Obama’s White House Transition Strategy Begins to Emerge

November 6, 2008

Stephen Hess joined Judy Woodruff and Norman Ornstein on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer to discuss President-elect Barack Obama’s transition strategy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Today’s announcement that Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel has accepted the job of White House chief of staff in the new Obama administration signals the start of the complicated process of transitioning from one president to another.

For a look at what’s involved, we are joined by Steven Hess, senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution and the author of the book “What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President-Elect.”

And Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, he is currently advising the Bush administration’s transition council.

Thank you both for being with us.

Norm Ornstein, I’m going to begin with you. This selection of Rahm Emanuel, what does it say about the kind of administration Barack Obama is going to be running?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: It was an interesting choice, Judy. You know, this is somebody Obama has been friends with for years, knows Chicago politics, knows the House of Representative, while, of course, Obama and Biden know the Senate, and has another quality besides having worked in the White House.

You know, a president needs somebody who can make things happen. Harry Truman said, when Dwight Eisenhower got elected, “Poor Ike, he comes out of the military where you give an order and it happens. He’s going to get here in the Oval Office and say, ‘Do this, do that,’ and nothing will happen.”

You need somebody tough enough to put the fear of God into the people in your own government so that the president’s orders get carried out. And that’s a quality Rahm has.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Hess, you’re smiling. What do you make of this?

STEPHEN HESS: I’m smiling, because he mentioned the Harry Truman statement about Dwight Eisenhower. And, of course, what he did Dwight Eisenhower do? He brought in Sherman Adams.

Sherman Adams had been in Congress. He was the governor. He was tough. He could get things to happen. And he was a very — he was a brass-knuckles type, as perhaps Rahm Emanuel is, as well.

And for six years, until he got into a scandal himself, he did a very good job. So if that’s the model, not bad.

Obama must set priorities

JUDY WOODRUFF: Seventy-five days from now until Barack Obama becomes the president, Steve Hess. What are the first things he needs to be worried about getting done right now?

STEPHEN HESS: OK. First, he’s got to sort out his priorities. He’s got to decide, as Ronald Reagan did, about five things that could get done, what order you want to do it. Be ready to move quickly.

You’ve got to sort them out into long term and short term, too. If they’re going to be very long term and you’re not going to be able to do it quickly because you don’t have enough money, at least give some transparency. Tell the American people what’s ahead for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you talking about major goals he needs to set?

STEPHEN HESS: Major goals, yes. Major goals. Look, if Bill Clinton had done this, just simply set out the five things you wanted to do, he wouldn’t have gotten into the question of gays in the military. That’s not what his campaign was all about. It was about, “It’s the economy, stupid.” And so he hit the ground stumbling.

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