Return to Transcripts main page


Presidential News Conference

Aired November 3, 2010 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, James, is he going to triangulate in the famous word that was used after Bill Clinton suffered a setback in '94?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think that. And a couple -- you know, one thing is different. The Democrats still control the Senate, which wasn't the case in '94. But he's going to -- it will be different. That is for sure. BLITZER: All right. Let me set the scene up for our viewers. We're just about a minute or so away from the president, who will be introduced in the East Room of the White House.

We're told he's now in the Blue Room, which is adjacent. He will be announced. He will walk in, go up to the podium. Reporters will stand, of course, for the president. He will tell them to sit down and then he'll make his opening statement.

We assume it will be on what's going on in the world of politics. Let's not forget, he's getting ready for a major, major trip to Asia later this week. He'll be gone for at least a week or 10 days or so, including a trip to Indonesia, a twice postponed trip to Indonesia.

He's got a lot of other things on his agenda right now besides politics. But it's clear that issue number one for this president is the economy and jobs. That was the number one issue, by far -- by far, the number one issue in the elections yesterday. And the Republicans certainly capitalized on the fact that there continues to be 9.6 percent unemployment in the United States. And, for all practical purposes, it's even a lot -- a lot higher.

The president of the United States is walking into the East Room.



Last night I had a chance to speak to the leaders of the House and the Senate, and reached out to those who had both won and lost in both parties.

I told John Boehner and Mitch McConnell that I look forward to working with them. And I thanked Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for their extraordinary leadership over the last two years.

After what I'm sure was a long night for a lot of you -- and, needless to say, it was for me -- I can tell you that, you know, some election nights are more fun than others. Some are exhilarating, some are humbling.

But every election, regardless of who wins and who loses, is a reminder that in our democracy power rests not with those of us in elected office, but with the people we have the privilege to serve.

Over the last few months I've had the opportunity to travel around the country and meet people where they live and where they work, from backyards to factory floors. I did some talking, but mostly I did a lot of listening. And yesterday's vote confirmed what I've heard from folks all across America.

People are frustrated. They're deeply frustrated with the pace of our economic recovery and the opportunities that they hope for their children and their grandchildren.

They want jobs to come back faster. They want paychecks to go further. And they want the ability to give their children the same chances and opportunities as they've had in life.

The men and women who sent us here don't expect Washington to solve all their problems.

But they do expect Washington to work for them, not against them. They want to know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, not wasted, and that we're not going to leave our children a legacy of debt.

They want to know that their voices aren't being drowned out by a sea of lobbyists and special interests and partisan bickering. They want business to be done here openly and honestly.

And I ran for this office to tackle these challenges and give voice to the concerns of everyday people. Over the last two years, we've made progress. But clearly too many Americans haven't felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday. And, as president, I take responsibility for that.

What yesterday also told us is that no one party will be able to dictate where we go from here; that we must find common ground in order to set -- in order to make progress on some uncommonly difficult challenges.

As I told John Boehner and Mitch McConnell last night, I am very eager to sit down with members of both parties and figure out how we can move forward together.

I'm not suggesting this will be easy.

I won't pretend that we'll be able to bridge every difference or solve every disagreement.

There's a reason we have two parties in this country, and both Democrats and Republicans have certain beliefs and certain principles that each feels cannot be compromised. But what I think the American people are expecting and what we owe them is to focus on those issues that affect their jobs, their security and their future, reducing our deficit, promoting a clean energy economy, making sure that our children are the best educated in the world, making sure that we're making the investments in technology that allow us to keep our competitive edge in the global economy.

Because the most important contest we face is not the contest between Democrats and Republicans. In this century, the most important competition we face is between America and our economic competitors around the world. To win that competition and to continue our economic leadership, we're going to need to be strong and we're going to need to be united.

Now, none of the challenges we face lend themselves to simple solutions or bumper-sticker slogans, nor are the answers found in any one particular philosophy or ideology.

As I said before, no person, no party has a monopoly on wisdom. And that's why I'm eager to hear good ideas wherever they come from, whoever proposes them. And that's why I believe it's important to have an honest and civil debate about the choices that we face.

That's why I want to engage both Democrats and Republicans in serious conversations about where we're going as a nation.

And with so much at stake, what the American people don't want from us, especially here in Washington, is to spend the next two years refighting the political battles of the last two.

We just had a tough election. We will have another in 2012. I'm not so naive as to sink -- to think that everybody will put politics aside until then. But I do hope to make progress on the very serious problems facing us right now. And that's going to require all of us, including me, to work harder at building consensus.

You know, a little over a month ago we held a town hall meeting in Richmond, Virginia. And one of the most telling questions came from a small-business owner who runs a tree care firm. He told me how hard he works and how busy he was; how he doesn't have time to pay attention to all the back-and-forth in Washington.

And he asked, "Is there hope for us returning to civility in our discourse, to a healthy legislative process so as I strap on the boots again tomorrow I know that you guys got it under control? It's hard to have faith in that right now," he said.

I do believe there is hope for civility. I do believe there's hope for progress. And that's because I believe in the resiliency of a nation that's bounced back from much worse than what we're going through right now; a nation that's overcome war and depression, that has been made more perfect in our struggle for individual rights and individual freedoms.

Each time progress has come slowly and even painfully, but progress has always come because we've worked at it and because we believed in it, and most of all because we remembered that our first allegiance as citizens is not to party or a region or a faction, but to country.

Because while we may be proud Democrats or proud Republicans, we are prouder to be Americans.

