November 5, 2008 / 3:24 PM / 10 years ago

Obama asks Rep. Emanuel to lead White House staff

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has asked Illinois congressman Rahm Emanuel to head his White House staff as he moves quickly to fill government jobs in his incoming administration.

Sources said that the chief of staff job was offered to Emanuel, 48, a senior Democratic lawmaker known for a hard-charging style, just hours after Obama was elected on Tuesday.

Emanuel, who has close ties to Obama’s inner circle and is a fellow Chicagoan, was expected to accept the offer, which would make him the main gatekeeper to the Oval Office.

Obama could announce that decision and possibly other key posts, such as Treasury secretary, on Thursday. He has already launched a transition team and aides were “working fast to fill Obama’s economic and homeland security teams,” according to one of the Democratic sources.

Obama has little time to relax after he triumphed over Republican John McCain and made history as the first African American elected U.S. president.

He has just 11 weeks to prepare to grapple with two wars and a deepening financial crisis.

Former government officials and public policy experts say such early preparations are both prudent and necessary given the challenges the United States faces amid the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and economic turmoil.

“The need for a seamless transition is greater than it has been in our adult political lifetime,” said William Galston, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a professor at the University of Maryland.

“With two wars abroad and an international financial crisis going on, there cannot be a period in which the new administration is just getting up to speed,” Galston added.

Speculation is already rife about several names for Treasury secretary, one of the hottest seats in Washington.

Whoever gets that job will be faced both with guiding the $700 billion economic bailout package and the regulatory reform needed to prevent a repeat of the current crisis.

The short list includes former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, whose name has also been floated for the Treasury post, told CNBC on Wednesday he had not discussed joining the Obama administration with anybody, though he added he would never rule anything out.

Obama could soon announce other economic posts as well. Likely to end up in top advisory roles are University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee and Jason Furman, a former economic adviser to President Clinton.

FOREIGN POLICY ADVISERS

For secretary of state, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, former diplomat Richard Holbrooke, outgoing Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn are among the names in the mix.

James Steinberg, a former Clinton adviser, is a top contender for national security adviser. Susan Rice, another former Clinton aide, could be considered for that job or another senior post.

Obama also relies heavily on three foreign policy experts on his campaign staff who are likely to end up in the White House or State Department. Those three aides are Mark Lippert and Denis McDonough, both former Senate aides, and Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy speechwriter.

With wars under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama might consider keeping Robert Gates on as secretary of Defense. He might also consider tapping former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, a close adviser.

Obama’s campaign is maintaining the utmost secrecy on planning for the transition, which will occur in the 11 weeks between Nov. 4 and Jan. 20, when he will be sworn in as successor to President George W. Bush.

Obama has said he had “some pretty good ideas” about people he might tap for senior jobs and that he would “absolutely” include Republicans in his Cabinet.

Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Richard Cowan and Donna Smith in Washington and Deborah Charles in Chicago; Editing by Eric Beech

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