Obama talks about the challenges ahead

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McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.

President-elect Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he was assembling his national security team as quickly as possible because there potentially could be “times of vulnerability” to terrorist attacks during White House transition periods.

In a wide-ranging interview on the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” Obama also said that capturing or killing Osama bin Laden remained a “critical aspect” of the war on terrorism.

“He is not just a symbol,” Obama said. “He’s also the operational leader of an organization that is planning attacks against U.S. targets.”


Barack and Michelle Obama also reveled in achieving some level of normalcy again after the election, even as the president-elect confessed feeling a little overwhelmed as he prepared for the enormous challenges ahead.

“There are times, during the course of a given a day, where you think, ‘Where do I start?’ ” he said during a session taped Friday in Chicago at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

He said he had already felt, like other presidents before him, that “there is a certain loneliness to the job.”

Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are scheduled to meet today in Chicago. They are expected to be joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close friend to McCain, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Democrat selected to be Obama’s chief of staff.

Obama refused to be pinned down about when he would make his first Cabinet appointments, responding “soon.” He also said there would be Republicans in the Cabinet but declined to say whether he would appoint more than one.

On Sunday, Obama also formally resigned his Senate seat, sending a one-sentence letter to Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who will select a replacement to serve through the 2010 election.


The president-elect’s transition team also announced several new appointments.

Pete Rouse, a Capitol Hill veteran who ran Obama’s Senate office and helped craft the foundation for his White House bid, was named a senior advisor, and Mona Sutphen and Jim Messina were selected as deputy chiefs of staff.

The Associated Press reported that Obama was also expected to name Greg Craig, who was President Clinton’s impeachment lawyer, as White House counsel. In Obama’s debate practice sessions, Craig played the role of McCain.

Asked by CBS’ Steve Kroft whether he planned to put political enemies in his Cabinet, as Abraham Lincoln did, Obama responded by saying the first president from Illinois was a “very wise man.”

With the economy struggling, the president-elect said the nation had little choice but to boost government spending, something he said conservative and liberal economists agreed on.

“We have to do whatever it takes to get this economy moving again,” he said. “We’re going to have to spend money now to stimulate the economy.”

Besides Lincoln, Obama said he had been reading about the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office. He said he hoped his team could emulate that administration’s confidence and willingness to experiment.


The Obamas said the full realization of their new roles had yet to sink in. The president-elect, however, said he felt the historical significance on election night when his mother-in-law grabbed his hand and squeezed it.

“You had this sense of, well, what’s she thinking? For a black woman who grew up in the ‘50s, you know, in a segregated Chicago, to watch her daughter become first lady of the United States,” he said. “There was that sense across the country.”

Obama said he thought his victory revealed that race had been overcome as a stumbling block for most.

“It was a sign of the enormous progress that we’ve made in the core decency and generosity of the American people,” he said. “That felt good.”

The Obamas described a personal life that seemed more normal after the election than during the campaign.

“There seem to be more people hovering around me,” the president-elect said. “On the other hand, I’m sleeping in my own bed.”


Michelle Obama said she was looking forward to her husband having a “big office at home” at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“Now we get to be together under the one roof, having dinners together,” she said. “I envision the kids coming home from school and being able to run across the way to the Oval Office and see their dad before they start their homework. . . . And he’ll be there to tuck them in at night.”

She said the future first dog would not be part of the White House until late winter or early spring.

The interview ended on a question about creating a college football playoff system for the national championship, with Obama calling for three rounds and potentially three more weeks to the season.

“I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this,” he said. “I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it’s the right thing to do.”