Flanked by 17 economic advisers and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, President-elect Barack Obama convened his first press conference on Friday (November 7). On a day of what he termed "sobering" news about the country's financial distress and the enormous amount of jobs lost over the past year (1.2 million), Obama opened his brief address by reiterating something he said often on the campaign trail: Americans are facing the biggest economic crisis in our lifetime.
But the Illinois senator was clear that while he has lots of ideas on how to get the country moving again, for now, he's still just the president-elect.
"The United States has only one government and one president at a time," said Obama, who mostly spoke in general terms during his 25-minute appearance at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago. "And until January 20 of next year, that government is the current administration. ... Immediately after I become president, I am going to confront this economic crisis head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families and restore growth and prosperity."
While the Bush administration is keeping Obama's team appraised of changes in the economy and briefing the president-elect on security issues, Obama has already started pulling together his own team of advisers, which now includes Clinton-administration veteran and U.S. Representative Rahm Emanuel, who accepted the job of chief of staff on Thursday.
Obama said he met with his economic team on Friday and they focused on a number of key issues, among them a rescue plan for the middle class that helps to create jobs, increase unemployment insurance benefits and help families avoid foreclosure. They also discussed a fiscal stimulus plan and the impact of the financial crisis on the rest of the economy.
"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead," Obama said. "We have taken some major action to date, and we will need some further action during this transition. ... Some of the choices that we make are going to be difficult, and I have said before and I will repeat again: It is not going to be quick; it is not going to be easy to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in. But America is a strong and resilient country, and I know that we will succeed."
Obama then took questions from reporters, and said that in his first 100 days, a new president can do an "enormous amount" to restore confidence in the financial system and that his first priority will be to pass an economic stimulus package. Asked if he had read a letter of congratulations from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama said he was "aware" of the note and would review it and respond appropriately. He stressed that until countries like Iran stopped their development of nuclear weapons, he would not send low-level envoys to see if a presidential-level visit was appropriate.
While the appointment of Emanuel came swiftly, Obama said he wanted to move with deliberate haste to fill out his cabinet. As for the preparations he's taking to move into the White House, Obama said he's spoken to all of the living ex-presidents for advice, re-read some of Abraham Lincoln's writings and has gotten a pledge of help from President Bush to make the transfer of power smooth and uninterrupted.
Of course, one reporter could not help bringing up the one topic that has become a laughably major talking point for media around the country and the world: the first dog, which Obama promised to his daughters in his victory speech. The conversation, however, provided one of the first great lines of Obama's nascent presidency.
In addition to saying that the dog had to be hypoallergenic, because daughter Malia has allergies, Obama said "our preference is to get a shelter dog. But obviously a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me, so whether we're going to be able to balance those two things is a pressing issue in the Obama household."