President Obama, smarting from what he dubbed a "shellacking" at the polls, said he still wants to address the problem of global climate change and mentioned energy as his first example of where he might find common ground with Republicans.
"Cap and trade was just one way of skinning that cat," Obama said in an early afternoon news conference at the White House. "I'm going to be looking for other ways to solve that problem."
Obama twice mentioned development of natural gas resources as an area where he agreed with Republicans. It appeared to be a reference to the vast shale gas resources being tapped across the country, particularly in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.
"We've got, I think, broad agreement that we've got terrific natural gas resources in this country," Obama said. "Are we doing everything we can to develop those?"
Obama defended U.S. EPA, which is under Republican fire for regulating greenhouse gas emissions, stressing that the courts have ordered the agency to act (Greenwire, Nov. 3).
"One of the things that's very important for me is not to have us ignore the science, but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don't hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country," Obama said. "And I think EPA wants help from the Legislature on this."
His views are far from those of many tea party activists and some key Republican legislators, who reject the scientific consensus on climate change and instead see it as a Democratic attempt to increase government's power over the economy.
And energy-state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who do not deny climate change are still seeking to overrule EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant.
On drilling, there might be agreement between centrist Democrats, Republicans and now Obama on aggressively developing shale gas, but many congressional Democrats from gas-rush states do not agree.
Gas-state Democrats share environmentalists' fears that drilling pollutes drinking water. Obama's EPA has undertaken a study of a crucial shale drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. And prominent Democrats, including Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, have sponsored legislation calling for stricter federal regulation of fracturing. Veteran Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), a vocal drilling critic, fought off a late-breaking challenge yesterday from a Republican who supported drilling.
Obama's emphasis on drilling raised eyebrows in the environmental community, where activists are weighing the climate benefits of natural gas against the environmental problems caused by drilling.
"It is a challenging issue for the environmental community," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "There is potential for gas to play some role for clean energy future. Let me be clear, natural gas is not clean but it is cleaner than other dirty fuels."
Brune said any new natural gas policies should include the legislation supported by Casey and Hinchey for EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Obama blames economy
Obama rejected the idea that the policies he pursued in his first two years, including health care and cap and trade, cost Democrats the House majority. And he indicated he sees no need to revisit them, beyond making "tweaks."
"I think we'd be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us for the next two years relitigate arguments that we had over the last two years," Obama said.
Instead, he attributed his party's losses to the economy, which continues to struggle after a $787 billion package of tax cuts and spending designed to stimulate the economy.
But the president repeatedly said that he hadn't done a good job in several areas, generally referring to style and communication rather than policies. The election, he said, showed that voters want both parties to focus more on job growth and working together to forge consensus.
"As I reflect on the results of the election, it underscores for me that I've got to do a better job," Obama said, "just like everybody else in Washington does."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who narrowly survived a fierce challenge from tea party Republican Sharron Angle, said Democrats will work with Republicans, but the GOP must also agree to work together.
"Simply saying no, as we've had this past Congress," Reid said, "won't bring jobs back. It will strengthen the economy, and it won't help families that are trying to make ends meet. No is not the answer."
Republican leaders, by contrast, cast their retaking of the House after four years as a clear repudiation of the policies pursued by Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose caucus grew but did not regain the majority, said Democrats "missed the message" if they thought voters want Republicans to stop blocking Obama's agenda.
"What the American people were saying yesterday," McConnell said, "is that they appreciated us saying 'no' to the things that the American people indicated they were not in favor of."
McConnell, however, did outline some Obama priorities that Republicans can support, including nuclear power.
But support of nuclear power in Congress has come to mean financial support for building new reactors and opening the nuclear waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain. McConnell might get a fight from some tea party-backed Republican members on more spending for nuclear. And when Reid survived Angle's challenge to retain control of the Senate floor agenda, hopes for reopening Yucca Mountain dimmed significantly.
Obama said he also sensed Republican support for clean energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles. But he challenged Republican support for spending cuts if it were to mean that other countries continue to leap ahead of the United States in technology and infrastructure.
Reporters Sarah Abruzzese and Katherine Ling contributed.