Watching Obama sell his economic stimulus plan

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After standing in a garage to have their possessions sniffed by Secret Service dogs, some 100 reporters and photographers crammed into a basement auditorium in downtown Washington Wednesday morning to question -- briefly -- President-elect Barack Obama.

Sitting in their pre-assigned seats, the press heard Mr. Obama deliver a simple message. The new administration will have to shell out massive amounts of money to kick-start an economy in deep trouble, but the Obama team promises to be careful dispensing the extra cash

To drive home his point, Mr. Obama announced he was naming the country’s first "chief performance officer" to boost efficiency and eliminate waste in federal spending. She is Nancy Killefer, a director at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company and a former Assistant Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration.

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The Obama team has lost none of the tight message discipline for which its campaign was well known. Mr. Obama skillfully ducked a question about violence in Gaza noting that it “is not safe” for the American people to have more than one person speaking for the nation on foreign affairs. After two questions (from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News), Robert Gibbs, who will be Obama’s White House Press Secretary, shouted out “last question” which went to ABC News.

After ABC’s Jake Tapper asked his question on deficit spending, an unscripted bit of spontaneity broke out. As Obama turned to leave, CNN’s Ed Henry shouted a question about efforts to seat Roland Burris, who was named by embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blogojevich to take Obama’s place in the US Senate. In line with the Democrats’ softening approach to Burris, Obama said the decision on whether to seat him was “a Senate matter” adding “I think he is a fine public servant.”

Watching our TV colleagues at work, it is clear why they make the big bucks. Shortly after 10:00 a.m., while waiting for Obama to appear, CNN’s Henry, Chuck Todd of NBC, and Major Garrett of Fox News were standing near one another, focused on cameras in the back of the room, talking intensely to in-studio anchors and managing not to be distracted by what their nearby TV colleagues were saying earnestly and loudly.

While the President-elect is the main attraction at a press conference, reporters were also eyeing Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who entered the room by a side door shortly after the president appeared. Clad in a grey suit, blue and white shirt, and gold tie, Emanuel first checked email on his BlackBerry and then stood with his hand in front of his mouth listening to Obama. He disappeared at the end of the session before reporters could approach.

After Obama and his aides left the room, the bantering began. A producer had NBC political director Todd stand on a large black box to do a broadcast report. “It’s because everyone has to be the same height as [6'5" tall Meet the Press host] David Gregory,” Todd quipped.

The stimulus program sales job continues Thursday when the President-elect makes a major speech about his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan at George Mason University.

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