A politically-shaken White House promised a sharper focus on jobs and the economy, but was less sure-footed on health care reform.
Advisers took a wait-and-see approach as the dust settles from the punishing loss of the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown.
Barack Obama’s poll numbers are off – primarily because of the slow economic recovery and double-digit unemployment. And a majority of Americans also have turned against health care reform, the president’s signature legislative effort that was probably killed with Mr Brown’s stunning Senate election upset.
“The president has always gotten the message,” top Obama adviser David Axelrod said.
“The message is, we need to grow this economy in a way that allows hard-working people who are meeting their responsibilities to get ahead instead of falling behind.”
Mr Axelrod said Americans would learn more about White House plans for the economy on Wednesday when the president delivered his first State of the Union policy address.
He offered no specifics, but there has been talk of a second economic stimulus package, one totalling around $175bn (€123.7m).
On health care, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said discussions were under way to see whether Democrats could take some kind of action in Congress.
Valerie Jarrett, another top adviser, said Mr Obama had spoken to congressional leaders over the weekend “to try to see what the climate is, what’s the art of the possible”.
Indications are that independent voters, key to Mr Obama’s 2008 victory over Senator John McCain, may move heavily to Republicans in November’s mid-term elections at which control of both houses of Congress will be at stake.
Looking to prevent future surprises like Mr Brown’s Senate victory and to block the feared Republican surge in November, Mr Obama has brought back to the White House his adviser David Plouffe, the political mastermind of his against-the-odds presidential victory.
But Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was in no mood for mercy after watching Mr Obama suffer through one of the cruellest political weeks of his first year in the White House.
He said the only hope for health care was to “stop and start over and go step by step to fix the cost problem”.
Mr McConnell said Mr Obama needed to move to the political centre, where “I think he’ll find a lot more Republican support than he’s had in the first year”.
With health care languishing, Mr Obama is likely as well to run into heavy Republican opposition as he turns up the heat on America’s big banks and financial institutions, calling for legislation that would choke off moves to grow even larger.
He has spoken of imposing fees on those banks that have taken government assistance and are once again showing massive profits and paying outsized bonuses.