Rep. Emanuel accepts White House job as transition begins

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama, who will make his first visit to the White House next week as president-elect, on Thursday named Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff.

Obama said in a statement that he picked the Illinois congressman, a former Clinton White House aide, because "no one I know is better at getting things done."

Emanuel, the hard-driving architect of the huge Democratic gains in the House in 2006, had served as No. 4 leader in the House power structure.

The president-elect called Emanuel his "good friend" and praised his "deep insights into the challenging economic issues that will be front and center for our Administration."

In a statement directed to Obama, Emanuel said he was accepting the job "for one simple reason — like the record amount of voters who cast their ballot over the last month, I want to do everything I can to help deliver the change America needs."

He also issued a pre-emptive strike against Republican members of Congress who might be wary of his reputation as a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners politician.

"We often disagree, but I respect their motives," he said. "Now is a time for unity, and Mr. President-elect, I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose."

Even before the official announcement, Republicans reacted quickly and sharply to word of his appointment. House Republican leader John Boehner, of Ohio, called it "an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center."

Alex Conant, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Obama's move "undermines his promise to 'heal the divides'." He called Emanuel "a partisan insider who played a lead role in breaking Washington."

"The White House needs a chief of staff —not a chief campaigner like Emanuel. Our nation will be ill-served if Obama runs the White House the way 'Rahmbo' ran the Democratic Congress."

It was Obama's first high-level appointment and reflected the quickening pace by the president-elect to put together his new team.

Obama, who was receiving his first in-depth intellgience briefing, will also be making his first public appearance Friday since winning the presidency. He will meet with economic advisers to discuss the nation's financial woes and afteward brief the media.

In addition, the Illinois senator and his wife, Michelle, will visit the White House on Monday at President Bush's invitation, aides said.

The White House said Bush will show Obama around the Oval office on Monday afternoon and Laura Bush will give Michelle Obama a tour of the residence. The two Oama children will not accompany them, said White House spokesperson Dana Perino.

"Michelle and I look forward to meeting with President Bush and the First Lady on Monday to begin the process of a smooth, effective transition," Obama said in a statement. "I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship that will be required to meet the many challenges we face as a nation."

Bush, speaking Thursday morning to his executive staff on the South Lawn of the White House, said a smooth transition to a new president is a top priority for him.

"This peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of a true democracy," he told about a 1,000 members of the White House executive staff gathered on the South Lawn. "And ensuring that this transition is as smooth as possible is a priority for the rest of my presidency."

"No matter how we cast our ballots, this election gives us all reason to be proud of our democracy and our country," he said.

He noted that the transition process has already been underway for months, even before Election Day, under a presidential executive order to key agencies.

Bush referred to the country's economic challenges and noted that the transfer of power in January will mark the first during a time of war in four decades.

"We're in a struggle against violent extremists determined to attack us," he said. "They would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change to harm the American people. So, for the next 75 days, all of us must ensure that the next president and his team can hit the ground running."

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also said Thursday says he will work closely with the incoming president as the country battles financial difficulties.

"A methodical and orderly transition is in the best interests of the financial markets," Paulson said."

In preparation for taking the reins of power in January, Obama has also set up a transition, headed by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, has moved into offices in Chicago, Obama's campaign headquarters, and Washington.

The transition team includes Pete Rouse, who has been Obama's chief of staff in the Senate; and Valerie Jarrett, a friend of the president-elect and campaign adviser.

Contributing: The Associated Press