And that's something that we all need to remember right now and in the coming months. And if we do, I have no doubt that we will continue this nation's long journey toward a better future.

So, with that, let me take some questions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Are you willing to concede at all that what happened last night was not just an expression of frustration about the economy, but a fundamental rejection of your agenda?

And, given the results, who do you think speaks to the true voice of the American people right now, you or John Boehner?

OBAMA: I think that there is no doubt that people's number one concern is the economy. And what they were expressing great frustration about is the fact that we haven't made enough progress on the economy.

We've stabilized the economy. We've got job growth in the private sectors. But people all across America aren't feeling that progress. They don't see it.

And they understand that I'm the president of the United States, and that my core responsibility is making sure that we've got an economy that's growing, a middle class that feels secure that jobs are being created. And so I think I've got to take direct responsibility for the fact that we have not made as much progress as we need to make.

Now, moving forward, I think the question's going to be: Can Democrats and Republicans sit down together and come up with a set of ideas that address those core concerns?

I'm confident that we can. I think there are some areas where it's going to be very difficult for us to agree on. But I think there are going to be a whole bunch of areas where we can agree on.

I don't think there's anybody in America who thinks that we've got an energy policy that works the way it needs to, that -- you know, that thinks that we shouldn't be working on energy independence.

And that gives opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to come together and think about -- you know, whether it's natural gas or energy efficiency or how we can build electric cars in this country -- how do we move forward on that agenda.

I think everybody in this country thinks that we've got to make sure our kids are equipped in terms of their education, their science background, their math backgrounds to compete in this new global economy. And that's going to be an area where I think there's potential common ground.

So on a whole range of issues there are going to be areas where we disagree. I think the overwhelming message that I hear from the voters is that we want everybody to act responsibly in Washington, we want you to work harder to arrive at consensus, we want you to focus completely on jobs and the economy and growing it, so that we're ensuring a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

And, you know, I think that there's no doubt that as I reflect on the results of the election it underscores for me that I've got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington does.


OBAMA: I think John Boehner and I, and Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, are going to have to sit down and work together, because I suspect that if you talked to any individual voter yesterday they'd say, "You know, there's some things I agree with Democrats on; there's some things I agree with Republicans on."

You know, I don't think people carry around with them a fixed ideology. I think the majority of people, they're going about their business, going about their lives. They just want to make sure that we're making progress, and that's going to be my top priority over the next couple of years.

Savannah Guthrie?

QUESTION: Just following up on what Ben just talked about, you don't seem to be reflecting or second-guessing any of the policy decisions you've made; instead saying the message the voters were sending was about frustration with the economy or maybe even chalking it up to a failure on your part to communicate effectively.

If you're not reflecting on your policy agenda, is it possible voters can conclude you're still not getting it?

OBAMA: Well, Savannah, that was just the first question, so --


-- we're going to have a few more here.

I'm doing a whole lot of reflecting and I think that there are going to be areas in policy where we're going to have to do a better job.

You know, I think that over the last two years, we have made a series of very tough decisions, but decisions that were right in terms of moving the country forward in an emergency situation where we had the risk of slipping into a second Great Depression.

But what is absolutely true is that with all that stuff coming at folks fast and furious -- a recovery package, what we had to do with respect to the banks, what we had to do with respect to the auto companies -- I think people started looking at all this and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people's lives than they were accustomed to.

Now, the reason was, it was an emergency situation. But I think it's understandable that folks said to themselves, "You know, maybe this is the agenda as opposed to a response to an emergency."

And that's something that I think, you know, everybody in the White House understood was a danger. We thought it was necessary. But, you know, I'm sympathetic to folks who looked at it and said, "This is looking like potential overreach."

You know, in addition, there are a bunch price tags that went with that. And so, even though these were emergency situations, people rightly said, "Gosh, we already have all this debt. We already have these big deficits. This is potentially going to compound it." And at what point are we going to get back to a situation where we're doing what families all around the country do, which is make sure that if you spend something, you know how to pay for it, as opposed to racking up the credit card for the next generation.

And I think that the other thing that happened is that -- you know, when I won the election in 2008, one of the reasons, I think, that people were excited about the campaign was the prospect that we would change how business is done in Washington. And we were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things got done. And I think that frustrated people.

You know, I'm a strong believer that the earmarking process in Congress isn't what the American people really want to see when it comes to making tough decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent.

And I, in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them, which was contrary to what I had talked about.

And I think, you know, folks looked at that and they said, "Gosh, this feels like the same partisan squabbling, it seems like the same ways of doing business as happened before."

And so, you know, one of the things that I've got to take responsibility for is not having moved enough on those fronts.

And I think there is an opportunity to -- to move forward on some of those issues. My understanding that that Eric Cantor today said that he wanted to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing. That's something I think we can -- we can work on together.

QUESTION: But you still resist the notion that voters rejected the policy choices you make?

OBAMA: Well, you know, Savannah, I think that what I think is absolutely true is voters are not satisfied with the outcomes. I mean, if -- if right now we had 5 percent unemployment instead of 9.6 percent unemployment, then people would have more confidence in those policy choices.

The fact is is that, you know, for most folks, the proof of whether they work or not is has the economy gotten back to where it needs to be. And it hasn't.

And so my job is to make sure that, you know, I'm looking at all ideas that are on the table.

When it comes to job creation, if Republicans have good ideas for job growth that can drive down the unemployment rate and we haven't followed them, we haven't looked at them, but we think they have a chance of working, we want to try some, you know.

