Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama puts 'hundreds' of Bush rulings under review

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By Leonard Doyle

Beset by war on two fronts, a rapidly emptying national Treasury and the worst economic crisis in decades, Barack Obama and George Bush are trying to ensure that the transfer of power between them goes as smoothly as possible.

The President-elect and Mr Bush will begin substantive discussions on the handover today when the Obamas visit the White House. While Laura Bush takes Michelle Obama on a tour of the first floor residential areas of her new home, Mr Bush will host his successor for talks in the Oval office.

Co-operation between the outgoing administration and the Obama team on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, looming threats of terror attacks and economic mayhem are being described by aides as "unprecedented". Mr Bush said at the weekend that a seamless transition is "a top priority for the rest of my time in office".

Though far from a backslapping relationship, both President Bush and Mr Obama are said to share a common desire for a smooth transition and for the new administration to hit the ground running before further problems pile up. There are widespread expectations that the new President will be quickly tested abroad, either by acts of terrorism or direct challenges to United States interests by countries such as Iran or Russia.

The political talk shows on television yesterday morning provided evidence of the desire for co-operation, with Mr Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, urging Congress to adopt an economic stimulus package asked for by the Bush administration to ease the pain of recession. But he made clear that the President-elect would not back away from tax cuts for 95 per cent of working families and would proceed with a tax hike for the wealthiest Americans, those earning more than $250,000 (£160,000) a year, despite of the economic slowdown.

It is also obvious that the mood of co-operation may well snap before the 20 January inauguration as Mr Obama presses for access to confidential documents and lays out plans to reverse Mr Bush's controversial legacy.

Public expectations for change are sky high, but the Obama team is trying to decide which of the expansive campaign promises it made over the past 21 months should take priority in the administration's first 100 days. The "big-bang" approach – pressing ahead on multiple fronts – seems to have been put on hold by his transition advisers. John Podesta, the leader of the transition team, pointed yesterday to a more pragmatic "step-by-step", or "hybrid", start to the presidency.

In a radio address over the weekend Mr Obama he said his first priority is an economic recovery programme. Now the debate is whether to tackle health care, climate change and energy independence all at once or to stagger them. But his team is discouraging talk of a fast-paced 100-day agenda.

Mr Obama has made clear for months, however, that he wants to scrap as many as 200 of the most controversial decisions of Mr Bush's eight years in office. A team of 48 advisers is already drawing up a list of measures they intend to undo, relating to torture, federal funding for stem cell research, reproductive rights and climate change.

As soon as he takes over Mr Obama is expected to issue an executive order declaring that CO2 emissions from factories are a danger to human welfare, a big leap forward in the battle to reverse the effects of climate change. He will also reverse a decision to prevent California from regulating CO2 emissions from cars. At the stroke of a pen Mr Obama is expected to wipe out many Bush-era policies that have caused angst abroad, including the global ban on US aid for family planning groups abroad that provide any advice on abortion.

Mr Obama and Mr Bush have met in the White House before. On a visit with a group of newly elected senators in 2004, Mr Obama relates in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, the President called out "Obama!" before taking him to one side and offering him the following, now rather prophetic-sounding, advice: "You've got a bright future. Very bright. But I've been in this town a while and let me tell you, it can be tough ... Everybody will be waiting for ya to slip. So watch yourself."

Breaking down walls: Black history at the White House

*When Barack and Michelle Obama walk through the White House today, they will be carrying with them the mixed emotions of generations of African-Americans.

There will be reminders of the length of time it has taken for black Americans to feel at home in a mansion built by slave labour and where for decades the only blacks welcome were servants.

It was not until 1973, under Richard Nixon's presidency, that Sammy Davis Jr and his wife became the first black guests to sleep over.

After Booker T. Washington dined there with Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 a newspaper called it "the most damnable outrage which has ever been perpetrated by any citizen".

Before the election Mr Obama referred to the powerful symbolism of his children, Malia and Sasha, scampering about the White House.

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson brought slaves with him to the White House, and for nearly fifty years they helped run it.

Amidst the struggles over slavery, the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass was the most prominent black visitor. When Barack Obama's hero Abraham Lincoln was president, he visited three times.

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