President-elect Obama used his first post-election news conference Friday to pledge that he'll lead a fast effort to tackle what he called “the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime.”
He tried to lower expectations that he could ignite an instant economic recovery, noting that “it is not going to be quick and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in, but America is a strong and resilient country.”
On other topics at his first meeting with the news media since his election victory Tuesday, Obama took a hard and wary line on Iran, discussed the travails of searching for a dog for his daughters and struck a bipartisan, statesmanlike tone.
“We only have one president at a time,” he said, “and I want to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole, that I am not the president and I won't be until Jan. 20.”
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He said he intends to work smoothly with President Bush, with whom he'll meet Monday at the White House.
“I'm not going to anticipate problems,” Obama said. “I'm going to go in there with a spirit of bipartisanship and a sense that both the president and various leaders of Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done.”
He discussed foreign policy only once, saying he was “aware” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had sent him a letter of congratulations. He said he would review the letter carefully and respond “appropriately.”
During the campaign, Obama was criticized for saying he was willing to engage in personal diplomacy with Iranian officials. Friday, he called Iran's nuclear program “unacceptable, and we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening. Iran's support of terrorist organizations, I think, is something that has to cease.”
The economy dominated the news conference, even as Obama offered no new specifics.
“I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later,” he said. “If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States.”
He stood in front of a who's who of Democratic economic wise men and women after meeting with the group earlier Friday. Their meeting came as the government reported that October unemployment jumped to 6.5 percent, its highest rate in 141/2 years.
“Tens of millions of families are struggling to figure out how to pay the bills and stay in their homes,” Obama said. “Their stories are an urgent reminder that we are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime, and we're going to have to act swiftly to resolve it.”
He listed four key economic points: helping the middle class; addressing the “spreading impact of the financial crisis on other sectors of our economy,” such as small businesses and state and local governments; reviewing the implementation of the administration's financial-rescue program; and seeking ways to help the economy in the long run.
He also pledged help for the auto industry, saying he would asked the transition team to consider “additional policy options.” Among those at Friday's meeting was Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
The president-elect also said he would “reread some of Lincoln's writings, who's always an extraordinary inspiration.”