Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Security, economy are priorities, Obama tells CBS

In this undated photo released by CBS, President-elect Barack Obama and Michelle Obama speak with CBS' 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft. - AP pic

WASHINGTON, Nov 17 - President-elect Barack Obama said that selecting his national security team is a top priority.

“I think it’s important to get a national security team in place because transition periods are potentially times of vulnerability to a terrorist attack,” Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview broadcast Sunday. “We want to make sure that there is as seamless a transition on national security as possible.”

In his first television interview since his historic election, Obama said he has spent the days since the election from doing “whatever it takes” to stabilise the economy, restore consumer confidence and create jobs to getting sound health care and energy policies through Congress.

The president-elect also said that as soon as he takes office he will work with his security team and the military to draw down US troops in Iraq, shore up Afghanistan and “stamp out Al-Qaeda once and for all.”

While investors are still riding a rollercoaster on Wall Street, Obama said the economy would have deteriorated even more without the $700 billion bank bailout. Re-regulation is a legislative priority, he said, not to crush “the entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking of American capitalism” but to “restore a sense of balance.”

“There’s no doubt that we have not been able yet to reset the confidence in the financial markets and in the consumer markets and among businesses that allow the economy to move forward in a strong way,” Obama said. “And my job as president is going to be to make sure that we restore that confidence.”

Obama comes to the Oval Office with an ambitious list of campaign promises that will require Capitol Hill’s cooperation and approval, and the team he has been announcing in recent days is heavy on the legislative experience that Obama is lacking.

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

During the campaign, Obama had Pete Rouse as his Senate chief of staff to take care of his business on Capitol Hill. On Sunday, Obama named Rouse to be a senior adviser in his White House. 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 Sen. Dick Durbin.

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

The new chief of staff, Rep. 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.

Obama has picked Mona Sutphen and Jim Messina as his deputy chiefs of staff. Like Rouse, Messina has served as chief of staff for three different lawmakers and has a vast network of relationships to show for it that he can tap on Obama’s behalf.

Philip Schiliro, who has more than 25 years experience working for Congress, is Obama’s liaison to Capitol Hill.

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

In the CBS interview, Obama also said Americans shouldn’t worry about the federal deficit for the next couple of years.

“The most important thing is that we avoid a deepening recession,” he said.

He said there hadn’t been enough done to address the plight of homeowners facing foreclosure.

“We’ve gotta set up a negotiation between banks and borrowers so that people can stay in their homes,” Obama said.

The president-elect also urged help for the auto industry.

Obama also confirmed reports that he intends to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, and “make sure we don’t torture” as “part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

Obama also said he plans to put Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the crosshairs.

“I think capturing or killing bin Laden is a critical aspect of stamping out Al-Qaeda,” Obama said. “He is not just a symbol, he’s also the operational leader of an organisation that is planning attacks against US targets.” - AP

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