Obama picks another Chicagoan for senior post, sets meeting with McCain

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 14, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama on Friday named longtime friend and campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett to a senior post in his White House, a move that makes clear the importance of his Chicago political connections as he moves to take the reins of power in Washington.

Jarrett, who as an aide to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley once hired Michelle Obama for a city job, will be Obama's go-between with state governments and public advocacy groups and will have daily contact with the president. Her title will be senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison.

Last week, Obama named Chicago Congressman Rahm Emanuel to be his White House chief of staff.

The announcement of Jarrett's White House posting — the first senior spot to go to an African-American — came on a day in which the Obama transition team stepped up its preparations to take office on Jan. 20.

Dozens of experts assigned to Obama's transition team fanned out into federal departments, agencies and commissions to gather information that will help the incoming administration get a jump on policymaking, budgeting and personnel decisions.

These included areas where President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's policies have been under intense scrutiny by Democrats, including the Executive Office of the President, national security programs, the Justice Department and energy programs.

The list of agency-review team leaders released Friday included names such as Rand Beers, a former counterterrorism adviser to Bush who resigned from the National Security Council in protest of the invasion of Iraq.

Obama also reached out to his former rivals, setting up a meeting for Monday with Sen. John McCain, the vanquished Republican presidential candidate, after apparently meeting Thursday in Chicago with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Obama said the private meeting with McCain in Chicago was intended to discuss areas of common ground.

The president-elect and his staff weren't talking about the meeting in Chicago with Clinton. Clinton's name has surfaced as a potential pick for secretary of state, and some Obama advisers, who were former advisers to Clinton and former President Clinton, want to promote her as a candidate.

Obama also may consider the New York senator an essential ally in the Senate as he pursues a major expansion of health-care coverage for Americans, which she's championed for decades. Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines declined comment Friday, saying it was up to Obama's team to address "any speculation about Cabinet or other administration appointments.";

Meanwhile, two of Obama's surrogates were meeting with representatives of at least 15 major world powers and key U.S. allies in Washington for the global economic summit.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican who backed Obama, are to meet Saturday with representatives of China, Japan, Turkey, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, France and Italy.

Since Thursday, the Obama transition team said, they've met with representatives of Russia, India, Australia, Germany, Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Argentina and with the secretary general of the United Nations.

Obama's meeting Monday with McCain also will be attended by Emanuel and by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of McCain's closest friends and allies.

In an interview Friday, Graham said Emanuel asked for the meeting about a week ago.

"We were talking about some things that we could work together on," Graham said. Graham mentioned immigration policy and a long-term strategy for Social Security solvency as areas where bipartisan solutions are needed. McCain also has supported lifting restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research and has championed campaign-finance and anti-corruption efforts, stances that appeal to Obama.

While McCain was at times hostile or dismissive toward Obama during the campaign, Graham said Friday that McCain was "very duty-oriented" and that "the election's over. It's time to move on."

Jarrett's appointment came after speculation that she might be named to replace Obama in the Senate. But Jarrett had said in recent days that she was not interested in the job.

Jarrett, a lawyer, is the president and CEO of The Habitat Co., a real estate developer, and was a frequent presence on the campaign trail. She's one of three co-chairs of the Obama transition team.

(James Rosen contributed to this report.)

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