An Insider's Look at Obama's First Days in the White House

Spokesman Robert Gibbs describes Obama's first minutes in the Oval Office and his plans going forward.


What have been the new administration's most important decisions so far?

In the executive orders, particularly Gitmo [closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center], and some of this Iraq stuff, I think you've seen the president put together a fairly prudent and deliberate process for how to make decisions going forward, which I think shows a pragmatic streak that not everybody probably thought he had but that he is genuinely somebody who is out to get the job done, not predisposed to how you do that. And I think he's listening to everybody and trying to get the best information he can. What was it like for President Obama when he entered the Oval Office on his first morning as commander in chief?

We wanted to take a picture of him first coming in there, but then he basically kicked us all out. He wanted 10 minutes just to be in there and think about all that had gone on in there and all that was going to go on in there. I think he had a genuinely true sense of where he was and all of the responsibilities that he'd been given. And I think that was a powerful moment for him. Did he tell you specifically what was going through his mind?

I went in to ask him just so I could give you guys a readout and he kind of frowned at me and he says, 'Gibbs, I wasn't looking through the drawers looking for pencils' [to take notes]. He was focused on sort of understanding the moment. He was kind of soaking it all in and understanding where he was and what he was elected to do. Are things much worse now—on the economy, for example—than he expectedwhen he was running for president?

You always learn a little bit more when you get in. And look, I think the economy continues to worsen rather than get better. So I think that always weighs heavily on his mind. Obama has talked a lot about avoiding isolation as president—avoiding what he calls "the bubble." Now that he's in the job, does he have any other thoughts about how to accomplish that?

I think it's calling people. I think part of it is staying in touch with his routine. He does not want a room full of people that nod their heads every time he opens his mouth. He wants a group of people that are going to push his assumptions. If advisers have differing opinions, he often likes to see them argue it out a little bit, and watch the back and forth, and question each of their assumptions. He doesn't come to this thinking that he has all the answers. He understands that he can learn—he can learn a lot. Is he awestruck that only 42 other individuals have ever been president of the United States—he has the job once held by the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt?

I don't know if awestruck is the word. I think there is a healthy respect for those that have come before. I think that's part of what he thought about when he sat in that office—how many people but also how few people had been where's he's been. And I don't think you can walk into that place and not feel that, whether it's as the president or whether it's as a staff.

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