Obama: Quick Action Needed On Economy

President-elect Barack Obama has said the country is facing a major economic crisis and swift action is needed to resolve it. Obama made his comments in Chicago at his first news conference since his election victory Tuesday.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Another first for Barack Obama today.

President-Elect BARACK OBAMA (United States of America): Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Flanked by a crowd of economic advisers and by his Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Mr. Obama held his first news conference since winning the presidency. It was a short briefing, just 19 minutes long. President-elect Obama opened with a statement noting the day's news about job losses and calling for a rescue plan for the middle class. And Mr. Obama then said a fiscal stimulus plan is long over due.

President-Elect OBAMA: I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later. If it does not get done in the lame duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as President of the United States.

SIEGEL: Mr. Obama's tone was mostly serious, but when he took questions he did brighten up briefly. When asked if he had spoken with any ex-presidents to prep for his new job, for example.

President-Elect OBAMA: I have spoken to all of them that are living, obviously President Clinton. I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President-Elect OBAMA: You know, doing any séances. I have reread some of Lincoln's writings, who's always an extraordinary inspiration. And by the way, President Carter, President Bush, Sr., as well as the current president have all been very gracious and offered to provide any help that they can.

SIEGEL: Well, NPR's David Greene is in Chicago covering the transition and he joins us now. David, well, comments about Nancy Reagan aside, what was the main message that the president-elect wanted to convey?

DAVID GREENE: All the economy, that was really the focus of the day and I think that's the way the Obama team wanted it. You know, this day could have had a lot of headlines, the historic nature of you, know, the nation's first president-elect - the black president-elect, holding a news conference. But I think, Obama - Mr. Obama's and his advisers wanted to send a message that if there's going to be more basking in history, maybe save that for inauguration day. And on - you know, a day when there's been a lot more troubling news about the economy they wanted to make sure that he came across this very, very focused on that.

SIEGEL: An economic stimulus package could be taken up by the lame duck session of Congress. Is there any sense that Mr. Obama will be trying to push or shape that package, that is, before inauguration day, before he's actually president.

GREENE: I think he'd like to. And I think a lot of Democrats in Congress would like that as well. But I think they're facing the reality of perhaps some resistance from the Bush administration. You know, Carlos Gutierrez, the commerce secretary was interviewed today on Fox News and he was very cool to the idea of a new stimulus, saying that the $700 billion rescue plan that the Bush administration has intact should be given some time to work. And so I think that's why you heard today Mr. Obama drawing back a little bit on his plans and sort of making sure expectations are where he wants them to be. Saying that if he can't get something done in a lame duck session, you know, it will be the first action once he becomes president.

SIEGEL: Mr. Obama was asked what he might be learning from intelligence briefings that he's been receiving. Did he suggest that he might be seeing other parts of the world differently as a result?

GREENE: He didn't really want to go there. I mean, he said, he can't really talk about the intelligence he's received. And you know, he had one of these presidential daily briefs that's going to be part of his daily routine now. And President Bush often talked about how sobering that news was every morning, about the threats around the world. The subject of Iran did come up, and Mr. Obama talked about the letter he received from Iran's president, Ahmadinejad, congratulating him. And you know, this was a big topic during the campaign. John McCain sort of mocked Mr. Obama, saying that he wanted to sit down with the leaders of rogue nations. And it was interesting, that was never Mr. Obama's position during the campaign. He did say that he would never sit down with leaders of nations like Iran with no preconditions whatsoever. But how he dealt with it today - so carefully, now that he knows, you know, he's going to be the president saying that he'll respond appropriately to that letter dealing with Iran. It's not something that should be done in knee-jerk fashion. You want to think it through and he reiterated again that he is not the president right now. So, he does not want to send any mix signals to the world.

SIEGEL: We should supply a bit of a visual here. Mr. Obama spoke and behind him there were even more economic advisers than there were American flags.

GREENE: I think so. Incredible, wasn't it? And that that was really the message today. There were some lighter moments but I think they wanted to make sure that he was coming across as serious and doing something very presidential. Having that large group - gaggle of advisers behind you to show that you're very serious and talking to a lot of people who are experts.

SIEGEL: And we should just note that this was not a case of the president-elect saying, I'll stand here and take all of your questions until all of your reporters are satisfied. This was a briefing that was brief.

GREENE: It was very brief, and I think if that's going to be the length of his news conference once he gets to the White House, you're going to start hearing those complaints come very quickly from that press core.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks. It's NPR's David Greene in Chicago.

GREEN: Always a pleasure.

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Obama Urges Swift Action To Stem Financial Crisis

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.

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