ABC News' Matt Jaffe reports from Chicago:
On the 67th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, President-elect Barack Obama Sunday nominated Gen. Eric Shinseki (Ret.), a Japanese-American born in Obama's home state of Hawaii, to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our greatest generation, not just with words, but with deeds,” said Obama, tasking him with a modernization of the Department so troops get the medical care “far too few” are receiving right now.
Obama said Shinseki, the first Asian-American named to his cabinet, was the right person to cut red tape, boost funding, and bring benefits to veterans.
“There is no one more distinguished, more determined, or more qualified to build this V.A. than the leader I’m announcing as our next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Gen. Eric Shinseki,” Obama said.
“No one will ever doubt that this former Army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans. No one will ever question whether he will fight hard enough to make sure they have the support that they need.”
The former Army Chief of Staff, criticized years ago by his Pentagon bosses for saying that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to wage the Iraq war successfully, today pledged to reform the Department to give troops a “smooth, error-free, no-fail, benefits-assured transition into our ranks as veterans.”
“A word to my fellow veterans: if confirmed, I will work each and every day to ensure that we are serving you as well as you have served us. We will pursue a 21st-century V.A. that serves your needs,” promised Shinseki, who lost part of his foot in Vietnam.
“We will open doors, new doors of opportunity so you can find a good job, support your families when you return to civilian life. And we will always, we will always honor the sacrifices of those who have worn the uniform and their loved ones.”
A “LEANER, MEANER” ECONOMY
Earlier this morning on “Meet the Press”, Obama rejected comparisons between today’s economic problems and the Great Depression -– “They’re nothing compared to what my grandparents went through” -– and this afternoon he again outlined his plans to rescue the nation’s economy from its current recession.
At his sixth press conference in the past two weeks, the President-elect expressed his displeasure with the Bush Administration for not doing more to help homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages, while stating his confidence that the country could emerge from its financial crisis “leaner, meaner and ultimately more competitive and prosperous.”
“We have not seen the kind of aggressive steps in the housing market to stem foreclosures that I would like to see,” he said.
“And my team is preparing plans to address that foreclosure situation. We have –- my team has had some conversations with the transition about that. If it is not done during the transition, it will be done by me.”
“But let me make one last point. I am absolutely confident that if we take the right steps over the coming months, that not only can we get the economy back on track, but we can emerge leaner, meaner, and ultimately more competitive and more prosperous.”
Obama noted that there is a “bipartisan consensus…to act forcefully,” emphasizing that his plan will have “a sufficient scope” and lead to “long-term economic growth,” while not duplicating “old-style pork-barrel politics.”
“We are not going to simply write a bunch of checks and let them be spent without some very clear criteria as to how this money is going to benefit the overall economy and put people back to work,” he said.
“We’re not going to be making decisions on projects simply based on politics and, and lobbying. We’re going to make it based on what objective criteria is available to us to see what’s going to make the biggest difference in the economy and what will have some long-term benefits."
THE DETROIT DILEMMA
The President-elect warned that if executives of Detroit’s Big Three can’t or won’t make the changes necessary for their industry to restructure, then they should relinquish their posts, as some lawmakers have demanded.
“If this management team that’s currently in place doesn’t understand the urgency of the situation and is not willing to make the tough choices and adapt to these new circumstances, then they should go,” said Obama.
“If, on the other hand, they are willing, able, and show themselves committed to making those important changes, then, you know, that raises a different situation.”
To allow the auto industry to collapse would be “unacceptable”, Obama cautioned, but at the same time any federal assistance for Detroit must be based on conditions that hold the industry’s “feet to the fire.”
“It makes no sense for us to shovel more money into the problem if you have not seen an auto industry that is committed to restructuring, restructuring that frankly should have been done 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago.”
One change that he outlined, as he has in the past, was a move towards more fuel-efficient cars.
“We have to have an auto industry that understands they can’t keep on doing things the same way,” urged Obama.
ON GUNS, CHICAGO FACTORY CLOSINGS, & THE BLUES BROTHERS
Also today, Obama responded to a rise in firearms purchases since his election last month by reassuring gun owners that they have nothing to worry about.
“I believe in common-sense gun safety laws and I believe in the Second Amendment,” he reiterated. “And so lawful gun owners have nothing to fear.”
Asked about the closing of Chicago’s Republic Windows & Doors factory after they lost their line of credit from Bank of America, which received a government bailout this year, Obama said the factory’s workers should receive the pay and benefits they have earned and that, in the future, his economic plan will attempt to prevent a reoccurrence of such circumstances.
For anyone following the running series by the Obama staffers, in their third installment of splitting the briefing room in half using a local Chicago reference, the aides today selected a “Blues Brothers” theme, putting reporters on the “Jake” side of the room or the “Elwood” one.
- Matt Jaffe