Obama's Transition To President May Be "Easiest" Part

President-elect Barack Obama
President-elect Barack Obama

As President-elect Barack Obama rushes from secret job interviews with ex-primary rivals, to briefings on the global financial crisis, to discussions of saving the U.S. auto industry, the post-election period may feel frenetic.

But soon he and his transition team may look back fondly on this fleeting chance for "deliberate haste," as Obama has characterized pace of his Cabinet selection. Later it will be all haste.

This fall running mate Joe Biden warned the incoming president would be tested within six months by an international crisis. But history shows the incoming rush of trouble doesn't wait for hours, much less months.

Bill Clinton fought controversy even before his inauguration for giving welfare reform a lower priority than health care—a decision whose political consequences Mr. Clinton would later regret.

On Clinton's first full day in office his Defense Secretary was ripped by the Joint Chiefs of Staff over his campaign pledge to let gays serve openly in the military. On his second full day, he accepted the withdrawal of his choice for Attorney General Zoe Baird over revelations that she had employed an illegal immigrant.

Within two months, Jimmy Carter soured his relations with a Democratic-controlled Congress by targeting water projects cherished by senior figures within his own party.

Within three months, Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. John F Kennedy launched the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, President George W. Bush faced a showdown with Beijing over a collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet.

Within five months, Mr. Bush saw the Senate slip from Republican control when Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched to become an independent. And within eight months, the 9/11 terrorist attacks thrust Bush's presidency in directions he never anticipated while seeking office. The problems facing President-elect Obama at least match those of any predecessor since FDR.

    • White House: Help Detroit, But Not With Rescue Fund

Consumer spending is falling, unemployment is rising, and U.S. auto companies say they may not even have enough cash to stay afloat until Obama's inauguration. The lame-duck Congress returns to Washington today to pursue Democrats' dwindling hopes for new economic stimulus and aid for Detroit.

Aides say the president-elect might name a Secretary of State or Treasury this week. But probably not, since they believe that, at least a while longer, he still has time to think things through.

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