Obama begins choosing a new administration
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US President-elect Barack Obama has begun the process of forming a new US administration by asking Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who served in the Clinton administration, to be his White House chief of staff.
Barack Obama on Wednesday put the first building blocks in place for his administration as rejoicing reverberated around the world after his election as the first black US president.
In an immediate reminder of the grave economic crisis that Democrat Obama will inherit when he is inaugurated in January, the Dow Jones share average plummeted nearly 500 points on resurgent fears of a deep recession.
Democrats said Obama asked combative congressman and former Clinton White House aide Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, a vital post that helps set the tempo of the administration.
Emanuel helped mastermind the Democrats' 2006 capture of the House of Representatives from the Republicans, and is known as a sharp-elbowed master of the back corridors of power in Washington.
House Majority leader Steny Hoyer said that Emanuel had been offered the job, and was mulling whether to accept it.
"It is my understanding that he has not yet made that decision," Hoyer told MSNBC.
A day after triggering a political earthquake not seen since Ronald Reagan's 1980 landslide, Obama also named key figures of the transition team that will spend the next 76 days preparing for his inauguration and presidency beyond.
The transition office in Washington will be run by co-chairs John Podesta, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton; Pete Rouse, who was Obama's Senate chief of staff; and the Democrat's close friend Valerie Jarrett.
The transition team will oversee the job of vetting cabinet nominees and preparing the vital first political moves of the new administration.
Obama, a 47-year-old Illinois senator, crushed Republican John McCain with an inspirational message of hope and change.
"Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century," Obama told 240,000 people gathered at a joyous victory party here late Tuesday.
However, he also accentuated the seismic shift of what many African-Americans thought they would never live to see, as an orgy of celebration erupted in cities nationwide.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," he said.
In another sign of the changing of the guard, Michelle Obama spoke by telephone with First Lady Laura Bush who invited her to visit the White House.
Michelle Obama thanked Laura Bush "for the grace and strength she's demonstrated as First Lady and expressed appreciation for her guidance in the coming months," her spokeswoman said.
Obama and his incoming vice president, Senator Joseph Biden, must work fast to douse the economic blaze while winding down the war in Iraq and renewing the fight against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Obama is promising to renew bruised ties with US allies, and to engage some of the nation's fiercest foes such as Iran and North Korea.
He has vowed to tackle climate change, cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans, and guarantee near-universal health care at a time when many thousands are losing their insurance as their jobs disappear.
Obama had a quiet start to his new role as president-elect, breakfasting with his wife Michelle and their two young daughters before hitting the gym and later thanking campaign staff as his Chicago headquarters was dismantled.
Washington's favorite parlor game began in earnest as rumors swirled over who he might tap for his cabinet. The secretaries of treasury, state and defense will be defining elements of the Obama administration.
Congratulations poured in from world leaders, along with demands to turn a page on President George W. Bush's divisive foreign policy. China and Russia both pledged "constructive" dialogue with the Obama government.
Iran said his victory showed Americans wanted basic changes in policy. Praise came even from communist Cuba, whose government said it hoped for an eventual easing in the decades-old US trade embargo.
Top Obama advisers will attend a White House summit being convened by Bush on November 15, as 20 world leaders thrash out a response to the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may meet Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow. The Democrat's aides said they had no comment.
Bush offered generous praise to his successor. Pledging his "complete cooperation" in the transition of power, Bush invited the Obamas to the White House at their earliest convenience.
With results confirmed from 48 states and the District of Columbia, Obama had 349 Electoral College votes, which are awarded state by state, smashing past the 270 needed for victory.
McCain had 163 electoral votes.
Democrats also gained an unshakeable grip on power at the other end of Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue.
They took at least five more Senate seats to number 54 to the Republicans' 40, and can usually count on the support of two independent senators.
In the House of Representatives, the Democrats picked up 20 more seats for a total of 252, against 173 for the Republicans.
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