JENNIFER LOVEN AP White House Correspondent WASHINGTON
On his first full day in the White House, Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office for the first time as president and summoned economic advisers and top military officials to meetings aimed at making early progress on the change he promised. A prayer breakfast at Washington National Cathedral and an open house at the presidential mansion were also on the schedule of the 44th president, taking office on a promise to fix the battered economy and withdraw U.S. troops from the unpopular war in Iraq on a 16-month timetable. Obama's first White House meetings as president meshed with quickened efforts in Congress to add top Cabinet officials to the roster of those confirmed on Tuesday and to advance the economic stimulus measure that is a top priority of his administration. Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner was called before the Senate Finance Committee for a confirmation hearing certain to touch on his disclosure that he had only belatedly paid personal taxes owed earlier in the decade. Separately, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., awaited confirmation as secretary of state. Republicans had refused to permit her confirmation on Tuesday when several other Cabinet officials were approved. A new poll underscored the sense of anticipation that accompanied Obama into office. The Associated Press-Knowledge Networks survey found that by a 3-1 margin, people feel more optimistic about the country's future now that Obama has been inaugurated, including 30 percent of Republicans. "Tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow, the work begins," Obama sai d Tuesday night at the Commander in Chief Ball, one of 10 official black-tie celebrations he whirled through with His wife Michelle. After getting to the White House around 1 a.m., Obama ventured into the Oval Office for the first time as president around 8:30 a.m. today, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said. The meeting with economic advisers, called for later in the day, came at a time when 11 million Americans are out of work and millions more feel the loss of savings and face the prospect of foreclosures on their homes. Last week, Congress cleared the way for use of a second, $350 billion installment of financial-industry bailout money, a pre-inaugural victory for Obama. Democratic leaders hope to have the $825 billion economic stimulus measure to his desk by mid-February. "Fortunately, we've seen Congress immediately start working on the economic recovery package, getting that passed and putting people back to work," Obama said in an ABC News interview. "That's going to be the thing we'll be most focused on." The war in Iraq that he has promised to end featured prominently in Obama's first day as well. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, were among those called in for the meeting as the new president assumed the role of commander in chief. In his inaugural address on Tuesday, Obama said his goal was to "responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan." The two unfinished wars are twinned for Obama. He has promised to bring U.S. combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office, as long as doing so wouldn't endanger either the Americans left behind for training and terrorism-fighting nor the security gains in Iraq. And he has said he would use that drawdown to bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, where U.S.-backed fighters are losing ground against a resurgent Taliban. Among the possibilities for early executive actions are: the naming of a Middle East envoy, critical at a time of renewed hostilities between Israelis and the Palestinians; an order closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a move that will take considerable time to execute and comes on the heels of a suspension of war crimes trials there pending a review; prohibiting in most cases the harsh interrogation techniques for suspected terrorists that have damaged the U.S. image around the globe; overturning the so-called Mexico City policy that forbids U. S. funding for family planning programs that offer abortion, and lifting former President George W. Bush's limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. But Gibbs said that most such substantive executive orders will probably wait until Thursday or later. The push today will be to issue orders making clear Obama's intention to hold all White House staff to high ethics standards and to start delivering on the pledge of making his administration more transparent to Americans. Within hours of Obama taking the oath of office on Tuesday, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ordered all federal agencies to put the brakes on any pending regulations that the Bush administration sought to push through in its final days.