On Friday President-elect Barack Obama held his first news conference since winning the presidential election on Tuesday. The news conference was held in the Chicago Hilton, across from Grant Park, in a room set with a stage that had American flags as the backdrop. With his economic advisers standing behind him, newly named chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to his right, and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden to his left, Obama addressed a contingent of journalists representing news organizations from around the world. His first news conference was framed by a report earlier in the day from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the nation’s economy shed 240,000 jobs last month and unemployment has hit 6.5 percent.
The president-elect spoke in mostly somber tones about the dire economic conditions facing the nation. Mr. Obama said, ““Some of the choices that we make are going to be difficult. And I have said before and I will repeat again: It is not going to be quick and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in.” He made clear that his first priority was to address the economy and reiterated his support for Congress to enact a second stimulus package when it returns for a lame duck session on November 17. President-elect Obama aid that if Congress failed to act, he would make passing a stimulus package the first priority of his administration once he takes office on January 20.
Mr. Obama also said it was an “urgent priority” to extend unemployment insurance benefits for workers who were facing long term separation from the labor market. An extension had been part of the debate over the initial stimulus package but the Democratic leadership in Congress could not overcome Republican opposition. The president-elect also indicated he is prepared to support states and localities that are drowning in debt. Over the last month several states, including New York and California, appealed to the White House for emergency relief as they faced the prospect of deep cuts in services and programs. Many states are looking for any way to stop the hemorrhaging, including raising taxes and fees; a move that ultimately backfires as residents are put at further financial risk.
In a bold move, President-elect Obama announced it was his intention to aid the automobile industry. He invited Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to join his economic advisory team as Detroit automakers have been sending strong signals that the American automobile industry is on the verge of imminent collapse.
In response to a reporter’s question about how differences would be handled with the Bush administration, President-elect Obama said he would defer to the administration as the country only has one president and that message needs to be made clear to the world. He reiterated that point when responding to a reporter’s inquiry as to whether he had responded to a congratulatory letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. President-elect Obama indicated he was aware of the letter but was weighing carefully his response. He did offer a forceful repudiation of Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons and said it would be unacceptable, and that an international effort should be mounted to prevent such an occurrence. Mr. Obama indicated that President Bush had extended an invitation to his family to visit the White House and he expected to have a substantive conversation with Mr. Bush on a number of issues.
Despite the serious tone of the news conference, the president-elect appeared relaxed and joked with reporters on several occasions. When he called upon a local journalist, Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, and noticed her arm was in a sling, he asked what had happened. When Sweet replied that she had injured her shoulder en route to Obama’s victory celebration in Grant Park, President-elect Obama smiled and said, “I think that was the only major incident during the entire Grant Park celebration.”