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Obama and McCain have a 'productive conversation'

They meet in Chicago for about 90 minutes. 'These guys could get some work done together,' an aide says.

November 18, 2008|John McCormick | McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.

CHICAGO — A fierce campaign less than two weeks behind them, President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain met Monday in Chicago to talk about ways to work together on government reform, fiscal responsibility and boosting the economy.

It was one of the earliest post-election meetings to take place between presidential rivals in recent history and reflected a desire on the part of both men to show bipartisanship, aides said.

By meeting with McCain so quickly after the election, Obama demonstrated magnanimity and practicality.

Despite gains by Democrats in Congress, the future president will need Republican support for many of his initiatives.

Obama's transition staff released a statement describing the meeting as a "productive conversation" that opened the possibility for cooperation.

"At this defining moment in history, we believe that Americans of all parties want and need their leaders to come together and change the bad habits of Washington," the statement said.

Obama has said he expects to pick at least one Republican to serve in his Cabinet, but it is unlikely to be McCain, who will return to the Senate as a leader of the Republican Party.

The two men met for about 90 minutes.

They were joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close McCain friend, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a Chicago Democrat who will be the White House chief of staff.

Graham described the session as productive but declined to comment on whether any commitments were made.

"Where possible, the American people want us to work in a bipartisan fashion to address their problems," Graham said in a statement. "Today's meeting was a positive step forward."

A senior Obama aide briefed by Emanuel described the session as "very cooperative and cordial," with all four men remaining in the room for the entire meeting.

"The general sense was that these guys could get some work done together," the aide said.

Obama and McCain joked about the poor weekend showing of the Chicago Bears, aides said, and the joys of being able to sleep in their own beds after the rigors of the campaign.

Before the meeting started, Obama told reporters during a brief photo shoot that he wanted to use the conversation to map out the future, as well as to thank McCain.

"We're going to have a good conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the country," he said. "And also to offer thanks to Sen. McCain for the outstanding service he's already rendered."

Asked whether he was hoping to help an Obama administration, a smiling McCain responded, "Obviously."

Reporters and photographers were allowed in the room for about 90 seconds. When they continued to shout questions as they were asked to leave, the president-elect said, "You're incorrigible."

A McCain role in the new administration seems unlikely, given a remark Obama made in August when he was asked whether the Arizona Republican might play a part in a then-hypothetical Obama administration.

"Sen. McCain, I would have him serve in the role of loyal opposition -- in the minority," Obama said.

Meanwhile, Obama's campaign staff, now a bare-bones operation, announced an online effort to try to harness its fundraising success to solicit donations and volunteers for Southern California wildfire relief efforts.

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