CHICAGO: After the euphoria of
his historic election win Barack Obama got down Thursday to
choosing a presidential team that faces a mountain of problems,
not least the economic crisis and wars in Iraq and
The Democrat dodged the limelight after being elected
America's first black president, but behind-the-scenes activity
picked up with the formal creation of a team to handle his
transition to power ahead of the January 20 inauguration.
In an immediate reminder of the mammoth task ahead, the
Dow Jones share average plummeted nearly 500 points Wednesday
on resurgent fears of a deep recession. This was followed by
large sell-offs and a raft of negative financial data in Asia and Europe.
Democrats said Obama had asked combative congressman
and former Clinton White House aide Rahm Emanuel, 48, to be his
chief of staff, a vital post that helps set the tempo of the administration.
While Bill Clinton, the last Democrat in the White House,
took weeks to announce his cabinet, Obama does not have the luxury
of time as more than a trillion dollars is dispensed to bail out Wall Street.
Obama has hinted at possible names to take over as treasury secretary.
He noted to CNN last week that his economic advisers include
Clinton's last treasury secretary Larry Summers, 53, as well
as former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, 81; and mega-rich investor Warren Buffett, 78.
Another name being mentioned in the media for Obama's economic
overseer is Timothy Geithner, 47, who as president of the New
York Federal Reserve has been in charge of executing the US
central bank's sudden explosion of market activity.
Obama made note of the acute set of challenges he faces
in his victory speech late Tuesday before 240,000 people in
Chicago and millions more watching at home in the United States and around the world.
“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,” he said.
“But America — I have never been more hopeful than I am
tonight that we will get there. I promise you — we as a people will get there.”
Obama, a 47-year-old Illinois senator, crushed
Republican John McCain, 72, with an inspirational message of hope and change.
But now the hard part begins as he confronts the
stricken economy along with his promises to reduced troop levels in
Iraq and make a success of Afghanistan.
Names floating in the media as possible secretaries
of defense include current Pentagon chief Robert Gates — who
Obama has praised — as well as the retiring senator for
Nebraska Chuck Hagel, another Republican.
Also seen as in the running are Richard Danzig, navy
secretary under Bill Clinton and an Obama adviser during the
campaign, and George W. Bush's former secretary of state Colin Powell.
While his aides made no announcements of any briefings
for Thursday, Obama cannot stay silent for too long as both Wall
Street and voters suffering from the financial crisis look to
their next president for reassurance and guidance.
A day after triggering a political earthquake not seen since Ronald
Reagan's 1980 landslide, Obama named key figures of the transition team that
will spend the next 75 days preparing for his inauguration and presidency
The transition office in Washington will be run by co-chairs
John Podesta, a former chief of staff to Clinton; Pete Rouse,
who was Obama's Senate chief of staff; and the Democrat's close friend Valerie Jarrett.
Their job will be to vet cabinet nominees and prepare the vital first
political moves of the new administration.
Bush offered generous praise to his successor and pledged
his “complete cooperation” during the transition period. He
invited the Obamas to the White House at their earliest convenience.
In another sign of the changing of the guard, Michelle Obama spoke by
telephone with First Lady Laura Bush, who offered her own invitation.
CIA director Mike Hayden also said the US intelligence
agency would begin sharing classified information with Obama.
The incoming president has promised to renew bruised ties with
US allies, and to engage some of the nation's fiercest foes such as
Iran and North Korea.
He has vowed to tackle climate change, cut taxes for 95
percent of working Americans, and guarantee near-universal health care
at a time when many thousands are losing their insurance as their jobs disappear.
Many observers think he will have his work cut out to
honour those pledges given the ongoing wars that need financing as
well as the dire state of the US economy with all the bailout measures that need financing.
Top Obama advisers will attend a White House summit being
convened by Bush on November 15, as 20 world leaders thrash out
a response to the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression.