In his first major interview since polling day, President-elect Barack Obama said last night that upon taking office he would close Guantanamo Bay and ban torture by the American military. He also said it would be “a disaster” if the US car industry were to collapse in the midst of today’s economic crisis.
Mr Obama provided America with a glimpse of both the problems his administration will face and the bipartisan tone he intends to adopt once he takes office. The President-elect, joined by his wife, Michelle, discussed his priorities and the impact of the election on his family.
His first priority, he said, was appointing a new national security team to ensure a smooth transition to power. But the wide-ranging interview focused largely on the threats to the US economy. “It’s my belief that we need to provide assistance to the auto industry,” Mr Obama told CBS’s 60 minutes, adding “But I think that it can’t be a blank check.”
The Senate, which he resigned from yesterday, is expected to vote this week on emergency loans to the beleaguered car industry, despite stiff opposition from Republicans.
Mr Obama meets his defeated rival, John McCain, today for the first time since crossing swords in the debates that punctuated their occasionally ill-tempered election battle. The meeting in Chicago is billed as an attempt to usher in a new era of bipartisanship, a frequent refrain of Mr Obama’s on the campaign trail.
Unlike Mr Obama’s other former rival, Hillary Clinton, who is among the top contenders for Secretary of State, Senator McCain is not being considered for a formal role in the administration. Advisers say he will be asked for help on issues where they share common ground, including climate change, ethics reform, immigration and torture.
That bipartisan mood between the former rivals may be tested if Mr McCain opposes a taxpayer bailout of Detroit. The new bill would allow some of the $700bn (£350bn) fund to bail out the financial services industry to be used to rescue the car industry.
Mr Obama said he wants the aid to ensure there is a sustainable car industry, “so that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere. And that’s, I think, what you haven’t yet seen.”
On the broader economy he said “the challenges that we’re confronting are enormous, and they’re multiple. And so there are times during the course of a given a day where you think, ‘Where do I start in terms of moving – moving things forward?’
“And part of this next two months is to really get a clear set of priorities, understanding we’re not going be able to do everything at once, making sure the team is in place, and moving forward in a very deliberate way and sending a clear signal to the American people that we’re going to be thinking about them and what they’re going through.”
Mr Obama published a farewell letter to newspapers in Illinois to accompany his formal resignation of his Senate seat. He compared himself with Abraham Lincoln, “another son of Illinois” who had left for Washington, “a greater man who spoke to a nation far more divided”.