Obama turns to building his administration

Image: Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel
Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel chats with Barack Obama at a Chicago 2016 Olympic rally on June 6, 2008. Democratic officials say Emanuel was offered the job to be the president-elect's chief of staff.Alex Brandon / AP FILE
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

After eight years of Republican rule, Barack Obama turned Wednesday to the task of building a Democratic administration to lead the country out of war and into the financial recovery that he promised.

Pressing business came at him fast, with just 76 days until his inauguration as the 44th president.

Obama chose Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a fellow Chicago politician, to be his White House chief of staff, his first selection for the new administration, Democratic officials said Wednesday.

If Emanuel accepts, he would return to the White House where he served as a political and policy adviser to President Bill Clinton. Emanuel is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives as the Democratic Caucus Chair.

Two campaign officials said the appointment of a chief of staff was not expected for at least a day.

Kerry seeking spot
Several Democrats also said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee, was actively seeking appointment as secretary of State in the new administration.

James Steinberg, a former Clinton adviser, remained a top contender for National Security Adviser. Susan Rice, another former Clinton aide, could be considered for that job or another senior post.

Obama also relies heavily on three foreign policy experts on his campaign staff who are likely to end up in the White House or State Department. Those three aides are Mark Lippert and Denis McDonough, both former Senate aides, and Ben Rhodes, Obama's foreign policy speech writer.

With wars under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama might consider keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense. He might also consider tapping former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, a close adviser.

Obama issued a written statement announcing that his transition team would be headed by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff under Clinton; Pete Rouse, who has been Obama's chief of staff in the Senate; and Valerie Jarrett, a friend of the president-elect and campaign adviser.

The officials who described the developments did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss events not yet announced.

Emanuel moves up
After leaving Bill Clinton's White House, Emanuel turned to investment banking, then won a Chicago-area House seat six years ago. In Congress, he moved quickly into the leadership. As chairman of the Democratic campaign committee in 2006, he played an instrumental role in restoring his party to power after 12 years in the minority.

Emanuel maintained neutrality during the long primary battle between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, not surprising given his long-standing ties to the former first lady and his Illinois connections with Obama.

With hundreds of jobs to fill and only 10 weeks until Inauguration Day, Obama and his transition team confronted a formidable task complicated by his anti-lobbyist campaign rhetoric.

The official campaign Web Site said no political appointees would be permitted to work on "regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration."

But almost exactly one year ago, on Nov. 3, 2007, candidate Obama went considerably further than that while campaigning in South Carolina. "I don't take a dime of their money, and when I am president, they won't find a job in my White House," he said of lobbyists at the time.

Because they often have prior experience in government or politics, lobbyists figure as potential appointees for presidents of both parties.

Ten weeks
The president-elect had breakfast with his wife and daughters, then left his house for a workout at a nearby gym. Aides said he intended to visit his campaign headquarters later in the day to thank his staff.

Obama has less than three months to build a new administration. But his status as an incumbent member of Congress presents issues unseen since 1960, when Democrat John F. Kennedy moved from the Senate to the White House.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a post-election session in two weeks, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a news conference Wednesday to reinforce her call for quick action on a bill to stimulate the economy.

That places Obama in uncharted territory — a president-elect, presumably first among equals among congressional Democrats. Yet his and their ability to enact legislation depends almost entirely until Inauguration Day on President Bush's willingness to sign it.