Barack Obama said Saturday there is "little doubt we've moved into recession," underscoring the country's need for a second economic stimulus package, swift steps to shore up the housing market and a long-term energy policy to reduce reliance on foreign oil imports.
The Democratic presidential contender also said removing U.S. forces from Iraq won't be "perfectly neat," yet a call from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a withdrawal timetable supports his position more than the longer term presence favored by rival John McCain or his fellow Republican, President Bush.
Bush and the Arizona senator have chided Obama for proposing to withdraw U.S. forces within 16 months of taking office. McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, has even suggested it exhibits naivete by his rival, a freshman senator from Illinois.
"John McCain and George Bush both said that if Iraq, as a sovereign government, stated that it was time for us to start withdrawing our troops, then they would respect the wishes of that sovereign government," Obama told reporters as he flew from Chicago to California.
Hagel, Reed to go to Iraq with him
In addition, Obama lifted the veil on the trip he will make next week to European capitals and U.S. battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said he would be accompanied by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. Despite their differing political parties, each has been mentioned as a potential Obama vice presidential running mate.
Hagel served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam and was twice wounded in 1968, earning two Purple Hearts. Reed, a West Point graduate, was a former Army Ranger and paratrooper.
"They're both experts on foreign policy. They reflect, I think, a traditional bipartisan wisdom when it comes to foreign policy. Neither of them are ideologues but try to get the facts right and make a determination about what's best for U.S. interests — and they're good guys," Obama said.
The senator also said he hoped to resolve concerns expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel about using Brandenburg Gate as a backdrop for a speech during his visit to Berlin. Merkel questioned the propriety of a foreign political figure using such a historic backdrop as that former Communist demarkation point to deliver a campaign speech.
"I want to make sure that my message is heard as opposed to creating a controversy," Obama said. "So, you know, our goal is just for me to lay out how I think about the next administration's role in rebuilding a trans-Atlantic alliance, so I don't want the venue to be a distraction. What I want to do is just work with folks on the ground to find someplace that's appropriate."
Recession, mortgage giants, Jackson
During his first conversation with his traveling press corps in five days, Obama:
—Delivered perhaps his most definitive judgment to date on the health of the U.S. economy, according to aides.
"I have little doubt that we've moved into recession at this point, and the sooner we can get money into people's pockets, the sooner that we can stabilize the housing market, and the sooner that we can send a message to the markets that we're serious about creating an energy policy that will create greater energy efficiency over the next decade or so, I think the sooner we're going to get our fundamentals right," he said.
—Said he has been closely monitoring the financial health of mortgage providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Concerns falling home values may require a government bailout prompted a Wall Street sell-off Friday before markets recovered.
"There are a lot of different definitions of what a `bailout' would look like," Obama said. "There are issues related to the short-term liquidity — can they borrow money? — versus issues related to whether the underlying assets of the two corporations are really unsound. And I think we need to watch carefully and see how it plays out before we make a decision about which steps need to be taken."
—Said he hadn't spoken with the Rev. Jesse Jackson since the civil rights leader spoke into an open microphone that he wanted to castrate Obama for delivering a speech about fatherhood that Jackson thought spoke down to black men.
"I had spoken to him before, a few days before what he said was released, and, we had actually discussed some of the concerns that he had raised about my fatherhood speech, and I told him that I absolutely believe that we have structural inequalities that have to be dealt with," the senator said.
He said he told Jackson he is committed to better education, health care and community reconstruction to benefit black families, but fatherhood must also be discussed when half of black children grow up without their father.
"My argument is simply that it's not an either/or proposition; it's a both/and proposition," Obama said. "I won't back up one bit in asserting that that's a problem that we have to be honest about."
—Said he hoped both the U.S. and Iraqi governments would soothe Shiite fears of Sunni reprisals by the country's Shiite majority.
"I don't expect that a withdrawal will be perfectly neat," Obama said. "I think that we've got to do a lot of legwork and we've got to make sure that we are ramping up both diplomatic efforts and reconstruction efforts and humanitarian efforts in Iraq, and that we have to make sure that Sunnis have some assurance that they're going to be legitimate partners in the government process."
—Drew the line at negotiating with al-Maliki or making any promises to the Iraqi foreign minister.
"We have one president at a time," said Obama. "I'm there to listen."