So on the policy front, I think the most important thing is to say that we're not going to rule out ideas because they're Democrat or Republican. We want to just see what works.

And ultimately, I'll be judged as president as to the bottom line -- results.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Health care: As you're well aware, obviously a lot of Republicans ran against your health care law. Some have called for repealing the law.

I'm wondering, sir, if you believe that health care reform that you worked so hard on is in danger at this point and whether there's a threat, as a result of this election.

OBAMA: Well, I know that there are some Republican candidates who won last night who feel very strongly about it. I'm sure that this will be an issue that comes up in discussions with the Republican leadership.

As I said before, though, I think we'd be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years.

With respect to the health care law generally -- and this may go to some of the questions that Savannah was raising -- you know, when I talk to a woman from New Hampshire who doesn't have to mortgage her house because she got cancer and is seeking treatment, but now is able to get health insurance, when I talk to parents who are relieved that their child with a preexisting condition can now stay on their -- their policy until they're 26 years old and given the time to transition to find a job that will give them health insurance, or the small businesses that are now taking advantage of the tax credits that are provided, then I say to myself, "This was the right thing to do."

Now, if the Republicans have ideas for how to improve our health care system, if they want to suggest modifications that would deliver faster and more effective reform to a health care system that, you know, has been wildly expensive for too many families and businesses, and certainly for our federal government, I'm happy to consider some of those ideas.

You know, for example, I know one of the things that's come up is that the 1099 provision in the health care bill appears to be too burdensome for small businesses. It just involves too much paperwork, too much filing. It's probably counterproductive.

It was designed to make sure that revenue was raised to help pay for some of the other provisions. But if it ends up just being so much -- so much trouble that small businesses find it difficult to manage, that's something that we should take a look at.

So there are going to be examples where I think, you know, we can tweak and make improvements on the progress that we've made. That's true for any significant piece of legislation.

But I don't think that if you ask the American people, "Should we stop trying to close the donut hole that will help senior citizens get prescription drugs? Should we go back to a situation where people with preexisting can't -- conditions -- can't get health insurance? Should we allow insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick, even though you've been paying premiums?" I don't think that you'd have a strong vote for people saying, you know, "Those are provisions I want to eliminate."

QUESTION: According to the exit polls, sir, about one out of two voters apparently said that they would like to either see it overturned or repealed. Are you concerned that that may embolden those who are from the other party perhaps?

OBAMA: Well, it also means one or -- one out of two voters think it was the right thing to do. And obviously this is an issue that has been contentious.

But as I said, I think what's going to be useful is for us to go through, you know, the issues that Republicans have issues on, not, sort of, talking generally, but let's talk specifics.

You know, is this particular provision, when it comes to preexisting conditions, is this something you're for or you're against? Helping seniors get their prescription drugs, does that make sense or not?

And you know, if we -- if we take that approach, which is different from campaigning -- I mean, this is now governing -- then I think that, you know, we can continue to make some progress and find some common ground. OK?

Chip Reid?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Republicans say more than anything else what this election was about was spending. And they -- they say it will be when hell freezes over that they will accept anything remotely like a stimulus bill or any kind of proposals you have out there to stimulate job growth through spending. Do you accept the fact that any kind of spending to create jobs is dead at this point? And if so, what else can government do to create jobs, which is the number one issue?

OBAMA: Well, I think this is going to be an important question for Democrats and Republicans.

You know, I think the American people are absolutely concerned about spending and debt and deficits. And I'm going to have a deficit commission that is putting forward its ideas. It's a bipartisan group that includes Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Hopefully, they were able to arrive at some consensus on some areas where we can eliminate programs that don't work, cut back on government spending that is inefficient, can streamline government, but isn't cutting into the core investments that are going to make sure that we are a competitive economy that is growing and providing opportunity for years to come.

So, you know, the question, I think, that my Republican friends and me and Democratic leaders are going to have to answer is, what are our priorities? What do we care about?

And that's going to be a tough debate because there's some tough choices here.

We already had a big deficit that I inherited, and that has been made worse because of the recession. As we bring it down, I want to make sure that we're not cutting into education, that is going to help define whether or not we can compete around the world.

I don't think we should be cutting back on research and development, because if we can develop new technologies in areas like clean energy, that could make all the difference in terms of job creation here at home.

I think the proposal that I've put forward with respect to infrastructure is one that historically we've had bipartisan agreement about. And we should be able to agree now that it makes no sense for China to have better rail systems than us, and Singapore having better airports than us.

And we just learned that China now has the fastest supercomputer on Earth. That used to be us. They're making investments, because they know those investments will pay off over the long term.

And so in these budget discussions the key is to be able to distinguish between stuff that isn't adding to our growth, isn't an investment in our future, and those things that are absolutely necessary for us to be able to increase job growth in the future, as well.

Now, the single most important thing I think we need to do economically -- and this is something that has to be done during the lame-duck session -- is making sure that taxes don't go up on middle-class families next year. And so we've got some work to do on that front to make sure that, you know, families not only aren't seeing a higher tax burden, which will automatically happen if Congress doesn't act, but also making sure that business provisions that historically we have extended each year, that, for example, provide tax breaks for companies that are investing here in the United States in research and development -- that those are extended.

I think it makes sense for us to extend unemployment insurance because there's still a lot of folks out there hurting. So there's some things that we can do right now that will help sustain the recovery and advance it, even as we're also sitting down and figuring out, OK, over the next several years what kinds of budget cuts can we make that are intelligent, that are smart, that won't be undermining our recovery, but in fact will be encouraging job growth.

