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Economy Tops Agenda at Obama’s First Post-Election Press Conference

November 7, 2008 at 6:15 PM EST
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During his first press conference since his Nov. 4 election victory, President-elect Barack Obama addressed updates on his plans to steer the U.S. economy, assemble his cabinet and his views on Iran's nuclear buildup, among other issues.
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JIM LEHRER: And now Barack Obama’s news conference this afternoon at the Hilton Chicago Hotel. He took questions after a brief opening statement on the economy. Here is the Q&A portion in full.

BARACK OBAMA, President-elect of the United States: I’m going to start right here with you, Nedra.

JOURNALIST: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. I wonder what you think any president can accomplish during their first 100 days in office to turn the economy around? How far can you go? And what will be your priorities on day one?

BARACK OBAMA: I think that a new president can do an enormous amount to restore confidence, to move an agenda forward that speaks to the needs of the economy and the needs of middle-class families all across the country.

I’ve outlined during the course of the campaign some critical issues that I intend to work on.

We have a current financial crisis that is spilling out into rest of the economy, and we have taken some action so far. More action is undoubtedly going to be needed. My transition team is going to be monitoring very closely what happens over the course of the next several months.

The one thing I can say with certainty is that we are going to need to see a stimulus package passed either before or after inauguration.

We are going to have to focus on jobs, because the hemorrhaging of jobs has an impact, obviously, on consumer confidence and the ability of people to — to buy goods and services and can have enormous spillover effects.

And I think it’s going to be very important for us to provide the kinds of assistance to state and local governments to make sure that they don’t compound some of the problems that are already out there by having to initiate major layoffs or initiate tax increases.

So there are some things that we know we’re going to have to do, but I’m confident that a new president can have an enormous impact. That’s why I ran for president.

Lee?

JOURNALIST: Sir, there’s been some suggestion from House Democrats that the stimulus package may be in trouble, that it’s going to be a hard time getting out of a lame-duck session. Are you still confident that you would be able to get something done before you actually take office?

BARACK OBAMA: I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later. If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States.

Jake?

JOURNALIST: Senator, for the first time since the Iranian revolution, the president of Iran sent a congratulations note to a new U.S. president. I’m wondering if, first of all, if you responded to President Ahmadinejad’s note of congratulations and, second of all, and more importantly, how soon do you plan on sending low-level envoys to countries such as Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, to see if a presidential-level talk would be productive?

BARACK OBAMA: I am aware that the letter was sent. Let me state — repeat what I stated during the course of the campaign.

Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon I believe is unacceptable. And we have to mount a international effort to prevent that from happening.

Iran’s support of terrorist organizations I think is something that has to cease.

I will be reviewing the letter from President Ahmadinejad, and we will respond appropriately. It’s only been three days since the election. Obviously, how we approach and deal with a country like Iran is not something that we should, you know, simply do in a knee-jerk fashion. I think we’ve got to think it through.

But I have to reiterate once again that we only have one president at a time. And I want to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole that I am not the president and I won’t be until Jan. 20.

Let’s see. Chip?

JOURNALIST: Picking up what you were just talking about, your meeting with President Bush on Monday. When — he is still the decider, obviously, stating the obvious. When you disagree with decisions he makes, will you defer? Will you challenge? Will you confront? And if it becomes confrontational, could that rattle the markets even more?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, President Bush graciously invited Michelle and I to — to meet with him and First Lady Laura Bush. We are gratified by the invitation.

I’m sure that, in addition to taking a tour of the White House, there’s going to be a substantive conversation between myself and the president.

I’m not going to anticipate problems. I’m going to go in there with a spirit of bipartisanship and a sense that both the president and various leaders in Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done.

And, you know, undoubtedly there may end up being differences between not just members of different parties, but between people within the same party.

The critical point and I think the critical tone that has to be struck by all of us involved right now is the American people need help. This economy is in bad shape. And we have just completed one of the longest election cycles in recorded history.

Now is a good time for us to set politics aside for a while and think practically about what will actually work to move the economy forward. And it’s in that spirit that I’ll have the conversation with the president.

Let’s see. How about Karen?

JOURNALIST: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. With the country facing two wars and a financial crisis, do you think it’s important for you to move especially quickly to fill key cabinet posts, such as treasury secretary and secretary of state?

