President Joe Biden speaks to reporters on Wednesday after appearing to weather historic and political headwinds in the midterm elections, avoiding resounding Republican victories even as his presidency likely enters a new period of divided government.
The results, he said, are a sign that American democracy is intact, although it has been under threat in recent years.
“We had an election yesterday,” Biden said at a press conference after Election Day. “And it was a good day, I think, for democracy.”
“Our democracy has been tested in recent years, but with their votes the American people have spoken and proven once again that democracy is what we are,” he said, adding that ” as the press and pundits predict a giant red wave.” , This does not happen.
“I know you were somewhat offended by my relentless optimism,” Biden told reporters in the room, “but I felt good the whole process.”
The results were neither the “punch” described by George W. Bush at his own post-midterm press conference in 2006, nor the “bombing” that Barack Obama said Democrats endured in 2010.
Instead, the failure of a so-called “red wave” to materialize on Tuesday night left Democrats, including those inside the White House, feeling excited and vindicated after a season election where Biden’s political fitness was questioned.
“While any lost seat is painful… Democrats had a great night. And we lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than in the first midterm election of any Democratic president in the past 40 years,” Biden noted.
“We defied historical trends,” a senior Biden adviser told CNN. “It’s pretty extraordinary if you think about it.”
The results seemed more likely to spark soul-searching among Republicans than Democrats, as former President Donald Trump teases an imminent announcement that he is running for the White House again. Many Trump-endorsed candidates in coin-toss races have lost or been locked in contests too soon to be called.
Yet Biden and his team still face the prospect of two tough years in government if Republicans take control of the House of Representatives. The president’s agenda would likely be greatly reduced without a Democratic majority. And Republicans have promised investigations into the Biden administration and family.
Exit polls also indicated still-simmering dissatisfaction among voters with the country’s economic health. About three-quarters of voters nationwide said the economy was “bad” or “not good,” and the same proportion said inflation had caused them severe or moderate hardship. About two-thirds said gasoline prices were causing them difficulty.
Voters have a dour view of the way things are going in the country in general, with more than 7 in 10 saying they are “unhappy” or “angry”.
For the president, improving the nation’s pervasive gloomy mood will be an ongoing challenge despite Democrats exceeding expectations on Tuesday. Without a majority in the House, its tools to achieve this will be more limited.
Biden spent most of his campaign season focusing on economic issues, including areas where he had taken steps to cut costs. But he drew some criticism, including from some Democrats, for expanding his closing message to include abortion rights and the defense of democracy.
Heading into Tuesday, Biden advisers were ready to defend the tactic and were prepared with historical data showing Democrats faring better this year than in previous midterm cycles, which typically results in losses for the party. of the current president.
Ultimately, however, Biden will likely avoid the finger-pointing and guessing. Even with the House losses, this year’s results are among the best for the ruling party in recent memory.
By comparison, Democrats lost 54 seats in 1994, when President Bill Clinton was in power. And Obama’s first midterm election saw his party lose 63 seats.
It also remains to be seen whether the results alter Biden’s idea of running for a second term. The president has said he intends to run for re-election and members of his team have begun initial preparations ahead of a final decision.
But a decision is not expected until next year after discussing the matter with his family over the holidays.