WASHINGTON (AP) — Emboldened by a commanding House majority and Senate gains, Republican leaders vowed Wednesday to deliver on their "golden opportunity" to roll back the size of government and President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
"Change course we will," said Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the speaker-in-waiting, describing Tuesday's midterm elections as a mandate to shrink the government. That echoed the unrelenting demand of tea party activists whose energy and votes helped to fuel the largest turnover in the House in more than 70 years.
The capital awoke — if it ever slept — to a new political order. With their lopsided win, Republicans are ushering in a new era of divided government and dethroning Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a prime target of their campaign.
Repealing the health care law, with its mandates and subsidies to extend health insurance to nearly all Americans, has been a Republican rallying cry for months but Obama, with his veto power, and the Democrats still in control of the Senate stand in the way. Several Republicans indicated their challenge to the law won't happen overnight when they take power.
"I think it is important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity," Boehner said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who survived a tea party challenge in Nevada, said "I'm ready for some tweaking" on the health care law but would fight its repeal.
In the heady election aftermath, some Republicans cautioned their own that they have work to do in building public trust when many Americans are fed up with both parties.
"We've been given a second chance and a golden opportunity," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, No. 2 Republican in the House. But, he added, "People want to see results."
Sizing up the power shift, Reid said he wants to preserve Obama's sweeping health care law and let taxes rise on upper income Americans, but "I'm not bullheaded."
"If we need to work something out with the people who are really rich, I'll have to look at that," he said. "If there's some tweaking we need to do with the health care bill, I'm ready for some tweaking. But I'm not going to in any way denigrate the great work we did as a country, and saving America from bankruptcy because of the insurance industry bankrupting us."
The Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sounded anything but humble in declaring "we are indeed humbled and ready to listen." At a news conference with Boehner, McConnell said Republicans will cooperate with the other side to the extent Democrats "pivot in a different direction." He predicted enough Democrats may support the GOP on spending and debt matters to achieve action on that front.
Obama planned a 1 p.m. EDT news conference and the White House suggested he would strike a cooperative, not defiant, tone and assume some responsibility for voters' frustrations.
Obama called Boehner to congratulate him late Tuesday. He also spoke with McConnell and top Democrats in a series of conversations that reflected the shifting balance of power. Boehner said Pelosi called and "left me a very nice voice mail" when she missed him, and they will speak later.
Incomplete returns showed the GOP picked up at least 60 House seats and led for four more, far in excess of what was needed for a majority. About two dozen races remained too close to call.
Republicans gained at least six Senate seats, and tea party favorites Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah and Marco Rubio in Florida were among their winners. Their comeback was aided by independents, who backed GOP candidates for the first time since 1998.
Not all the tea party insurgents won. Christine O'Donnell lost badly in Delaware, for a seat that Republican strategists once calculated would be theirs with ease until her stunning upset victory in the primary.
In Nevada, Reid dispatched Sharron Angle in an especially costly and contentious campaign in a year filled with them.
The GOP also wrested 11 governorships from the Democrats, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maine among them, and gave two back, California and Hawaii.
The biggest win by far was the House, a victory made all the more remarkable given the drubbing Republicans absorbed at the hands of Democrats in the past two elections.
AP writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland, Rasha Madkour in Miami, Wayne Parry in Bayville, N.J., Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, N.J., Mike Glover in Des Moines, Iowa, Thomas J. Sheeran in Parma Heights, Ohio, Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis, Deepti Hajela in New York and Mark S. Smith in Washington contributed to this report.