"There are a lot of people who believe that just because you have divided government does not mean you do not accomplish anything," he said.

Democrats held 55 of the Senate's 100 seats before Tuesday's congressional elections, but Republicans gained at least seven seats with wins in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. Three races were still undecided Wednesday.

Republicans also added at least 14 seats in the 435-member House, where they already held 233 seats. The majority will be the Republicans' biggest since the 1940s.

The results were a stinging rebuff to Obama, who was not on the ballot but said that his policies were.

House Speaker John Boehner said the new Congress would work on energy and jobs legislation that he said Senate Democrats had been stalling while in control. He said it was "time for government to start getting results."

With control of Congress, McConnell said Republicans would continue to address disputes with Obama over his signature legislative achievement, health care reform. Many Republicans view the law as excessive government involvement and have repeatedly called for its repeal.

Related video report by VOA's Chris Simkins:

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