December 5, 2008: The Obama Transition, Bill Richardson, Economy, Healthcare and Harper Dodges Non-Confidence


Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Bill Richardson joined Barack Obama for the announcement Wednesday that Mr. Richardson was commerce secretary-designate.

Canada in Focus:

  • Dion’s Speech Beset By Technical Woes: In the battle of the airwaves Wednesday, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion showed up almost an hour late and a few pixels short in his duel with the prime minister he hopes to replace. – Canadian Press, 12-4-08
  • Gov. Gen. Agrees to Suspend Parliament: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has won a stay of political execution – at least until January. Harper convinced Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean to suspend Parliament on Thursday, delaying a non-confidence vote scheduled for Monday that would have brought down his beleaguered minority Conservative government. – Canadian Press, 12-4-08
  • Christopher Dummitt: Trent professor argues coalition government perfectly constitutional – Kawartha Media Group, Canada, 12-3-08
  • U.S. Worried Over Canada’s Political Drama: The whole world is watching and our closest ally – the United States – is worried as Canada goes through a “constitutional psychodrama,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday. – Canadian Press, 12-3-08
  • Canada PM calls for crisis talks with premiers: “A critical objective of this meeting will be to identify issues related to accelerating infrastructure investments, strengthening financial market regulation, improving competitiveness and ensuring labor market preparedness and flexibility where immediate government actions will make positive economic impacts,” Harper’s office said in a statement. – Reuters, 12-3-08
  • Tories Fuming Over Political Crisis: Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion of betraying Canadian voters with the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition to replace the Conservative minority government, saying Dion is “turning his back” on the results of the recent federal election. – CBC News, 12-2-08
  • Canada government may seek to suspend Parliament: Canada’s minority Conservative government may seek the temporary suspension of Parliament to stop opposition parties from voting it out and taking power, an aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Tuesday.
    The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois signed a deal on Monday committing them to bringing down the government, just seven weeks after it won re-election with a strengthened minority, and forming a coalition government to replace the Conservatives.
    The formal agreement quickly triggered one of the worst political crises in Canada’s history. – Reuters, 12-2-08
  • Canada government may seek to suspend Parliament: Harper told Parliament that the coalition deal was “the worst mistake the Liberal Party has ever made in its history”. Conservative legislators chanted “Shame, shame” at the opposition during an often charged session of Parliament. “The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if you want to be prime minister, you get your mandate from the Canadian people, not the separatists,” said Harper.
    Dion shouted back: “Every member of this House has received a mandate from the Canadian people… The prime minister doesn’t have the support of this House any more.” – Reuters, 12-2-08

The Headlines…

    President-Elect Barack Obama Transition office:

