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Presidential Historians Mull Shape of Obama Administration Thus Far

As President-elect Barack Obama completes the team of advisors and officers who will try to execute his campaign promises and navigate an economic crisis, historians Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith offer their perspectives of the Cabinet.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now, how an incoming president builds a new government. That has been President-elect Obama's chief task.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA:

    Hello, Chicago.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Election night was all about the euphoria.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime: two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The next day was all about the work. Even before he won, Barack Obama had begun organizing for a transition. Former White House chief of staff John Podesta was in charge.

    With less than three months to do it, Mr. Obama would have to build a new government practically from scratch: 21 cabinet members, hundreds of sub-cabinet officials, 3,300 appointees in all, with more than 1,000 of them facing Senate confirmation, and more than 300,000 resumes have arrived at transition headquarters.

    Mr. Obama outlined his thinking on the transition three days after the election.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    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 get it right and not to be so rushed that you end up making mistakes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But the president-elect has set new land speed records assembling the key officials who will help lead his administration, beginning with new chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and ending this past weekend with new science advisers.

    Cabinet and staff were rolled out methodically over the course of three weeks, the economic team, the national security team, the energy and environmental teams, 69 people named to senior positions so far; 20 of 21 cabinet positions have a nominee.

    Past presidents have moved more slowly. George W. Bush was hamstrung by the month-long election recount.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

    We're going to spend the afternoon talking about our transition.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Although he was quick to name his high-profile cabinet members, many key posts remained unfilled a year later.

    By early December of 1992, Bill Clinton had made only one cabinet appointment. That famously chaotic transition left his administration reeling through its first year.

    But even for Obama, much remains to be done, beginning with confirmation hearings slated to begin even before the inauguration.

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