WASHINGTON – Although he may not get to bed before 3 a.m., Barack Obama plans to make his first full day as president a jam-packed affair of prayer, diplomacy, war discussions and welcoming hundreds of visitors to the White House.
Obama has deliberately raised Wednesday's symbolic importance, citing various things he would do on "Day One" of his administration. Scores of special interest groups have jumped in, imploring him to enact this or that policy right away.
Perhaps no one will be watching more intently than anti-war activists who backed Obama from the start because of his promise to extract U.S. forces from Iraq, a conflict that has lasted nearly six years.
He said in July: "I intend to end this war. My first day in office, I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war responsibly and deliberately but decisively."
That's just what Obama will do on Wednesday, said a top adviser, noting that the meeting also will include military commanders and aides outside the Joint Chiefs. The adviser would speak only on condition of anonymity because the Wednesday meeting has not been formally announced.
In the past year or so, the U.S. economy has eclipsed Iraq in the national debate, and Obama gave himself some slight wiggle room on the pace of withdrawing troops. He also stressed the need to pump more U.S. military power into Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters control significant parts of the country.
Wednesday's meeting seems likely to thrust the Iraq war back into the political spotlight. But it will consume only part of a busy day.
The new president will start the day at Washington's National Cathedral for the National Prayer Service, which dates to George Washington's time. His office said Friday that he and his wife, Michelle, will welcome "hundreds of special guests" on "day one, when we open the doors of the White House to you." (Ticket-seekers were directed to the Web site http://www.pic2009.org/dayone).
Obama earlier signaled plans to issue an executive order during his first week in office to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. It's unlikely, however, that the facility will actually close anytime soon as the new president weighs what to do with the estimated 250 al-Qaida, Taliban or other foreign fighter suspects still there.
Obama also is preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners, according to two U.S. officials familiar with drafts of the plans. Still under debate is whether to allow exceptions in extraordinary cases.
It's possible that Obama will make a few official acts Tuesday afternoon, in the time between his inaugural parade and his stops at the 10 inaugural balls with his wife. The dancing could last until 2:30 a.m. or later.
Obama "will hit the ground running as soon as he is sworn in," his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said in an interview Saturday. "Much of his senior staff will head directly to the White House after he is sworn in."
On Wednesday, Gibbs said, Obama will meet with his economic team and national security advisers "to talk about the economic crisis and our challenges abroad including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."