No Rest For Obama

President-elect Obama got down to business in Chicago this week. He chose Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff, got his first classified intelligence briefings and faced reporters for the first time since the election.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Joining us live in just a moment, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. But first, President-elect Obama got down to business in Chicago this week. He chose Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his White House chief of staff. He got his first classified intelligence briefing. And yesterday, he faced reporters for the first time since the election. Here's NPR's David Greene.

DAVID GREENE: That election night in Chicago was quite a scene.

(Soundbite of Barack Obama's acceptance speech, Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Yes, we can. Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

GREENE: After the cheering faded, Senator Obama remained in Chicago and for a couple days, held closed-door meetings with advisers and also intelligence officials. Then yesterday, his first news conference as president-elect.

(Soundbite of press conference)

President-elect OBAMA: Thank you very much everybody. Thank you very much. This morning, we woke up to more sobering news about the state of our economy.

GREENE: Specifically, a national unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, the highest in 14 years. The president-elect was backed by a row of economic advisers lined up in front of a row of American flags. He didn't reveal any new ideas for dealing with the crisis, but he did say he expected Congress to pass a new stimulus package, including an extension of unemployment benefits. The Bush administration has balked at this, saying it wants time for the $700 billion relief plan passed in October to kick in. Senator Obama said yesterday he knows he's not yet calling the shots.

(Soundbite of press conference)

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.

GREENE: The struggling U.S. economy is forcing Senator Obama into an awkward dance. He criticized President Bush's handling of the economy during the campaign, but now as president-elect, he has to try and make the transition smooth and at times work as a partner with President Bush to give Americans confidence in the economy. The president-elect said he looks forward to meeting with President Bush at the White House on Monday.

(Soundbite of press conference)

President-elect OBAMA: I'm not going to anticipate problems. I'm going to go in there with a spirit of bipartisanship and a sense that both the president and various leaders in Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done.

GREENE: There were some lighter moments yesterday, like when Senator Obama was asked about the White House puppy he's promised his daughters. The senator said planning for that has been a struggle. His older daughter, Malia, has allergies, so on one hand they want a solid breed that's hypoallergenic.

President-elect OBAMA: On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog. But obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.

GREENE: Senator Obama took questions for just under 15 minutes. No word on when he'll face reporters again. David Greene, NPR News, Chicago.

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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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