Barack Obama prepares to build bridges – but first he needs new allies to help him do it

Urgent work to avert the 'fiscal cliff' as key figures from first term get ready to leave President's team

Chicago

The rigours of the election campaign barely behind him, President Barack Obama was back in the Oval Office yesterday pondering the immediate challenges of negotiating a compromise with Congress to avert a so-called "fiscal cliff" of impending tax increases and spending cuts and revamping his inner circle.

While the President has kept a low profile since election night, behind the scenes he has been laying the groundwork for negotiations with Congress on a package that must be agreed by the year's end. Otherwise, deep cuts – to the Pentagon in particular – will come into effect automatically, as will the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. The knock-on effects could suck $700bn out of the economy.

The burning question in Washington is whether the results of the election will create a framework for compromise between Mr Obama and the leadership of the Republicans, who easily retained control of the House of Representatives. Both sides will have to offer concessions for an agreement to be possible. That will mean summoning political flexibility of the kind that was absent in Washington before the election.

"Hopefully people will read those results and read them as a vote for cooperation and will come to the table," David Axelrod, the top Obama advisor, said yesterday. "Obviously, everyone's going to have to come with an open mind to these discussions. But if the attitude is that nothing happened on Tuesday that would be unfortunate."

Mr Obama attempted to phone congressional leaders of both sides on Tuesday night after his victory but was told they were sleeping. Since returning to the White House, however, he has been working the phone lines to Capitol Hill, which will reconvene in a last-duck session early next week.

The President told the congressional leaders he believed "the American people sent a message in yesterday's election that leaders in both parties need to put aside their partisan interests and work with common purpose to put the interests of the American people and the American economy first", the White House said in a statement.

Almost as urgent, however, is beginning auditions for a refreshed Obama cabinet. Among veterans of his first term in office who have signalled their intention to leave, the most obvious are Hillary Clinton at the State Department and Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. However, some expect Eric Holder, the Attorney General, and Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defence and former CIA director, to also head for the exit.

Pressure is likely to be on the President to appoint at least one high-profile Republican to his cabinet and eyes have turned to the retiring Senator from Maine, Olympia Snowe, a moderate, for some important position.

Speculation for the position of Secretary of State has long centred on Senator John Kerry, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, as well as Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations. Ms Rice, however, has been damaged more than anyone by the fallout from the killings in Benghazi in September. Thomas Donilon, the current National Security Advisor, might also be a candidate for top US diplomat.

Nothing, however, will take the glow from Mr Obama's victory more quickly than the fiscal negotiations. Especially difficult is the taxation issue. Ending the tax cuts for families with income above $250,000 was a pledge repeatedly made by the President on the campaign trail and thus doing anything different in these negotiations would be extremely difficult.

On Wednesday, John Boehner, the speaker of the House, did at least signal a degree of suppleness, noting for the first time that some revenue increases may be tolerable to his party, though signalling that in return Mr Obama would have to swallow cuts in funding for social safety net programmes.

"Mr President, this is your moment," said Mr Boehner, whose own position had been bolstered by his party's success in holding the House. "We're ready to be led – not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as President of the United States of America."

Team Obama, Mk II: Who's in and who's out

OUT

Timothy Geithner

The Treasury Secretary is widely expected to leave office and return to his family in New York. Indeed it is believed President Obama had to persuade him not to step down mid-way through his first term.

Leon Panetta

The Defence Secretary and former CIA Director has overseen the withdrawal from Iraq and the planning for the drawdown from Afghanistan. He is concerned about cuts to military spending.

David Plouffe

One of the President's closest aides and architect of the 2008 campaign, Mr Plouffe is expected to stand down from his official role as Senior Advisor to Mr Obama.

IN

John Kerry

The Senator from Massachusetts who lost the 2004 presidential race to George W Bush has rebuilt his career and in 2009 replaced Vice-President Joe Biden as chair of the Senate foreign relations committee. He is known to want the post of Secretary of State when Hillary Clinton steps down.

Olympia Snowe

There have been calls by some Democrats to rebuild damaged relations with the Republicans. One way would be to bring some into the cabinet. Olympia Snowe, a moderate who has just stepped down as Senator for Maine is widely touted as a potential Transportation Secretary.

Janet Napolitano

The Homeland Secretary is thought to be eager to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General, and is also seen as candidate for a place on the bench of the Supreme Court.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage