Obama's first big moves
His first acts – including an order to close Guantánamo Bay – seek to signal change.
In just a few days, President Obama has sent a series of signals to the nation, seeking to demonstrate that he is in charge and that change, in fact, has arrived.
On Thursday, one of his oft-repeated campaign pledges – that he would close the US’s infamous Guantánamo Bay detention facility – seemed closer to fruition.
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Mr. Obama signed an executive order setting in motion the closure of the camp within 12 months. The facility, which houses detainees in the war on terror, has damaged America’s image in the world, a blow Obama hopes to remedy.
Obama also ordered the CIA to close its network of secret prisons.
After the pomp and pageantry of Inauguration Day, Obama’s first steps as president carried an air of symbolism. He froze the pay of his senior White House staff, a gesture toward a nation suffering economically. He also retook the oath of office, after Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed his lines on Tuesday. With the blogosphere and cable TV abuzz with questions over Obama’s full legitimacy as president, the White House decided, out of an “abundance of caution,” that a do-over made sense.
But, keenly aware that his first acts as president would take an outsize place in the history books and set the tone of his tenure, Obama also took actions that supporters applauded for their substance.
Two executive orders on Day 1 tightened ethics rules for administration officials and instituted new rules promoting transparency in government actions. Obama also placed phone calls to key leaders in the Arab-Israeli dispute, signaling a new focus after the Bush years. In the afternoon, he met with his economic and security teams.
He and his wife, Michelle, also found the time to hold the traditional open house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for members of the public. And the Obamas attended the National Prayer Service, another obligatory stop on Day 1.
But it was the breakneck pace of Obama’s first few days, that blend of symbol and substance, that characterized the start of his presidency.
“He wants to show momentum,” says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “Part of it is that the politics of the situation require an active day. But the other thing to note is the huge number of problems he has to deal with.”
With the economy heading downward and the nation at war, the transition to Obama has the feel of a baton pass during a relay race, only with the handoff going to a different team.