Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Saturday, 7 February 2009

Obama diary: Days 11-20

Barack Obama was elected on a message of change. Now he is in office, change is expected both in foreign and domestic policy. Here the BBC's team in Washington tracks developments in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency.


1600 EST Obama's new tone

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: President Obama's tone has changed on the stimulus package. Gone are the cocktail parties and appeals for bipartisan unity.

Now, any delay for the stimulus bill is "inexcusable and irresponsible", as Mr Obama said in his speech this morning.

And he made it pretty clear what he felt about Republican attempts to amend the package.

"[The voters] did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, or to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected in the last election."

Will this new combative approach deliver the senate votes needed to pass the bill? If it does, then we might see it again during the coming legislative battles over healthcare and the economy.


1420 EST Who's next for health?

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: With Tom Daschle out of the picture, Washington is abuzz with speculation about who President Obama will now pick as his Health and Human Services Secretary.

Names in the frame include Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.

Mr Bredesen would ruffle feathers on the left (he cut his state's health spending while in office), while Dr Kitzhaber (before entering politics he was an emergency room physician) might be a bridge too far for the right of the party.

The compromise candidate might be Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was an early Obama backer in the election and has been hailed for her successful management of her state's health system.

Mind you - I lost a wager with a friend last summer that Mr Obama would pick Ms Sebelius as his running-mate, so perhaps my analysis should be taken with a pinch of salt...

1350 EST Nascar cost-cutting

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly: How fitting that President Obama should start his day at the National Prayer Breakfast; there at least he will have found hope and comfort - two commodities in short supply in the daily economic briefing he has now introduced.

It is not just the latest round of dire figures on unemployment and retail sales - wherever you look in the American economy, there are signs of strain.

I'm at the International Speedway on the Florida coastline watching preparations for next week's Daytona 500, traditional curtainraiser to the Nascar motor-racing season. (I'll be reporting on it at length here in the coming days.)

Even here the talk is of sponsors in dire straits (GM and Ford are big players with big problems), falling ad revenues and cost-cutting - the teams are reducing the number of practice laps to save money.

I don't know if Mr Obama watches Nascar in his scanty leisure time, but this year even the Daytona 500 doesn't offer much by way of escapism.


1456 EST Will Obama lift lid on Guantanamo secrets?

Adam Brookes

Adam Brookes: The Obama administration is silent on whether it would allow UK courts to reveal details of Guantanamo Bay detainees' experiences.

Binyam Mohamed - a British resident now in Guantanamo - says he was subject to "rendition" and torture. The truth about his treatment lies in US intelligence documents. A UK judge says he was pressured not to release the details of Binyan Mohamed's treatment.

An interesting question here: the Obama administration tells us Guantanamo will close and it's a new day in detention policy. Will the administration be prepared to lift the lid on what really happened to Binyam Mohamed and others like him? Or do some secrets stay secret?

1318 EST Populist pay caps

Kevin Connolly

Kevin Connolly: President Obama has come up with a sure-fire populist gesture to change the subject after his recent run of bad headlines.

Executives at companies bailed out by American taxpayers will be able to collect a maximum of $500,000 in salaries and bonuses until the money is paid back.

The president is quick to assert that America is still a society where they don't begrudge wealth, but there's been a backlash of popular anger against those celebrated fat cats of Wall Street who used $20bn of the first tranche of bailout funds to pay themselves bonuses after bringing the global economy to its knees.

No-one is quite suggesting that the financiers who hurled themselves from the upper storeys of Manhattan skyscrapers during the Wall Street Crash had the right idea, but America clearly feels that today's titans of finance got it wrong.

Watch the unfolding General Motors saga to see where Mr Obama's new rules take us - Rick Wagoner, the group CEO took home $14.5 million in 2007. If GM is bailed out next month, and the rules apply to Detroit as well as Wall Street he'll notice quite a difference in his pay packet.


1350 EST Daschle out

James Coomarasamy

James Coomarasamy: President Obama has lost two of his nominees for top government positions over tax issues.

Tom Daschle has withdrawn from consideration as Health and Human Services Secretary - and Nancy Killefer will not be a candidate for the newly-created post of Chief Performance Officer.

Mr Obama has been facing growing criticism over the contradiction between his pledge to create a new, ethical administration and the problems of his nominees.

Both Daschle and Killefer said they didn't want to be a distraction from the president's agenda.

1230 EST Gregg pick official

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: Barack Obama has confirmed that he wants Republican Senator Judd Gregg to be his Commerce Secretary.

