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Biden says midterm vote was a ‘good day for democracy’ and notes the ‘red wave’ didn’t happen

President Joe Biden speaks at a White House news conference on November 9.
Mandel Ngan
President Joe Biden speaks at a White House news conference on November 9.

  (CNN) -- President Joe Biden is addressing reporters Wednesday after appearing to withstand historic and political headwinds in the midterm elections, staving off resounding Republican wins even as his presidency is now likely entering a new period of divided government.

The results, he said, are a sign American democracy is intact, despite coming under threat over the past several years.

"We had an election yesterday," Biden said during a post-Election Day news conference. "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 who we are," he said, adding that "while the press and the pundits are predicting a giant red wave, it didn't happen."

"I know you were somewhat miffed by my incessant optimism," Biden told reporters in the room, "but I felt good during the whole process."

But the president did concede that the results are not a ringing endorsement of his approach. Voters, he said, "were also clear that they are still frustrated. I get it. I understand it's been a really tough few years this country for so many people."

The results were neither the "thumping" George W. Bush described during his own post-midterms press conference in 2006 nor the "shellacking'" Barack Obama said Democrats endured in 2010.

Instead, the failure of a so-called "red wave" to materialize Tuesday night had Democrats, including those inside the White House, feeling enthused and vindicated following an election season where Biden's political aptitude was questioned. At the time of Biden's remarks, CNN ha not been able to project the future majorities of the House or the Senate.

"While any seat lost is painful ... Democrats had a strong night. And we lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic president's first midterm election in the last 40 years. We had the best midterm for governors since 1986," Biden remarked.

Biden said he will be inviting leaders of both parties in Congress to the White House to discuss where they can work together when he returns from his upcoming overseas trip, adding that he's prepared to work with elected Republicans on a number of issues. "The American people have made clear, I think, that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me, as well," he added.

Still, the president drew a red line on a number of Republican proposals, saying he'd veto legislation he sees as making inflation worse, cuts to Social Security and Medicare, as well as any attempt to put a national ban on abortion.

Biden also said he "might" be talking to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- who is mounting a run for House speaker -- later Wednesday.

The future of both parties

The results appeared more likely to prompt 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 of the candidates Trump endorsed in toss-up races lost or were locked in contests that were too early to call.

For his part, Biden said on Wednesday that he does not plan to do anything differently in the second half of his presidential term. Instead, he said as his agenda items begin taking effect, Americans would come to see their benefit.

"They're just finding out what we're doing," the president said. "The more they know about what we're doing, the more support there is."

Still, Biden and his team still face the prospect of a difficult two years of governing should Republicans seize control of the House. The President's agenda would likely be sharply curtailed without a Democratic majority. And Republicans have promised investigations into Biden's administration and family.

Biden said he believes the American public wants the government to "move on and get things done for them," not lead investigations into him, his family or his administration.

"It's just, almost comedy," Biden said of the possible probes. "I can't control what they're going to do. All I can do is continue to try to make life better for the American people."

Exit polls also indicated still-simmering dissatisfaction among voters at the country's economic health. Around three-quarters of voters nationally said the economy is "poor" or "not good," and the same share said that inflation has caused them severe or moderate hardship. About two-thirds said that gas prices have been causing them hardship.

Voters have a dour view about the way things are going in the country generally, with more than 7 in 10 saying they are "dissatisfied" or "angry."

For the president, improving the country's pervasive dark mood will be an ongoing challenge despite Democrats outperforming expectations Tuesday. Without a majority in the House, his tools to accomplish that will be more limited.

Biden spent most of his campaign season focused on economic issues, including areas he'd taken action to reduce costs. But he drew some criticism, including from some Democrats, for expanding his closing message to including abortion rights and a defense of democracy.

Heading into Tuesday, Biden advisers were prepared to defend the tactic and were prepared with historic data showing Democrats faring better this year than in previous midterm cycles, which typically result in losses for the sitting president's party.

Ultimately, however, Biden is likely to avoid the finger-pointing and second-guessing. Even with the House losses, this year's results are among the best for the party in power in recent memory.

By comparison, Democrats lost 54 seats in 1994, when President Bill Clinton was in office. And Obama's first midterm election saw his party lose 63 seats.

Whether the results alter Biden's thinking about running for a second term also remains to be seen. The president has said he intends to run for reelection, and members of his team have begun early preparations ahead of a final decision.

But a decision isn't likely to come until next year after he has discussed the matter with his family over the holidays.

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