QUESTION: But most of the things that you just called investments, they call wasteful spending and they say it's dead on arrival. It sounds like without their support, you can't get any of it through.

OBAMA: Well, what is absolutely true is that without any Republican support on anything, then it's going to be hard to get things done.

But I'm not going to anticipate that they're not going to support anything. I think that part of the message sent to Republicans was, "We want to see stronger job growth in this country." And, you know, if there are good ideas about putting people to work that traditionally have garnered Republican support, and that don't add to the deficit, then my hope is and expectation is that that's something they're willing to have a serious conversation about.

When it comes to, for example, the proposal we put forward to accelerate depreciation for business so that if they're building a plant or investing in new equipment next year, that they can take a complete write-off next year, get a huge tax break next year, and that would then encourage a lot of businesses to get off the sidelines -- I mean, that's not historically considered a liberal idea. That's actually an idea that business groups and Republicans, I think, have supported for a very long time.

So again, the question's going to be: Do we all come to the table with an open mind and say to ourselves, "What do we think is actually going to make a difference for the American people?" That's how we're going to be judged over the next couple of years.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

After your election two years ago, when you met with Republicans, you said that -- in discussing what policies might go forward, that elections have consequences and that -- you pointed out that you had won.

I wonder what -- what consequences you think this election should have, then, in terms of your policies. Are there areas that you're willing -- can you name today areas that you would be willing to compromise on that you might not have been willing to compromise on in the past?

OBAMA: Well, I think I've been willing to compromise in the past, and I'm going to be willing to compromise going forward, on a whole range of issues.

Let me give you an example: the issue of energy that I just mentioned. I think there are a lot of Republicans that ran against the energy bill that passed in the House last year. And so it's doubtful that you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year or next year or the year after.

But that doesn't mean there isn't agreement that we should have a better energy policy. And so let's find those areas where we can agree.

We've got, I think, broad agreement that we've got terrific natural gas resources in this country. Are we doing everything we can to develop those?

There's a lot of agreement around the need to make sure that electric cars are developed here in the United States; that we don't fall behind other countries. There are things that we can do to encourage that, and there's already been bipartisan interest on those issues.

There's been discussion about how we can restart our nuclear industry as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases. Is that an area where we can move forward?

You know, we were able over the last two years to increase, for the first time in 30 years, fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. We didn't even need legislation, we just needed the cooperation of automakers and auto workers and investors and other shareholders. And that's going to move us forward in a serious way.

So, you know, I think when it comes to something like energy, what we're probably going to have to do is say, "Here are some areas where there's just too much disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. We can't get this done right now."

But let's not wait. Let's go ahead and start making some progress on the things that we do agree on. And we can continue to have a strong and healthy debate about those areas where we don't.

QUESTION: Is there anything in the Pledge to America that you think you can support?

OBAMA: You know, I'm sure there're going to be areas, particularly around, for example, reforming how Washington works, that I'll be interested in. I think the American people want to see more transparency, more openness.

As I said, in the midst of economic crises, I think one of the things I take responsibility for is not having pushed harder on some of those issues. And I think, if you take Republicans and Democrats at their word, this is an area that they want to deliver on for the American people. I want to be supportive of that effort.

Jake Tapper?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

I have a policy question, and a personal one.

The policy question is, you talk about how the immediate goal is the Bush tax cuts and making sure that they don't expire for those who earn under $200,000 -- $250,000.

OBAMA: Right.

QUESTION: Republicans disagree with that strongly. They want all of the Bush tax cuts extended.

Are you willing to compromise on that? Are you willing to negotiate at all -- for instance, allow them to expire for everyone over $1 million? Where are you willing to budge on that?

And the second one is, President Bush, when he went through a similar thing, came out and he said this was a thumping. You talked about how it was humbling -- or you alluded to it --


QUESTION: -- perhaps being humbling.

And I'm wondering, when you -- when you call your friends, like Congressman Perriello or Governor Strickland, and you see 19 state legislatures go to the other side, governorships in swing states, the Democratic Party setback, what does it feel like?

OBAMA: It feels bad.


You know, the toughest thing over the last couple of days is seeing really terrific public servants not have the opportunity to serve anymore, at least in the short term.

And you mentioned -- they're just some terrific members of Congress who took really tough votes because they thought it was the right thing, even though they knew this could cause them political problems. And even though a lot of them came from really tough swing districts or majority-Republican districts.

And -- and the amount of courage that they showed and conviction that they showed is something that I -- I -- I admire so much, I can't overstate it.

And so there is a -- not only sadness about seeing them go but there's also a lot of questioning on my part in terms of, "Could I have done something differently or done something more so that those folks would still be here?"

It's hard. And -- and I take responsibility for it in a lot of ways.

I will tell you, they've been incredibly gracious when I have conversations with them. And what they've told me is, "You know, we don't have regrets because I feel like we were doing the right thing."

And, you know, they may be just saying that to make me feel better, which, again, is a sign of their character and their class.

And I hope a lot of them continue to pursue public service, because I think they're terrific public servants.

With respect to the tax cut issue, my goal is to make sure that we don't have a huge spike in taxes for middle-class families. Not only would that be a terrible burden on families who are already going through tough times, it would be bad for our economy.

It is very important that we're not taking a whole bunch of money out of the system from people who are most likely to spend that money on, you know, goods, services, groceries -- you know, buying a new winter coat for the kids.

That's also why I think unemployment insurance is important. Not only is it the right thing to do for folks who are still looking for work and struggling in this really tough economy, but it's the right thing to do for the economy as a whole.

