Obama camp steering clear of transition talk

Candidate's team is silent while lawmakers speculate about a Democrat-led presidency.

The congressional Democratic superdelegates are mostly on board the Obama train, based on their rhetoric and activities in Denver this week. But a growing divide has become apparent with the top brass of the nominee's campaign.

Many Democratic lawmakers are eager to plan for the transition to what they hope will be an Obama presidency, and even beyond to the 2009 agenda. The Obama team, however, has cooperated only on a limited basis and is reluctant to show any signs of looking beyond Nov. 4.

Lawmakers are anxious because they know that if Barack Obama, D-Ill., is elected president and Democrats increase their House and Senate majorities, they would face a heavy legislative lift and high public expectations. "We need to be prepared for how we want to move in January," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. Discussions have begun between the Obama campaign and Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee -- the tax-writing panel that would face demands for early action on several major topics -- two committee members said this week.

"Top Obama people have met with Ways and Means Democrats on multiple issues, including taxes, trade, and entitlements," said Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin. "They have listened to us and our concerns. And we have started to look for consensus." Although he did not specify all of the participants, Kind said that they included Phil Schiliro, the campaign's senior congressional liaison.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, another Ways and Means member, said that economic staff on the campaign have "reached out to Ways and Means" with discussion of economic stimulus proposals, among other topics. Van Hollen cautioned that both sides "don't want to get ahead of ourselves or appear presumptuous" but that they are mindful "you have to lay some groundwork... about how to move different pieces."

On national security, Rep. Ellen Tauscher of California said that low-key talks have begun with key congressional players, including herself. "I feel very comfortable that Senator Obama's transition team will work closely with members of Congress after the election," she said.

Even some lawmakers, however, are wary of pushing too hard to plan for what happens after November. "We will have time after the election," said Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a senior member of the House Rules Committee. "I am Irish and superstitious. We have to fight like hell."

Although top Obama campaign officials want to be respectful of individual members of Congress, they have privately indicated that they want to keep their distance from one of the nation's most unpopular institutions.

For public consumption, they emphasize that they are focused on the next two months. Transition planning "does not consume much of our time," campaign manager David Plouffe said in a Wednesday interview with Convention Daily. For now, he added, "all you can do is get a framework in place."

Convention Daily separately has learned that Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader who is advising Obama, has quietly asked John Podesta to organize the transition effort, which is in a preliminary phase. Podesta, President Clinton's former chief of staff, is hailed by many Democrats as a seasoned Washington insider who understands executive governance and all of the burdens of getting off to a smooth start.

Alexis Simendinger contributed to this story.

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