ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:
President-elect Barack Obama held his second press availability of the week at his Transition office in downtown Washington, D.C., this morning, formally announcing his picks for his Intelligence team.
Obama announced –- in person — Leon Panetta to be director of the CIA and Retired Adm. Dennis Blair as director of National Intelligence — to round out his intelligence and national security team. Deputy CIA director Steve Kappes was not in attendance, though all indications are that he will remain at his post.
“Admiral Dennis Blair has seen the diverse uses of intelligence from many different perspectives," the President-elect said of Blair, a former commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific. "Over several decades in uniform, he learned firsthand the necessity of good intelligence for our men and women in uniform. And as a former NSC staffer and the first associate director of Central Intelligence for Military Support, he is uniquely qualified to build bridges of cooperation among our national security institutions.”
Mr. Obama called former Congressman, OMB director and former White House chief of Staff Leon Panetta “one of the finest public servants of our time.”
Obama has come under fire for his pick of Panetta, who lacks first hand intelligence experience. Both the incoming and outgoing chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee — Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jay Rockefeller, D-WV — have suggested they wish Mr. Obama had nominated a candidate for CIA director who comes from the intelligence community.
Mr. Obama attempted to preempt more criticism in opening remarks, “He has handled intelligence daily at the very highest levels, and time and again, he has demonstrated sound judgment, grace under fire, and complete integrity," Mr. Obama said, adding that Panetta will have his “complete trust and substantial clout” in the CIA.
Obama additionally announced his pick for the current DNI, Mike McConnell to be named to Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Michael Leiter to stay on in his role now as National Counterterrorism Center Director, and John Brennan for his Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism (serving with the rank of assistant to the president).
When asked, the president-elect made clear that his national security team would supervises a change in the Bush administration’s policies on interrogation and detention.
“I was clear throughout this campaign and have been clear throughout this transition that under my administration, the states does not torture," he said. "We will abide by the Geneva Conventions that we
will uphold our highest values and ideals. And that is a clear charge that I’ve given to Admiral Blair and to Leon Panetta.”
Job Numbers and Stimulus
The president-elect commented on the jobs numbers released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing a loss of 524,000 jobs in December — making 2008 the worst year for jobs since 1945 — and an unemployment rate at 7.2 percent. He used the grim numbers as an example of why there needs to be action and urgency in moving to pass his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
“This morning, we received a stark reminder about how urgently action is needed,” Obama said, noting that jobs were lost in all 12 months of the year, “Clearly, the situation is dire. It is deteriorating and it demands urgent and immediate action.”
The president-elect said his staff has been engaged in a “constructive dialogue” with members of Congress about his recovery plan and that he believes they’ve made, “good progress in these consultations,” to help the economy.
“There is a devastating economic crisis that will become more come more difficult to contain with time,” Obama warned again. “For the sake of our economy and our people, this is the moment to act and to act without delay.”
Asked about Democrats on the Hill voicing opinions about the tax proposals in his stimulus plan, Obama indicated he would continue to “hone and refine” the package over the next several weeks in consultation with opinions from different places and people and intends to keep working with Congress in a "collaborative fashion."
One of those opinions Obama indicated he wouldn’t refuse is Nobel-Prize wining New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman, who writes in this morning’s New York Times that Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan "falls well short of what’s needed."
“If Paul Krugman has a good idea in terms of how to spend money efficiently and effectively to jumpstart of economy, then we’re going to do it. If somebody has an idea for a tax cut that is better than a tax cut we’ve proposed, we will embrace it,” Obama said, “If members of Congress have good ideas, if they can identify a project for me that will create jobs in an efficient way, that does not hamper our ability to, over the long term, get control of our deficit, that is good for the economy, then I’m going accept it.”
Mr. Obama said that he is not just enlisting in “intellectual exercise” when he’s inviting all voices and opinions for suggestions. “There’s no pride of authorship,” the president-elect said.
When asked if working the stimulus bill though Congress was harder than he’d anticipated, Obama joked, “you’re assuming that I expected it to be easy,” and then added: “No. It’s always hard. But I have confidence that we’re going to get it.”
– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller