Obama Gets Down To Business On First Day

President Barack Obama is freezing all pending federal rules changes left by the Bush administration. He also froze salaries for White House staffers who make more than $100,000 a year. And because of some bungled wording during Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony, Chief Justice John Roberts re-administered the oath to Obama Wednesday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. With Steve Inskeep, I'm Renee Montagne. President Barack Obama has inherited two wars and a recession, and that's why on his first full day in office he met with his military and economic advisors. Mr. Obama's day was a full one, and it was capped off by an encore of his swearing-in ceremony. Also today, he'll reportedly sign an order to close the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay. NPR's Scott Horsley has more.

SCOTT HORSLEY: From the Oval Office to the Situation Room, President Obama is settling in to his new role. He began his day with a few private moments in the Oval Office, reading the note left for him there by President Bush. Later, he met with his military advisors and directed them to do the additional planning needed for troop drawdown in Iraq. Mr. Obama also made phone calls to Middle Eastern leaders, stressing the U.S. commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab/Israeli peace. And he squeezed in an ecumenical prayer service where Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus stood side by side. Reverend Sharon Watkins delivered the sermon at the prayer service. She gave thanks for a new beginning in Washington, and she marveled at this week's inaugural celebrations.

(Soundbite of prayer service)

Reverend SHARON E. WATKINS (General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)): Dancing till dawn. What were you thinking?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Rev. WATKINS: There is still a lot of work to do, and today the nation turns its full attention to that work.

HORSLEY: The White House still has as transitional feel to it, with empty walls where pictures once hung and paper name tags identifying seat assignments. Welcoming senior staffers yesterday, Mr. Obama said he has confidence in them and that soon the American people will, too.

President BARACK OBAMA: What a moment we're in. What an opportunity we have to change this country. And for those of us who have been in public life before, you know, these kinds of moments come around just every so often. The American people are really counting on us now.

HORSLEY: Before a meeting with his economic advisors, Mr. Obama noted that many families are tightening their belts, and he said Washington should do the same. He signed an order freezing salaries for the highest paid White House staffers, and he ordered new limits on the revolving door between government and lobbying firms.

Pres. OBAMA: It's not about advantaging yourself. It's not about advancing your friends or your corporate clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization. Public service is simply and absolutely about advancing the interests of Americans.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama then watched as some of his top lieutenants were sworn in. During his own swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts had mixed up some of the words, leading some legal experts to question whether the oath was valid. Aides initially laughed off the suggestion, but then in what the White House counsel called an abundance of caution, they decided to get right. So, last night in the White House Map Room, the chief justice and the president recited the oath again. There was no Lincoln's Bible this time and no cheering crowd, only a handful of reporters and one handheld recording device to capture the event.

(Soundbite of swearing-in ceremony)

Chief Justice JOHN G. ROBERTS (U.S. Supreme Court): I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

Pres. OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

HORSLEY: This time, the two men stuck to the wording in the Constitution, and when they were finished the chief justice said, congratulations, again. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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Revelry Over, Obama Turns To Presidential Priorities

President Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office on Wednesday i i

President Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office on Wednesday, the first full day of his administration, in this handout photo from the White House. Pete Souza/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Pete Souza/Getty Images
President Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office on Wednesday

President Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office on Wednesday, the first full day of his administration, in this handout photo from the White House.

Pete Souza/Getty Images

Change Of Command

Full coverage of Tuesday's ceremony, parade and other festivities:

On his first full day as president, Barack Obama arrived in the Oval Office at 8:35 a.m. Wednesday and managed to spend 10 minutes alone with a letter that was left in his desk, the White House announced.

In that now-rare solitary moment, Obama read a note left to him by the office's most recent occupant. "To: #44," the envelope was marked,"From: #43."

The contents remain private, but the note no doubt included wishes of good luck as Obama shook off the revelry of Tuesday's inauguration and began to tackle the issues most likely to define his first hundred days: the reeling economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While out-of-towners struggled to hail taxis for the airport and workers broke down party tents and crowd-control fences, the new president and first lady Michelle Obama attended the final official inaugural event Wednesday: a prayer service at the National Cathedral. The president later had meetings scheduled with his economic and military advisers, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Obama placed phone calls Wednesday to the heads of state in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority "to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The Obamas also planned to host a White House open house.

During a televised meeting with his senior staff, Obama signed his first executive orders that institute new ethics rules, including a ban on gifts to staff and add restrictions on the revolving door between the White House and lobbying shops.

Obama also announced he would freeze the pay of about 100 senior staffers who now earn more than $100,000, and he pledged to comply with not only the letter but the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, which allows access to public records. He characterized the FOI Act as one of the most powerful instruments to hold government accountable.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," Obama told staff who had gathered in a briefing room in the Old Executive Office Building. He said that the new rules represent a "major break with business as usual."

"However long we are keepers of the public trust, we should never forget we are public servants," Obama said, cautioning staffers that they should not use their positions to seek favor for themselves, friends or corporate interests. His orders will prevent staffers who were lobbyists from working on matters or with agencies related to that lobbying, and he said that any staffer who leaves would not be allowed to lobby the Obama administration.

The president already has ordered a 120-day stop to pending war crimes trials at the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to allow him time to review how terror suspects should be handled. He is said to be considering reversing by Thursday some of former President Bush's executive orders.

And on Capitol Hill, the man Obama picked to help lead the nation out of its financial morass faced tough questions from some Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee about his failure to pay more than $34,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes when he served as a top official at the International Monetary Fund from 2001 to 2003.

Treasury Secretary-designee Timothy Geithner, now president of the New York Federal Reserve, told senators considering his nomination that he "should have been more careful." But he forcefully made his case for rapid action on a stimulus bill, or face risk of further economic damage.

Meanwhile, the House is planning to vote on setting conditions on the president's use of the just-released final $350 billion of the financial industry bailout money, and a Senate committee resumed its work on his economic stimulus package.

Obama is expected to preside over a swearing-in ceremony for seven Cabinet members confirmed Tuesday by the Senate. His pick for secretary of state, his former rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, is expected to get Senate confirmation later Wednesday.

A full plate, no doubt, with other troubling issues lurking, including the tenuous situation in Gaza.

In the opening prayer at Wednesday's national prayer service, the Rev. Otis Moss, senior pastor emeritus at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, invoked the quick passage of time and the need for action.

"Keep us aware of the fact that this is a fleeting moment," he said. "Help us to use it in such a way that we leave what we touch better than we found it."

Though he has four years stretching before him, Obama has no time to waste.

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