So my goal is to sit down with Speaker-elect Boehner and Mitch McConnell, Harry and Nancy sometime in the next few weeks and see where we can move forward in a way that, first of all, does no harm, that extends those tax cuts that are very important for middle-class families; also extends those provisions that are important to encourage businesses to invest and provide businesses some certainty over the next year or two.

And how that negotiation works itself out, I think it's too early to say. But, you know, this is going to be one of my top priorities. And my hope is, is that given we all have an interest in growing the economy and encouraging job growth, that we're not going to play brinkmanship but instead we're going to act responsibly.

QUESTION: So you're willing to negotiate?

OBAMA: Absolutely.

Laura Meckler?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You said earlier that it was clear that Congress was rejecting the idea of a cap-and-trade program and that you wouldn't be able to move forward with that.

Looking ahead, do you feel the same way about EPA regulating carbon emissions? Would you be open to them doing essentially the same thing through an administrative action? Or is that off the table as well?

And secondly, just to follow up on what you said about changing the way Washington works, do you think that -- you said you didn't do enough to change the way things were -- were handled in this -- in this city.

Some of -- in order to get your health care bill passed, you needed to make some of those deals. Do you wish in retrospect you had not made those deals and even if it meant the collapse of the program?

OBAMA: I think that making sure that families had security and that we're on a trajectory to lower health care costs was absolutely critical for this country.

But you are absolutely right that when you are navigating through a House and a Senate in this kind of pretty partisan environment, that it's an ugly mess when it comes to process. And you know, I think that is something that really affected how people viewed the outcome.

That is something that I regret, that we couldn't have made the process more -- healthier than -- than it ended up being, but I think the outcome was a good one.

With respect to the EPA, you know, I think the smartest thing for us to do is to see if we can get Democrats and Republicans in a room who are serious about energy independence and are serious about keeping our air clean and our water clean and dealing with the issue of greenhouse gases, and seeing are there ways that we can make progress in the short term and invest in technologies in the long term that start giving us the tools to reduce greenhouse gases and solve this problem.

The EPA is under a court order that says greenhouse gases are a pollutant that fall under their jurisdiction. And I think, you know, one of -- one of the things that's very important for me is not to have us ignore the science, but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don't hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country, that in fact may give us opportunities to create entire new industries and create jobs that -- and to put us in a competitive posture around the world.

So I think it's too early to say whether or not we can make some progress on that front. I think we can.

Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat. It was not the only way. It was a means, not an end. And I'm going to be looking for other means to address this problem.

And I think EPA wants help from the legislature on this. I don't think that, you know, the desire is to somehow be protective of their powers here.

OBAMA: I think what they want to do is make sure that the issue's being dealt with.

Ed Henry?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I want to do a personal and policy one as well.

On personal, you had a lot of fun on the campaign trail by saying that the Republicans were drinking a Slurpee and sitting on the sidelines while you were trying to pull the car out of the ditch. But the point of the story was that you said if you want to go forward, you put the car in "D," if you want to go backwards, you put it in "R".

Now that there are at least 60 House districts that seem to have rejected that message, is it possible that there are a majority of Americans who think your policies are taking us in reverse?

And what specific chances will you make to your approach to try to fix that and better connect with the American people?

And, just on a policy front, "don't ask/don't tell" is something you promised to end. And when you had 60 votes and 59 votes in the Senate, it's a tough issue; you haven't been able to do it.

But do you now have to tell your liberal base that with maybe 52 or 53 votes in the Senate, you're just not going to be able to get it done in the next two years?

OBAMA: Well, let me take the second issue first.

I've been a strong believer in the notion that if somebody is willing to serve in our military, in uniform, putting their lives on the line for our security, that they should not be prevented from doing so because of their sexual orientation.

And since there's been a lot of discussion about polls over the last 48 hours, I think it's worth noting that the overwhelming majority of Americans feel the same way. It's the right thing to do.

Now, as commander in chief, I've said that making this change needs to be done in an orderly fashion. And I've worked with the Pentagon, worked with Secretary Gates, worked with Admiral Mullen to make sure that we are looking at this in a systematic way that maintains good order and discipline, but that we need to change this policy.

There's going to be a review that comes out at the beginning of the month that will have surveyed attitudes and opinions within the armed forces. I will expect that Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen will have something to say about that review. I will look at it very carefully.

But that will give us time to act in -- potentially during the lame-duck session to change this policy.

Keep in mind we've got a bunch of court cases that are out there, as well. And something that would be very disruptive to good order and discipline and unit cohesion is if we've got this issue bouncing around in the courts -- as it already has over the last several weeks -- where the Pentagon and the chain of command doesn't know at any given time what rules they're working under.

We need to provide certainty. And it's time for us to move this policy forward.

And this should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue, as I said, where you've got a sizable portion of the American people squarely behind the notion that folks who are willing to serve on our behalf should be treated fairly and equally.

Now, in terms of how we move forward, you know, I think that the American people understand that we're still digging our way out of a pretty big mess. So I don't think anybody denies they think we're in a ditch. I just don't think they feel like we've gotten all the way out of the ditch yet.

And, you know, to move the analogy forward that I used in the campaign, I think what they want right now is the Democrats and the Republicans both pushing some more to get the car on level ground. And we haven't done that.

You know, if -- if you think I was engaging in too much campaign rhetoric saying the Republicans were just sitting on -- on the side of the road watching us get that car out of the ditch, at the very least we were pushing in opposite directions.

