Archive for the ‘transition’ Category

Day One: White House Press Office in “General Confusion”

January 21, 2009

Disorderly is an understatement to describe the White House press office, where phones are not working and staff names are misspelled on their office doors and desks.

Misspelled name cards, re-programmed phones, mounds of paperwork and general confusion ruled the day as President Obama’s press aides gamely navigated their first day on the job Wednesday.

Each found a standard sheet of white paper indicating their desk or office location. The tags had their names printed in black bold letters in the White House lower press office. Three press aides found their names misspelled, three found their names in order. The ones whose names were spelled correctly: Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton and two one of his top assistants, Josh Earnest and Nick Shapiro.

But others who speak for the president found glaring mistakes. Deputy Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s name was spelled Jan’ (she joked it read as Yan). Tommy Vietor’s name came out Tommy Yietor. And Ben LaBolt was transformed to Ben Lebolt.

Also, Burton found his phone had been reprogrammed since Tuesday and he was thus unable to call Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, whose office is located just feet away. For most of the morning, Burton could not make an out-going call of any kind. 

The first incoming call he received arrived about 11 a.m. It was from Michelle Obama’s Press Secretary Katie McCormick Lelyveld. She was checking on whether the White House was confirming whether the Jonas Brothers had surprised first daughters Malia and Sasha at the completion of their White House scavenger hunt on inauguration night. The problem: that news had already gotten out.

Almost everyone in the press shop was without a computer login and some encountered delays trying to the enter the White House grounds. Things were so chaotic the first full schedule of the president’s activities didn’t come out until 12:05 p.m. And there was no briefing from Gibbs. That won’t happen until Thursday, by which time the phones, computers and the day’s schedule will be in order by sunrise instead of the lunch hour.

No Drama Obama Running Too Fast? Nominees Not Properly Vetted?

January 14, 2009

At the end of a nearly seamless transition, President-elect Barack Obama has been buffeted by a string of embarrassing jolts within the space of two weeks.

The disclosure Tuesday that his choice for treasury secretary, New York Federal Reserve chief Timothy Geithner, failed to pay $34,000 in taxes and employed a housekeeper without proper immigration papers was another jarring distraction just days before Obama’s inauguration — and raises fresh questions about his team’s judgment, vetting procedures and political sensitivities.

By TOM RAUM, Associated Press Writer

It follows New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson‘s sudden withdrawal on Jan. 4 from consideration as commerce secretary, citing a federal investigation into how his political donors landed a lucrative transportation contract.

Senate Democratic leaders and Obama transition officials immediately voiced confidence in Geithner and called for his quick confirmation ….

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Obama Gets an “F” on Transition Openness, Transparency

December 29, 2008

The Obama team, pledging the ”most open and transparent transition in history,” gets and ”A” for disclosing donors to the Jan. 20 inauguration and a ”F” when it comes to revealing transition meetings with groups. Contrary to its own ”seat at the table transparency policy,” meetings are not posted on a Web site.

From Lynn Sweet
Chicago Sun-Times

I’m giving a ”B” to the Obama transition report on staff contacts with Gov. Blagojevich. The report was a summary narrative released last week of an internal inquiry into Gov. Blagojevich’s selling-of-a-Senate seat scandal. While the Obama team deserves credit for disclosure — including that President-elect Barack Obama and incoming White House staffers Valerie Jarrett and Rahm Emanuel met with federal prosecutors — offering some notes or transcripts to support the conclusions would have been helpful.

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Biden Chairing Economic Transition Meeting

December 23, 2008

Vice President-elect Joe Biden is on center stage today as his boss is at a much deserved rest in Hawaii….   Biden is chairing an economic transition team meeting….Biden is now defining his role day by day….

Vice President-elect Joe Biden, right, listens as President-elect ... 
Vice President-elect Joe Biden, right, listens as President-elect Barack Obama’s National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers, left, speaks during a meeting in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


Vice President-elect Joe Biden will chair a meeting of the presidential transition team’s top economic advisers on Tuesday, as the incoming administration tries to craft and sell an expected $775 billion economic recovery package to Congress, CNN learned.

By Ed Henry at CNN
Two Democratic officials told CNN the meeting at the Washington transition headquarters will include Lawrence Summers, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to chair the National Economic Council — a key policymaking arm within the White House that will formulate the new administration’s financial crisis response.

