Washington: President Joe Biden claimed vindication the day after the midterm elections, saying Democrats had a strong night and he planned to change nothing about his approach despite facing the likelihood of divided government in the nation's capital.
I'm prepared to work with my Republican colleagues, Biden said during a post-election news conference Wednesday. The American people have made clear they expect Republicans to work with me as well.
He brushed off concerns that Republicans, who are on track to take control of the House, will investigate his administration and family in what could swiftly become a bruising stretch of his presidency.
“I think the American people will look at all that for what it is, almost comedy,” he said.
In his first public comments since voting ended, Biden was celebratory and defiant as Democrats denied Republicans the sweeping victory they expected. His party still has a potential path to hold control of the Senate, which would preserve his ability to nominate federal judges and administration officials.
While the press and the pundits were predicting a giant red wave, it didn't happen, Biden said.
The election results were a remarkable display of resiliency in the face of both history and gloomy polls that suggested voters were fed up with inflation and crime and looking to punish the party in power. Biden acknowledged that many Americans remain discouraged by the country's direction.
The voters were also clear that they're still frustrated," he said. I get it.
Even so, Biden expressed little interest in changing course on his agenda, saying: I'm not going to change anything in any fundamental way.
The benefit of his policies, such as funding for infrastructure projects and limits on prescription drug costs, takes time to be recognized, he said.
Biden said he planned to call Republican congressional leaders, and he opened the door to seeking compromise with them without shifting on his top priorities. He also questioned whether Americans want the major changes some Republicans are seeking, such as revisiting Social Security or Medicare benefits.
Biden was joined by first lady Jill Biden at his press conference, and he said it's ultimately a family decision about whether to run for a second term.
His team has been making preparations for another campaign, and Biden said my intention is that I run again. He said he doesn't feel any hurry one way or another" about making an announcement, which could come early next year.
US Senate control hangs in balance
The Senate contests in Nevada and Arizona, where Democratic incumbents were seeking to hold off Republican challengers, were as yet undecided, with thousands of uncounted ballots that could take days to tally.
If the parties split those races, the Senate's fate would come down to a Georgia runoff election for the second time in two years, after Edison Research projected neither Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock nor Republican Herschel Walker would reach the 50% necessary to avoid a Dec. 6 one-on-one rematch.
Republicans were closing in on the 218 seats needed to wrest control of the House from Democrats, with 208 now in their column, Edison Research projected. But 23 of the 53 most competitive races, based on a Reuters analysis of the leading nonpartisan forecasters, were still pending as of Wednesday afternoon, raising the prospect that the final outcome may not be known for some time.
Even a slim House majority would let Republicans hem in Democratic President Joe Biden during his next two years in office, blocking legislation and launching potentially politically damaging investigations.
The election fell far short of the sweeping victory Republicans had sought, as Democrats were avoiding the kind of heavy midterm defeat that often plagues sitting presidents of either party.
The results suggested voters were punishing Biden for presiding over an economy hit by steep inflation, while also lashing out against Republican efforts to ban abortion and cast doubt on the nation's vote-counting process.
Poor performances by some candidates backed by Donald Trump - including Walker - signaled exhaustion with the kind of chaos fomented by the Republican former president, raising questions about the viability of his possible 2024 White House run.
Biden had framed Tuesday's election as a test of U.S. democracy at a time when hundreds of Republican candidates embraced Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
A number of election deniers who backed Trump's claims were elected to office on Tuesday, but many of those who sought positions to oversee elections at the state level were defeated.
"It was a good day, I think, for democracy," Biden said.
Fears of violence or disruption by far-right poll watchers at voting stations did not materialize. Jen Easterly, head of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said she saw no evidence any voting system was compromised.
Control of the Senate would give Republicans the power to block Biden's nominees for judicial and administrative posts. But in a critical win for Democrats, John Fetterman flipped a Republican-held US Senate seat in Pennsylvania, beating Trump-backed retired celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz and bolstering his party's chances of holding the chamber.