QUESTION: (inaudible) the idea is --

OBAMA: And so --

QUESTION: -- that your policies are taking the country in reverse. You just reject that idea altogether that your policies could be going in reverse.


And I -- and I think -- look, here's the bottom line: When I came into office this economy was in a freefall. And the economy has stabilized. The economy is growing. We've seen nine months of private sector job growth.

So I think it'd be hard to argue that we're going backward. I think what you can argue is we're stuck in neutral. We are not moving the way we need to make sure that folks have the jobs, have the opportunity, are seeing economic growth in their communities they way they need to.

And that's going to require Democrats and Republicans to come together and look for the best ideas to move things forward.

It will not be easy. Not just because Democrats and Republicans may have different priorities, as we were just discussing when it came to how -- how we structure tax cuts, but because these issues are hard.

You know, the Republicans throughout the campaign said they're very concerned about debt and deficits. Well, one of the most important things we can do for debt and deficits is economic growth. So what other proposals do they have to grow the economy?

If in fact they're rejecting some of the proposals I've made, I want to hear from them what affirmative policies can make a difference in terms of encouraging job growth and -- and promoting the economy.

Because, you know, I don't think that tax cuts alone would -- are going to be a recipe for -- for the kind of expansion that we need. You know, we -- from 2001 to 2009, we cut taxes pretty significantly and we just didn't see the kind of expansion that is going to be necessary in terms of driving the unemployment rate down significantly.

So I think what we're going to need to do and what the American people want is for us to mix and match ideas, figure out those areas where we can agree on, move forward on those, disagree without being disagreeable on those areas that we can't agree on. If -- if we accomplish that, then there will be time for politics later, but over the next year I think we can solidify this recovery and give people a little more confidence out there.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

I want to ask if you're going to have John Boehner over for a Slurpee --


-- but I actually have a serious question.

OBAMA: I might serve a -- they're delicious drinks.


The Slurpee Summit -- that's good. I like it.

QUESTION: Since you seem to be in a reflective mood --


QUESTION: -- do you think you need to hit the reset button with business? How do you plan to set that reset button with business? Would that -- would you include anything beyond your Cleveland speech, those proposals, to get them off the sidelines, get them off the cash they're hoarding, and start hiring again?

Thank you.

OBAMA: Yes, I think this is an important question that we've been asking ourselves for several months now.

You know, you're right. As I reflect on what's happened over the last two years, one of the things that I think has not been managed by me as well as it need -- needed to be was finding the right balance in making sure that businesses have rules of the road and are treating customers fairly and -- whether it's their credit cards or insurance or their mortgages -- but also making absolutely clear that the only way America succeeds is if businesses are succeeding.

You know, the reason we've got a unparalleled standard of living in the history of the world is because we've got a free market that is dynamic and entrepreneurial. And that free market has to be nurtured and cultivated.

And there's no doubt that, you know, when you had the financial crisis on Wall Street, the bonus controversies, the battle around health care, battle around financial reform, and then you had B.P., you just had a successive set of issues in which I think business took the message that, well, "Gosh, it seems like we may be always painted as the bad guy."

And -- and so I've to take responsibility in terms of making sure that I make clear to the business community as well as to the country that the most important thing we can do is to boost and encourage our business sector and make sure that they're hiring.

And so we do have specific plans in terms of how we can structure that outreach.

Now, keep in mind, over the last two years we've been talking to CEOs constantly. And as I plan for my trip later this week to Asia, the whole focus is on how are we going to open up markets so that American businesses can prosper and we can sell more goods and, you know, create more jobs here in the United States.

And a whole bunch of corporate executives are going to be joining us so that I can help them open up those markets and allow them to sell their products.

So there's been a lot of strong interaction behind the scenes. But I think setting the right tone publicly is going to be important and could end up making a difference at the margins in terms of how businesses make investment decisions.

QUESTION: But do you have new specific proposals to get them off the sidelines and start hiring?

OBAMA: Well, I already discussed a couple with Chip that haven't been acted on yet.

You're right that I made these proposals two months ago, but -- or three months ago -- but it was in the midst of a campaign season where it was doubtful that they were going to get a full hearing just because there was so much political noise going on.

I think as we move forward sitting down and talking to businesses, figuring out what exactly would help you make more -- make more investments that could create more jobs here in the United States, and -- and, you know, listening hard to them in a context where maybe Democrats and Republicans are together, so we're receiving the same message at the same time, and then acting on that agenda could make a big difference.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

How do you respond to those who say the election outcome, at least in part, was voters saying that they see you as out of touch with their personal economic pain?

And are you willing to make any changes in your leadership style?

OBAMA: You know, there is a inherent danger in being in the White House and being in the bubble.

I mean, folks didn't have any complaints about my leadership style when I was running around Iowa for a year and they got a pretty good look at me, up close and personal, and they were able to lift the hood and kick the tires. And, you know, I think they understood that my story was theirs.

I might have a funny name. I might, you know, have lived in some different places, but the values of hard work and responsibility and honesty and looking out for one another that had been instilled in them by their parents, those were the same values that I took from my mom and my grandparents.

And so, you know, the track record has been that when I'm out of this place, that's not an issue. When you're in this place, it is hard not to seem removed.

And one of the challenges that we've got to think about is -- is how do I meet my responsibilities here in the White House, which require a lot of -- a lot of hours and a lot of work, but still have that opportunity to engage with the American people on a -- on a day- to-day basis and know -- give them confidence that I'm listening to them?

