November 7, 2008 12:40 am

Obama appoints key White House aides

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Barack Obama kept up the hectic pace of his transition on Thursday, moving to fill key positions in his White House and preparing to announce the most senior economic job in his administration.

The flurry of appointments included Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois lawmaker, as chief of staff; David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s campaign chief strategist, as White House senior adviser; and Robert Gibbs, his campaign communications chief, as the White House press secretary – its public face.

There was also speculation that Mr Obama would announce his Treasury secretary some time on Friday with Larry Summers, who held the job under Mr Clinton, and Timothy Geithner, the chairman of the New York Fed, topping most people’s lists.

The appointments – particularly that of Mr Emanuel – offered an early sense of the character of an Obama White House. Mr Emanuel, who worked for seven years as a senior aide to Bill Clinton, is seen as one of the toughest and most ruthless operators on Capitol Hill.

“Emanuel’s appointment tells me that Obama wants an administration that is very effective and efficient,” said Bill Galston, who worked with Mr Emanuel in the Clinton White House. “Rahm would walk through walls to get things done. He is loyal to a fault.”

However, Republicans were quick to accuse Mr Obama of betraying his promise of setting up a bipartisan administration, given Mr Emanuel’s fiercely partisan record in Congress. Few Republicans on Capitol Hill have not had a bruising encounter with the Illinois lawmaker.

“This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the centre,” said John Boehner, the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives.

Mr Obama, who will today hold his first press conference as president-elect, said: “No one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel.”

Mr Emanuel said: “We have work to do and on Tuesday Americans sent Washington a clear message – ‘get the job done’.”

Equally important was the appointment of Mr Axelrod, seen as the chief architect of Mr Obama’s political persona, having known the president-elect for many years. Like Mr Emanuel, Mr Axelrod, who owns a political advertising firm, is from Chicago.

Other potential senior appointees from Mr Obama’s home town include Valerie Jarrett, a friend and mentor of 17 years, and Bill Daley, brother of Richard, the Chicago mayor, and a former commerce secretary in the Clinton administration.

Some Democrats worried that Mr Obama could be accused of importing a Chicago mafia in the same way that Bill Clinton was accused of bringing in outsiders from Arkansas.

Others pointed to Mr Emanuel’s pedigree. “You cannot depict Rahm as a Chicago person – he’s a brilliant Washington Democratic operator,” said an unpaid adviser to the former Obama campaign.

Mr Obama will also hold his first meeting today with his transition economic advisory board, which includes Mr Summers; Laura Tyson, a former senior Clinton economic official; Bob Rubin, who was Mr Summers’ predecessor; and Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Fed.

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