President Obama stepped in front of the cameras this afternoon and expressed just how far he’s willing to go to work together with the new Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: He’s ready to drink some Kentucky bourbon with him.
“I would enjoy having Kentucky bourbon with McConnell,” the president said, clearly trying to lighten the mood. “I don’t know what his preferred drink is.”
The president was asked at the White House news conference whether it was true that he had only met one-on-one with McConnell once or twice in the six years he’s been in the White House, which could be a symbol of how much he had failed to reach out to Congress. Was it a mistake for you to do so little? a reporter asked him.
But the president was reluctant to take that much blame for his failures to work with a Republican Congress that was hell-bent on obstruction.
“Everyday I’m asking myself if there are things I can do better,” he said. “I will keep asking that everyday. Most of my interactions with Congress have been cordial, constructive, but they often haven’t been able to get what’s discussed in leadership meeting through caucuses in the House and Senate to deliver a bill.”
“I will certainly be spending more time with him now,” Obama said of McConnell. “I take them at their word that they want to produce. They are the majority. They need to put forward their agenda. I can put forward my best ideas. The American people will be watching, will be looking to see if we’re being constructive.”
“I think we’ll have a productive relationship,” he added about McConnell.
Obama said all the right things about cooperating with the new Republican-controlled Senate and House, but it couldn’t have been easy after a brutal night that saw a thorough Republican rout. There were Republican victories in seven states that were held by Democrats, in addition to increasing the Republican advantage in the House of Representatives by 13 seats and picking up four more governorships.
“Obviously the Republicans had a good night,” the president said, almost in bemusement. “They deserve credit for running good campaigns. What stands out to me though is the American people sent a message, one they have sent for several elections now. They expect the people they elect to work hard and focus on their ambitions and not ours. They want us to get the job done.”
But Obama acknowledged that his burden in Washington is unique because he gets the majority of the blame when nothing gets done.
“As president I have a unique responsibility to make the town work,” he said. “I hear you, too. All of us have to give Americans a reason to feel the ground is stable beneath their feet.”
“The American people overwhelmingly believe this town doesn’t work well, is not attentive to their needs,” he said. “As the president, they hold me accountable to make sure it works well. I’m the guy elected by everybody.”