Obama prepares to face economic crisis

CHICAGO -- Barack Obama will meet today with his team of economic advisers and hold his first news conference as the nation's president-elect.

Obama began to assume the burdens and privileges of the presidency Thursday: The Democrat received a classified intelligence briefing, confirmed the appointment of Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, and returned congratulatory calls from world leaders.

Economists said today's meeting of the Obama financial team could help bolster confidence that the president-elect will move quickly to shore up the struggling economy.

The stock market plummeted more than 400 points on both Wednesday and Thursday. The number of people drawing unemployment benefits hit a 25-year high, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Obama's meeting, just three days after his election, shows that he "understands the gravity of the situation," said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economist at RDQ Economics. Nigel Gault, chief domestic economist for Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm, said Obama's move "reassures the markets" that the president-elect "intends to hit the ground running."

Vice President-elect Joe Biden will also participate in the session with the diverse group of economists, academics and business leaders who advised Obama during his campaign. They include William Donaldson, a Republican who headed the Securities and Exchange Commission during President Bush's first term, and Robert Reich, Labor secretary for President Clinton.

Also in the group are CEOs Richard Parsons of Time-Warner and Eric Schmidt of Google, and Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard. Summers, who was Treasury secretary under Clinton, is a candidate to return to that job in the Obama administration.

Obama's question-and-answer session with reporters is set for 2:30 p.m. ET.

Future chief of staff Emanuel is giving up a House leadership post to return to the White House with Obama. He served as a top aide to Clinton before running for Congress from Chicago.

In his statement announcing Emanuel's appointment, Obama cited the lawmaker's experience in crafting "large and complicated financial transactions" during several years as an investment banker and his political savvy.

"Rahm knows how to get things done in Washington," Obama said.

Emanuel, known for bare-knuckled partisanship extended an olive branch to "my Republican colleagues, who serve with dignity, decency and a deep sense of patriotism."

"We often disagree, but I respect their motives. Now is a time for unity," he said in a statement.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a close friend of Obama's opponent in the presidential race, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hailed Emanuel's appointment as "a wise choice."

Graham and Emanuel worked together negotiating the logistics of the fall presidential debates for their respective candidates. Emanuel "can be a tough partisan but also understands the need to work together," Graham said.

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell flew to Chicago to deliver Obama's first President's Daily Brief, the classified assessment of threats around the globe that will be part of his White House routine. The 75-minute briefing took place at FBI headquarters here.

Obama spent three hours Thursday afternoon in meetings. His staff did not announce his agenda, but just before heading to his home on Chicago's South Side, Obama lingered at the door of his SUV as he talked to Denis McDonough, one of his foreign policy advisers.

Obama also returned the calls of several leaders he'll soon be working with, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

Obama, who was sharply critical of Bush on the campaign trail, also thanked the president for promoting "a smooth, effective transition."

"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," he said.