By Al Kamen
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The first sign of this historic presidential transition occurred at 12:01 p.m., even minutes before Barack Obama was sworn into office. The official White House Web site got a major face-lift.

Out were biographies of Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney. In were biographies of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.

Out were photographs of Barney and Miss Beazley. In was video of Obama's whistle-stop train tour to Washington.

"Change has come to America," screamed a headline next to a formal portrait of Obama on the site, WhiteHouse.gov.

The new Web site contains much of the same historical information as it did under President Bush: details of Camp David, Air Force One and the Oval Office, biographies of past presidents and first ladies, information on White House tours.

But it now has Obama's agenda on 24 subjects, which looks to have been copied from the Obama transition team's site, Change.gov.

The sites for federal agencies, meanwhile, were changed yesterday. The blue background of the Labor Department's site changed in tone, while the State Department's Web site removed the photograph of Condoleezza Rice and posted secretary-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton's picture from her Senate confirmation hearing.

Read and Weep

Eight years ago, the punditocracy, with some liberal grumbling about tax cuts and a few Justice Department appointments, wrote with a bit of optimism of the prospects of the no-child-left-behind "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush, who had tapped many of his dad's and former president Gerald R. Ford's advisers to help him.

But the satiric left-leaning weekly, the Onion, with its patented cynical parody, blasted away with this Jan. 17, 2001, "news story."

"Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address yesterday that 'our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over,' " the Onion reported.

"My fellow Americans," Bush supposedly said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

And the Onion said Bush promised to bring an end to the "severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years."

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," the paper quoted Bush as saying. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

The article continued: "On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further."

Yesterday, despite President Obama's talk about coming together, about being positive and looking forward, the Onion continued the barbs -- though aiming them for the moment at another Democrat.

"Network news cameras covering Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony yesterday captured Hillary Clinton silently moving her lips along with each word of the minute-long presidential oath of office," the paper reported yesterday. "As she stood watching several yards from Chief Justice John Roberts, the former Democratic presidential candidate could be observed placing her left hand on a leather appointment book and raising her right hand slightly from her hip."

No Hard Feelings

We didn't spot him, but none other than former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock was scheduled to be sitting in the audience yesterday to watch Vice President Biden take the oath of office. It was borrowing from one of Kinnock's speeches that knocked Biden out of the 1988 presidential campaign. "They're old friends," a Biden source told our colleague Mary Ann Akers.

Get-Well Wishes

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seizure at the traditional leadership luncheon for the new president cast a pall on the occasion. And former senator Thomas A. Daschle, Department of Health and Human Services secretary-designate, skipped the inauguration because a family member was ailing. A Daschle spokeswoman would not release details, except to confirm that Daschle was out of Washington today because of a family emergency. Two other sources said that one of Daschle's three younger brothers has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Staying Put

More Bush administration ambassadors are being asked to stay on. Greg Schulte, who serves as the permanent representative of the United States to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. office in Vienna, told his senior staff last week that he has been asked to stay on until June 20 and that he had an "onward assignment," according to a source who was there. Schulte, executive director of the National Security Council when former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice headed it, has what might charitably be called a strained relationship with IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.

We're told that at the staff meeting Schulte joked about being happy to disappoint ElBaradei by staying a bit longer. Unclear what his next job will be, but it apparently starts in July.

Moving In

The Obama Justice Department is starting to look like a hotbed of anti-Guantanamo and anti-torture folks. Neal Katyal, who represented Osama bin Laden driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan in the Supreme Court in a successful challenge to the military's trials in Guantanamo, has been tapped to be deputy solicitor general. That'll put him before the justices on a fairly regular basis.

Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, who had been in the department's office of legal counsel in Clinton days and who has been a leading critic of both warrantless wiretapping and torture, is moving back into that office, once home to John Yoo, who wrote that torture could be legal and that enemy combatants don't have much in the way of legal rights.

Doubtless there will be a complete turnaround on those issues.

Moving On

Outgoing Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, whose résumé would take up this whole column, is heading to McLarty Associates to be a vice chairman. A career diplomat, Negroponte has been ambassador to Mexico, the Philippines and Honduras and ambassador to the United Nations and then Iraq. He was also the first director of national intelligence before moving back to Foggy Bottom. Negroponte will also be lecturing at Yale.

Career diplomat David Welch, a Middle East expert who has been ambassador to Egypt and, until last month assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, has landed a job at Bechtel, according to LibyaMonitor.com. Bechtel, the mega-pipeline construction company, has numerous projects in the region.

Marc Thiessen, Bush's top speechwriter, is launching a new business with conservative author Peter Schweizer called Oval Office Writers, writing speeches, books, strategerizing. He'll also be writing a book with Schweizer on counterterrorism efforts.

With Philip Rucker

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