The president's long, searching press conference after a midterm beating is a treasured Washington tradition. In 2006, President George W. Bush stepped up to the podium and termed his party's loss, to the delight of the assembled press corps, "a thumpin'." In 2010, President Obama took his turn, limning the lessons of the "shellacking."
Wednesday, Obama gave his second post-defeat press conference — but refused to play by the rules. He seemed upbeat, almost energized. He gave no ground on his agenda. He made clear he intends to push forward with major executive actions on immigration and climate change. Asked by a reporter to give a name to the 2014 election, he demurred; Republicans had "a good night," he said.
Here are the three moments from the press conference you shouldn't miss.
1) Obama calls out the nation's non-voters
In his opening remarks, Obama began by following the usual script, telling the voters in Tuesday's elections that he heard their message. But then he strayed a bit: "To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too," he said.
The message was clear and defiant: the 2014 election was a thumping, sure, but it was a thumping delivered by a minority of the country. Obama sees himself as the president of the entire country. And he thinks the voters who stayed home want to see Washington working harder on their behalf — not collapsing into paralysis.
2) Obama's theory of the election
Asked whether he needs to "recalibrate his agenda for the next two years," Obama offered a different theory. "The American people overwhelmingly believe that this town doesn't work well, and that it is not attentive to their needs. And as president, they rightly hold me accountable to do more to make it work properly," he replied.
"I'm the guy who's elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district. And they want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock, and get stuff done. So, the most important thing I can do is just get stuff done and help Congress get some things done."
There's a lot packed into this answer. Obama is saying that he doesn't think the electorate was rejecting his policies. He thinks they were rejecting his failure to pass his policies. And in the last sentence of his riff, he spun that into an argument that the election is really a mandate to continue forward with his executive actions. "The most important thing I can do is just get stuff done and help Congress get some things done."
In other words, Obama doesn't see the election results as a reason to back off. He sees them as a reason to push harder.
3) Obama's brutal subtweet of John Boehner
Asked if he'd have a drink with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Obama delivered a sharp backhand to House Speaker John Boehner.
"I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell," the president replied. "I don't know what his preferred drink is, but Mitch McConnell has always been very straightforward with me. To his credit, he has never made a promise that he couldn't deliver. And he knows the legislative process well. He obviously knows his caucus well. He's always given me, I think, realistic assessments of what he can get through his caucus and what he can't. And so, I think we can have a productive relationship."
The implied contrast there, whether Obama realized it in the moment or not, was to Boehner, whom the White House feels doesn't know his caucus that well and routinely isn't able to deliver on the promises he makes.