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Obama turns to old, tough hands

Construction workers build a viewing stand for the presidential inauguration in front of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Barack Obama will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

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Construction workers build a viewing stand for the presidential inauguration in front of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Barack Obama will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.

President-elect Barack Obama began moving Wednesday to build his administration and make good on his ambitious promises to point the United States in a different direction, as his commanding victory reordered the American political landscape and transfixed much of the nation and the world.

A day after becoming the first African-American to capture the presidency, Obama announced a transition team and prepared to name an ally as his White House chief of staff in his first steps toward assuming power. President Bush vowed to work closely with Obama to ensure a smooth transition in the first handover since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the fourth-ranking House Democrat and a close friend of Obama's from Chicago, has been offered the job of chief of staff, and although he was said to be concerned about the effects on his family and giving up his influential role on Capitol Hill, many Democrats said they expected him to accept it.

Obama named John Podesta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff, to lead his transition team along with Valerie Jarrett, a longtime adviser, and Pete Rouse, his Senate chief of staff.

The transition team will be helped by a 12-member board, including Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, former Energy Secretary Federico Pena and former Environmental Protection Agency director Carol Browner.

In turning to Emanuel and Podesta, 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. Neither is considered a practitioner of the "new politics" that 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.

With the election behind them, the Bush and Obama teams began the delicate 77-day transition until inauguration. The General Services Administration turned over 120,000 square feet of office space in downtown Washington to the Obama transition team and select Obama advisers were due to be given interim security clearances.

Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will receive briefings today from Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and thereafter each morning by a pair of CIA officials. Obama was given brief updates during the campaign, but aides said the sessions now would resemble the presidential daily briefing presented to Bush each morning.

Beyond choosing staff members, Obama must decide how active he intends to be in asserting leadership during the transition. Obama has conferred with congressional leaders about passing a $100-billion economic stimulus package in a lame-duck session the week of Nov. 17 to pay for public works projects, aid to cities and states and unemployment, food stamp and heating benefits.

But congressional aides said that if Obama could not win agreement from Bush and Senate Republicans, they might scale the package back to about $60-billion to pay for unemployment and other benefits, then come back in January with a broader economic spending plan.

Obama talked regularly with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson about the financial crisis during the campaign but it remained unclear how closely he wants to coordinate action during the transition. The situation is so dire it may demand immediate action from a newly elected president, but Obama advisers are wary of taking ownership over decisions made by Bush.

Obama stayed largely out of sight Wednesday, a decision aides said was intended to draw a line between the campaign and the task of governing. They said he canceled fireworks at the Tuesday night celebration to underscore the seriousness of the moment.

Obama's day of seminormalcy

Barack Obama began his first full day as president-elect with the simple pleasure of having breakfast with his daughters, the type of everyday family activity he often had to sacrifice during the long campaign.

Afterward, he left his Chicago house alone, clad in workout clothes, a ball cap and sunglasses, and spent an hour at a friend's apartment building, where he uses the gym. Then it was back home to clean up before heading to the office — a downtown office building where he was holding a conference call to thank campaign staff around the country. The president-elect wore a suit but no tie, and carried a black satchel.

Asked how much sleep he'd gotten on the night of his historic victory, Obama said, "Not as much as I'd like."

Obama planned to stay in Chicago through the week, with a quiet weekend at home. He was still trying to figure out arrangements regarding his grandmother, who died Sunday. A trip to Hawaii for the small private memorial she requested was likely by the end of the year.

His staff said he would address the media by the end of the week.

Associated Press

>>Fast facts

First picks

Rep. Rahm Emanuel is a consummate Chicagoan, former top Bill Clinton aide and a hardball Democrat — "a bad cop to Obama's good cop," in the words of GOP strategist John Feehery.

John Podesta, transition team chief, was also a Clinton aide. He was chief of staff — the post Obama offered Emanuel.

Obama turns to old, tough hands 11/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:03am]
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