One President? Two Presidents? Or None?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, December 5, 2008; 9:35 AM

Looking for a little presidential leadership about now? Lotsa luck.

Some Democrats are hoping President-elect Barack Obama will start to throw his weight around sooner than later.

"At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time," House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said yesterday. "I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation."

In some ways, Obama has been moving awfully fast. Peter Baker and Helene Cooper write in the New York Times: "Mr. Obama is moving more quickly to fill his administration's top ranks than any newly elected president in modern times. He has named virtually the entire top echelon of his White House staff and nearly half of his cabinet. Just a month after his election, Mr. Obama has announced his selections for 13 of the 24 most important positions in a new administration.

"By comparison, Bill Clinton had filled only one of those jobs by this point in his transition, and Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan only two. Even the elder George Bush, who had the advantage of succeeding a fellow Republican, had picked just eight a month after his election. George W. Bush, stalled by the Florida recount, had named a chief of staff at this point in 2000 but was waiting to find out if he would even become president. . . .

"'You don't have time to waste,' said Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, who was named to his post two days after the election. 'This is the worst economic situation since the Great Depression and the largest commitment of troops overseas since Richard Nixon. That's the world we're inheriting, and the president-elect said we don't have a moment to waste putting things together.'"

As Jim Kuhnhenn notes for the Associated Press: "Obama has maintained one of the most public images of any president-elect. He has held half a dozen press conferences, where he has entertained question after question about the economy, the mortgage crisis, and the flailing auto industry. But he has meticulously avoided dictating policy or pressing members of Congress to embrace specific remedies."

David Espo writes for the AP: "Not surprisingly, neither the outgoing Bush administration, President-elect Barack Obama nor the Democratic leaders of Congress wants to be blamed for the loss of a once-proud domestic auto industry and the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of jobs. . . .

"[M]aneuvering in a sort of political twilight zone, two administrations and the Democratic leaders of Congress all give rhetorical support to the survival of the industry while trying to reassure recession-weary taxpayers there will be no blank check from the federal treasury."

Bush Says . . . Nothing of Interest

Here's what Bush had to say about Detroit yesterday, in an interview with NBC's John Yang: "No matter how important the autos are to our economy, we don't want to put good money after bad. In other words, we want to make sure that the plan they develop is one that ensures their long-term viability for the sake of the taxpayer."

From the auto industry, Yang moved on to another pressing topic: "I think when a lot of people look at the presidency, they think it is a job no one would want. The stresses, the demands, the pressures -- just -- they also think it would have a horrible effect on family life. But what struck me -- why I asked for this interview -- what struck me, in April you said in Tipp City: 'This may sound counterintuitive, but a good marriage is really good after serving together in Washington, D.C.' How is that?"

A quick reminder: Yang is White House correspondent for NBC, not Dr. Phil.

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