Obama's Priorities Before The Inauguration

With less than three weeks before President-elect Barack Obama starts his new job, there are several issues at hand that beg his attention.

The Obamas are moving to a Washington hotel on Sunday so the girls can start school - and their father will go right to work.

Even though he's been saying since the election that the U.S. has only one president at a time, the president-elect hasn't been shy about wanting an economic stimulus package ready for a vote in Congress, reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante.

Democratic strategist Steve McMahon told Plante that he'll likely get it. "He needs money, he needs an economic package. He'll have one on their desk to vote on."

Obama campaigned on a promise to bring change in many areas, but the economy is the top concern for voters now, and the president-elect has promised a rescue plan: "With our economy in distress, we cannot hesitate nor can we delay," he said.

"Ideally, he would like to take the oath of office, walk over to the signing room in the Capitol [and] sign the legislation before he joins the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue," Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift said on CBS' The Early Show. "If he pulls that off, that will be one for the history books."

But as the conflict in the Middle East escalated over the past week, Obama has remained largely silent, despite a statement last year suggesting he would understand an Israeli response to the rocket attacks from Gaza.

"I think it is more difficult for him to engage very much on foreign policy" before the inauguration, said McMahon. "It's very important for our country to speak with only one voice. He's respecting that tradition."

"The Middle East is such a minefield and every word that he said before he took office would be weighed and contrasted with the current administration," Clift said. "I'm sure that he's hoping there will be a ceasefire in place which will at least give him and the new administration some breathing room, but I think it's appropriate that he mute his voice as long as he's not really the president yet."

And, Plante notes, the new president will be dealing with the world's problems soon enough.

"We're going to need a Secretary of State on Day One because the Palestinian problem isn't going to wait until Day Two or Three," McMahon told Plante. "It's something on the president's plate. And it's going to have to be dealt with immediately."

Another major priority pre-inauguration is getting key cabinet members confirmed by the Senate so they can get right to work, particularly the Secretaries of State and Treasury.

"The Republicans have an interest in confirming those cabinet appointees who they know will be confirmed and who are relatively non-controversial," McMahon said. "Timothy Geitner, Hillary Clinton, the others that are needed to do the economic work that needs to be done immediately, and the foreign policy work that needs to be done right away."

On The Early Show, Clift said that while Obama's choice for Attorney General, Eric Holder, might face questions about pardons he was involved in during the Clinton administration, she does not see any big hurdles for Obama's nominees (despite past presidents having to withdraw names over one controversy or another) for one major reason: "I think that there is such an awareness on both sides of the aisle about the crises facing this country that this is not the time to elevate small things into major issues.

"I think everybody is basically keeping their eye on the prize, and that is getting the administration in place," Clift said.

But Republicans have the power to block much of the Obama agenda if they wish to do so. So while Obama will be meeting on Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Plante said the president-elect will likely spend some time with Republicans in the next 18 days as well.

"Well, I think he has to lay down his markers and I'm sure there's a lot more exchanges going on beyond the scenes," Clift said.

"I think the fact he is going to meet with Republicans, along with Democrats, again that signals that he's serious about including Republicans and not trying to just roll over them.

"But I think what he's also thinking about, being a man of words, he's thinking about his inaugural address and the signals that he's going to send, not only to Americans but around the world."

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