Economy Dominates Obama’s First News Conference After Election
Mr. Obama also said that Congress must pass an economic stimulus measure either before or just after his inauguration in January. He also said unemployment benefits need to be extended.
In his first news conference since winning the presidency Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he will defer to President Bush and his economic team on major decisions until he takes power.
“The United States has only one government and one president at a time,” he said.
The president-elect and Vice President-elect Joe Biden met privately with 17 economic experts to discuss ways to stabilize the troubled economy. The advisers, Biden and newly-named chief of staff Rahm Emanuel flanked Mr. Obama as he spoke for 20 minutes from a podium that read “the Office of the President Elect” at a hotel in his home town of Chicago.
The Illinois senator also said he wasn’t ready to announce any selections for his Cabinet, adding, “When we have an announcement about Cabinet appointments, we will make them.” He also said he understands that “people want to know who’s going to make up our team.”
Investors are awaiting the president-elect’s choice of Treasury secretary who will spearhead economic recovery, but Mr. Obama made clear he would not be rushed into making hasty appointments.
“I want to move with all deliberate haste, but I want to emphasize deliberate as well as haste,” he said.
He also noted the latest Labor Department figures showing that U.S. unemployment hit a 14-year-high in October after employers slashed jobs by an unexpectedly steep 240,000.
Mr. Obama said he appreciated the cooperation President Bush has offered in smoothing his transition to the White House and the Republican’s “commitment that his economic policy team keep us informed.” He expressed gratitude to the president for inviting him and his wife, Michelle, to the White House on Monday.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, Mr. Obama said he expected to have a substantive conversation with President Bush at that time and that “I am not going to anticipate problems.”
He said his focus would be on producing jobs and mentioned actions to help the auto industry and small business and aid for state and local governments so they aren’t forced to lay off workers or raise taxes.
As he prepares to join an exclusive club of presidents, Mr. Obama said: “I’ve spoken to all of them that are living” and has reread some of President Lincoln’s writings.
With U.S. automakers also reporting billions in losses Friday, the president-elect urged the Bush administration to accelerate a $25 billion retooling assistance plan already passed by Congress. The automakers are lobbying for up to $50 billion to prevent a collapse that could cost over two million jobs.
In his first foreign policy pronouncement as president-elect, Mr. Obama called for an international effort to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, a day after Iran’s president urged him to implement a “fairer” U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Mr. Obama, who has said he does not rule out direct talks with Iran’s leaders, also called on Tehran to end what he called the country’s support for terrorist organizations.
The president-elect said he would be reviewing a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, congratulating him on his election, and would “respond appropriately.” But he said the U.S. approach to Iran could not be done in a “knee-jerk” fashion. “I think we’ve got to think it through,” he said.
In the news conference, Mr. Obama also fielded questions about another pressing matter: his family’s search for a pet dog.
After each question, Mr. Obama replied with caution — and a dash of self-deprecating humor about his heritage in regards to the yet-to-be-selected puppy. His family is looking for a dog that will not trigger daughter Malia’s allergies. Ideally, he said it would come from an animal rescue shelter, but “obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.”
But the economic crisis dominated the news conference, with Mr. Obama stating, “I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead.”