CHICAGO, November 18 – President-elect Barack Obama and his defeated Republican rival John McCain pledged a "new era of reform" to solve the US economic crisis, transform energy policy and safeguard national security.
Two weeks after the November 4 election, the pair said in a joint statement Monday after talks here that Americans of all parties wanted their leaders to come together and "change the bad habits of Washington."
The hour-long meeting in Obama’s transition headquarters added heft to his vow to reach out to old opponents as the Democratic president-elect crafts an expansive agenda for the next four years.
"It is in this spirit that we had a productive conversation today about the need to launch a new era of reform where we take on government waste and bitter partisanship in Washington in order to restore trust in government, and bring back prosperity and opportunity for every hard-working American family.
"We hope to work together in the days and months ahead on critical challenges like solving our financial crisis, creating a new energy economy, and protecting our nation’s security," Obama and the Arizona senator said.
At the start of the meeting, McCain was asked by reporters whether he would help the president-elect’s new administration and replied: "Obviously."
The two politicians were joined by McCain’s close Senate friend, Republican Lindsey Graham, and Congressman Rahm Emanuel, whom the president-elect has chosen as his White House chief of staff.
According to reports, Obama’s transition team is meanwhile conducting an in-depth vetting of the finances of his former primary rival Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill Clinton with a view to naming her his secretary of state.
In an interview on CBS program "60 Minutes" broadcast late Sunday, Obama confirmed that he had met with the former first lady in Chicago last week but refused to say if he made her a job offer.
The Democrat also said he would name at least one Republican to his cabinet, but again was coy when pressed for details.
Secretary of State Condoleezza rice Monday met with Obama’s State Department Transition Team leaders Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman, but there were no indications she was asked to form part of the incoming administration.
At the half-hour meeting, said State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid, "Rice expressed her desire to work closely with the team on a smooth and professional transition."
Obama noted that his political hero, Civil War president Abraham Lincoln, assembled a hard-driving "team of rivals" drawn from his three opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860.
"I’ve been spending a lot of time reading Lincoln," he said in the interview. "There is a wisdom there and a humility about his approach to government, even before he was president, that I just find very helpful."
A transition source said the Democratic president-elect would not go as far as offering McCain a post in his cabinet.
While the Republican gave a gracious concession speech on election night and pledged to work with his new commander-in-chief, the two differ markedly on how to fix the economy and on Obama’s determination to end the war in Iraq.
But aides said there was still plenty to discuss between Obama and a politician who has often bucked Republican Party orthodoxy down the years, including on immigration, climate change and ethics reform.
With the transition to power accelerating, Obama Monday telephoned Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and Turkish President Abdullah Gul to thank them for their messages of congratulation.
In his CBS interview, Obama said repairing the stricken US economy would be his top priority when he succeeds George W. Bush on January 20, even at the cost of still-bigger budget deficits.
The president-elect vowed to pull troops out of Iraq, crush Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and shut down the Guantanamo Bay internment camp as part of a dramatic foreign policy break with Bush.
On Sunday, Iraq’s cabinet approved a military pact negotiated with Bush’s White House that requires the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011.
On the campaign trail, Obama vowed to pull one or two combat brigades out of Iraq every month for 16 months, until only a residual security force of unspecified size remains. Some of those brigades would head to Afghanistan.