WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama said he hears the frustration of voters who handed control of the Senate to Republicans in an election that is being viewed as a repudiation of the White House.
“To those of you who voted, I hear you,” Obama said Wednesday in his first public remarks since the election. To those who didn’t vote, “I hear you too.”
Obama said every election offers a “moment for reflection,” but declined to use language like “shellacking” as he has in the past to characterize the scale of the defeat.
“There is no doubt Republicans had a good night,” Obama said.
Before Obama appeared before the cameras, Mitch McConnell, who is in line to be the next majority leader, challenged the President to heed the message sent by the election.
McConnell said the President could wield his veto and confront Republicans. But he advised Obama to follow Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who built domestic legacies despite often having to deal with a Congress controlled by opposing parties.
McConnell said those two presidents are “good examples of accepting the government you have rather than fantasizing about the government you wished you had.”
He added: “The president has really got a choice.”
McConnell offered to work with Obama on areas like tax reform and international trade deals but also signaled clashes with the White House on Obamacare and energy policy.
“There certainly are going to be areas of disagreement,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Obama said he will likely take actions that lawmakers won’t like but also highlighted areas of potential agreement, including tax reform.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 5, 2014
The election left Republicans with solid control of Congress, holding at least 52 seats in the Senate and the largest majority in the House since World War II, according to CNN projections.
It will take time to see whether McConnell has running room from conservatives within his party who may prefer a strategy of confrontation. Obama, meanwhile, must consider how he can safeguard his own political legacy of health care reform, a Wall Street overhaul and an uneven economic recovery.
Senior Democratic House member Chris Van Hollen laid out a possible approach by the President, arguing that Obama had repeatedly offered compromise to Republicans but had always been rejected.
“This is a two-way street. The President is more than willing to continue his efforts to reach out,” Van Hollen told CNN.
There were also early signs on Wednesday that key 2016 contenders are jockeying for position — despite offering ritual assurances that they have not yet made up their minds about a run.
“This was not only a repudiation of the president, but I think really a repudiation of Hillary Clinton,” Rand Paul, a potential Republican hopeful told CNN, apparently envisioning a match up with the front-running Democrat.
Tuesday’s results threw up some intriguing new possibilities for the Republican field in 2016.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has now won election, staved off a recall and won re-election in a state that leans Democratic and is considered by many observers to be in the top tier of GOP 2016 hopefuls.
In Ohio, Republican Gov John Kasich was reelected in a state where many Republican White House dreams have died.
A clutch of senators, including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham are also mulling presidential runs, along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The Republican tide also produced some stunning upsets in gubernatorial contests. Republicans took governor’s mansions in reliably Democratic states like Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland.
Democrat Charlie Crist meanwhile failed to oust Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
In Pennsylvania, Democrat Tom Wolf unseated Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in a marquee race.