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Obama taps chief, focuses on economy

President-elect Obama took his first public steps toward building his new administration Thursday, tapping fellow Chicagoan Rep. Rahm Emanuel to be White House chief of staff.

Obama also received his first top-secret briefing on national security and scheduled a meeting for today with his economic advisers to be followed by his first news conference since the election. And he accepted an invitation for his wife and him to visit President Bush and Laura Bush at the White House on Monday.

The president-elect also talked by telephone with nine world leaders, who all had called to congratulate him. Among the U.S. allies he spoke with are the top politicians in Israel, Japan and Mexico.

Today, Obama will meet with his economic advisory group, which includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

The news conference, also attended by Vice President-elect Joe Biden, follows at 2:30 p.m.

A pressing issue for the group is deciding on appointments for top economic jobs. Obama is looking to nominate a Treasury secretary quickly as he confronts the financial meltdown.

Leading candidates are Lawrence Summers, who ran the department under President Clinton, and Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, people close to the Obama camp have said.

On Monday, Bush will meet with Obama in the Oval Office to discuss the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other challenges the new administration will face in January, officials said Thursday.

That afternoon, Laura Bush will give Michelle Obama a tour of the White House.

The event will mark the first meeting between the departing and incoming presidents since Obama was elected, and it underscores how rapidly the complex transition process is unfolding in a time of war and financial crisis.

“Michelle and I look forward to meeting with President Bush and the first lady on Monday to begin the process of a smooth, effective transition,” Obama said in a statement. “I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship that will be required to meet the many challenges we face as a nation.”

Bush, after meeting with his Cabinet on Thursday morning to discuss the handover, told a group of White House staffers on the South Lawn: “We face economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in. This will also be America's first wartime presidential transition in four decades..”

No recent president-elect from an opposing party has been received at the White House so soon after an election.

Bush and his aides say they have assembled an expansive transition operation that includes a standing committee of top officials, early security clearances for Obama and his senior aides, and plans for regular briefings.

In making appointments, Obama advisers said he was emphasizing care over speed, with no plans to announce Cabinet positions this week.

Chief campaign strategist David Axelrod is likely to get a job as a top adviser, and longtime spokesman and confidant Robert Gibbs is the likely pick for press secretary.

In Emanuel, 48, Obama has chosen a fellow Chicagoan who intimately knows the White House and Congress.

“…No one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel,” Obama said in a statement.

He said Emanuel's seven years in the Clinton White House and six years in Congress gave him invaluable experience in the way government worked. And his post-White House work as an investment banker helped give him “deep insights into the challenging economic issues that will be front and center for our administration.”

Emanuel, in the statement, called himself humbled and honored, saying he decided to leave his post in Congress only because he thought he could help Obama.

He offered a rare salute to Republicans, saying they serve with “dignity, decency and a deep sense of patriotism.”

Intense, profane and partisan, Emanuel's style has earned him the nickname “Rahmbo.” News of his appointment angered some Republicans, who called it a betrayal of Obama's pledge of a more civil politics.

“This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, his party's House leader.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted that he'd worked well with Emanuel when the two were negotiating rules for this year's presidential debates, and called him a “wise choice” who'll help Obama enact his agenda.

“He can be a tough partisan but also understands the need to work together,” Graham said. “He's tough but fair. Honest, direct, and candid. These qualities will serve President-elect Obama well.”

Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff under President Clinton and once Emanuel's boss there, said it would be Obama, not Emanuel, who set the tone.

“The chief of staff takes his orders from the president,” Panetta said.

McClatchy Newspapers, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and The Associated Press contributed.
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