- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The financial crisis has forced Barack Obama” href=”/themes/?Theme=Barack+Obama” >President-elect Barack Obama to begin governing sooner than he’d otherwise hoped, giving him at least part ownership of the issue and putting him at odds with his pledge two weeks ago not to impinge on President Bush’s final two months in office.

But even Republicans said there’s a big upside for Mr. Obama: As the crisis abates, he’ll be able to say he was there from the beginning and can take credit - deserved or not - when the economy finally improves.

“He’s going to get credit for something that’s already going to happen anyway,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who added it’s “totally appropriate” for Mr. Obama to step in and help calm the markets. “Confidence is what’s needed in the market. The more he speaks, the more confident we get, so I think that’s a good thing.”

After an initial postelection press conference and a White House meeting with Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama had kept a low profile, remaining in Chicago, where he interviewed potential administration hires. But as the markets spiraled downward last week, news leaked that Mr. Obama would tap Timothy F. Geithner to be Treasury secretary - a move that helped boost the Dow Jones Industrial Average that afternoon by nearly 500 points.

This week, Mr. Obama has taken an active role, holding brief, attention-grabbing press conferences on Monday and Tuesday and scheduling another for Wednesday, all on the economy. He said Tuesday he understands why there are questions about his involvement, having said two weeks ago there would only be one president at a time.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances that we find ourselves in, however, I think it is very important for the American people to understand that we are putting together a first-class team and for them to have clarity that we don’t intend to stumble into the next administration,” Mr. Obama said.

There is risk in Mr. Obama getting involved - if the economy doesn’t improve soon, the doldrums could begin to affect his own popularity. But Mr. Obama was going to own the crisis Jan. 20 anyway, so the early involvement makes sense.

Presidents have two major powers: the ability to hire and fire a team, and to push Congress for action. In the last week, Mr. Obama has exercised both prerogatives, announcing his hires and demanding Congress act on a spending bill to stimulate the economy.

Still, the president-elect has been short on specifics, declining to commit to a dollar figure for the spending bill.

Instead, his moves have been designed to calm market fears, and the team he’s announced - on Tuesday, he tapped two Capitol Hill figures, Peter Orszag to be his budget director and Rob Nabors to be deputy budget director - has won praise from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said the names have helped ease his worries over Mr. Obama, while other Republicans said Mr. Obama’s stated commitment to spending cuts provides ground for bipartisanship.

Both Mr. Obama and the White House said there hasn’t been any friction - and indeed, said there’s been close cooperation.

“We are working hand-in-glove with them,” White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, adding that the administration and the transition team are “talking all the time.”

An Obama transition official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the relationship is good and that “they notify us in advance of major decisions.”

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