CHICAGO – Swiftly completing his Cabinet, President-elect Barack Obama named four officials to oversee transportation, labor, trade and small business policy in his new administration Friday but warned that economic recovery may take years.
Little more than a month before he takes office, Obama noted his speed in putting his full economic team in place, saying he had done so at an earlier point than any president in history because of the magnitude of the troubles the country faces.
"Daunting as the challenges we are inheriting may be, I am convinced that our team and the American people are prepared to meet them," he said. "It will take longer than anybody of us would like — years, not months. It will get worse before it gets better."
"But it will get better if we are willing to act boldly and swiftly," Obama said — and he promised to do just that.
At his fifth news conference in as many days, Obama announced his selections of Republican Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois for transportation secretary, California Rep. Hilda Solis for labor secretary, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for U.S. trade representative and venture capitalist Karen Mills to head the Small Business Administration.
Along with the Cabinet members he's already named, Obama said, "These leaders will help craft a 21st century economic recovery plan with the goal of creating 2.5 million new jobs."
All four appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.
He spoke just a few hours after the Bush administration announced an emergency bailout of the U.S. auto industry, offering $17.4 billion in rescue loans in exchange for concessions from carmakers and their workers.
Obama said those steps are necessary and the country can't "squander" the chance to change bad management practices at the companies. Obama said it's "absolutely necessary" to restructure the companies to save the industry, while also working toward creating "fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow."
While Obama declined to say specifically what changes he would make to the Bush administration's plan, he had a message for the Big Three auto companies: "The American people's patience is running out" and management must "seize on this opportunity" over the next few months to come up with a sustainable plan for survival.
"There are going to be some painful steps that are going to have to be taken," Obama said.
He disclosed the latest members of his incoming administration on the eve of a Hawaiian holiday vacation. The Democrat has been pushing to finish putting together most of his Cabinet and White House team before his break.