White House Diary
Al Jazeera's daily analysis of all the news in the transition to Obama's presidency.
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2008 22:45 GMT

Welcome to our White House Diary, Al Jazeera's daily analysis of what's happening in the presidential transition period until Barack Obama takes office on January 20.

With news, views and a healthy degree of scepticism, we'll be bringing you the latest on the transition from across the US and the world.

Rob Reynolds, Chicago, November 6

Rahm Emanuel, a congressman from Illinois, will soon be one of the most powerful men in the United States. 

He has accepted the position as White House chief of staff from Barack Obama, the president-elect. 

The chief of staff functions essentially as a gatekeeper for the Oval Office - determining who gets to see the president and shaping his daily schedule.

Emanuel has an interesting background: He is the son of a Jerusalem-born doctor who was active in the Irgun - an underground Zionist organisation that fought the British in Palestine prior to the founding of Israel in 1947.

Tough politician

Emanuel had already served several congressional legislators in policy posts before becoming a senior aide to Bill Clinton, the former president.

Emanuel is set to become the
presidential 'gatekeeper' [GALLO/GETTY]
In 1993, he was responsible for orchestrating all the details of the White House signing ceremony for the Oslo Accords - an event made memorable by the famous handshake between Yasser Arafat, then head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, and Yitzhak Rabin, the then prime minister of Israel.

Emanuel ran for congress from Chicago in 2002 and quickly became a power-broker on Capitol Hill.

He is credited with masterminding a successful Democratic effort to retake the House of Representatives from Republican domination in 2006.

A tough, hard nosed and highly partisan political operative, he is known for his fiery temper and penchant for profanity.

Obama is still keeping a low profile in Chicago, has made plans to hold his first press conference as president elect on Friday.

He also got a taste of the full burden of his new office on Thursday with a briefing on ultra-classified information from Mike McConnell, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

'Smooth' transition

The super-secret session is meant to fill in the president-to-be on the most sensitive and closely held government intelligence on undercover operations and global hotspots.

George Bush, the outgoing president who is to meet Obama on Monday, told federal officials he wants to ensure an efficient passing of the baton, saying that
"over the next 75 days we must ensure a smooth transition".

In another personnel move on Thursday, Obama reportedly appointed David Axelrod, his senior campaign strategist, to carry on with essentially the same role once the Obamas move into the White House.

But the economy is as always issue number one and there was a reminder of that on Wall Street, with stocks plummeting 440 points on Thursday.

Among the names prominently mentioned for the post of Treasury Secretary in the new administration are Timothy Geithner, the New York Federal Reserve Bank president, Lawrence Summers, the former Clinton-era Treasury Secretary, and John Corzine, the governor of New Jersey and former Goldman Sachs investment bank executive.

Camille El Hassani, Doha, November 5

After two contentious elections, everyone was braced for another one marred with delays, voter problems and the threat of a disputed outcome.

But not this time.

Election day went as it should – people voted, the results were decisive, no significant numbers of people were disenfranchised and, at the end of the night, America had a new president.

Obama secured votes from a wide array of demographics [GALLO/GETY]
Barack Obama won in parts of the south and west, where Democrats have not even competed in years.

He won the support of female, black, Hispanic, rich, poor, young, old, liberal and moderate groups to end the night as President-Elect.

"The coalition Obama assembled proved as modern as the technology his campaign employed," wrote Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of The Politico, a Washington DC newspaper.

They won because they played the game better than their opponent, they said.

The New York Times said Obama was "nothing short of a phenomenon".

John Dickerson, of Slate.com, wrote that the Democratic campaign continued to play the game better even at its victory rally.

"It was presidential. Gone were the blue placards from countless rallies. Instead, American flags waved," he wrote.

In other words, even the crowd was choreographed to be presidential, instead of partisan.

Counting down

Seventy-seven days lie between Election Day and the Inauguration on January 20.

We already know the Obama transition team is buzzing away on how to deal with the problems in the US economy.

Doyle McManus, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that Obama's aides believe "the best way to get an Obama administration off on the right foot ... is through early, eye-catching successes".

