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Borger: Obama has take-charge start on tough road ahead

  • Story Highlights
  • Borger: In first news conference as president-elect, Obama let his plans be known
  • It was also clear that he is tired and still getting used to this drill, she says
  • She says the work on this transition let Obama and his team hit the ground running
  • He'll have to deal with Dems who may want to spend, GOP identity crisis, she says
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By Gloria Borger
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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(CNN) -- It was short and to the point: In his first news conference as president-elect, Barack Obama was on message.

Gloria Borger says President-elect Barack Obama delivered a clear message at his news conference Friday.

First, he has a plan for handle the economic crisis. Second, he's not the president yet. And third (pay attention Republicans), this is not a time for partisanship.

And oh, there was a not-so-subtle challenge to Congress: If you don't do something in a lame-duck session, I will make it the first order of business when I am sworn in. Message to public: I will take charge.

It was also clear, though, that Obama is a) tired and b) still getting used to this drill. There is a change of tone, of cadence -- and even a slight shift in comfort level.

A joke, delivered by a president, had better be pretty good. The line about no Nancy Reagan-like séances (with dead presidents), not so good. On the other hand, when he called himself a "mutt" like "a lot of shelter dogs," interesting, even revealing.

Aside from the tone, there is no doubt that the president-elect and his team plan to hit the ground running. That's what they promised, and it is what the public wants. After all, they've been working on this transition since late last spring. It's not as if they just started gathering names for potential Cabinet jobs and top-level posts.

Indeed, when Obama went to visit his grandmother for the last time in Hawaii, he took along a memo about "early decisions" to be made during the transition. Indeed, one top Obama adviser told me before the election, "Obama has already talked more to some of his appointees than McCain did to Sarah Palin."

Even before the election, the Obama campaign had formed about two dozen task forces. They weren't doing agency reviews, but rather were tasked to study issue areas important to the incoming administration, such as health, climate change, foreign policy, personnel and legislative strategy.

There was also a task force on executive action -- things the administration can do right away to set the tone of change. Possibilities for immediate action include closing Guantanamo, signing waivers for health care-related items, strengthening the revolving-door ethics requirements.

And they're also going to be sending in small groups to bureaucratic agencies to study what's wrong and what's right with each place, so the new Cabinet secretary has that information available from day one.

The big decisions are being made right now: How much can (or should) Obama do at the outset? How much can he afford to spend? Will he have to start saying "No you can't" to fellow Democrats trying to enact their spending priorities?

And, most of all, what are his legislative priorities? If he can't do health care right away, for instance, does he do something about children's health care? And does he start with energy policy, which has been so key to his campaign message?

No doubt about it, he'll be dealing with a Democratic majority that may want to spend more than he does. And he will be dealing with a GOP in full-blown identity crisis mode, worrying about how to become relevant again.

But he has one big advantage: This election was a clear mandate for doing things differently. He had coattails, so many Democratic members of Congress owe him, big-time. It will soon be time to start calling in the chits.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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