Obama's First Day Not "Business As Usual"

President Barack Obama,accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009. AP

A day after celebrating his historic inauguration, President Barack Obama spent his first full day in office instituting policies that "represent a clean break from business as usual."

The Obama administration announced salary freezes for White House employees making over $100,000 a year, placed new limits on lobbyists' White House access and had aides circulate a draft executive order that would close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year.

"The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable," Obama said as he unveiled ethics rules that he portrayed as the fulfillment of a major campaign promise. He said the action was necessary "to help restore faith in government without which we cannot deliver the changes that we were sent here to make."

Those affected by the freeze include the high-profile jobs of White House chief of staff, national security adviser and press secretary. Other aides who work in relative anonymity also would fit into that cap if Mr. Obama follows a structure similar to the one George W. Bush set up.

"Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington," said the new president, taking office amid startlingly bad economic times that many fear will grow worse.

The new lobbying rules will not only ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff. Those already hired will be banned from working on matters they have previously lobbied on, or to approach agencies that they once targeted.

The rules also ban lobbyists from giving gifts of any size to any member of his administration. It wasn't immediately clear whether the ban would include the traditional "previous relationships" clause, allowing gifts from friends or associates with which an employee comes in with strong ties.

Announcing the moves while attending a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to swear in his staff, Mr. Obama said the steps "represent a clean break from business as usual."

The Obama administration also circulated a draft executive order that calls for closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay within a year. The draft order also would declare a halt to all trials currently under way at the facility, where roughly 245 detainees in the battle against terrorism on terror are held.

And Mr. Obama summoned economic advisers and top military officials to meetings aimed at making early progress on the change he promised.

Additionally, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama called the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan on Wednesday morning.

The Obamas attended a prayer breakfast at Washington National Cathedral to start the day and were expected to hold an open house at the presidential mansion.

Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sat in the first row for Wednesday's invitation-only prayer service. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined them, as did former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., awaiting confirmation as secretary of state later in the day.

Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of Disciples of Christ, and the first woman to deliver the sermon at the Inauguration National Prayer Service, spoke of the responsibilities and choices the new president faces.

"Someone has to stand watch and be ready to defend - and Mr. President - tag, you're it," she said.

Read more about President Obama's first day in the Oval Office
The meeting with his economic team was planned to assess his approach and plot the way forward. Taking over the White House with 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars in stock market savings lost, Mr. Obama said that turning around the limping economy is his first and greatest priority.

Last week, Congress cleared the way for use of a second, $350 billion installment of financial-industry bailout money, a pre-inaugural victory for Mr. Obama.

Democratic leaders hope to have the $825 billion economic stimulus measure to his desk by mid-February.

Mr. Obama also summoned his holdover defense secretary, Robert Gates, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, to the White House, along with other members of his National Security Council, to discuss a way forward in Iraq, according to two senior military officers.

"Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed," President Obama said in his inaugural address. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

Mr. Obama said in his speech that his goal was to "responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan."

The two unfinished wars are twinned for Mr. Obama. He has promised to bring U.S. combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office, as long as doing so wouldn't endanger either the Americans left behind for training and terrorism-fighting nor the security gains in Iraq. And he has said he would use that drawdown to bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, where U.S.-backed fighters are losing ground against a resurgent Taliban.

Mr. Obama's first White House meetings as president meshed with quickened efforts in Congress to add top Cabinet officials to the roster of those confirmed on Tuesday and to advance the economic stimulus measure that is a top priority of his administration.

Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner was called before the Senate Finance Committee for a confirmation hearing certain to touch on his disclosure that he had only belatedly paid personal taxes owed earlier in the decade.

Separately, Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., awaited confirmation as secretary of state. Republicans had refused to permit her confirmation on Tuesday when several other Cabinet officials were approved.

A new poll underscored the sense of anticipation that accompanied Mr. Obama into office.

The Associated Press-Knowledge Networks survey found that by a 3-1 margin, people feel more optimistic about the country's future now that Mr. Obama has been inaugurated, including 30 percent of Republicans.

His first act as president underscored the expected departure from former President George W. Bush's policies. One day after being sworn in, a military judge approved the Obama administration's request for a 120-day halt to the terror trials taking place at Guantanamo Bay, pending review by the president himself.

The government made the request in a motion filed the late Tuesday in the case of five men charged in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Among the possibilities for other early executive actions are: the naming of a Middle East envoy, possibly former Sen. George Mitchell, who worked on the Northern Ireland peace accord, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Plante; overturning the so-called Mexico City policy that forbids U.S. funding for family planning programs that offer abortion, and lifting President George W. Bush's limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

And in another preview of what's coming, the new White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told all government agencies to stop implementing any new regulations changed by the outgoing Bush administration until they can be reviewed, reports Plante.

In an address noted for its plain speech rather than soaring oratory, President Obama got right to the point about the problems he faces.

"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood," he said.

It was an inaugural address that laid out the nation's economic challenges with frank realism. But his remedies - equal parts hope and policy agenda - face a slew of political and practical hurdles. And he offered no specifics to back up his promise to improve America's standing in the world and end a war that he opposed.

"Every new administration talks about the challenges it faces, and they're always there," said CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield. "(But this administration) is facing challenges the likes of which have not been seen in decades.

"And the need for celebration that the Democrats are bringing to this (is rooted in) the realization that not only are the challenges immense, but no one is entirely sure that they know what to do about them, Greenfield continued.

The words were also aimed at ears overseas that never adjusted to Bush's Texas swagger. Fairly or not, to much of the rest of the world Bush was the cowboy who rode roughshod over niceties such as international treaties while imposing American rubrics of national security and lifestyle.

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," Mr. Obama pledged.

He followed with an apparent reference to his earlier promises to talk with tyrants or autocrats whom Bush shunned, although he did not name them.

"We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist," he said.

Mr. Obama named names when it came to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but was no more specific about tactics.

He repeated his campaign pledge to quit Iraq responsibly and "forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan."

The campaign, transition and inauguration were the easy parts, remarked CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid. With problems such as the economy, President Obama is "jumping off a precipice and hoping for the best that he can deliver."
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