TOPICS > Politics

President-elect Obama Sets About Crafting New Administration

BY Admin  November 6, 2008 at 1:50 PM EDT

Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Barack Obama; AP photo

In first top-level staff appointment, Mr. Obama offered the White House chief of staff position to his close friend and ally Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois. News agencies reported Thursday that Emanuel had accepted the post although a formal announcement had yet to be made.

“I can confirm that Rahm has accepted the position,” a Democratic House aide, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

The selection of Emanuel, who carries a tough-guy reputation in Washington, marked a shift in tone for Mr. Obama, who chose more low-key leadership for his presidential campaign.

Emanuel, who served as a policy aide in the Clinton White House before running for Congress, told media outlets Wednesday that he had to take time to weigh family and political considerations before accepting. He will have to relinquish his position in the House Democratic leadership and put aside hopes of becoming House speaker.

Over the next 75 days, Mr. Obama must craft his new administration, including a key decision on a successor to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Even before being sworn into office, the new secretary will need to deal with the ongoing $700 billion financial rescue program, Wall Street regulation, widespread home foreclosures and the fate of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In his dual role as a senator and president-elect, Mr. Obama will also serve a central role in the lame-duck congressional work on another $100 billion round of economic stimulus that the Treasury Department would help craft. The package would fund public works projects, aid to cities and states, and unemployment, food stamp and heating benefits.

Congressional aides said that if Mr. Obama could not win agreement from Mr. Bush and Senate Republicans, they might scale back the package to about $60 billion, then unveil a broader plan in January.

President Bush said Thursday he and President-elect Obama will discuss the economy and other key issues next week as they work on the first wartime presidential transition in four decades.

Mr. Obama is also set to hold his first press conference on Friday morning, following a meeting with his top economic advisers in Chicago.

“This peaceful transfer of power is one of the hallmarks of a true democracy,” President Bush told hundreds of Executive Mansion and White House employees gathered on the South Lawn of the White House on a gray morning less than 48 hours after Obama won the presidency.

Mr. Bush’s message was in part a series of marching orders for the staff — and partly an attempt to show the nation that he is earnest about carrying out a smooth transition.

Preparation for the complex transfer of power has quietly been unfolding for about a year. It accelerated after the election.

The Bush administration has already arranged security clearances for key Obama transition staffers and is providing office space and policy briefings as well. The General Services Administration turned over 120,000 square feet of office space in downtown Washington to the Obama transition team. The White House is also helping connect the many world leaders who are calling for Obama.

“Taken together, these measure represent an unprecedented effort to ensure that the executive branch is prepared to fulfill its responsibilities at all times,” President Bush told White House staffers, who cheered heartily as he and his wife, Laura, emerged from the White House.

The Bushes invited Mr. Obama and his family to visit the White House as soon as they can. Aides could not immediately say whether Bush’s statement that he would discuss issues such as war and the economy with Obama next week meant that a meeting had been scheduled, or whether the two would speak by phone.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will also be briefed by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. Each morning thereafter, they will be briefed by two Central Intelligence Agency officials, and briefings for the president-elect will resemble the presidential daily briefings presented to Mr. Bush.

Mr. Obama does not plan to attend the global economic summit in Washington called by President Bush for Nov. 15. However, advisers did not rule out the possibility that he would meet with some visiting leaders, perhaps over dinner or at a reception.

“The one thing he is not going to do is let anyone think he’s undermining the president,” said Gregory Craig, a former State Department official who has advised Mr. Obama on foreign policy. “There’s only one president, and he’ll take pains to make sure nothing he does is taken as undermining President Bush.”

Leading the Obama-Biden Transition Project are John D. Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of Mr. Obama’s; and Pete Rouse, his former Senate chief of staff. The team plans to post their work on the Web site www.change.gov, which does not have any content yet.

In turning to Emanuel and Podesta, Mr. Obama sought out two of the hardest-hitting veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, known for their deep Washington experience, savvy and no-holds-barred approach to politics, the Times reported. Neither is considered a practitioner of the “new politics” that Mr. Obama promised on the campaign trail to bring Republicans and Democrats together, suggesting that the cool and conciliatory new president is determined to demonstrate toughness from the beginning.

For the crucial role of Treasury secretary, Democrats close to the Obama team said the likeliest choices would be Lawrence Summers, a Harvard University economist who held the post in the Clinton administration; Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; and Robert Rubin, another former Clinton Treasury secretary and director and senior counselor of Citigroup, the Times and Washington Post reported.

Regarding national security, much depends on whether Mr. Obama decides to ask Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to stay on in a demonstration of bipartisanship. If not, Democrats see former Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre and former Navy Secretary Richard J. Danzig as two candidates for the Pentagon.

Without Gates, Mr. Obama might want to tap a Republican for the State Department, perhaps Sens. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana or Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, advisers told the Times. If Gates stays, some Democrats said, Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, is a leading choice to be secretary of state.

For national security adviser, Mr. Obama might choose between James Steinberg, a former deputy national security adviser, and Gregory Craig. Danzig and Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East envoy, are also mentioned. Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state and early Obama adviser, is often described as a possible deputy national security adviser or ambassador to the United Nations.

Democrats told the Times that Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, who is a doctor, might be a candidate for secretary of health and human services; Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina may be considered for secretary of housing and urban development; and Penny Pritzker, a Chicago business tycoon and Mr. Obama’s national finance chairwoman, could be tapped for commerce secretary.

Obviously, much remains to be done before Jan. 20, when Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president. The Congressional committee in charge of inauguration ceremonies announced that the theme would be “A New Birth of Freedom,” to mark the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, symbolically linking one president from Illinois who freed the slaves to another who broke the ultimate racial barrier in politics.