You know, those letters that I read every night, some of them just break my heart. Some of them provide me encouragement and inspiration. But nobody's filming me reading those letters. And so it's hard, I think, for people to get a sense of, "Well, how's he taking in all this information?"

So I think there're -- there're more things that we can do to make sure that I'm -- I'm getting out of here.

But, you know -- I think it's important to point out, as well, that, you know, a couple of great communicators, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, were standing at this podium two years into their presidency getting very similar questions, because, you know, the economy wasn't working the way it needed to be, and there were a whole range of factors that made people concerned that maybe the party in power wasn't listening to them.

You know, this is something that I think every president needs to go through, because the -- you know, the responsibilities of this office are so enormous and so many people are depending on what we do, and in the rush of activity sometimes we lose track of -- you know, the -- the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place.

And -- and that's something that -- now, I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night.


You know, I'm sure there're easier ways to learn these lessons.

But I do think that, you know, this is a growth process and -- and an evolution. And the relationship that I've had with the American people is one that built slowly, peaked at this incredible high, and then during the course of the last two years, as we've together gone through some very difficult times, has gotten rockier and tougher.

And, you know, it's going to, I'm sure, have some more ups and downs during the course of me being in this office.

But -- but the one thing that I -- I just want to end on is, getting out of here is good for me too.

Because when I travel around the country, even in the toughest of these debates, you know, in the midst of health care last year, during summer when there were protesters about and, you know, when I'm meeting families who've lost loved ones in Afghanistan or Iraq, I always come away from those interactions just feeling so much more optimistic about this country.

We have such good and decent people, who, on a day-to-day basis, are finding all kinds of ways to live together and educate kids and grow their communities and improve their communities and create businesses and work together to create great new products and services.

And, you know, the American people always make me optimistic. And that's why during the course of the last two years, as tough as it's been, as many sometimes scary moments as we've gone through, I've never doubted that we're going to emerge stronger than we were before.

And -- and I think that remains true. And I'm just going to be looking forward to playing my part in helping -- helping that journey along.

All right?

Thank you very much, everybody.


BLITZER: It took him almost an hour. But he finally acknowledged at the very end that he, in fact, did take, at his work, a shellacking last night. The president of the United States very somber, serious, sober, saying, "I'm doing a whole lot of reflecting on what's going on right now," saying, "I got to do a better job." It's hard, he said, when he noted that some of his friends, when a reporter noted, some of his personal friends had suffered defeats yesterday. He said, I take responsibility in many ways.

Let's walk over to CNN's John King.

You know, this is a president, very different today, John, than we've seen over these past two years. He was acknowledging that yes, there were some serious problems in his presidency.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It took him a while. Right at the very end there, Wolf, he was the most human, when he said it was a shellacking, when he said he needs to get outside of the bubble. For the most he was -- he used the word "sad." It was sober, I thought very somber throughout.

And if you look at this, this doesn't happen by accident. This was a president who said, yes, he was willing to negotiate on the Bush tax cuts now, maybe go higher than $250,000. Yes, he'll listen if the Republicans come to table with some ideas to tweak the Obama health care law and very candid in saying, yes, he's not going to get his approach to energy, he needs to have a conversation with Republicans about that.

But the bigger question for this president looking forward, and at the end, he seemed to get it more than he did throughout the rest of the hour -- is he has lost his connection with the middle of the American electorate. This doesn't happen, Wolf, just because of a Tea Party revolt in the country. This happens because independent voters abandon the Democratic Party. This happens in places like Pennsylvania and New York and Ohio because working class Democrats, the highest number of union households, voted Republican for House yesterday than in our modern history. That happens because the president has lost his connection with them.

He says he can understand people who seems like he overreached or feels like he overreached. When you talk to these people, they believe without a doubt he overreached in health care or he overreached in not putting the economy first.

His connection for all the policy questions -- and the panel will debate them I'm sure -- he has lost his connection with very important parts of this electorate, working class Democrats who are critical to him and the middle of the electorate that gave him those huge margins -- gave him North Carolina, gave him Virginia, gave him Colorado, gave him Nevada and New Mexico last time. If the president doesn't figure that out and figure out soon, 2012 looks tougher.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If the president doesn't figure that out, and figure it out soon, 2012 looks tougher.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And he flatly said he wants to compromise now with the Republicans on key issues. He says he's confident there are many areas where compromise is possible, and he broadly hinted on the issue of extending the Bush tax cuts. He's ready to compromise.

KING: He said he was ready to negotiate on that. He said absolutely.

But Ed Henry asked a very interesting question. The president spent months going around the country saying if you want to keep going forward, put the car in "D." If you want to go back, put the car in "R." "D," for drive; "R" for reverse, or "D" for Democrat; "R" for Republican.

Again, look at this, Wolf. Not just in the House, but in the Senate, in the governors' races, in the state legislative races, the president made that case for months. The American people yesterday, by overwhelming margins, put the car in "R."

They put his car in "R" in Washington. They put the car in "R" at the state level. They put the car in "R" in the state legislative level. And that is a direct and very sharp message to this White House, which is why you would understand him using the word "sad."

The question is, how does he adjust and reposition? Clearly, he didn't want to say too much today. He's going to sort this through a little bit more.

BLITZER: He's going to have plenty of time to reflect on this.

We're going to take a quick break. "The Best Political Team" on television is standing by. We're going to digest what we just heard from a very sober and sad President Obama.


BLITZER: The president of the United States just told all of us he took a shellacking last night. He certainly did.

