US president-elect Barack Obama promised new leadership in a troubled world, announcing a strong-willed national security team headed by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who fought him long and bitterly for the presidency, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the man who has been running two wars for US President George W. Bush.
With the announcements on Monday, Obama has finished naming the highest profile members of his administration seven weeks before taking office.
Yesterday, Obama was turning his attention back to the troubled US economy by meeting with the nation’s governors who are seeking at least US$40 billion to help pay for healthcare for the poor and disabled and even more for infrastructure projects like road and bridge repair.
The meeting in Philadelphia came as Obama and Democrats controlling Congress are fashioning economic recovery legislation that could cost around US$500 billion. The measure is virtually certain to contain help for states struggling with slumping revenues and difficult budget cuts as the recession deepens.
Democratic lawmakers hope to have the stimulus package ready for Obama’s signature as soon as he takes office on Jan. 20.
Obama won praise on Monday from Republicans as well as his fellow Democrats for his choices for his national security team who are seen as pragmatic, rather than ideological. But his picks have prompted questions about whether a Cabinet dominated by Washington veterans can deliver the overhaul of government Obama had promised as a candidate.
The president-elect said he had not changed his mind about bringing most US combat troops home from Iraq within 16 months, but added a cautionary note — he would consult with his military commanders first.
While his new team may be more centrist than many Obama supporters might prefer, he said the withdrawal timetable he emphasized in the presidential campaign is still “the right time frame.”
At a Chicago news conference, Obama also tapped top advisers Eric Holder as attorney general and Susan Rice as ambassador to the UN. He named Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to be homeland security secretary and retired Marine General James Jones as White House national security adviser.
Denouncing White House “group think,” Obama signaled a break from Bush’s tendency toward an insular management style and go-with-the-gut diplomacy.
“The time has come for a new beginning,” said Obama, flanked by flags on a stage with vice president-elect Joe Biden and his six newest appointees.
Obama has now selected half his Cabinet, including the high-profile jobs at State, Defense, Justice and Treasury. A week ago, he named his economic team, led by Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary. And soon he plans to announce New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as commerce secretary and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as health and human services secretary.
“I assembled this team because I’m a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions,” he said. “I think that’s how the best decisions are made ... So I’m going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House.”
“But understand I will be setting policy as president,” he added.
He said he will be responsible for “the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made.”