That sounds like a tax cut. The big stuff will have to wait.

Lots of reporters are working their sources in the Obama campaign to find out what will happen in the next few days, and ABC News has broken what has been percolating for some time - that congressman Rahm Emanuel has been offered the key job of chief-of-staff.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has from Obama aides "a shadow Treasury team could be in place by the end of the week".

The New York Times reports: "Obama's advisors say they anticipate the nomination of secretaries of state and treasury by Thanksgiving."

That's just a few weeks away.

The WSJ asks: "What remains unclear, however, is whether Tuesday's results represent a vote for liberalism or against the failures of the Bush administration."

The first few months of the Obama administration will tell.

Hamish MacDonald, Washington, DC, election day

No one seemed willing to go to bed amid the excitement across the nation's capital [Sara Hassan]

"Whose house?" chanted a young man in a pin-striped suit smoking a cigar in front of the White House, to which the crowd replied with resounding force: "Barack's house!"

It was just after 2am [7:00 GMT] on Wednesday and thousands of young people had flooded onto the street in front of the White House to celebrate the victory of Barack Obama in the presidential election.

Across the capital, from the fish markets, to the historic U Street district, to the monuments of US power, people were dancing in the street, chanting the name of the president-elect. It had been a phenomenal night and no one seemed willing to go to bed just yet.

A couple of university students with a trombone and a saxaphone belted out "Oh when the saints", while groups of people broke into song with the Beatle's anthem "Hey Jude".

And every few minutes the crowd would lift up collectively with cries of "Yes we can".

Diverse crowds

At the corner of U street and 11th, the street where Duke Ellington had lived, parties poured out on to the streets, with break dancers stopping traffic and couples kissing in the middle of the cross-road.

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It was a diverse crowd, black, white, Hispanic, from overseas and from interstate and the mood of celebration was infectious.

The crowd watched results come in on television screens in bars and restaurants along U Street. Obama supporters were cautious initially, but that gave way to an immense and unbridled expression of support for the next president.

I'd been speaking earlier in the night with a 30-year-old African-American dispatch courier from Washington called Dion. He said he was thinking about getting an Obama tattoo. I wonder if he ended the night with some new ink-work?

The car horns were sounding right through the city. Even as we sat in an allegedly sound proof edit booth in Al Jazeera's broadcast centre at 3am, we could hear the noise of the celebrations outside. People were running down the middle of the street 'high-fiving' strangers in their cars.

Amid all the dancing and singing, it was clear that the next president faces high, if not impossible expectations. He has promised hope and change, but neither will come easily.

This is a country fighting two wars and facing the most difficult economic circumstances since the great depression, but overnight, for a few rare minutes, it was just a man offering "hope" and people having a party.

Rosiland Jordan, Phoenix, election day

Until the very end – 9pm (4:00 GMT Thursday), John McCain's supporters thought the Arizona senator was going to win the White House.

They had no idea a Barack Obama landslide was building, and it may take them a day or two yet to fully accept what's happened.

Republicans in Phoenix didn't see a McCain defeat coming [Reuters]
One reason why the hundreds of Victory Party goers had no idea: a lack of real-time information.

The jumbo television monitors only showed news segments that didn't break down the updated vote counts. Buddy Roemer, Louisiana's former Republican governor, only announced vote tallies that favoured McCain.

And - proof we're not in DC, Dorothy: the partygoers were NOT glued to the updated results on their Blackberries.

Another reason why they didn't know: a sense that McCain's recent surge among White working class voters was going to be enough to pull him ahead of Obama in such states as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

These supporters had bought the conservative radio argument that opinion polls don't accurately capture the public sentiment, only public shows of approval do, and I would hazard a guess that television news programmes' desire to balance coverage of the two parties may have skewed public perception about McCain's popularity in the Midwest and South.

The rest of the reasons, I'll let historians debate them.

For now, John McCain has called on his supporters to back President-Elect Obama.  Let's see if the putative leader of the Republican party will be heeded at what is almost certainly a low moment for him in his long career of service.

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