Obama transition team stresses 'bipartisan' aims
WASHINGTON (AFP) — President-elect Barack Obama's administration will be diverse and bipartisan, senior aides said on Sunday as the White House promised a smooth transition to power.
With economic woes and managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan high priorities, both the incoming Democrats and outgoing Republicans have struck a tone of civility as the official handover looms on January 20.
Ahead of Obama's talks on the transition with President George W. Bush at the White House Monday, members of his staff forecast that Obama's cabinet could contain some familiar faces, particularly at the Pentagon.
"Throughout the campaign, president-elect Obama has talked about the importance of bipartisanship," Obama's transition team co-chair Valerie Jarrett told NBC.
"I'm confident his administration will include people from all perspectives," said Jarrett, a close aide to Obama who served as his Senate campaign finance director in 2004.
With the US military engaged on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a key question has been whether Obama would keep on Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"I think everything is a possibility right now," Jarrett said when asked if the new administration would consider keeping Gates in his post.
"In a sense, putting together the cabinet is like a jigsaw puzzle and he (Obama) wants to make sure that it represents the diversity of our country, diversity in perspectives, diversity in race, diversity in geography."
Obama has already named tough-talking Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, a choice that was swiftly assailed as "ironic" by House minority leader John Boehner.
"This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center," the Republican said.
However, Jarrett defended Obama's choice.
"No one can hit the ground running faster than Rahm Emanuel. He embraces president-elect Obama's philosophy. He's going to do an outstanding job," she said.
After he was elected on November 4, Obama began receiving the same daily intelligence briefings that the president sees, and held informal talks with a range of world leaders.
Still, Obama has taken care to stress he does not want to interfere with the current administration, repeating that the United States has just "one president at a time."
At the White House, Bush's chief of staff Josh Bolten said the administration was also working hard to ensure a seamless transition.
"Our job has been, beginning months ago and now working I think very closely and cooperatively with the (president-elect Barack) Obama team, is to try to make sure that that's a smooth handoff," Bolten said on C-Span.
"There's a lot that we can do to make it much smoother, so that it's more like a relay race, where we're carrying the baton, but hopefully the next runner will be running before we actually hand that next runner the baton."
Bolten said some of the transition plans include "exercises, hopefully with our successors, of emergency procedures around the White House," particularly because the handover takes place while the United States in engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Because if a crisis hits on January 21, they're the ones who are going to have to deal with it. We need to make sure that they're as well prepared as possible," Bolten said.
But while the president and president-elect have taken the high road, partisanship has not entirely disappeared among lawmakers, as Democrats revel in the seats they snatched from Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate in November's election.
Asked whether he agreed with the notion of keeping Gates as defense secretary, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said on CNN: "Sure. I think we need a good transition there."
"Why wouldn't we want to keep him? He's never been a registered Republican," he added.