Biden’s prominent position as chair suggests he will take a leading role in trying to pass the stimulus package. His low profile in recent days had sparked speculation he would be sidelined in the new administration, especially since his strongest asset — foreign policy — will be largely handled by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton.

During the presidential campaign, Biden said he was not seeking any specific task, and would not cut as wide a swath as Vice President Dick Cheney. During a debate, Biden said he would focus as vice president on using his four decades of U.S. Senate experience to help Obama move legislation through Congress.

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 Obama: “Arbiter in Chief”

Illinois Gov. Blagojevich Corruption Could Still Touch Obama, Emanuel

December 20, 2008

Gov. Rod Blagojevich is legendary in Illinois political circles for not picking up the phone or returning calls, even from important figures like the state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin.

But there was always one call Blagojevich regularly took, say his aides, and that was from Rahm Emanuel — his congressman, his one-time campaign adviser and, more recently — and troubling for Emanuel — one of his contacts with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition staff.

The friendly rapport Blagojevich and Emanuel shared over the years has suddenly become a troubling liability for Emanuel and the new president he will serve as chief of staff.

Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich makes his first substantial public ...
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich makes his first substantial public comments since his arrest last week on federal corruption charges at the State of Illinois Building Friday, Dec. 19, 2008 in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Emanuel and Obama have remained silent about what, if anything, Emanuel knew of the governor’s alleged efforts to peddle Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Emanuel did contact the governor’s office about the appointment, and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn’t have to compete with her in the White House for Obama’s attention, said a source close to Blagojevich. The source requested anonymity because the person were not authorized to talk about the governor’s discussions regarding the vacancy.

It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel’s motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor’s then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, according to the source.

Emanuel’s refusal to discuss the matter publicly, and the few comments offered by Obama to date, have prompted questions about Emanuel’s ties to Blagojevich and what fallout he’ll face as the criminal case unfolds, although sources have said he is not a target of prosecutors. Even so, any hint of scandal for Emanuel threatens to tarnish Obama’s promise of new political leadership free of scandal and corruption.

Obama has said he will release a full accounting of his transition staff’s interaction with Blagojevich and his aides over his Senate replacement once he receives the OK from prosecutors sometime this week. Until then, Obama has said it would be inappropriate for him or his aides to comment further.

Prosecutors refer in the 76-page complaint to the governor’s discussions on FBI tapes about a ”president-elect advisor,” believed to be Emanuel, but they do not specifically cite contacts with Emanuel or anyone on Obama’s transition staff.

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U.S. Defense Secretary In Afghanistan, Promises More Troops

December 11, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Wednesday that the Pentagon, which plans to send 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, was trying to get thousands of the additional combat forces into the country as soon as next summer, a sign of the seriousness of the threat facing the United States against the Taliban.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates listens during a meeting ... 
Mr. Gates.

The soldiers were requested by Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan. The first of them, about 3,500 to 4,000 troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., are scheduled to arrive next month.

Mr. Gates said he hoped to deploy an additional two combat brigades in Afghanistan by the summer as part of an effort to combat growing violence and chaos in the country. He declined to name the specific units. Pentagon officials have said it would take 12 to 18 months overall to get all 20,000 American troops to Afghanistan.

The reinforcements will increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan to about 58,000 from the current level of 34,000. Mr. Gates said that the planned drawdown of some soldiers from Iraq in January had enabled the military to begin sending additional forces to Afghanistan.

By Elisabeth Bumiller 
The New York Times

Mr. Gates made his remarks to reporters on his plane en route to Kandahar, where he arrived on Thursday to meet with General McKiernan. Later in the day, Mr. Gates is to answer questions from American forces in Kandahar at a town-hall-style meeting, his first experience with such a format.

President-elect Barack Obama vowed repeatedly during the campaign to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, which he declared the central front in the war against terrorism. His call for more troops here was consistent with the views of top commanders, although Mr. Gates, who is staying on as Mr. Obama’s Defense Secretary, made clear that the new administration’s military policy in Afghanistan is far from settled.

“But I have not heard anybody talking about forces beyond those that General McKiernan has already requested,” said Mr. Gates, who has been in recent conversations with Mr. Obama and in meetings with the president-elect’s transition team. “And I think that’s a discussion that the new administration will have as we look to the future.”

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