Democrats also had their share of embarrassments, as New York Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the committee charged with reelecting House Democrats, conceded he had lost his own race.
If the Republicans do take control of either chamber, they plan to seek cost savings in the Social Security and Medicare safety-net programs and make permanent tax cuts enacted in 2017 that are due to expire.
Republicans also could engineer a showdown over the debt ceiling to extract major spending cuts, and could pare back aid to Ukraine.
The party that occupies the White House almost always loses seats in elections midway through a president's first four-year term, and Biden has struggled with low public approval.
"In this climate we should have done better," said Rob Jesmer, a former head of the Republicans' Senate campaign arm.
US stock indexes fell on Wednesday as the uncertainty weighed on traders' mood.
Mixed day for Trump
Trump, who took an active role in recruiting Republican candidates, had mixed results.
He notched a victory in Ohio, where "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance won a Senate seat to keep it in Republican hands. But Doug Mastriano, another Trump ally, was handily defeated in the Pennsylvania governor's race.
"While in certain ways yesterday's election was somewhat disappointing, from my personal standpoint it was a very big victory," he said on Truth Social, his online platform.
Meanwhile Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who could challenge Trump in 2024, won re-election by nearly 20 percentage points, Edison projected.
Thirty-five Senate seats, all 435 House seats and three dozen governors' races were on the ballot.
The primary issue weighing on Democrats was stubbornly high annual inflation, which at 8.2% stands at the highest rate in 40 years.
It's unclear if the midterm results will be enough to enable Biden to move ahead strongly toward a second term. An expansive survey by AP VoteCast revealed deep worries about his performance and ability to continue serving.
With Biden approaching his 80th birthday, 58% of voters said he does not have the mental capability to serve effectively as president. Only 44% described him as honest, and just 34% said he's a strong leader.
There were other warning signs for his political standing as well.
When Biden was elected two years ago, 54% of voters described him as someone who cares about people like you. Among this year's midterm voters, that slipped to 46%.
Overall, 57% of voters said they had an unfavorable view of Biden. His approval ratings on the economy, energy policy and border security were underwater. Even his handling of Russia, widely seen as a success for Biden as he maintains an international coalition to oppose the invasion of Ukraine, is viewed negatively.
His lukewarm ratings were driven by overwhelmingly negative attitudes among Republicans, but even Democratic voters were not resounding in their support.
About 2 in 10 voters for Democrats said they disapprove of Biden's job performance overall, a noticeable softness in today's hyper-partisan political environment.
The survey of more than 94,000 voters nationwide was conducted for nine days, concluding as polls closed, for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
A clear advantage for Biden, who campaigned for office on simply being better than the alternative, is the disdain that his supporters have for his predecessor.
While 50% of voters for Democratic candidates said their votes were meant to show support for the president, an even greater percentage 65% said they voted to express opposition to Donald Trump.
Democrats were arguing from the beginning that they needed to make this election a choice rather than a referendum," said Amy Walter, an analyst who leads the Cook Political Report. "And essentially, they did.
Walter said Democrats were able to maintain support in the midterms even from voters who believe that Biden is not living up to their expectations, or they are feeling disappointed of his stewardship.
The outcome takes the heat off the White House, at least for now.
The pressure goes from How is Biden going to explain himself post election?' to How is Trump going to explain himself?'" she said. The more intriguing conversations are happening on the Republican side.
Some members of Biden's team began circulating a clip of his meeting with the New York Times editorial board during the Democratic primary. Asked about whether his lead in the polls was fleeting, Biden dismissed the question by saying pundits were always too quick to declare me dead.
And guess what?" he said. "I ain't dead. And I'm not going to die.
For a White House that has felt besieged by second guessing, it was a moment of satisfaction.
Never underestimate how much Team Biden is underestimated, tweeted Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff.
(With inputs from AP via PTI, Reuters)