Obama and McCain Vow to Work Together for Reform

Once campaign rivals, President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain sat down in Chicago Monday to discuss how they can collaborate on issues facing the country. Video by AP
By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama continued his reconciliation tour yesterday, sitting down with former rival John McCain for the first time since the election, a meeting that resulted in a joint statement promising that they will work together to "change the bad habits of Washington."

Obama and McCain, accompanied by advisers Rahm Emanuel and Lindsey O. Graham, respectively, flashed broad smiles during a brief encounter with reporters at the start of their meeting in Chicago.

Asked by reporters whether he will help Obama once his term in office commences, McCain replied: "Obviously."

Though less than two weeks had passed since their contentious election showdown, the former opponents had a "respectful" discussion that centered on their broad areas of agreement, including climate change, immigration and detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a senior Obama aide said. They also concurred on the need for an "air of reform" in Washington, the aide said, adding that they chatted amicably about life on the campaign trail and operated on a first-name basis.

Behind closed doors, officials involved in Obama's transition continued to examine the work of another onetime opponent, former president Bill Clinton, to determine whether his business dealings since he left office would preclude his wife from becoming secretary of state, individuals familiar with the process said.

Officials did not describe Obama as having formally offered Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton the top diplomatic job during their private meeting at his Chicago transition office last week, but they said there is an understanding that if she can sort out some of the complications that accompany her husband's global work -- which has made him an international philanthropic powerhouse but also earned him millions in speaking fees from foreign companies, creating a potential conflict of interest -- she would have a strong, if not certain, shot at it.

"There's a lot of momentum in the direction of this happening," said close Clinton friend James Carville. He said that the former president's work -- past and future -- remained a complicating matter.

"She's not married to Todd Palin," Carville said, referring to the oil field worker and snowmobile champion who is married to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee.

Reports of the possible Hillary Clinton appointment, which surfaced last week, have stunned some Obama loyalists, who said they fear that the incoming administration is becoming heavily weighted toward veterans of the Clinton years, with the transition run by former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta. Greg Craig, who was special counsel during Bill Clinton's impeachment, is slotted to serve as White House counsel (he is less of a Clinton partisan, having backed Obama during the primaries). Emanuel, who was political director during the Clinton administration, is Obama's chief of staff.

But longtime Obama supporters have for the most part expressed their concerns quietly; Obama has not, as yet, made any Cabinet appointments, leaving all complaints about the makeup of his administration mostly in the realm of the hypothetical. And Clinton backers said the appointment's benefits would far outweigh the risks.

"I'm sure there'd be some people who'd be disappointed, but they'd get over it. Things have cooled down a lot since June," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a close Clinton ally. "When I heard about it, I thought, 'What an inspired choice, what a bold move, and what an incredible, positive signal to the world.' "

Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. also continued to make phone calls to foreign leaders, as they have since the transition began. Yesterday, Obama called Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Turkish President Abdullah Gul, while Biden spoke to Saakashvili and several other leaders, including Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

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