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Initial Steps by Obama Suggest a Bipartisan Flair

Friday, November 28, 2008

Now back from the lighter side, let's try and determine what President-Elect Barack Obama has been doing during the past 3 weeks in an attempt to gain a bi-partisan Cabinet that will help him in critical decisions as President of the United States starting January 20th, 2009. Below is a reprint of an article found in the N.Y. Times by Jeff Deleny published on November 23, 2008. Here you will find the run-down on exactly what your next President has been doing to secure his Cabinet.

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Published: November 23, 2008

CHICAGO — In the third week of his transition to power, President-elect Barack Obama is working to build a cordial relationship with Republicans by seeking guidance on policy proposals, asking for advice on appointments and hoping to avoid perceptions of political arrogance given the wide margins of his victory.

Mr. Obama has made calls to Republican leaders, and he dispatched Rahm Emanuel, his new chief of staff, to meet with them on Capitol Hill. He asked Republicans to support his economic recovery plan and on Monday will name Timothy F. Geithner, who has worked with the Bush administration’s team, as his choice for Treasury secretary.

And while he has yet to name any Republicans to cabinet-level positions as pledged, he is strongly considering James L. Jones for national security adviser, a retired Marine general who appeared at a campaign event with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, earlier this year.

“I’d say, so far so good,” said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a member of the Republican leadership team. “If he follows through on that, he’ll find plenty of Republicans willing to help him.”

Mr. Alexander added, “It’s almost completely up to him.”

Mr. Obama has shied away from inserting himself in the still-to-be resolved Senate contests in Georgia and Minnesota. While he recorded a radio advertisement for the Democratic candidate in Georgia, advisers said he would not visit there, to avoid appearing to be too political as he works to deliver on his campaign pledge to bridge the partisan divide in Washington.

The bipartisan concessions have infuriated many liberal Democrats but offer a window into how Mr. Obama hopes to approach the presidency. The criticism from the left illustrated the challenges he faces as the symbolism of reaching out to Republicans gives way to disagreements over the Iraq war, taxes and a health care overhaul, particularly considering the size of the Democratic majorities in Congress and the pressures that will bring from his own party.

Mr. Obama has sent centrist and pragmatic signals by selecting Mr. Geithner as Treasury secretary and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York as secretary of state, while offering more traditionally liberal signs by delegating the health care overhaul to Tom Daschle, a former Senate Democratic leader.

But should Mr. Obama go forward with postponing the upper-income tax increase, as some advisers have recommended, it would be a powerful way of attracting Republican support on the economic package he outlined over the weekend.

Liberal activists lit up the blogosphere last week when Mr. Obama absolved Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and asked Democrats not to strip him of his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs despite Mr. Lieberman’s endorsement of Mr. McCain for president. Mr. Obama also drew ire from some partisans when he met with Mr. McCain and discussed potential Republican appointments to the cabinet.

Chris Bowers, who writes on the blog, complained that the foreign policy lineup was a center-right team. “I feel incredibly frustrated,” Mr. Bowers wrote last week. “Progressives are being entirely left out of Obama’s major appointments so far.”

It is hardly unusual for an incoming president to extend his hand to members of the opposing party. (Mr. Obama is spending a good bit of time, aides said, studying the approach of President Abraham Lincoln.) What is far more difficult, though, is sustaining the radiance of the bipartisan honeymoon, a difficulty President Bush encountered eight years ago after early signs of goodwill to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, in their pursuit of an education overhaul.

Mr. Obama’s challenge is no different — it is perhaps even more acute — as he works to straddle the partisan divide that has grown deeper over the last eight years. Advisers said he was well aware of the balancing act awaiting him, particularly as he worked to avoid disappointing or angering Democrats on the left, a constituency that was vital to his winning the party’s nomination.

“Even though the majorities are big, the challenges are of such a magnitude that we’re all inheriting, it’s going to require bipartisanship to solve,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview after completing a round of meetings with Congressional Republicans. “We’re not lip-synching bipartisanship here.”

Mr. Emanuel, who was formerly the No. 4 Democrat in the House and helped expand the party’s majority in Congress, signaled to Republicans that the president-elect wanted to work alongside them. He handed out his personal cellphone number, urging them to call at any hour if they needed to reach him, and he asked them to submit their ideas for the economic recovery plan and other issues of potential agreement.

Even when they were in the majority, Republicans were often frustrated with the Bush administration’s lack of outreach to Congress. They said Mr. Emanuel’s arrival on Capitol Hill less than three weeks after the election — though no breakthroughs were made on issues — sent a good preliminary message.

“I think the new administration is off to a good start,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky. “This is an opportunity to tackle big issues and to do them in the middle. And it would not be a good idea for the new administration, in my view, to go down a laundry list of left-wing proposals and try to jam them through the Congress.”

The bipartisan potential of the Obama administration will be easier to determine, Mr. McConnell and other Republicans said, when more cabinet appointments are known. Mr. Obama has pledged to nominate more than a token Republican to his cabinet, though positions are filling up quickly and only a handful of Republicans have been mentioned.

One sign of Mr. Obama’s commitment to bipartisanship, several Republicans said, will be whether he keeps Robert M. Gates on as defense secretary. Democrats familiar with the Obama transition said Mr. Gates was among contenders for the post. The selection is not scheduled to be announced until after Thanksgiving.

“From the point of view of most members of the Senate, that would be a welcome appointment,” said Mr. Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. “It would show that the president-elect is thinking more broadly and bipartisan than just a narrow base of antiwar activists.”

Mr. Obama’s greatest challenge in actually achieving a bipartisan tone includes navigating the demands of Democrats in Congress. Even though Democrats are now two seats shy of having 60 votes in the Senate, Republican cooperation will be needed on big-ticket items.

Mr. McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, dug up a quotation from Mr. Obama after he was elected to the Senate in 2004, when Republicans were in control of both chambers and the White House. Late last week on Capitol Hill, Mr. McConnell read it aloud, with the words of the president-elect now sounding oddly prescient.

“Whoever’s in power is going to have to govern with some modesty and some desire to work with the other side of the aisle,” Mr. McConnell read. “That’s certainly the approach I would advise Democrats should we regain control.”

» A version of this article appeared in print on November 24, 2008,
on page A15 of the New York edition.


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