  • Obama Hauls in Record $750 Million for Campaign – NYT, 12-4-08
  • Obama’s donor list asked to help pay Clinton debt – AP, International Herald Tribune, 12-5-08
  • Richardson pledges seamless transition in NM: Gov. Bill Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish met Thursday to map out a transition of power in New Mexico as the governor prepares to assume new duties as commerce secretary in President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet. – AP, 12-4-08
  • Obama laying the groundwork for U.S. health reform – Reuters, 12-5-08
  • FACTBOX: Obama’s ambitious healthcare plan – Reuters, 12-5-08
  • A New Home, a Bit Smaller, for the Bushes: As hard as it may be to leave 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the president and first lady, Laura Bush, have settled on a new home in the upscale Preston Hollow neighborhood of Dallas, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Bush said Thursday. – NYT, 12-4-08
  • Democrats: Obama needs hands-on economic approach: Democrats are growing impatient with President-elect Barack Obama’s refusal to inject himself in the major economic crises confronting the country. Obama has sidestepped some policy questions by saying there is only one president at a time. But the dodge is wearing thin. “He’s going to have to be more assertive than he’s been,” House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told consumer advocates Thursday. – AP, 12-4-08
  • Save the date: Ala. county passes Obama holiday: In central Alabama’s Perry County, government workers already get a day off for President’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, and Veterans Day. In 2009, they’ll get one more: “Barack Obama Day.”
    The rural county, which overwhelmingly supported Obama in last month’s presidential election, has approved the second Monday in November as “The Barack Obama Day.” Commissioners passed a measure that would close county offices for the new annual holiday and its roughly 40 workers will get a paid day off. – AP, 12-3-08
  • Becerra a top candidate for Obama trade chief: – California congressman Xavier Becerra has emerged as a leading candidate to be the chief U.S. trade negotiator for President-elect Barack Obama, a Democratic official and lobbyists said on Wednesday. – Reuters, 12-3-08
  • Obama is delivering diversity, but some seek more: Barack Obama, soon to be the first black U.S. president, is on the road to making good his pledge to have a Cabinet and White House staff that are among most diverse ever, although some supporters are asking him to go even further. – AP, 12-3-08
  • Gates: Military looks to accelerate Iraq pullout: Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled a willingness to forge ahead with two key priorities for the incoming Obama administration: accelerating the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. – AP, 12-3-08
  • A new poll shows Americans feel good about President-elect Barack Obama, seen here with his selections for his national security team in Chicago on Monday, and the choices he has made for his Cabinet.: More than three of four Americans, including a majority of Republicans, approve of the job Obama has done so far — broad-based support he’ll need as he faces tough decisions ahead. By 69%-25%, those surveyed approve of his pick of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his former Democratic primary rival, as secretary of State. By an even wider margin, 80%-14%, they favor his decision to ask President Bush’s Pentagon chief, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to stay on the job. – AP, 12-2-08
  • Republicans win crucial Georgia Senate seat: Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss won a run-off election in Georgia on Tuesday, CNN said, denying Democrats the chance for a 60-seat “super majority” in the Senate that would have enabled them to pass legislation virtually at will. – Reuters, 12-2-08
  • Clinton for a Clinton? Senate guessing game begins: New York Gov. David Paterson has famous names to choose from in picking a replacement for Sen. Hillary Clinton, including a Kennedy, a Cuomo and even another Clinton, as in the former president of the United States. – Reuters, 12-2-08
  • TERROR WATCH: Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball: 1900 Days And Counting: In advance of a new report to the White House, Bob Graham talks about the possible nature and likelihood of a WMD terrorist attack over the next few years. – Newsweek, 12-2-08
  • Chinese-American activists oppose any Bill Richardson cabinet nomination: The group is upset at the New Mexico governor for his handling of the nearly decade-old case of Taiwanese- American Wen Ho Lee, a former nuclear scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. U.S. officials once suspected Lee of giving nuclear secrets to China when Richardson was President Clinton’s energy secretary. – San Jose Mercury News, 12-2-08

Political Quotes

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen “Fla. rep. ‘flabbergasted’ Obama call wasn’t prank”: “I was just flabbergasted. I just hung up on the most powerful man on earth — twice….. But this one was just out of the blue he’s calling me. And I said, ‘Boy, you’re a much better impersonator than that guy on Saturday Night Live,’ and he’s laughing and he’s thinking I’m kidding.” She “wished him the best of luck and told him I was going to hang up on him.” “I said I really do appreciate it. I love these pranks more than anybody and I’m honored that you would prank me, but I’m gonna hang up.” When Obama finally called back, the congresswoman said they talked about policies on Cuba and Israel. He told her “anytime my ego gets too pumped up, I think Michelle will remind me that you hung up not once, but twice on me,” Ros-Lehtinen said. – AP, 12-4-08
  • President-elect Obama and governors tackle the economy: Speaking to an assembly of nearly all of the nation’s governors in Philadelphia this morning, President-elect Obama called for innovation and collaboration, and invited dissenting opinions on how best to fix the economy. YouTube, 12-3-08
  • Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary: President-elect Barack Obama tapped Gov. Bill Richardson to be Commerce Secretary at a press conference in Chicago on December 3rd, 2008. – YouTube, 12-3-08
  • Obama Names Richardson as Commerce Secretary: “Commerce secretary is a pretty good job,” Mr. Obama said, after being asked by a Hispanic reporter about the appointment of Mr. Richardson to a post not considered among the cabinet’s more prestigious or influential…. “his mixture of diplomatic experience, hands-on experience as governor, experience in the cabinet, experience in Congress, means that he is going to be a key strategist on all the issues that we work on.” “I think the notion that somehow commerce secretary is not going to be central to everything we do is fundamentally mistaken.” – NYT, 12-3-08
  • Biden “US must halt spread of nuclear, bio weapons” : “We’re not doing all we can to prevent the world’s most lethal weapons from winding up in the hands of terrorists,” Biden told reporters at Obama’s Washington transition headquarters. – Reuters, 12-3-08

