Text size

A day after his historic election to become the first black American president, Barack Obama stepped into the role of president-elect yesterday, inviting Rahm Emanuel to join his administration as White House chief of staff, Democratic officials said.

Emanuel, a former Bill Clinton adviser, is the son of a Jerusalem-born pediatrician who was a member of the Irgun (Etzel or IZL), a militant Zionist group that operated in Palestine between 1931 and 1948.

Obama intends to announce key cabinet and staff staff members in the next few days to ensure a swift transition to the White House in January, which would allow him to deal with the global economic crisis as quickly as possible.

If Emanuel accepts, he will return to the White House, where he served as a political and policy adviser to Clinton. Emanuel is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives as the Democratic Caucus chairman.

Emanuel knows Obama from his hometown Chicago and headed the special team that planned the midterm elections in 2006, in which the Democrats recaptured a Congressional majority.

Emanuel also served as inspiration for the fictional character Joshua "Josh" Lyman, the deputy White House chief of staff, played by Bradley Whitford on the television drama "The West Wing."

Obama is expected to appoint loyal advisers and aides to central cabinet and staff positions, as well as experienced officials from the Clinton administration and a few prominent Republicans to enhance his intention to bridge political gaps.

Several Democrats said Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee, was actively seeking appointment as secretary of state in the new administration.

They said Obama would issue a written statement announcing that his transition team would be headed by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff under Clinton; Pete Rouse, who has been Obama's chief of staff in the Senate; and Valerie Jarrett, a friend of the president-elect and campaign adviser.

One of the most talked-about appointments is the Treasury Department secretary. The names most mentioned for this post are former Clinton administration Treasury bosses Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin. Or Obama might keep Secretary Henry Paulson.

Other candidates include a former Summers deputy, Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and billionaires Warren Buffett and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The president-elect had breakfast yesterday with his wife and daughters, then left his house for a workout at a nearby gym. Aides said he intended to visit his campaign headquarters later in the day to thank his staff.

Obama has 10 weeks to build a new administration. But his status as an incumbent member of Congress presents issues unseen since 1960, when Democrat John F. Kennedy moved from the Senate to the White House.

Rahm Emanuel's father, Benjamin, yesterday refused to comment on the report that his son was appointed White House chief of staff. He told Haaretz that he would only comment after speaking to his son.

"Obama is a pro-Israeli leader and will be a friend to Israel," he said, adding that he was pleased with Obama's election. He also said his son is the namesake of Rahamim, a Lehi combatant who was killed.