Obama describes midterm losses as a 'shellacking' by Republicans

President Obama appeared humbled, reflective and conciliatory about the “shellacking” his party received Tuesday during a post-mortem news conference at the White House.

The president largely rejected the notion that Americans overwhelming voted for Republicans Tuesday as a failing grade on his policies, blaming instead high unemployment and a slow economic recovery.

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But Obama, appearing relaxed and in good spirits, said he would take responsibility for both his party's losses and the shape of the economy.

“Ultimately, I'll be judged as president by the bottom line — results,” he said Wednesday, acknowledging that there is “no doubt that people's number one concern was the economy.”

Obama said the loss of more than 60 House seats and majority control in the lower chamber “underscores for me that I've got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington.”

“We were in such a hurry to get things done that we forgot to change how things get done in Washington,” he said.

Republican leaders reveling in their massive victory, which exceeded the total of House seats won in the 1994 wave election, continued to blast Obama for his administration’s spending. They vowed to cut spending across the board, and also promised to push for a repeal of Obama’s healthcare law.

On the last point, Obama was not combative in defending or preparing to fight for his signature domestic agenda item, but said Republicans would be “misreading” Tuesday's results if they spend the next two years “relitigating” the battles of the past two years.

“No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here,” Obama said.

The president seemed chastened by the results from Tuesday night, specifically addressing losses in the House like that of Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), saying it “feels bad” seeing lawmakers who supported his policies losing.

“It's hard, and I take responsibility for it in a lot of ways,” Obama said.

He offered a few examples of possible compromise with the GOP.

He said he supported second-ranking GOP Rep. Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE's (Va.) proposed earmark moratorium, and suggested he was open to modify IRS reporting requirements for small businesses contained within his signature healthcare bill.

But Obama also exhorted Republicans to negotiate in good faith and put aside politics to the best of their ability. He suggested one message from voters was for the two parties to work together instead of taking shots at one another.

"What Americans don't want from us is spending the next two years re-fighting the battles of the last two," he said.

But Obama added: "I'm not so naive to think everybody will put politics aside until then."

Republican leaders said they hoped to work constructively with Obama.

House GOP leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerGOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi Stripping opportunity from DC's children MORE (Ohio), who is expected to be Speaker of the 112th Congress, said and the president have already spoken about spending cuts.

“We discussed working together on the American peoples' priorities: cutting spending, creating jobs,” said BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerGOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi Stripping opportunity from DC's children MORE of their call. “And we hope that he will continue to be willing to work with us on those priorities.”

But Republicans are also under tremendous pressure from within their own party to not cave on some of their biggest vows to voters, and fear repercussions in 2012 if they don't placate angry conservatives. That will make it difficult for them to compromise.

Obama suggested both parties will continue to lose favor from voters if they do not cooperate.

Returning to the "car in a ditch" metaphor he repeatedly employed during the campaign, Obama said the message from voters was that they want “Democrats and Republicans both pushing some more to get the car on level ground.”

To that end, the president who ran on a platform of hope just two years ago said he remains optimistic that he and the GOP will be able to work together.

“I do believe there's hope for civility,” Obama said Wednesday. “I believe there's hope for progress.”

—This story was first posted at 1:41 p.m. and updated at 2:51 p.m.