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Emanuel urges aid for auto industry

In televised interviews, the man tapped to be Obama's chief of staff seemed to suggest that the president-elect would be open to using the rescue fund to help the struggling auto industry.
/ Source: The New York Times

In his first televised interviews since being named the chief of staff for President-elect , on Sunday called for swifter action to lift the struggling auto industry and suggested Mr. Obama and President Bush might clash over a .

On the first weekend since Mr. Obama was elected president, several of his aides said his administration would attempt to roll back a number of Bush administration policies, including tight restrictions on research and a push for oil and gas drilling in Utah. The statements indicated that the first few months of an Obama administration could bring about stark reversals on controversial policies.

But Mr. Obama’s aides emphasized that his first priority would be finding ways to repair the battered economy, whose latest woes include a steep drop-off in retail sales and the loss of about one million jobs. The auto industry has been particularly hard hit, with and pleading for government help after car sales plummeted 18 percent this quarter. General Motors, the country’s largest carmaker, reported a $4.2 billion third-quarter operating loss, and said it may be on the brink of collapse.

Over the weekend, the Speaker of the House, , and the Senate Majority leader, , sent a letter to the Bush administration requesting that funds from the — intended for Wall Street — be used to help carmakers as well. But the White House has signaled that it would oppose such a measure.

When asked on ABC’s “This Week” where Mr. Obama stood on the issue, Mr. Emanuel seemed to suggest that Mr. Obama, as a last resort, might be open to tapping the rescue fund to help carmakers, calling the auto industry an “essential part of our industrial base.”

He added that Mr. Obama has asked his economic team to look at ways to involve the industry in shaping an energy policy that weans the country off foreign oil, seeking ways to use the $25 billion in loans that Congress passed in September to help make auto plants more capable of producing fuel-efficient cars. But industry officials asked last week for an additional $50 billion for other costs. When pressed on whether Mr. Obama would endorse using some of the $700 billion rescue package for that purpose, Mr. Emanuel would not say whether Mr. Obama specifically opposed or supported the idea.

“So there’s no reason to think he’s opposed to what Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid want?” asked.

“George, I just outlined the four basis points,” Mr. Emanuel responded. “There’s authorities, both on the $25 billion that’s been laid out, as well as other authorities to help the auto industry, but all part of a strategy that’s going forward on a retooled auto industry that’s focused on our energy independence and our economy.”

In his first months in office, Mr. Obama could stir controversy by seeking to overturn a number of Bush initiatives that have frustrated Democrats for eight years. On “Fox News Sunday,” John Podesta, a co-chair of Mr. Obama’s transition team, said that Mr. Obama might consider using his executive authority to change stem cell and oil-drilling policies without waiting for congressional action.

“I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country,” he said. “They want to have oil and gas drilling in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah.”

“There’s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority,” he added, “and I think we’ll see the president do that to try to restore the — a sense that the country is working on behalf of the common good.”

On ABC, Mr. Emanuel was clear on where Mr. Obama also stood on questions about a stimulus plan for the economy, and suggested it may be an issue on which Mr. Obama and President Bush butt heads before the inauguration on Jan. 20. Mr. Obama has said he wants to see a plan put in place quickly, but the Bush administration has said it would be reluctant to support one unless Congress attached to it the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Asked if Mr. Obama would accept that compromise to move the plan forward, Mr. Emanuel was blunt.

“You don’t link those essential needs to some other trade deal,” he said.

“There’s an economic recovery package in front of the Congress,” he added. “Washington should get it done.”

On ABC and ’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Emanuel would not say whether Mr. Obama would consider postponing a tax increase on upper-income Americans.

Mr. Emanuel also avoided drawing the president-elect into some smaller political skirmishes. Mr. Stephanopoulos asked whether Mr. Obama thought it was appropriate to deny Senator of Connecticut the chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee as punishment for his ardent campaigning on behalf of Sen. . “What happens on the House and Senate, on chairmanship, is their business,” replied Mr. Emanuel, a House member from Illinois and a former Clinton aide.

Mr. Emanuel was also asked about a Chicago television report that Mr. Obama had chosen , a close friend and the co-chair of his transition team, to replace him in the senate. Mr. Emanuel said he had not seen the report, but added “I don’t think there’s been any decision or any discussion” on the issue.

Ms. Jarrett, who also appeared on “Meet the Press,” did not discuss whether she had been tapped to succeed Mr. Obama.

This story, "Emanuel urges aid for auto industry," originally appeared in the New York Times.