Down to business: Obama begins reforming policies

President Barack Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. Ron Edmonds, The Associated Press

AP

President Barack Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. Ron Edmonds, The Associated Press

By David Espo

WASHINGTON – In a first-day whirlwind, President Barack Obama showcased efforts to revive the economy on Wednesday, summoned top military officials to the White House to chart a new course in Iraq and eased into the daunting thicket of Middle East diplomacy.

“What an opportunity we have to change this country,” said the 47-year-old chief executive, who also issued new ethics rules for his administration and hosted a reception at the presidential mansion for 200 inauguration volunteers and guests selected by an Internet lottery.

After dancing past midnight at inaugural balls with first lady Michelle Obama, Obama entered the Oval Office for the first time as president early in the morning.

Aides consider draft to close Guantanamo Bay

Aides circulated a draft of an executive order that would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year and halt all war crimes trials in the meantime.

Closing the site “would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice,” read the draft prepared for the new president’s signature.

Obama’s Cabinet moves closer to completion

At the Capitol, the Senate confirmed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state after a one-day delay forced by Republicans. The vote was 94-2, and spectators seated in the galleries erupted in applause when it was announced.

Treasury-designate Timothy Geithner emerged unscathed from his confirmation hearing, apologizing for failing to pay $34,000 in taxes earlier in the decade.

Obama presides over economy-revival steps

The new president has pledged to take bold steps to revive the economy, which is struggling through the worst recession since the Great Depression. Last week, he won approval to use $350 billion in leftover bailout funds.

He presided over the White House meeting on the economy as the House Appropriations Committee moved toward approval of $358 billion in new spending.

Officials discuss wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

The new commander in chief held his first meeting in the Situation Room, where he, Vice President Joe Biden and senior military and foreign policy officials discussed war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama campaigned on a pledge to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months and to beef up commitment in Afghanistan. Obama intends to name former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell as a special envoy to the region.

Not everything was new at the White House.

In the Oval Office, Obama worked at a desk built from the timbers of a British naval vessel, the HMS Resolute, and used off-and-on by presidents since the 1870s, including Bush. It also appeared that the carpet that Bush used in his second term, a yellow sunbeam design, was still in place.

If some of the furnishings remained in place, there was no doubt that the new president meant to fulfill his campaign promise of change.

“As of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits than under any … other administration in history,”