November 17 2008
By BETH FOUHY
President-elect Barack Obama and former Republican rival John McCain pledged Monday to work together on ways to change Washington’s “bad habits,” though aides to both men said it was unlikely McCain would serve in an Obama cabinet.
The two men met in Obama’s transition headquarters in Chicago for the first time since the Illinois senator vanquished McCain in the presidential election Nov. 4.
Obama said they wanted to talk about “how we can do some work together to fix up the country,” and he added that he would offer his thanks to McCain “for the outstanding service he’s already rendered.”
Obama has said he is likely to invite at least one Republican to join his cabinet, but McCain was not expected to be a candidate. McCain is serving his fourth term in the U.S. Senate.
Obama and McCain sat together for a brief picture-taking session with reporters, along with Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s incoming White House chief of staff, and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s close friend.
Obama and McCain were heard briefly discussing football, and Obama cracked that “the national press is tame compared to the Chicago press.”
When asked if he planned to help the Obama administration, McCain replied, “Obviously.”
After the meeting, the two issued a joint statement saying: “At this defining moment in history, we believe that Americans of all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the bad habits of Washington so that we can solve the common and urgent challenges of our time.”
“It is in this spirit that we had a productive conversation today about the need to launch a new era of reform where we take on government waste and bitter partisanship in Washington in order to restore trust in government, and bring back prosperity and opportunity for every hardworking American family,” it said.
“We hope to work together in the days and months ahead on critical challenges like solving our financial crisis, creating a new energy economy and protecting our nation’s security.”
Obama and McCain clashed bitterly during the fall campaign over taxes, the Iraq War, and ways to fix the ailing economy. Things got ugly at times, with McCain running ads comparing Obama to celebrities Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and raising questions about his rival’s distant relationship with a 1960s-era radical, William Ayers.
Obama’s campaign labelled the 72-year old McCain “erratic” and ran a campaign ad falsely suggesting that McCain and Rush Limbaugh shared similar anti-immigration views.
McCain delivered a gracious concession speech on election night, paying tribute to Obama’s historic ascendancy as the country’s first black president. The two agreed that night to meet after the election when McCain called Obama to concede defeat.
Meanwhile, Obama said in his first television interview since his historic election that Americans shouldn’t worry about the growing federal deficit for the next couple of years and also urged help for the auto industry.
While investors are still riding a rollercoaster on Wall Street, Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview broadcast Sunday that 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.”
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.”
Obama said he has spent the days since the election planning to stabilize the economy, restore consumer confidence, create jobs and get sound health care and energy policies through Congress.
“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.”
While he said “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 of the 1930s.
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.
Obama also acknowledged meeting with former Democratic rival Senator Hillary Clinton last week, but refused to say whether she was being considered for secretary of state, as has been widely reported. He also said the Republican party will be represented in his cabinet.
In the CBS interview, Obama 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.”
Obama confirmed reports that he intends to close the detention centre 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.”