Historians’ Comments

  • Harold Holzer, and H.W. Brands: Lessons From Presidents Past As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office amid an economic crisis and conflicts overseas, the experiences of former presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt are being regularly recalled, including by Mr. Obama himself. – PBS Newshour, 11-25-08
  • HAROLD HOLZER, Author, “Lincoln-President-Elect”: Well, I think they were undervalued. I think they have been undervalued by historians. I think they’re the great Achilles’ heel in Lincoln’s otherwise sterling reputation, this prevailing idea that he was a docile president- elect who just dawdled away the hours while the secession crisis magnified. I took a look at the private correspondence and the conversations that Lincoln had during this period and found, in fact, that he did quite a bit, if not to prevent the union from fracturing, at least to preventing slavery from expanding and perpetuating….
    Well, the notion of gridlock, of political factions not being able to get along, which obviously reached the boiling point in the Lincoln era, is something that Sen. Obama has cited as a rationale for a different approach to government. Obviously, it’s a different time. Red state-blue state divisions are not the same as gray state-blue state divisions. And, of course, half of the country chose not even to recognize Abraham Lincoln’s election, but to react as if it hadn’t occurred, while half of the people in the states that did accept it had voted for someone else. So it was — there was none of the universal celebration of Lincoln’s election that took place. It’s the confrontation of division, the healing, the unifying, actually, that Lincoln did later in his term that I think Sen. Obama is looking to inciting now….
    Well, of course, the media focus is so much more intense now that it’s almost unavoidable. Lincoln certainly did not do any public statements, but, of course, he hadn’t campaigned for president, either. And yet there are things that Sen. Obama is doing that are so eerily like Lincoln, it’s as if he’s got a playbook that he’s — and it’s a very good playbook — that he’s referring to. I mean, he is considering the senator from New York whom he defeated for the nomination as his secretary of state, as Lincoln did with Seward. He even went back for a pilgrimage to the woman who raised him for a final goodbye, as Lincoln did, when he went to see his step-mother a few days before leaving for Washington, again, the last time he would see her. That sense of taking renewal from his roots was very important to Lincoln. And both of them are reading the works of former presidents in crisis. Lincoln read Andrew Jackson’s protests against nullification, just as Sen. Obama is reading Abraham Lincoln. So the arc of the presidency continues….
    I mean, in the case of Lincoln, I think not. This is really, in a large way, the culmination or at least a giant step toward completing the unfinished work that Abraham Lincoln spoke about at Gettysburg. The very notion that an African-American has been elected president of the United States fulfills those parts of the American dream that were unfulfilled. So I think it’s a magnificent moment and one that we should embrace as long as our honeymoon can last with a new president. – PBS Newshour, 11-25-08
  • H.W. BRANDS, Author, “Traitor to His Class”: I wanted to figure out how this son of privilege became the champion of the ordinary man and woman in America. Roosevelt was born wealthy. He had everything that wealth could buy and everything that opportunity could give. But he became in certain respects the most radical populist ever to occupy the White House. And I wanted to see how that came about….
    Well, circumstances now are looking eerily like the circumstances in 1932 and 1933. When Roosevelt was elected, the economy was at the bottom of the depression. Probably 25 percent of Americans were out of work. The financial system was in freefall. There was a clear repudiation of the status quo that is in Roosevelt’s election. And Roosevelt had four months to figure out what he could do between then and the inauguration. It was a very difficult transition, probably one of the most difficult in American history….
    Despite the efforts at cooperation, there is a definite difference in philosophy between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. And there will certainly be an effort by the Bush administration to preserve as much of that philosophy as possible. And Barack Obama would be well advised — assuming that he intends to take things in a different direction — to avoid making any commitments. He’s absolutely right. There’s only one president at a time. He can get his team together, and he can get his plans together, but he’s really not going to get anything done on his own authority until he’s sworn in….
