U.S. News

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Obama arrives in DC area 2 weeks before inaugural

President-elect Barack Obama landed in the Washington area Sunday evening, setting up the final march toward his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Obama landed hours after his pick for commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, took his name out of the running amid a federal grand jury investigation into government contracts. Obama also faces other challenges in the coming days, including meetings with congressional leaders Monday to promote an economic plan that his top spokesman said was "very very unlikely" to be ready by Jan. 20.

"We don't anticipate that Congress will have passed, both houses, an economic recovery agreement by the time the Inauguration takes place," Robert Gibbs told reporters on Obama's flight to Washington.

But as Obama prepared to leave his hometown of Chicago, he preferred to keep talk personal.

"I've got to tell you, I choked up a little bit leaving my house today," Obama told reporters aboard a government 757 plane typically used by vice presidents and first ladies. It was his first trip on a government aircraft since winning election Nov. 4, aides said.

Obama said pictures of his daughter, 10-year-old Malia, and her friends triggered the emotion.

"Malia's friend had dropped off an album of the two of them. They've been friends since preschool. I just looked through the pages, the house was empty. It was a little tough," Obama said.

Asked if he was looking forward to arriving in Washington, Obama smiled and said yes, "although living in a hotel for two weeks? We did that for two years."

The president-elect is staying at the Hay-Adams Hotel across from the White House. His wife and two young daughters made the same trip from Chicago on Saturday.

Obama has a busy week ahead of him. On Monday, after his girls leave for their first day of classes at the private Sidwell Friends School, he has a meeting planned with Democratic and Republican leaders about a proposed economic plan. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to attend lunch at the White House with former presidents.

He also has some high-profile members of his administration to name, including a director of national intelligence and a CIA director. Robert Gibbs, Obama's top spokesman, told reporters he anticipated those posts to be named soon.

Obama also has to also find a replacement for Richardson, a top-tier Hispanic politician who added diversity to his inner circle.

"It is a measure of his willingness to put the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the Cabinet in order to avoid any delay in filling this important economic post at this critical time," Obama said in a statement Sunday.

Confirmation hearings for other members of his Cabinet are scheduled in the coming days.

The Obamas plan to take up residence at the Hay-Adams until the White House's guest quarters at Blair House, across Pennsylvania Avenue, are available Jan. 15.

The Obamas moved early so their daughters — 7-year-old Sasha and Malia — could start on time at the private Sidwell Friends School, an aide said. Other political children to attend the school have included Al Gore III and Chelsea Clinton.

Opened in 1928, the Hay-Adams Hotel sits across Lafayette Square from the White House, Obama's eventual work place and home. Its name comes from two historical figures who lived on the site: John Hay, the private assistant to President Abraham Lincoln and later secretary of state, and Henry Adams, an author and descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

The Hay-Adams has 145 rooms and suites, featuring marble bathrooms, intricately carved plaster ceilings and ornamental fireplaces and balconies — with views of the White House, Lafayette Square and St. John's Church — in certain rooms.

Room amenities include custom Italian bed linens and towels, goose down duvets and pillows (hypoallergenic pillows are available; Malia has allergies), plush microfiber bathrobes and slippers for adults and kids, Bose CD music systems with assorted CDs, exclusive Etro toiletries, complimentary Fiji bottled water and a nightly turndown service.