Obama Hits The Ground Running
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. First, the facts of the matter. Barack Obama was elected president yesterday with 52 percent of the popular vote. John McCain had 46 percent. Of the 538 electoral votes at stake, Obama won at least 349. That doesn't count North Carolina's 15 electoral votes or Missouri's 11 because those states are still too close to call. Obama won all the states the Democrats won four years ago, plus Ohio, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa, Virginia, and Indiana.
BLOCK: In the races for the Senate and the House, Democrats did well, but not as well as some pre-election forecasts had suggested. They netted five more Senate seats. Four more Republican incumbents are in races too close to call. Those are in Oregon and Alaska, Minnesota, where there will be a recount, and in Georgia, which will hold a runoff election next month.
SIEGEL: In the House, the Democrats picked up a net gain of 19 seats, with about a half dozen more still undecided. That leaves them just shy of the majority that they had before the Republican landslide of 1994.
BLOCK: And a record voter turnout, though experts are still arguing about the number. One estimate has the turnout as high as 129 million. Another has 133 million. That's seven to 11 million more votes than 2004.
SIEGEL: So, what does all this portend? That's our question for our national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Mara, what does Barack Obama do now?
MARA LIASSON: He hits the ground running, and he did today. He named his transition team. John Podesta, who's a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, is going to run the transition team. Podesta learned what not to do in a transition from the worst transition ever. Books have actually been written about this. Bill Clinton's transition was famously chaotic and slow, and it wasn't until January 15th, five days before he was inaugurated, that he named his top White House officials.
But Obama, in his kind of characteristic deliberate fashion, has already been planning. He has offered the chief of staff position to Illinois congressman Rahm Emanuel. I'm told it's not a done deal yet, but if Emanuel does take the job, it would be pretty revealing about Obama.
He's a tough political operator. He's also a centrist, and when he was in the Clinton White House, he kind of famously ticked off some liberal Democrats because he pushed hard for welfare reform and free trade.
SIEGEL: Speaking of 1992 and the Clinton transition, Bill Clinton had similar majorities in the House and the Senate, and things didn't work out well for them. What's different this time?
LIASSON: No. He came in with 58 senators, about 259 Democrats in the House. The big difference is that Clinton was a minority president. He didn't get over 50 percent of the vote. Democrats in Congress weren't beholden to him the way they are with Obama.
These new senators and congressmen rode in on a wave that Obama helped to make bigger, so he's got a lot more clout and power than Clinton had with his own party. And also, Democrats don't assume, the way they did back in 1992, that their congressional majority was going to be forever. They spent 12 painful years in the wilderness as a minority.
SIEGEL: They'd had a glimpse of their mortality back then. How about the agenda of Democrats in Congress and Democrats in the new Obama White House? Are there - well, are they the same, or there are marked differences between the two?
LIASSON: We don't know yet. Certainly, there were no differences that Obama articulated during the campaign. But we do know that he's going to have to navigate between Democrats like Charlie Rangel, the very powerful House Ways and Means chairman, who says we should pass all these new spending programs, and don't ask me where we'll find the money, I'm going to get it where Paulson found it. Meaning, he's going to get it from the deficit by borrowing it.
SIEGEL: Right, right.
LIASSON: And on the other side, he'll have to answer to Blue Dog Democrats who apparently have gotten a commitment from Obama to abide by these pay-go rules. In other words, if you have a new spending program, you offset it with a tax increase or a spending cut. And we don't know how he's going to come out in that decision.
SIEGEL: And we'll be following such questions for many weeks to come. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
SIEGEL: NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.
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