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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: This new opportunity has responsibilities des...

Geography Teacher

£19200 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Physics Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Physics Teacher January 201...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: General Cover Teachers required ...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?