Day After Win, President-elect Obama Works Phones to Build Cabinet

President-elect Barack Obama unveiled a full-scale transition operation Wednesday

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By Michael McAuliff

Daily News Washington Bureau CHICAGO—President-elect Barack Obama unveiled a full-scale transition operation Wednesday, getting immediately to work on the daunting task of assembling a wartime White House team and cabinet in less than 11 weeks.

Well, almost immediately.

First, Obama had breakfast with his family, saw his two young daughters off to school and went to the gym.

He would have liked a little more quiet time—and a little more rest—after the grueling 21-month campaign that made him the first African-American voted into the nation's highest office.

Asked if he was getting enough sleep, he answered, "Not as much as I'd like," before heading into his offices at a downtown building, where he spent the day on the phones. He returned home about 5:30 p.m.

Sleep is likely to be in short supply for Obama, who is expected to start getting highly classified security briefings Thursday.

President Bush has also pledged to help Obama in any way he can and invited him Wednesday for an early visit to the White House, where he moves on Jan. 20, 2009.

Laura Bush seconded the invitation in a phone call with Michelle Obama.

"Mrs. Obama thanked her for the grace and strength she's demonstrated as First Lady, and expressed appreciation for her guidance in the coming months," said the future First Lady's spokeswoman, Katie McCormick Lelyveld.

The first news of the 44th President's administration-in-waiting was the announcement of the "Transition Project" that will build his White House staff. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) was offered the chief of staff job but didn't immediately accept it, Obama aides said.

The announcement confirmed earlier reports that the transition team was beingoverseen by former Clinton administration chief of staff John Podesta, friend-of-Obama Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse, former chief of staff to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

Other advisers on the team include people expected by many to have prominent roles in the future administration, including former high-ranking members of the Clinton White House.

Among them are former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, ex-Energy and Transportation Secretary Federico Peña and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Soon after the announcement, the federal General Services Administration formally recognized Obama's election, and turned transition facilities over to his team.

"This is an historic moment for our nation and for GSA," said Presidential Transition Director Gail Lovelace. "Our team has worked more than two years to complete this headquarters and help facilitate the orderly transfer of executive power."

Before moving on to new business, Obama took a little time to thank his army of staffers in a conference call, telling them they had assembled the best team ever in politics. But he also said he would understand if some didn't want to continue on the journey with him.

It was not clear if his two top advisers, campaign manager David Plouffe and strategist David Axelrod, would go to the White House.

On a more somber note, Obama was still trying to figure out how to take a little time out to mourn his grandmother, who died in Hawaii the day before his election. He could fly to a funeral as soon as this weekend.

With Obama wrestling with his still-fresh grief and trying to build the gears of a new government, others set to work on the celebration of his ascension and his inauguration.

The theme will be to honor the last President from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. Obama will take the oath of office less than a month before Lincoln's 200th birthday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced yesterday that the congressional committee in charge of the festivities would call it "A New Birth of Freedom," taking those words from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

"At a time when our country faces major challenges at home and abroad, it is appropriate to revisit the words of President Lincoln, who strived to bring the nation together by appealing to 'the better angels of our nature,'" Feinstein said.