    President-elect Obama can take comfort from the fact that the recession that the country seems to be entering will almost certainly not get as deep and severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s, in large part because of the reforms that Roosevelt and the New Deal Congress put into place. And I think he can take a lesson from Roosevelt’s example in connecting with the American people at an emotional level as soon as he became president. Roosevelt took charge very quickly. And one of the first things he did, after just five days in office, was to deliver the first of his fireside chats, in which he reached over the heads of Congress and over parties and made an emotional appeal to the American people, saying that everything that we’ve done, everything that we’ve started will only work if we have the support of the American people. So he made Americans part of his administration, and his administration benefited enormously from that. – PBS Newshour, 11-25-08
  • Gil Troy: Is Bush’s Greatest Achievement a Non-Achievement: No Subsequent 9/11s?: In yet another example of “blowback” actually undermining Islamist terrorism, the Mumbai mayhem may boost George W. Bush’s historical legacy. In the waning days of his presidency, the massacres highlighted one of Bush’s most significant but elusive achievements. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is a non-event. After September 11, most Americans assumed they would endure a wave of terrorist attacks. Even those Americans who hate Bush must grant him at least some credit for the fact that not one major attack has occurred again on American soil…. Despite all the hype during a presidential campaign about a candidate’s skills, judgment, character, experience, and potential, external events often define presidencies. George W. Bush himself entered office expecting to focus on domestic affairs. The horrific murders in Mumbai – along with the continuing economic roller coaster – illustrate that Obama’s legacy, like that all of his predecessors, remains in the hands of powerful actors and historical forces beyond his control, no matter how talented he is, no matter how focused on this one leader we remain. – HNN, 12-4-08
  • Julian Zelizer: Can President-Elect Obama Manage His Team of Egos?: Obama has assembled a powerful team that is full of experience, and opinions “He does have this challenge,” says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. “It’s not a modest cabinet by any stretch of the imagination. These are people of opinions and experience,” and they won’t be shy about “pushing the president” to adopt their ideas. The question is whether Obama will be strong enough to manage the egos around him—and distill from the resulting tensions and rivalries the best policies for the nation without allowing his government to descend into constant infighting, as happened under President Jimmy Carter and other chief executives. – – US News & World Report, 12-2-08
  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. “Obama as Hoover: The Importance of Storytelling”: You may have heard of the late liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. How about Charley Michelson? As the Obama era takes shape, the roles of both Schlesinger and Michelson deserve attention. Particularly as Americans are seeing newsmagazines with cover stories comparing the President-elect who campaigned on a dour vision of scarcity with Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, a considerable leap to understate. – American Spectator, 12-2-08
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin on the relevancy of ‘Team of Rivals’: Number one, what you’ve got is a president-elect who reads history and values it, and that’s just a great thing…. He called me after he read the book, way back at the beginning of the primary. My cell phone rang, I picked it up and he just said, ‘Hello, this is Barack Obama.’ He talked to me even then about the book, and then throughout the campaign he kept talking about it, how he would want to put people around him who would argue with him, have a range of opinions. His first step seems to be totally in step with that concept, both in terms of possibly appointing Hillary to be secretary of state, talking with John McCain.
    I think it’s the combination of, you know, what we’ve gone through in the last eight years, and the awareness that we’re at one of those moments in time when we have a series of crises that have to be dealt with.
    Even Roosevelt, when WWII was on the horizon, FDR understood that, as he put it, Dr. New Deal had to become Dr. Win-the-War, and he brought in two top Republicans, [former Secretary of State Henry] Stimson and [former vice presidential candidate Frank] Knox, to be in his cabinet. He put out the olive branch to the business community…Not that he gave up his progressive goals, but he reached out more so he could bring them together at a moment of necessity. –, 11-19-08
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