Barack Obama was long on style and short on substance today as he hosted his first press conference as president-elect, as perhaps was appropriate. He reminded the audience that George Bush is still president, but signaled to Americans that his administration will not want for talent or diversity by appearing with a bevy of top drawer financial figures. The members of his Transition Economic Advisory Board who joined him on the stage included, among others, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, and business leaders such as Eric Schmidt of Google, Dick Parsons of Time Warner and Anne Mulcahy of Xerox.
By Liz Peek
US President-elect Barack Obama (C) speaks to the press in Chicago. Obama on Friday said he would act “swiftly” as soon as he takes office to confront the economic crisis head on, during his first news conference since his historic election.(AFP/Stan Honda)
He appeared at first to disappoint investors who may have been hoping that Obama would announce a sterling choice for the key post of Treasury Secretary, or would somehow produce a rabbit out of his hat that would guarantee an economic recovery. The stock market averages were ahead strongly as Obama took the podium, but drew back as he delivered tempered remarks about his programs to help out the middle class and boost growth. As the day came to an end, however, the market came back to post a 2.8% gain.
Not only did he speak against an impressive backdrop of well known financial figures, he also spoke against a backdrop of sobering economic news, including word today that the U.S. lost another 240,000 jobs in October, leading to a year-to-date drop of nearly 1.2 million.
Responding to the worsening employment picture, Mr. Obama outlined his top priorities.
His first aim appears to be the passage of a stimulus program, which he described as “long overdue” and which he suggested would be his top goal as president in the event that the plan does not get passed by the lame duck Congress. He emphasized the need to extend unemployment benefits, aid homeowners, help small businesses navigate the financial crisis, and assist hard-pressed states and local governments. Doubtless mindful of the miserable earnings results and dire cash flow projections reported earlier in the day by General Motors and Ford, Obama also singled out the auto industry as needing assistance –- advocating specifically funding for retooling for the industry as well as considering other possible options.
Otherwise, Obama reached back into his campaign quiver to talk about long-term areas of focus such as clean energy, universal health care, improved education and tax relief for middle class families. He said his team would work to stabilize markets, help homeowners and oversee the implementation of the financial bailout package “without unduly rewarding” managements of those companies receiving assistance.
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