Holding his first post-election news conference, Barack Obama said quick action is needed to deal with "the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime." Speaking in Chicago, he said that the passage of an economic stimulus plan by Congress will be his No. 1 priority when he takes office in January.
"We are going to have to act swiftly," Obama said, but he reminded the public that President Bush is the president and is still making the decisions.
"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."
Flanked by American flags and financial advisers, Obama laid out several ways his transition team will begin to take charge of economic issues. He said his administration will fashion a rescue plan for the middle class and address the impact of the economic crisis on other sectors of the economy domestically and internationally.
He spoke of needing to "help the auto industry adjust" to the changing market.
"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead. ... It is not going to be quick. It is not going to be easy. ... I know we will succeed if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together as one nation."
There was anticipation in the air as Obama made his first public appearance since his victory speech on election night. And there was bad news: The unemployment rate is up to 6.5 percent — the highest level in 14 years — and 240,000 jobs were lost in October. This year more than 1 million Americans have joined the unemployment rolls.
Before the news conference, Obama met with a cadre of economic heavyweights, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; Lawrence Summers, a Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton; and billionaire Warren Buffett, who joined the summit by telephone.
Asked about a letter of congratulations from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama said that Iran's development of a nuclear weapon "is unacceptable." Obama said he wants "to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole." He added, "I am not the president and I won't be until Jan. 20."
Obama has been invited to meet with President Bush on Monday at the White House. "We are gratified by the invitation," Obama said. He plans to take a tour of his new home and engage in a substantive conversation with the current president.
Obama brushed off questions about Cabinet appointments, saying he was proud of his choices of vice president and chief of staff and wants to proceed with "deliberate haste" to assemble his administration. The important thing, he said, was "to get it right."
When a reporter stood with her arm in a sling, he asked her what happened. She said she hurt it running to hear his victory speech in Grant Park Tuesday night.
The news conference was short and not particularly deep, except concerning the economy. The president-elect appeared at ease, mixing humor with seriousness. He said he had spoken to all the living presidents but didn't want to get into "a Nancy Reagan thing" of using seances to speak to presidents of the past. He did add that he has been reading the writings of Abraham Lincoln for inspiration.
As for the White House dog, he told reporters that there were lots of considerations. One of his daughters has allergies. The dog "has to be hypoallergenic," Obama said. The family preference would be to get a dog from a humane shelter. But, he added, "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."
He said that he and his wife, Michelle, have not made a decision on which school or schools his daughters will attend in Washington.