Obama congratulates Republicans on 'good night', vows to work constructively with them after polls

US President Barack Obama holds a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Nov 5, 2014. The President addressed reporters one day after after Republicans seized control of the US Senate and captured their biggest majority in
US President Barack Obama holds a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Nov 5, 2014. The President addressed reporters one day after after Republicans seized control of the US Senate and captured their biggest majority in the House of Representatives in more than 60 years. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama congratulated his Republican opponents on Wednesday on their midterm election victory and promised to work constructively with them in Congress for the next two years.

"Obviously, Republicans had a good night and they deserve credit for running good campaigns," he said, after Republicans took control of the Senate and strengthened their hold on the House of Representatives.

But he did not admit it was a repudiation of his policies.

Instead, he said "more Americans are working, employment has come down, our deficits have shrunk... our economy is outpacing most of the world but we just got to keep at it, until every American feels the gains of a growing economy in their own lives".

Looking forward, he said he there would be disagreements between his administration and Congress but he is "eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible".

"It's time for us to take care of business," said Mr Obama.

For example, he says they can work together in areas like job creation, growing exports and providing education for the young.

On Friday, he will host the Republican and Democratic leadership at the White House to discuss the way forward.

"What stands out to me is that the American people sent a message," said Mr Obama. "They expect the people they elect to work as hard as they do... They want us to get the job done."

The comments came a day after Republicans gained control of the United States Senate, sweeping at least seven seats in states such as Arkansas, West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina and Iowa.

The Republicans now hold both the US House of Representatives and Senate, signalling even more gridlock and a difficult period for Mr Obama in his last two years in office. 

Before this Congress wraps up for the holidays, Mr Obama said he would work on three things: First, a request to Congress for the resources to combat the spread of Ebola in Africa and increase preparedness for future cases at home; second, engage Congress on authorisation to use military force against Islamic State militants; and third, get Congress to pass a budget for the rest of the fiscal year beyond December.

In 2010, after the Republicans took back the House majority, Mr Obama called the Democrats' loss a "shellacking" and vowed to work with the Republicans.

This year, he again said he looked forward to the "prospect of working together", but there are also lines that he would definitely draw. 

In particular, he mentioned his signature legislation on health care, also known as Obamacare.

"Repeal of the law, I won't sign," he said in no uncertain terms. "Efforts that will take away health care from the 10 million who have it, they are not going to get it." 

But he said no law is perfect, and if there are responsible changes to the affordable care act that "make it work better, I will be open to hear those ideas".

"Let me take a look at the ideas they are going to present, and we'll have a conversation on that," said Mr Obama, who added numerous times that he would assess ideas based on merit and not which party they came from.

Rounding off his press conference at the White House, he said: "I continue to believe we are more than just a collection of red and blue states, we are the United States... The United States has big things to do, we can and will make progress if we do it together."