Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Obama already holds bully pulpit

He’s moving fast to build his governing team, but wants to avoid endorsing the policies of President Bush, whom he visits Monday.

By Staff writer / November 9, 2008

Transition co-chair: John Podesta said on Fox News Sunday that 100 people have clearance to be briefed on national security.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/file



Barack Obama speaks, and the world listens – more intently, at this point, than it does to the actual president of the United States. President-elect Obama can inspire and alarm, calm markets or add to jitters. And with the nation in economic crisis, he seems keenly aware of that.

Skip to next paragraph

Obama has made clear that addressing the economy is his top priority. In his first press conference since the election, he urged Congress to pass an economic stimulus package, and if it failed (or if President Bush failed to sign it), he would push for that as soon as he took office.

But he is avoiding doing anything now, either as a sitting senator or as president-elect, that would give him ownership of decisions made between now and Inauguration Day. Obama will not attend the G-20 meeting on Nov. 15, a summit of world leaders to be convened in Washington for crisis economic talks.

When the Obamas make the customary visit to the White House on Monday, for a tour with the Bushes, Obama has indicated he also expects “a substantive conversation” with the outgoing president. But the mantra of Obama’s transition is clear: There’s only one US president at a time.

Still, Obama already enjoys an important tool of the presidency: the bully pulpit. For now, “that’s the one power he has, to inspire and reassure,” says Paul Light, an expert on presidential transitions at New York University.

In general, “presidents-elect need to be careful about not usurping the president’s authority,” he adds. “Moreover, they need to worry about getting entangled in the outgoing president’s policies.... [Obama] could get easily entrapped into policy choices and positions that will haunt him well into the following year.”

Already, though, Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden have been planning for a possible transition since long before Election Day. The Democratic ticket has been receiving national-security briefings, and, since Nov. 4, they are getting the same briefing Bush gets.

Obama’s transition team began work in early August, according to transition co-chair John Podesta. On Sunday, Mr. Podesta said on Fox News that 100 people now have security clearance so they’re able to be briefed at the relevant agencies on national security, under legislation passed in 2004.

On the transition in economic policy, Podesta said, Obama has designated Georgetown professor Daniel Tarullo as one of his senior economic advisers to be fully briefed on what’s happening at the Treasury Department with the $700 billion bailout package. Mr. Tarullo has already been speaking with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and will meet with him on Monday, Podesta says.