11/05/2014 02:01 EST | Updated 01/05/2015 05:59 EST

What happened in the U.S. midterm elections: A glance at the implications

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama pointed out the obvious Wednesday: He'll need to work more closely with Republicans if he wants to achieve anything legislatively for the rest of his presidency.

He joked that he might drink Kentucky bourbon with that state's senator, Mitch McConnell, who is set to lead one chamber of Congress, and may lose some rounds of golf to John Boehner, who leads the other, with the Republican sweep in the American midterm elections.

"I'm not running again, I'm not on the ballot, I don't have any further political aspirations — my number one goal is just to deliver as much as I can for the American people in these last two years," Obama said, mentioning free trade, tax reform and infrastructure as areas of possible agreement.

There will be fights. Obama made it clear he'll veto any bill that would fatally wound his signature health-care law, and he also sounded prepared to brave Republican fury with executive orders on immigration reform. But he promised to seek common ground wherever possible.

Americans are adjusting to this new political reality after thousands of elections Tuesday — for one-third of the 100-seat federal Senate; for all 435 House members; 36 state governors; 6,000 state legislators; in 147 referendums; and in municipal contests across the country.

Here are some of the implications:

—What Republicans can do: Pass legislation. They now have a majority in both chambers of Congress. To boot, the Senate does more than just pass laws. Unlike the House, it also holds great power to approve or reject the judges, cabinet members, political staff, and diplomats that the White House appoints.

—What they can't do: Pass bills without Obama's signature. They didn't get the two-thirds congressional majority they'd need to override a presidential veto, or even enough to avoid certain types of filibusters.

—How will Republicans use their power? The party is torn, between a grassroots that wants aggressive action against Obama and a brass that would rather pass bills with him. McConnell promises to attack certain parts of Obamacare, including key provisions. It's unclear, however, how aggressively he'll do so.

—Could things get done? Absolutely. And Canadian interests, ironically, are linked to the most often-cited areas of potential compromise between the Republicans and the president for his remaining time in office: the Keystone XL pipeline, a 12-country trade deal, and tax reform inspired partly by Burger King's move to Canada.

—The big battle, bubbling below the surface: A struggle could erupt at any moment over the Supreme Court. Half its judges are older than 75. Their successors could settle some of the biggest issues in American democratic life, with liberals and conservatives eager to revisit lost fights over abortion, gun control, corporate political financing, and voter ID laws.

—Referendums: Obama noted that progressive ideas actually made some gains, even if progressive candidates didn't. A higher minimum wage was approved in all five states where it was on the ballot. Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington, D.C., voted to follow Colorado and Washington State with marijuana-legalization measures. Background checks for gun purchases passed easily in Washington State. Anti-abortion measures failed in two of three states.

—History: Presidents almost always lose seats in midterm elections. But Obama has lost more congressional seats in midterms than any president since the Second World War.

—Notable names: For the first time, an openly gay Republican was on the verge of being elected to Congress — Carl DeMaio held a slim lead as ballots were being counted Wednesday in California. The last white Democrat in the Deep South, Georgia's John Barrow, lost his House seat. Also in Georgia, ex-president Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason, lost the gubernatorial race. On the other hand, George H.W. Bush's grandson, George P. Bush, won the race for Texas land commissioner.