Obama Reveals More On Economic Team

President-elect Barack Obama says he's blending "experience with fresh thinking" in his Cabinet and White House. Wednesday, he named members of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. NPR News Analyst Juan Williams talks with Steve Inskeep about whether Obama is just recycling officials from previous administrations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next we're going to ask what we can learn from the appointments so far by President-elect Barack Obama. Mr. Obama held his third news conference in as many days yesterday, and he introduced a new economic advisory board - a group he's organizing, he says, to give him a perspective independent of his Cabinet. The president-elect phrased it as a way to draw fresh ideas into government thinking from the world of business and academia.

(Soundbite of news conference)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: The reality is that sometimes policymaking in Washington can become a little bit too ingrown, a little bit too insular. The walls of the echo chamber can sometimes keep out fresh voices and new ways of thinking.

INSKEEP: But as he tried to get in fresh voices, the president-elect began with a voice with long experience in the echo chamber. Paul Volcker is the first appointment announced. He was chairman of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which may send a mixed message. At least that's the question we're going to ask NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Juan, good morning.

WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Paul Volcker. Timothy Geithner was already involved in the government. He's the choice for Treasury secretary, we believe. Larry Summers served both Presidents Reagan and Clinton. He's got a senior post coming. You might say this isn't an indication of change, or critics might anyway say that.

WILLIAMS: Well, in fact that's what they're saying. Change is not the theme of this birth phase of the Obama administration, Steve. On the economic front, on the national security front, I would say that these appointments have the left-wing bloggers out there fulminating while the right-wing bloggers are celebrating. You know, one former Obama supporter called the lack of new faces and especially the lack of liberal appointments - here I'm quoting - "extremely disappointing."

And it's interesting, by contrast, then you get the sort of conservative bloggers saying, you know, this is really the case of a moderate, centrist Democrat who campaigned in Southside Chicago left-wing clothing and came to office really as a different man than the one we're seeing as he approaches the presidency.

INSKEEP: So when he was campaigning, you had Republicans saying the man is a secret socialist or leaning in that direction.

WILLIAMS: Right.

INSKEEP: Now we have the opposite. We have people saying he's actually a secret centrist.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, and those are, you know - and the disappointment coming from the left, although it's not the case that the left is up in arms. I mean, clearly President-elect Obama still has a deep well of goodwill, and everybody understands the situation. But this is a very different man than the one we saw during the campaign.

INSKEEP: Well, now let me just ask, because the president-elect began by emphasizing that during this transition phase, in spite of all the drama in the country, there's only one president at a time. And he wasn't going to be making decisions or taking a big policy lead. He just could not. Has he been forced to change that in the last week or so as the economic news has grown grim?

WILLIAMS: Well, yeah. He said after the election, as you just pointed out, one president at a time. The new slogan, I would say, it comes again from an Obama press conference in which he said this week there's not a minute to waste and that he plans to hit the ground running when he has his inaugural celebration in Washington.

The Obama team is making the case that while there have been you know, you have major banks such as Citibank near collapse, where you have the automakers in severe trouble, where you have rising unemployment, falling consumer confidence, the continuing credit squeeze, it all adds up to the risk of an Obama presidency crashing on the launch pad.

This is very different in terms of American history. Think back to '32. You have a Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, refusing to meet with Republican Herbert Hoover on the economic crisis of that time. So to deal with this economic anxiety, the Obama team feels they've got to name familiar people. They've got to make a show of stability and experience.

President-elect Obama will meet with the governors Tuesday in Philadelphia. That looks like someone who's already in power. As you noted, he's had three press conferences this week. And he's pushing Congress to act now, before he's in office, on a new stimulus bill. Get acting by January 6, so he can be signing something in his first week in office.

INSKEEP: Stability and experience. Maybe that's the signal that the president-elect has been trying to send with these disappointing to some, but experienced people that he's put to the high economic positions.

WILLIAMS: That's right. And that's why, you know, some could call this, in harsh terms, bait or switch. But I think no one could have foreseen the conditions on the ground. In other words, he can say he's reacting to reality, a crisis that few would have seen a year ago during the primaries or for much of the general election. So, you know, so far he's saying, and giving all indications, he will keep the Bush tax cuts for high earners and spend on a second stimulus package, Steve.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Analysis this morning from NPR's Juan Williams.

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