President-elect Barack Obama on Monday sat down with the Republican rival he defeated less than two weeks ago, looking for ways they can work together and possibly eyeing Sen. John McCain for a role in his administration.
Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain began their meeting noon (EST), their first moments together since the Democrat won decisively Nov. 4 and the first face-to-face meeting since an Oct. 16 charity dinner following their final debate.
Before the men entered a room with three U.S. flags, Mr. Obama told reporters briefly his intentions for the sit-down with the Arizona Republican:”We’re going to have a good conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the country, and also to offer thanks to Sen. McCain for the outstanding service he’s already rendered.”
A reporter asked Mr. McCain if he would help Mr. Obama with his administration, prompting him to respond: “Obviously.”
The Obama transition team offered few details of the private meeting, which took place at the headquarters in Chicago, releasing the same statement three times: “It’s well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality.”
Following the meeting, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain released a joint statement. “At this defining moment in history, we believe that Americans of all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the bad habits of Washington so that we can solve the common and urgent challenges of our time,” the former rivals said in the statement. “It is in this spirit that we had a productive conversation today about the need to launch a new era of reform where we take on government waste and bitter partisanship in Washington in order to restore trust in government, and bring back prosperity and opportunity for every hardworking American family. We hope to work together in the days and months ahead on critical challenges like solving our financial crisis, creating a new energy economy, and protecting our nation’s security.”
Photographers were allowed to spend about 90 seconds in the room at the Kluczynski Federal Building where the Obama transition is located. Aides are likely to give a brief outline of the topics that came up for discussion following the meeting.
Also in the room were Obama chief of staff Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Mr. McCain’s close friend Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Those two men have worked together many times.
In his concession speech on Election Night, Mr. McCain, long known for his willingness to work with Democrats to enact major legislation, struck a tone of cooperation.
“I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face,” the Republican said.
There are several policy areas where Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain agree. Though they sometimes sparred over drilling and coal, the men have similar philosophies about the need to take action on climate change.
They also see eye-to-eye on the need for immigration reform, having similar voting records on the issue. Both supported a pathway to citizenship which earned Mr. McCain some ire from conservative Republicans who believe that is amnesty and rewarding illegal behavior.
Mr. Graham also was a key member of the team working on immigration matters.
Mr. McCain briefly mentioned immigration in his concession speech.
During a service forum at Columbia University in New York on Sept. 11, both men addressed the issue of embracing one another post-election.
Mr. McCain quickly answered a question that “Yes,” he would ask Mr. Obama to be a secretary of a new Cabinet post of national service were he to win.
Mr. Obama hedged on the same question, joking that he’d be willing to make a deal to give Mr. McCain the post if it meant he had won the presidency.
But he lauded his opponent that evening as well, honoring his military and legislative record as he did many times on the campaign trail.
“Senator McCain’s service is legendary. And one of the wonderful things about this campaign, I think, is his ability to share that story and himself inspire a whole generation of young people to model what he did for this country,” Mr. Obama said. “And so I think that one of the primary objectives of my presidency would be to lift up the opportunities for service in a bipartisan fashion so that we take it out of politics.”
Mr. Obama often talks about his appreciation for historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” about President Lincoln’s strategy of bringing his political enemies into his Cabinet. Mr. Obama’s comments have sparked renewed attention in the book, first published in 2005 but currently ranked No. 12 among bestselling books on Amazon.com.
In an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” which aired Sunday, Mr. Obama gave a bit of insight into his thinking on appointments, saying only his first Cabinet selection would be announced “soon.”
“I’ve been spending a lot of time reading Lincoln. There is a wisdom there and a humility about his approach to government, even before he was president, that I just find very helpful,” Mr. Obama told CBS’ Steve Kroft.
Mr. Kroft responded, “Put a lot of his political enemies in his cabinet,” prompting Mr. Obama to smile and say, “He did.”
“Is that something you’re considering?” Mr. Kroft asked, a question that could easily apply to Mr. McCain but also to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama’s primary rival who is being considered for a top post such as secretary of state.
“Well, I tell you what, I find him a very wise man,” Mr. Obama said.
Asked if Mrs. Clinton was on a “short list” for a Cabinet selection, Mr. Obama said his one-time opponent is “somebody who I needed advice and counsel from.”
“She is one of the most thoughtful public officials that we have. Beyond that, you’re not getting anything out of me Steve,” he said.
He also reiterated that he will appoint Republicans to his Cabinet.
In his concession speech, Mr. McCain noted that he believes many of the differences that surfaced during the campaign remain, but also urged his supporters to rally behind the president.
“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences, and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited,” he said.