Obama begins assembling team

Obama begins assembling team
AP
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First Published: Thu, Nov 06 2008. 12 28 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Nov 06 2008. 12 28 PM IST
Washington: President-elect Barack Obama barely had time to savor his victory before he began filling out his new administration and getting a sobering look at some of the daunting problems he will inherit when he takes office in just 10 weeks.
As president-elect, Obama begins receiving highly classified briefings from top intelligence officials Thursday.
Already, Russia was threatening to put missiles alongside U.S.-ally Poland if President George W. Bush’s plan for a missile defense shield in Europe is not repealed. In Afghanistan, U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai demanded that Obama “put an end to civilian casualties” by changing U.S. tactics to avoid airstrikes in the hunt for militants.
Obama on Tuesday night made history by being elected the first black U.S. president. But times are bleak: the country is in the grips of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s and is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama got a quick start with the transition Wednesday, calling on Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a fellow Illinois politician, to serve as White House chief of staff.
While several Democrats confirmed that Emanuel had been offered the job, it was not clear he had accepted. But rejection would amount to an unlikely public snub of the new president-elect swept toward power in an electoral college landslide.
Obama’s staff said he would address the media by the end of the week, but Cabinet announcements were not planned that soon.
With hundreds of jobs to fill before his 20 January inauguration, Obama and his transition team confronted a formidable task complicated by his anti-lobbyist campaign rhetoric.
The official campaign Web Site said no political appointees would be permitted to work on “regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.”
Because they often have prior experience in government or politics, lobbyists have routinely filled out the list of potential appointees for past presidents of both parties.
In offering the post of White House chief of staff to Emanuel, Obama turned to a fellow Chicago politician with a far different style from his own, a man known for his bluntness as well as his single-minded determination.
Emanuel was a political and policy aide in Bill Clinton’s White House. Leaving that, he turned to investment banking, then won a Chicago-area House seat six years ago. In Congress, he moved quickly into the Democratic leadership. As chairman of the Democratic campaign committee in 2006, he played an instrumental role in restoring his party to power after 12 years in the minority.
Emanuel maintained neutrality during the long primary battle between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, not surprising given his long-standing ties to the former first lady and his Illinois connections with Obama.
The day after the election there already was jockeying for Cabinet appointments.
Several Democrats said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who won a new six-year term on Tuesday, was angling for secretary of state. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss any private conversations.
Kerry’s spokeswoman, Brigid O’Rourke, disputed the reports.
In light of the financial crisis, Obama is expected to quickly name members of his economic team. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who served in the Clinton administration, and Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, are among the names being mentioned for Treasury secretary.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has pledged to work with Obama to ensure a smooth transition. He has already set up desks and phone lines at the department where Obama’s incoming Treasury team can work between now and the inauguration.
Obama’s transition team is headed by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton; Pete Rouse, who has been Obama’s chief of staff in the Senate, and Valerie Jarrett, a friend of the president-elect and campaign adviser.
Several Democrats described a sprawling operation well under way. Officials had kept deliberations under wraps to avoid the appearance of overconfidence before the election.
They said the group was stocked with longtime associates of Obama, as well as veterans of Clinton’s White House.
Obama began his first full day as president-elect by having breakfast with his daughters, the type of everyday family activity he often had to sacrifice during the nearly two-year marathon campaign.
Afterward, Obama left the house, and spent an hour at a friend’s apartment building, where he uses the gym. Then it was back home to clean up before heading to the office - where he held a conference call to thank campaign staff around the country.
Asked how much sleep he’d gotten on the night of his historic victory, Obama told reporters: “Not as much as I’d like.”
Obama planned to stay in Chicago through the week, with a quiet weekend at home. He was still trying to figure out arrangements regarding his grandmother, who died Sunday. A trip to Hawaii for the small private memorial she requested was likely by the end of the year.
In addition to the many decisions he faces in getting the Obama administration up and running, he has personal decisions to make, too. Such as when to move his family to Washington and where his 10- and 7-year-old daughters will go to school.
And then there was the matter of choosing the family pet. “Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House,” Obama told his daughters in his victory speech to tens of thousands of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park.
In a congratulatory call to Obama Tuesday night, President George W. Bush pledged to make a smooth transition and extended an invitation to the Obama family to visit their new home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
On Wednesday, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama spoke by telephone, and the first lady also invited her successor to visit the White House with her daughters, according to Michelle Obama’s spokeswoman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld.
Lelyveld said a date for the visit would be set soon.
Defeated Republican candidate John McCain began discussing with senior aides what role he will play in the Senate now that he has promised to work with Obama in his concession speech.
One obvious focus will be the war in Iraq. After two years spent more on the campaign than in the Senate, McCain will return as the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. That will put the four-term Arizona senator in a position to influence Obama’s plan to set a 16-month timeline to withdraw U.S. troops from combat in Iraq.
During the campaign, McCain staunchly opposed setting a deadline even as the Iraqi government began working with the Bush administration to do so.
But in conceding the presidency to Obama, McCain pledged “to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.”
Aides said they believed McCain would work well with Obama as president because much of his best work in the Senate had been done with Democrats, including a landmark campaign finance law he crafted with Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold and an unsuccessful effort with Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Democrats, who padded their majorities in the House and Senate, suggested McCain could mediate solutions to partisan standoffs on key legislation.
“There’s a need for the old John McCain, a leader who worked in a bipartisan way,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Wednesday.
McCain and his family planned to spend a few days at their vacation compound near Sedona, Arizona, to rest from the long contest.
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First Published: Thu, Nov 06 2008. 12 28 PM IST