President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, also served under President Bill Clinton.
President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, also served under President Bill Clinton. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
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Thursday, November 27, 2008


Obama Defends Insider Choices

CHICAGO -- Barack Obama defended himself Wednesday against charges that his campaign mantra of "Change We Can Believe In" is being undermined by his decision to stock his administration with familiar faces.

"What we are going to do," the president-elect said during his third news conference in three days, "is combine experience with fresh thinking."

"I expect . . . the American people would be troubled," Obama told reporters here, "if I selected a Treasury secretary or a chairman of the National Economic Council at one of the most critical economic times in our history who had no experience in government whatsoever."

Obama made clear that even though he is surrounding himself with strong personalities, he is confident of his own ability to design and execute a governing agenda.

"Understand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost," Obama asserted. "It comes from me. That's my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure that my team is implementing it."

During a week in which he has tried to show that he can handle the most worrisome economic crisis in recent history, he appointed New York Federal Reserve President Timothy F. Geithner as Treasury secretary and former Treasury secretary Lawrence F. Summers to direct economic policy in the White House.

Obama's chief of staff is Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who was a top adviser to President Bill Clinton. The 47-year-old former senator from Illinois will keep Robert M. Gates, a Bush appointee, as defense secretary and is widely expected to name Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as his secretary of state next week.

Obama said that serving in the Clinton administration -- the last time Democrats ran the White House -- should not be a bar to running the Treasury Department, for example, "because that would mean that the person had no experience in Washington whatsoever."

"We need people who are going to be able to hit the ground running," he said.

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