BARACK OBAMA: When we have an announcement about cabinet appointments, we will make them. There is no doubt that I think people want to know who’s going to make up our team.

And I want to move with all deliberate haste, but I want to emphasize “deliberate” as well as “haste.” I’m proud of the choice I made of vice president, partly because we did it right. I’m proud of the choice of chief of staff, because we thought it through.

And I think it’s very important, in all these key positions, both in the economic team and the national security team, to — to get it right and not to be so rushed that you end up making mistakes.

I’m confident that we’re going to have an outstanding team, and we will be rolling that out in subsequent weeks.

Let’s see. Where’s John McCormick? We give a local hometown guy a little bit of — a little bit of time.

JOURNALIST: To what extent are you planning to use your probably pretty great influence in determining the successor for your Senate seat? And what sort of criteria should the governor be looking at in filling that position?

BARACK OBAMA: This is the governor’s decision; it is not my decision.

And I think that the criteria that I would have for my successor would be the same criteria that I’d have if I were a voter: somebody who is capable; somebody who is passionate about helping working families in Illinois meet their — meet their dreams.

And I think there are going to be a lot of good choices out there, but it is the governor’s decision to make, not mine.

Lynn Sweet?

JOURNALIST: Mr. President-elect…

BARACK OBAMA: What happened to your arm, Lynn?

JOURNALIST: I cracked my shoulder running to your speech on election night.

BARACK OBAMA: Oh, no. I think that was the only major incident during the — the entire Grant Park celebration.

JOURNALIST: Thank you for asking. Here’s my question. I’m wondering what you’re doing to get ready. Have you spoke to any living ex-presidents, what books you might be reading?

Everyone wants to know, what kind of dog are you going to buy for your girls? Have you decided on a private or public school for your daughters?

BARACK OBAMA: Let — let me list those off.

In terms of speaking to former presidents, I’ve spoken to all of them that are living. Obviously, President Clinton — I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances.

I have re-read some of Lincoln’s writings, who’s always an extraordinary inspiration.

And, by the way, President Carter, President Bush, Sr., as well as the current president have all been very gracious and offered to provide any help that they can in this transition process.

With respect to the dog, this is a major issue. I think it’s generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything.

We have — we have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic.

On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So — so whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things I think is a pressing issue on the Obama household.

And with respect to schools, Michelle will be — will be scouting out some schools. We’ll be making a decision about that in the future.

OK, Candy, down here?

JOURNALIST: You are now privy to a lot of intelligence that you haven’t had access to before, in fact, much of what the president sees, I’m sure all of it.

First of all, do you — what do you think about the state of U.S. intelligence, whether you think it needs beefing up, whether you think there’s enough interaction between the various agencies?

And, second of all, has anything that you’ve heard given you pause about anything you’ve talked about on the campaign trail?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, Candy, as you know, if — if there was something I had heard, I couldn’t tell you. But…I have received intelligence briefings. And I will make just a general statement.

Our intelligence process can always improve. I think it has gotten better. And, you know, beyond that, I don’t think I should comment on the nature of the intelligence briefings.

That was a two-parter. Was there another aspect to that?

JOURNALIST: Well, just whether — you know, absent what you’ve heard…

BARACK OBAMA: OK, I get you.

JOURNALIST: … whether anything has given you pause.

BARACK OBAMA: I’m going to skip that.

Jeff?

JOURNALIST: Mr. President-elect, do you still intend to seek income tax increases for upper-income Americans? And if so, should these Americans expect to pay higher taxes in 2009?

BARACK OBAMA: My tax plan represented a net tax cut. It provided for substantial middle-class tax cuts; 95 percent of working Americans would receive them.

It also provided for cuts in capital gains for small businesses, additional tax credits. All of it is designed for job growth.

My priority is going to be, how do we grow the economy? How do we create more jobs?

I think that the plan that we’ve put forward is the right one, but, obviously, over the next several weeks and months, we’re going to be continuing to take a look at the data and see what’s taking place in the economy as a whole.

But, understand, the goal of my plan is to provide tax relief to families that are struggling, but also to boost the capacity of the economy to grow from the bottom up.

All right. Thank you very much, guys.