"There’s only one president at a time," President-elect Barack Obama has repeated time and time again in recent weeks.
But a powerful House Democrat disagrees. Zero is more like it, says Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and so Obama better step up.
"At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time," Frank told consumer advocates Thursday, according to the Associated Press. "I’m afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He’s got to remedy that situation."
How to remedy that?
"He’s going to have to be more assertive than he’s been," demanded Frank.
But while the Massachusetts lawmaker chairs the House Financial Services Committee – which will hear from Detroit’s "Beg Three" tomorrow – his colleague in the upper chamber, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., heads the Senate Banking Committee, which just welcomed the auto executives to Capitol Hill today.
And after today’s hearing, Dodd gave a much more complimentary of Obama’s work thus far.
"The President-elect has to be – look, as he said, ‘one president at a time’," Dodd told reporters. "Now he’s done a lot already by announcing his economic team, announcing a stimulus package, meeting with governors. He’s made some very important symbolic gestures, a lot more involved than certainly any of us who have been around for a while with presidents-elect. So I welcome what he’s done already."
Just yesterday, Obama weighed in with a preview of today’s auto executives’ encore appearance in Washington, following their much-ridiculed visit two weeks ago.
"It appears, based on reports that we’ve seen, that this time now the executives from these automakers are putting forward a more serious set of plans," Obama said at his Wednesday news conference in Chicago. "I don’t want to comment on them before I’ve actually heard and seen what they’re putting forward. But I’m glad that they recognize the expectations of Congress, certainly, my expectations that we should maintain a viable auto industry, but we should also make sure that any government assistance that’s provided is designed for a — is based on realistic assessments of what the auto market is going to be and a realistic plan for how we’re going to make these companies viable over the long term."
Some Capitol Hill critics have urged Obama and Bush to do more to improve the chances of an automaker bailout getting approved by Congress, but Dodd said that rather than looking to Obama to change the situation, lawmakers should demand more from the Bush Administration.
"I don’t think he wants to get drawn in, and I wouldn’t blame him, in a situation that he could not really effectuate," Dodd said of the President-elect. "It really is up to the existing team that has the ability and authority to respond within a matter of hours to a situation. That’s their job. The President is still the President."
And not only could Bush do more, noted Dodd, but so too could Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, currently on a trip abroad. And Fed chief Ben Bernanke, also.
"The Secretary of the Treasury is in China right now. It’s time to come home. We’ve got a serious problem on our hands. And I realize that he’s got a meeting over there, but we need him here. And I need the Federal Reserve to step up as well."
Obama warned yesterday that he is keeping a watchful eye on how Paulso allocates the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program funds.
"What I can assure you is that my team is very active in reviewing what’s already been done to ensure that when we hit the ground running on January 20th, that any taxpayer money is going to be properly spent," he said, encouraging plans to help homeowners in an effort to help the economy as a whole.
– Jake Tapper and Matt Jaffe
ABC News’ Dean Norland also contributed to this report.