Obama pledges quick start to presidency


President-elect Barack Obama said today he is determined to get off to a quick start once he takes office. Mr Obama, speaking on CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes, continues to put together his team ahead of taking his role as president on January 20th.

“I think that part of this next two months is to really get a clear set of priorities,” he said.

“Understanding we’re not going be able to do everything at once, making sure the team is in place, and moving forward in a very deliberate way and sending a clear signal to the American people that we’re going to be thinking about them and what they’re going through.”

The president-elect said that while there is only one administration in power at the moment, there are some changes in the economic bail-out programmes that he would like to see such as help for the troubled car industry.

“For the auto industry to completely collapse would be a disaster in this kind of environment,” Mr Obama said. “So it’s my belief that we need to provide assistance to the auto industry. But I think that it can’t be a blank cheque.”

He also said he wants to see more of a focus in the bail-out plan on the needs of homeowners facing repossession. “We’ve got to set up a negotiation between banks and borrowers so that people can stay in their homes. That is going to have an impact on the economy as a whole.”

He said if there’s not a focus on homeowners by the time he takes office in January, there will be once he does. 

Mr Obama will meet former rival John McCain tomorrow amid mounting speculation about a possible role for Hillary Clinton. She is widely tipped to be named secretary of state. Mr Obama has also discussed the job with New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Massachusetts senator John Kerry has long been regarded as a contender.

Mr Obama comes to the Oval Office with an ambitious list of campaign promises that will require Capitol Hill’s cooperation and approval, and his team is heavy on the legislative experience that Mr Obama is lacking.

He resigned his Illinois Senate seat today after just under four years of service, half of which he spent out on the presidential campaign trail.

During the campaign, Mr Obama had Pete Rouse as his Senate chief of staff to take care of his business on Capitol Hill.

Today, Mr Obama named Mr Rouse to be a senior adviser in his White House. Mr Rouse has 24 years of experience as a top Senate aide, also running the offices of former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Obama’s Illinois colleague, Democrat Senator Dick Durbin.

Other names that have begun to roll out recently come with varying degrees of Washington experience. Mr Obama is drawing on accomplished Chicago friends, long-time congressional aides and former Clinton administration officials, including some with ties to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, combines the Chicago roots and the legislative connections.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain held the same role for Vice President Al Gore.

Mr Obama has picked Mona Sutphen and Jim Messina as his deputy chiefs of staff. Philip Schiliro, who has more than 25 years experience working for Congress, is Mr Obama’s liaison to Capitol Hill.

Mr Biden, a long-time senator from Delaware, has said he intends to be a frequent voice on the Hill and use his 36 years of experience as a politician to promote the administration’s agenda. That’s a departure from outgoing vice president Dick Cheney, who only appeared occasionally on the Hill to meet with Republican members and cast a tie-breaking vote.

Mr Obama is keeping some campaign advisers close in the West Wing. He has named long-time confidant Valerie Jarrett as a senior White House adviser and is expected to bring along Robert Gibbs as press secretary and David Axelrod as another senior adviser.

The senior adviser title is a vague one, but those who fill it have held vast authority. Karl Rove and Karen Hughes had the title at one time in George W. Bush’s White House, and each had a very different but influential role - Mr Rove was the political strategist with a big say over policy while Ms Hughes was the chief communications specialist.

Mr Obama is expected to name campaign adviser Gregory Craig, who was Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial lawyer, as White House counsel. Ms Sutphen, too, had a role in the Lewinsky scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment.

Ms Sutphen is a foreign policy expert who has had several federal government positions, including as an aide to Bill Richardson when he was ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr Obama, making his Senate resignation official, said in a letter published in Illinois newspapers today that he was “ending one journey to begin another...But I will never forget and will be forever grateful to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible.”

In his published letter, Mr Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln, “another son of Illinois” who had left for Washington just before the outbreak of the American Civil War, “a greater man who spoke to a nation far more divided.”

Lincoln, Mr Obama wrote, said of his home: “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”

Mr Obama wrote: “I feel the same, and like Lincoln, I ask for your support, your prayers, and for us to ‘confidently hope that all will yet be well’.”