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Obama: Top Priority Will Be Struggling US Economy

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President-elect Barack Obama has left little doubt that the struggling U.S. economy will be his number one priority when he takes office on January 20.  VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

On three consecutive days, Barack Obama held news conferences to announce members of his economic team, and to reassure the public that turning around the weakened economy was on the top of his presidential agenda.

"My first priority and my first job is to get us on the path of economic recovery, to create 2.5 million jobs and to provide relief to middle class families," he said.

Rutgers University political science professor Ross Baker says the president-elect's relentless focus on the economy is clearly by design.

"They may have initially planned to make their national security appointments first," he said. "But now it appears that they have moved the economic team to the head of the cue.  So I think that really is a measure to reassure the public because so much of the problem involved with the economic crisis is psychological."

Voters said the weak U.S. economy was the main issue in the presidential election, so Mr. Obama has little choice but to make economic revitalization his top priority, even before he is sworn in as president in January.

But Mr. Obama made many other promises during the campaign, including promises to address energy, health care reform and climate change.

Rutgers expert Ross Baker says action on some of those issues may have to wait.

"The agenda of the president-elect has really been set by the economic crisis," he said. "Any newly elected president would have to do deal with this and it is certainly affecting many of his plans.  I suspect that some of his efforts to curb greenhouse gases and so on may have to be set aside temporarily.  I think that certainly his proposals on national health insurance may have to be postponed."

Mr. Obama has moved quickly to put his economic team in place, as well as key members of his incoming White House staff.

That has not always been the case with presidential transitions.

For example, former President Bill Clinton got a late start on many of his appointments, and that caused him problems early in his first year as president.

"This incoming administration has done a wonderful job of studying the mistakes of the past and figuring out two things," said Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas. "One, how important it is to have your plan ready to go, to take advantage of this brief window of opportunity to hit the ground running.  The Obama team is now taking shape much earlier than either the Clinton or Carter teams did.  And it also means that you need to involve the opposition party early in the deliberations."

In the coming weeks, Mr. Obama is expected to announce his foreign policy and national security team, including some familiar faces.

The current Defense secretary, Robert Gates, is reportedly willing to stay on in the new administration.

Mr. Obama is also expected to name former Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Bruce Buchanan says the Clinton choice is Mr. Obama's most surprising so far.

"It is risky," he said. "It is a bold move by Obama to attempt to work with someone against whom he fought so vigorously so recently.  It's also a widely believed fact that the Clinton's represent not only great talent, but also great complexity and difficulty and ambitions of their own, and it's an open question whether Mrs. Clinton can subordinate herself to even a President Obama."

There are plenty of precedents for appointing former political opponents to the cabinet.

In 1824, President John Quincy Adams chose rival Henry Clay to be secretary of state.

Following the election of 1860, President Abraham Lincoln reached out to several former opponents and included them in his cabinet, a feat documented by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her 2005 book entitled 'Team of Rivals'.

It's a book Mr. Obama often cited during the 2008 campaign for the White House.  

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