Obama: Quick Action Needed On Economy
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.