But this will not mean the Democrats get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Gregg reportedly only agreed to take the job on condition that he is replaced by a Republican - and reports suggest that his former chief of staff Bonnie Newman is being lined up for the position.

Meanwhile, it's been revealed that back in 1995 he voted to abolish the department he is now set to lead.

0018 EST 'Buy American' provisions risk backlash

Jonathan Beale

Jonathan Beale: Is Barack Obama setting himself up for a new trade war? That question is being asked after Democrats in the House and the Senate made a "Buy American" provision in the $800bn stimulus package. It would require that the planned massive infrastructure projects use US-made materials.

To some big American companies and allies the "Buy American" clause sounds like old fashioned protectionism. After outcry from the EU, Canada and the US Chamber of Commerce - all worried as to where this will lead - the White House now says it's "reviewing the provision". But it leaves one wondering where an Obama administration really stands on free trade.

Remember Barack Obama on the campaign trail signalling that he could rip up Bush's Nafta free trade agreements? At the time it was seen as a political gesture to win round the sceptical white working class vote. Mr Obama wanted to reassure the unions that he was on their side. Perhaps that's now become more important with the economic crises.

But if he allows the "Buy American" clause to go through, he'd better prepare for a backlash from the rest of the world.


1540 EST Obama team gets the Hollywood treatment

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan: She's more used to snapping A-list celebrities (one of her most famous pictures was of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore), but now celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz has turned her attention to the West Wing. In a series of pictures in this month's Vanity Fair magazine, members of the Obama administration have been given the Leibovitz treatment. The stylish shots include pictures of well-known members of the team like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as well as more junior staff like the White House Social Secretary, and the President's speechwriter.

1150 EST Republican Commerce Secretary?

Max Deveson

Max Deveson: Barack Obama is set to nominate Republican Senator Judd Gregg to be his Commerce Secretary, according to media reports.

I wrote about Mr Gregg last week, because he had been voting with the Democrats on some crucial issues.

Some liberal commentators have welcomed the prospect of Mr Gregg joining the cabinet - primarily because they are hoping that the man who would be charged with appointing his senate replacement - New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat - will pick a fellow Democrat.

One extra Democrat (if, as expected, Democrat Al Franken wins the disputed Minnesota recount), would give the party a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the senate.

It seems, however, that Mr Gregg is only going to take the job if Mr Lynch promises to replace him with a Republican - or at least that's what his party colleagues are hoping.

Hillary and China

Kim Ghattas
Kim Ghattas: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be lunching with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

The conversation will most likely focus on the world economic crisis and China in particular.

When Mrs Clinton spoke to journalists in her first news briefing last week, she said she was looking forward to working with her colleagues from other agencies, including Mr Geithner, to design "a more comprehensive approach that will be more in keeping with the important role that China is playing and will be playing".

She took a subtle swipe at the Bush administration saying the strategic dialogue between Beijing and Washington had become solely economic.

The world economic crisis means that finance, trade and foreign currency will be at the heart of diplomatic ties between countries around the world.

This gives Mrs Clinton another lever to make sure she is centre stage as well. So as President Obama's team of rivals gets to work, the jockeying for position is starting.


1945 EST Middle class empowerment

Rajini Vaidyanathan
Rajini Vaidyanathan: President Obama has announced the creation of a "Middle Class Task Force" to raise living standards for, as the name suggests, middle-class US families.

It will be led by Vice-President Joe Biden, who himself rose to the top from working class roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The task force will host meetings with government agencies, business leaders, policy makers and community groups, to propose new policies and initiatives to help American families.

Vice-President Biden says the process will be totally transparent. The accompanying website promises to post videos and minutes of meetings and allow people to submit their thoughts.

Despite the promise of greater openness and engagement the task itself is a tough one.

Will this task force be anything more than a talking shop, or will it be a fertilising ground for new policies? And even then, in uncertain economic times, can these new policies actually make a difference?

1550 EST Obama and Iran

Is President Obama being "needlessly defensive and apologetic" in his overtures towards Iran and the Muslim world, as Charles Krauthammer argues?

Or is he in agreement with Krauthammer's basic position, but choosing to soften his rhetoric?

1530 EST X marks the spot

Rajini Vaidyanathan

Rajini Vaidyanathan: A treat for all you West Wing fans...

Here is a link to the Washington Post's map of the real "Obama West Wing".

1015 EST Staying mobile

Barack Obama uses a handheld mobile device in the grounds of the White House, 29 January 2009
President Obama uses a handheld mobile device in the grounds of the White House - the president was a keen BlackBerry user during the election campaign

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