Partisan tones soften after Obama victory
In a sign that political leaders are willing to heed President Obama’s calls for bipartisan cooperation in the wake of his reelection, both Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid softened their partisan tones on Wednesday. In separate press conferences three hours apart, they pledged to work together to get the country on a better financial footing.
In the hours after his victory speech in Chicago, Obama had called the men to discuss the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the morass of expiring tax cuts, scheduled budget cuts and a rising debt.
“American people want us to work together,” Reid told reporters around noon. “Republicans want us to work together. Democrats want us to work together. They want a balanced approach to everything, but especially this situation we have dealing with this huge deficit, and taxes that are part of that.”
He added, “There was a message sent to us by the American people based on the campaign, and that is people making all this money have to contribute a little bit more.”
Exit polling, he said, revealed that “the vast majority of the American people support that, including rich people.”
Boehner for his part, seemed to signal that Republicans are willing to rethink their approach to negotiating with the president and his party.
“I’m not suggesting we compromise on our principles,” Boehner said in the late afternoon. “But I am suggesting that we commit ourselves to creating an atmosphere where we can see common ground where it exists and seize it.”
He added that “for the purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we’re willing to accept new revenue under the right conditions,” stressing that Republicans preferred spending cuts and reforming the tax code rather than raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.
As Obama reached out to the legislative leaders — he also spoke with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — the Republican Party faced a reckoning about its identity.
Republicans began to grapple with the party’s future, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney began the slow fade of a failed nominee, meeting with staffers at his Boston headquarters, presumably to thank them and wish them well.
Shortly after his arrival in the late afternoon, his campaign theme song, Kid Rock’s “Born Free,” could be heard by reporters on the sidewalk outside.
Cheers could be heard at the beginning and the end of each speaker’s remarks. Among the speakers was Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist and ad maker.
Two hours later, at 6 p.m., Romney and his wife, Ann, left in a Silver Saab, driven by their eldest son, Tagg. The former nominee’s Secret Service protection was expected to end Wednesday.
Despite failing to win back the presidency, Republicans saw some bright spots in the election. The party kept control of the House. (Despite its hopes for much of the election cycle, the GOP did not wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Montana incumbent Jon Tester was declared the victor over Republican Denny Rehberg on Wednesday morning, saving for Democrats one of Republicans’ biggest pickup hopes.)
With Romney vanquished, the party’s putative leaders are its top legislators, Boehner, McConnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
But Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, often touted as the ideological leader of the party’s conservative wing, will have solidified his importance as the GOP grapples with its ideological future, as well as with the demographic changes that contributed to its failure to recapture the White House.
Meanwhile, nine counties in Florida were still counting ballots late Wednesday afternoon.
The state whose dysfunctional voting methods traumatized the nation 12 years ago is still up in the air.
Instead of butterfly ballots and hanging chads, the problem appears to have been caused by a long ballot, high turnout and some mechanical failures.
Even the president, in his victory speech in Chicago, acknowledged the problem: “I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time — by the way, we have to fix that.”
The president’s victory may not have packed the same emotional punch as his historic 2008 win as the first African American to win the presidency. But early Wednesday morning, as he stood on a Chicago stage to address the nation, he seemed to reconjure the conciliatory, high-minded politician the country first got to know four years ago.
That man — with the inspiring speeches and the ability to make Americans believe in their better angels — had sometimes disappeared under the fatigue, stress or just plain aversion to the brutal campaign process.
The president attempted to set a peaceable tone for a country inflamed by hot partisan sentiment, stoked by the stunning amounts of money that had flowed unimpeded into the race.
Though his first-term accomplishments, such as healthcare reform and a stimulus bill that most economists say helped stave off a second Great Depression, were accomplished with almost no Republican support, he vowed to be a better bipartisan in his second term.
“I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit; reforming our tax code; fixing our immigration system; freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”
He also said he planned to meet with Romney “to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”
Joseph Tanfani contributed to this report.
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