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President-elect Obama’s busy new life

Published on 10/11/2008

Washington -- If Barack Obama thought he'd get a break after the election, reality has proven otherwise: His life as president-elect has shown to be every bit as busy as life on the grueling campaign trail.

From receiving his first intelligence briefing, to picking his staff, speaking with world leaders, finding a plan to lift America out of the economic morass, and trying fulfill a family promise, Obama’s had a full plate of challenges.

The Illinois senator has begun each day with a rigorous workout at his gym in Chicago, giving himself some down time to mentally and physically prepare for his packed agenda. Hardly seen in public since his victory speech Tuesday, he emerged from one workout session wearing sneakers, dark blue track pants, a T-shirt, baseball cap and sunglasses while carrying two cell phones in one hand.

While most Americans were still overjoyed by the historic election of an African American to the White House, Obama looked to quickly assemble a team to tackle a host of pressing problems, including a failing economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead," Obama said in his first press conference on Friday to address the urgent needs of the economy and inspire the confidence of the people he will be leading after his inauguration in January.

The scene was carefully staged. To his right was his vice president, Joe Biden, and on the left was his controversial choice for chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. The congressman posted to manage the White House is unwilling to work across party lines and undermines Obama’s pledge to govern from the center, the Republicans charge.

Behind them stood more than a dozen members of his economic team brought together to help Obama develop an economic recovery plan. But it wasn’t the only team he put together since election night. On Wednesday, he hired Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, John Podesta, and two other trusted aides to oversee the transfer of power from the Bush administration.

The following day, Obama got his first taste of the immense responsibilities of the job. Intelligence officials sat him down in Chicago to share some of the nation’s most vital secrets. The session, called the "president’s daily briefing," will be his first order of business every morning in the White House.

He also picked up the phone to return congratulatory calls from leaders from all over the world, including the presidents or prime ministers of Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Spain and South Korea.

A lot more sent congratulatory letters but not all got a reply. One of them was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose nuclear aspirations will be one of the biggest challenges of the next US president. Obama said he’ll cautiously review the letter but refused to say when he might follow through on a campaign pledge to elevate diplomatic talks with Iran.

"I want to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole that I am not the president and I won’t be until January 20th," Obama said.

Obama also reached out to the only other people who can describe the job from first hand experience, former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and the current White House occupant with whom he will meet in the Oval Office on Monday.

With all those tasks checked off the list, Obama was struggling to deliver on one of the very first promises as president: To reward his two girls, 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha, with a puppy for putting up with his absence during the campaign.

The Obamas want to rescue a dog from a shelter but it’s hard to fine one there that won’t stir up Malia’s allergies, he said. "So whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things I think is a pressing issue on the Obama household."

Mike McCarthy/Gonzalo Espariz/DPA/Expatica