The Republicans will now be the majority in the House of Representatives, and they've gained several seats in the Senate. It's going to be a whole new Washington once this new Congress takes office in January.

There's still, though, a lame duck session that has to get through. Let's assess what is going to happen in the immediate days.

James Carville is here, together with "The Best Political Team on Television."

You heard the president say he thinks maybe during this lame duck they can work out an agreement on extending the Bush tax cuts and on the "don't ask, don't tell," eliminating the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Is that realistic? JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Probably maybe on the first. I doubt on the second. But, you know, who knows?

Does he work out an agreement with the incoming Congress? Does he work an agreement with the lame duck Congress? I suspect that he'll want to deal with the incoming Congress because he'd have to. So I'm not a legislative expert as to how this kind of goes.

BLITZER: What do you think, Cornell?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think he's put out some ideas about compromise. I mean, the president was humble. He said he was humble. He said he took a shellacking.

And then he put ideas about sort of where they could find compromise, particularly on infrastructure, where, historically, there has been broad sort of compromise around infrastructure. So he put out some ideas.

BLITZER: You know, former President Bush took a thumping. Remember when he took a thumping?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And it was shellacking here.

BLITZER: And this president took a shellacking.

CASTELLANOS: You know, I was struck how difficult losing is. This president stood up there -- and, you know, it took Bill Clinton until the end of January, in the "State of the Union," to finally say the era of big government is over.

I think Republicans would be well advised to give this president time to digest what happened. He left the door open today to compromise and to working together.

But what I didn't hear that stunned me was that -- any personal responsibility. It's the economy's fault. It's the economic crisis and what we had to do. You know, the devil made us do it. It was -- I didn't hear any --


BLITZER: He did at one point, when he was asked -- when he was asked how he felt about speaking with some -- like Governor Strickland, who lost in Ohio, Tom Perriello, a congressman who lost in Virginia, he said -- and I wrote it down as a quote -- "It's hard, and I take responsibility in many ways."


CASTELLANOS: But he didn't take responsibility in what he said -- in what he said. It was because of the economy, because of the economic -- the crisis they had to respond to.

He didn't say the American people told me, I haven't been listening. We haven't been listening. And you know what? I'm going to fix that. There are some things we did. He didn't do that. I think we should give him until -- you know, let's give him time to --

BORGER: But he didn't -- look, he didn't --


BORGER: He seemed to say that this was a problem with the process. He talked a lot about process. He didn't talk about changing health care. He talked about tweaking things.

He seemed to think this was a perception. He kept saying, you know, we had to do all these bailouts and all that, people confused that and thought that was my agenda. That wasn't my agenda, that was an emergency.

And so he seemed to be -- and I don't think we should expect him to say, oh, by the way, my health care bill was terrible. That's not going to happen.

But what you saw was a president trying to digest all of this, which is really hard to do, and to kind of go through it and say, OK, what went wrong? And people felt left out of the health care process. They felt like we cut deals on earmarks that we shouldn't have cut. But if you were to say to him, as reporters tried, was it your policy, maybe people didn't like health care, he's not going there.

BLITZER: Well, on health care, Roland, he defended himself.

MARTIN: Absolutely. You know, as I sit here and look at Ali Velshi, I think back to his constant reporting in 2009 every time the stock market dropped 200, 300, 400 points, everybody fretting about their 401(k)s, losing money, pension funds.

So what happened? He talks about the emergency procedures they took. All of a sudden, we're talking about what, the Dow being above 11,000, all of a sudden those numbers coming back up? You don't hear people complaining about their 401(k)s now.

And so we talked about -- you don't hear them talking about it because those numbers dropped. But no one ever talks about that now, but it was doom and gloom last year. He laid it out in terms of the emergency issues.

Now, we can talk about, well, he did take personal responsibility. When get your butt kicked, you know what? You got your butt kicked. And so he did talk about, what do we have to do to move forward to still deal with the economy, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat?

CARVILLE: Wolf, can I just say, my own personal thought is I saw a man that looked like he lost an historic election the night before. He looked just like a man that had gotten beat.


CARVILLE: Again -- no, not exactly. But he looked like you would -- no better or no worse than you would expect him to look.

BLITZER: Erick, how is the Tea Party movement going to react to this reaction from the president?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, if they react like I'm reacting, I just heard a tone deaf president who looks like he got beat, who knows he got beat, but really doesn't want to take real responsibility for it. When you got a drubbing not just in Congress, but in the state legislative level and the state governors' mansions, and even lower than that, the county and municipal level across this country, you have a real disconnect.

And the American people say Washington thinks we're dumb rubes. Washington thinks it knows best. And to have the president come out and spend so much time talking about green jobs, the green economy, and battery-powered cars today, who cares about that today?

MARTIN: I'll tell you what, Eric, the person who cares -- you have a job. I guarantee you --

ERICKSON: You know what? But those aren't jobs dependent on the government. And the people --


BLITZER: Very quickly, David, go ahead.

MARTIN: They want a job.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: He was a man who was wounded out there today, chastened, tired, almost listless at times. Sympathetic in that respect.

But I also felt -- I don't think he did what Clinton did. He didn't pivot to the center and really indicate a sense of direction. And the fact that he's leaving town, leaving the country on Friday, is a real mistake, because it does give an open arena for everybody else.

BLITZER: Well, this trip has been planned for months and months and months to Asia.

GERGEN: But it's leaving ground (ph) for other people to --


BLITZER: All right.

We're going to just continue our coverage. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Our coverage will continue though right now with our good friend Ali Velshi -- Ali.