By Abdon M. Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Reporter
In his first news conference since becoming president-elect, Barack Obama encouraged the Bush administration to act quickly on incentives to help the auto industry switch over to making more fuel-efficient cars; promised to pass a stimulus package as his first act as president if the congress does not pass it before then; pledged to extend unemployment benefits; and to try to find a puppy his daughter Malia, 10, will not be allergic to.
Obama, flanked by his economic advisors and new chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, spoke at The Chicago Hilton and Towers, where delegates stayed during the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention while a riot happened outside. There were no riots here as Obama gave his election-night victory speech a few blocks away on Grant Park.
Obama singled out Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet and asked why she had her arm in a sling. She said she fractured her shoulder running to hear his election-night speech.
"I think that was the only major incident during the entire Grant Park celebration," Obama deadpanned.
Sweet asked what former presidents Obama had spoken to and about his progress on buying his daughters a puppy.
"I've spoken to all of them," he said, after a pause adding, "...that are living. I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any seances."
He said he recognized the steep challenge of finding a hypo-allergenic dog in a shelter.
On a serious note, he emphasized that he recognized the obstacles to getting the economy back on track, but said he planned several short-term actions to help in that regard.
He called the American auto builders "the backbone of the American manufacturing industry" and said "I would like to see the amdinistration do everything it can to accelerate the retoooling" of that industry to make more fuel-efficent cars. Obama said his team would be researching whether additional legislation was necessary. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm stood behind him and he acknowledged her input on the issue.
Does Obama really think he can have an impact in the economy in the first 100 days?
"I'm confident a new president can have an enormous imapact -- that's why I ran for president," Obama said -- sounding almost annoyed by the question. "I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later. If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done in my administration.
Obama seemed very at ease during his 19-minute news conference and question-and-answer session. He seemed genuinely surprised and humbled when the press stood up upon his entrance.
"Thanks guys -- Thank you," he said.
Obama said the choice of his replacement in the U.S. Senate was entirely up to Gov. Blagojevich and he said he imagined the governor would probably use the same criteria he or voters would: someone who is "capable, passionate about helping working families in Illinois meet their dreams."
No one got the chance to ask Obama about his new chief of staff Rahm Emanuel but Obama plugged Emanuel and his vice-presidential choice Joe Biden as examples of what he said would be the good appointments to government posts he would be annuncing in days to come.