Obama touts experience, knowledge of security team

Following in the wake of last week's Mumbai terrorist attacks, President-elect Barack Obama announced his national security team at a press conference this morning in Chicago. With unrest between India and Pakistan rising over the weekend, Obama addressed the situation briefly but declined to comment further when pressed by a reporter.

"This is one of those times that I reiterate that there is one president at a time," the president-elect said. "We will be engaged in delicate diplomacy in the next several days and weeks. It would be inappropriate for me to comment, but what I can so unequivocally is that both myself and the team that stands beside me are absolutely committed to eliminating the threat of terrorism."

That team includes several appointments that had been rumored for weeks -- Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Eric Holder as attorney general, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security Department secretary, Obama's campaign foreign policy adviser Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations and Gen. Jim Jones as national security adviser.

After announcing Clinton as his secretary of State, Obama was asked about "belittling" her international experience while on the campaign trial. "This is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were formed over the course of the campaign," Obama quipped in response. "If you look at statements that [Clinton] and I have made outside of the heat of the campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure." He added that in making his decision, he never experienced a "light bulb moment"; rather, once their primary battle was over, he started thinking of ways they could work together.

During her turn at the microphone, Clinton said it was a difficult decision leaving her Senate post but that the international challenges facing the country -- from Iraq to the recent attacks in India to climate change -- compelled her to accept this role. "I am proud to join you Mr. President-elect," Clinton said, turning to Obama, "in what will be a difficult, exciting adventure."

Obama stressed bipartisanship throughout the conference. When probed by a reporter about whether Gates qualified as a Republican cabinet member, Obama smirked and said that he didn't check Gates' voter registration prior to asking him to stay. "We have to recall that when it comes to keeping our nation and people safe, we are not Republicans or Democrats," he said. "We are Americans."

Obama also sought to rebuff the notion that his newly appointed "team of rivals" could ultimately end up as a "team of clashes." "I assembled this team because I am a strong believer in strong personalities and opinions," he said. "That's when the best decisions are made." He said he wants to avoid "groupthink" in the White House -- when everyone agrees with everything and no vigorous debate occurs. "But understand that I will be setting policies as president," Obama stressed.

In selecting Napolitano as DHS secretary, Obama acknowledged (and Napolitano reiterated) that the department is comprised of myriad agencies that will inevitably require some sort of reform: "She will be a leader who can reform a sprawling department while safeguarding our homeland." Napolitano also stressed several times in accepting the position that change must be accomplished "across a spectrum of government agencies" in order to ensure the country remains safe.

One key national security appointment missing from today's conference was CIA director. Obama's team was planning on picking 25-year CIA veteran and Obama intelligence adviser John Brennan for the position after liberal portions of the Democratic Party -- not to mention a slew of liberal bloggers -- protested over Brennan's association with Bush's harsh interrogation techniques. Brennan formally withdrew his name from consideration last week. Officials now say that the president-elect is still evaluating candidates for the role.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden, a foreign policy and national security buff himself, also spoke at the conference, making this his first time speaking at an Obama presser since the election.

Biden cautioned about the threats that will continue to face the new administration but said he is still "optimistic" about the newly appointed positions. "We've brought together one of the most talented national security teams ever assembled," Biden said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.