IHT : Obama plans quick use of executive power

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Obama plans quick use of executive power

The Associated Press | November 10, 2008

WASHINGTON: Barack Obama will assume the U.S. presidency with "a real mandate for change," and likely will use his executive powers to make quick changes, perhaps reversing Bush administration policies on stem cell research and oil exploration.

John Podesta, who's handling Obama's preparations to take over in the White House on Jan. 20, said on Sunday that Obama was reviewing President George W. Bush's executive orders on those and other issues as he prepares to put his own stamp on policy after eight years of Republican rule.

"There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that," Podesta said. "I think that he feels like he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set."

Use of executive authority is the quickest way for a new president to exert his power, given that passage of new laws by Congress can be a painfully slow process, even when the chief executive enjoys a legislative majority.

Podesta pointed specifically to two particularly controversial Bush executive orders as candidates for reversal.

"I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country," Podesta said.

Obama has supported stem cell research in an effort to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Also, the federal Bureau of Land Management is opening about 360,000 acres (145,000 hectares) of public land in Utah to oil and gas drilling, leading to protests from environmentalists.

"They want to have oil and gas drilling in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah," Podesta said. "I think that's a mistake."

Speaking on Fox television, Podesta said Obama was working to build a diverse Cabinet likely to include Republicans and independents — part of the broad coalition that supported Obama during the race against Republican John McCain.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been mentioned as a possible holdover.

"He's not even a Republican," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on CNN. "Why wouldn't we want to keep him? He's never been a registered Republican."

Obama, who will be the nation's 44th president, was to hold its first postelection meeting with Bush this week.

Bush and first lady Laura, will host Obama, his wife Michelle, and their two daughters — 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha — for a Monday tour of the executive mansion. Obama and Bush were expected to hold substantive meetings then as well.

Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of the Obama transition team, said Michelle Obama, the next first lady, would focus on her two daughters and has no interest in a role in decision-making.

Jarrett told NBC television her friend would first work to settle her daughters into their new life at the White House. Then, Jarrett said, the next first lady wanted to help women juggling a career and motherhood, assist military spouses and promote volunteerism.

In other transition matters, Obama's new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, would not say whether Obama would return to the Senate for votes during the postelection session this month.

Obama's presence would be extraordinary, given his position as president-elect, especially if Congress takes up a much-anticipated economic stimulus plan.

"I think that the basic approach has been he's going to be ... in Chicago, setting up his economic, not only his economic team, but the policies he wants to outline for the country as soon as he gets sworn in, so we hit the ground running," Emanuel said.

During a coming lame-duck session, Congress will take up a second economic stimulus package in hopes of stopping the country's downward economic skid.

Obama said at his first postelection news conference on Friday that his priority on taking office was such a package that he would work to push through if Congress fails to pass the legislation or if should Bush veto it.

Emanuel would not commit to a Democratic proposal to help the failing American auto industry with some of the $700 billion approved last month by Congress to help the financial sector.

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at an Egyptian Red Sea resort in an effort to ease escalating tensions in the final weeks of the Bush administration.

Lavrov said Russia was not satisfied with the latest U.S. proposals on nuclear arms reduction and missile defense, but declared that positions expressed earlier by Obama provide hope for a "more constructive" approach, Russian news agencies reported Sunday.

Meanwhile, Obama's name was invoked at church services nationwide on Sunday, but he didn't attend any of them. He went to the gym instead.

Obama doesn't have a church in Chicago since he severed ties in April with his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. His decision on which church to attend when he moves to Washington will undoubtedly be closely watched.

When he left Trinity United Church of Christ in May, Obama said his family would look for a new congregation. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday that the president-elect hadn't yet picked a church.