Economy Dominates Obama's Speech

Amid reports of high unemployment and job losses, a cautious yet authoritative President-elect Barack Obama faced reporters today in his first public address since his acceptance speech.

Standing with members of his transition economic advisery board, Obama avoided stepping on the current president's toes but adopted a commanding tone when speaking about the economy.

"Immediately after I become president, I'm going to confront this economic crisis head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hard-working families, and restore growth and prosperity," he said. "The one thing I can say with certainty is that we are going to need to see a stimulus package passed either before or after inauguration."

He also signaled that help is on the way for the troubled auto industry, which is reeling from substantial losses. The chief executives of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler warned Congress today that the industry is in danger of collapsing and it could take as much as $75 billion from the federal government to save it.

"The news coming out of the auto industry this week reminds us of the hardship it faces -- hardship that goes far beyond individual auto companies to the countless suppliers, small businesses and communities throughout our nation who depend on a vibrant American auto industry," Obama said.

"I would like to see the administration do everything it can to accelerate the retooling assistance that Congress has already enacted," he added. "In addition, I have made it a high priority for my transition team to work on additional policy options to help the auto industry adjust, weather the financial crisis and succeed in producing fuel-efficient cars here in the United States of America."

Obama spoke cautiously about the economy and set low expectations as to how his administration could fix the worsening economic crisis.

A Department of Labor report today showed that unemployment rate surged to 6.5 percent, the highest number in 14 years.

"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead," Obama said. "Some of the choices that we make are going to be difficult. And I have said it before and I will repeat again: It is not going to be quick and it is not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in, but America is a strong and resilient country."

The president-elect steered clear of specifics, but affirmed that he was not going to back down from his plan of increasing taxes on higher income brackets.

"My tax plan represented a net tax cut. It provided for substantial middle-class tax cuts," he said. "I think that the plan that we've put forward is the right one."

Obama had few comments on foreign policy, although he did acknowledge receiving a message of congratulations from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"I will be reviewing the letter from President Ahmadinejad, and we will respond appropriately," he said. "It's only been three days since the election. Obviously, how we approach and deal with a country like Iran is not something that we should, you know, simply do in a knee-jerk fashion."

When asked about talks with other countries, Obama was quick to reiterate that President Bush was still in charge.

"I think we've got to think it through," he said. "But I have to reiterate once again that we only have one president at a time. And I want to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole, that I am not the president and I won't be until Jan. 20."

Obama also joked about taking advice from former presidents.

"In terms of speaking to former presidents, I have spoken to all of them that are living," he said. "Obviously, President Clinton. I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances."

The remark prompted chuckles at the press conference. But later, Obama reached out to express regret to the widowed former first lady, who's recuperating from breaking her pelvis, Obama transition team spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said in a written statement.

"President-elect Barack Obama called Nancy Reagan today to apologize for the careless and off-handed remark he made during today's press conference," the statement said. "The president-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share and they had a warm conversation."

Incidentally, Nancy Reagan never held a séance at the White House, though she was reported to have consulted with an astrologer when planning her husband's schedules.

While he may not have revealed any more details about his Cabinet, Obama did reveal some important information about the topic that has generated the most interest on his Web site -- his daughters' dog.

"With respect to the dog, this is a major issue," he said. "I think it's generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything. We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypo-allergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypo-allergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog.

"But obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts, like me," he said. "So whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."