WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday that since terrorists might try to attack the U.S. during the White House transition, selecting his national security team is one of his top priorities.
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"I think it's important to get a national security team in place because transition periods are potentially times of vulnerability to a terrorist attack," Obama told CBS' "60 Minutes." "We want to make sure that there is as seamless a transition on national security as possible."
In his first television interview since his historic election, Obama said he has spent the days since the election on short- and long-term issues, from doing "whatever it takes" to stabilize the economy, restore consumer confidence and create jobs, to getting sound health care and energy policies through Congress. The president-elect also said that as soon as he takes office he will work with his security team and the military to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq, shore up Afghanistan and "stamp out al-Qaida once and for all."
Re-regulation is legislative priority
While investors are still riding a rollercoaster on Wall Street, Obama said the economy would have deteriorated even more without the $700 billion bank bailout. Re-regulation is a legislative priority, he said, not to crush "the entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking of American capitalism" but to "restore a sense of balance."
"There's no doubt that we have not been able yet to reset the confidence in the financial markets and in the consumer markets and among businesses that allow the economy to move forward in a strong way," Obama said. "And my job as president is going to be to make sure that we restore that confidence."
He also said: "We shouldn't worry about the deficit next year or even the year after. ... The most important thing is that we avoid a deepening recession."
While "we have the tools," the president-elect said not enough has been done to address bank foreclosures and distressed homeowners.
"We've gotta set up a negotiation between banks and borrowers so that people can stay in their homes," Obama said. "That is going to have an impact on the economy as a whole. And, you know, one thing I'm determined is that if we don't have a clear, focused program for homeowners by the time I take office, we will after I take office."
Obama credited Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for trying to remedy "an unprecedented crisis" the country hasn't seen since the Great Depression.
"Hank Paulson has worked tirelessly under some very difficult circumstances," Obama said. "And I think Hank would be the first one to acknowledge that probably not everything that's been done has worked the way he had hoped it would work."
Transition works daily with Paulson
A member of the transition team works with Paulson daily, Obama said, getting the needed background and sometimes offering approaches to address the economic meltdown.
The president-elect confirmed reports that he intends to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and "make sure we don't torture" as "part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."
Obama also said he plans to put al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the crosshairs.
"I think capturing or killing bin Laden is a critical aspect of stamping out al-Qaida," Obama said. "He is not just a symbol, he's also the operational leader of an organization that is planning attacks against U.S. targets."
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