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Obama Fields Questions on Economy, National Security and Future Dog

Flanked by his newly formed economic transition team at the Chicago Hilton, President-elect Barack Obama today gave his first press conference today.

Taking questions from the national press on the economy, national security, intelligence and what kind of dog his family will get, Obama was poised and measured in his responses. He deferred to President George W. Bush, saying that this country has only one president at a time.

Not surprisingly, the financial crisis was the dominant issue. Obama said he would confront the crisis “head-on” upon assuming office. If an economic stimulus package isn’t passed in the lame-duck session of Congress, it would be his top priority after he’s sworn in Jan. 20.

We need a rescue plan for the middle class that invests in immediate efforts to create jobs and provides relief to families that are watching their paychecks shrink and their life savings disappear. A particularly urgent priority is a further extension of unemployment insurance benefits for workers who cannot find work in the increasingly weak economy. A fiscal stimulus plan that will jump-start economic growth is long overdue – and we should get it done.

With Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm standing behind him, Obama also indicated he supports federal assistance to the country’s financially strapped auto makers, which he described as “the backbone of American manufacturing.”

I would like to see the administration do everything they can to accelerate the retooling assistance that Congress has already enacted. In addition, I have made it a high priority for my transition team to work on additional policy options to help the auto industry adjust, weather the financial crisis and succeed in producing fuel-efficient cars here in the United States. I have asked my team to explore what we can do under current law and whether additional legislation will be needed for this purpose.

Mindful that his words carry the weight of an incoming president, Obama was careful not to say too much. He declined to respond to a question about whether anything had struck him during his first daily intelligence briefing yesterday.

He also did not answer a question on how soon he plans to send low-level envoys to countries such as Iran, Venezuela and Syria. Obama acknowledged receiving a congratulatory letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but said it was being reviewed and he would respond appropriately.

The news conference, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, may have offered some clues about how he will treat the press as president. The mood was serious but often turned light and personal.

When he called on Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet, whose arm was in a sling, he asked what had happened to her. Sweet said she had “cracked her shoulder” running to Obama’s election night speech in Grant Park.

Sweet asked, among other things, what type of dog Obama’s family intended to get, following the announcement during his acceptance speech that his daughters will be receiving a puppy.

“This is a major issue,” Obama responded. “I think its generated more interest on our Website than just about anything.”

Obama said that the successful candidate must be hypo-allergenic because his daughter, Malia, is allergic to dogs. However, Obama said, this must be reconciled with his family’s preference to adopt a dog from a shelter. He joked that these dogs tend to be mutts, like him.

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