The President-elect sat for an interview with esteemed reporters from the beleaguered Tribune Company yesterday — Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons of the LA Times and John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune.
First and foremost, PEBO says, "I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time. My strong belief is that it needed to be filled by somebody who is going to represent the people of Illinois and fight for them. And beyond that, I was focused on the transition."
As for questions about conversations between Gov. Blagojevich or his chief of staff John Harris with any of Mr. Obama’s top aides, the President-elect said, "Let me stop you there because… it’s an ongoing…. investigation. I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that’s the fact that I didn’t discuss this issue with the governor at all."
Asked if he has a spiritual advisor, Mr. Obama says, "You know, one of the wonderful things that we did during the campaign was to set up sort of a prayer circle across the country, of pastors who, from all denominations, all religious faiths, who would every morning, a few of them would get on the phone and pray for me. Sometimes I’d get on the phone. And, you know, they’re made up of people as diverse as, you know, T.D. Jakes, Rick Warren, Joseph Lowery, just a wonderful collection of people and, by the way, across the political spectrum. I’m not even sure that all of them voted for me. But they were willing to pray for me. And that’s something that was wonderful.
"Michelle and I have not found a home church since we left Trinity [United Church of Christ]. And it didn’t make sense for us to join one now, right before we’re about to move. So, I’m reliant on the pastors who are friends of mine and who I talk to for support and my own prayer life at home…we will definitely find a church to attend in D.C., and we frankly haven’t thought about it yet because right now we’re just trying to make sure that we don’t lose anything in the move, including our children."
Of his pledge to speak to the Muslim world in an Islamic capital, Obama said that is "something that I intend to follow through on. What the time frame is, how we structure that, you know, is something that I will determine with my national security team in the coming weeks and months. But I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular. So, we need to take advantage of that and the message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the kind of terrorist extremism that we saw in Mumbai. We will be at the same time unrelenting in our desire to create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership with countries and peoples of goodwill who want their citizens and ours to prosper together. And I think that the world is ready for that message."
No date for that, though.
Also, Mr. Obama intends to be sworn in as "Barack Hussein Obama," saying "I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I’ll do what everybody else does."
(Actually, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were sworn in as such.)
He intends to keep his Chicago home. "Let me explain to you, my Kennebunkport is on the South Side of Chicago. We own one piece of property, and that is our home in Chicago. It is 10 minutes away from where Michelle grew up and where her mother still has a house. Our friends are here. Our family is here. And so we are going to try to come back here as often as possible. My expectation would be that, depending on what my schedule looks like, you know, we’re going to try to get back here at least once every six weeks or couple months."
About his attorney general nominee’s role in the Marc Rich pardon, PEBO says, "With respect to Eric Holder, everybody who looks at his record says the guy was an outstanding attorney, an outstanding prosecutor, an outstanding judge, an outstanding No. 2 at the Justice Department. And Eric has acknowledged that the [Marc] Rich pardon was a mistake on his part, not having caught that earlier. I agree with him. I think it was a mistake. But when you look at the totality of his experience, there is no doubt that he is going to be an outstanding attorney general."
About criticisms from liberal activists that his White House and Cabinet picks have been too centrist, the President-elect says, "look, I have chosen the people who I think are best equipped to carry out an agenda of change. And people haven’t been arguing somehow that my agenda has changed, because it hasn’t. …all the promises I made during the campaign, there has been no sense that I’m backing off on them. What I’ve been putting in place is a Cabinet of extraordinarily qualified, competent people who would not have accepted my offer for them to join my administration unless they believed in my vision, and I think the proof of the pudding is going to be in what we get done."