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Meetings Dominate Obama's First Day

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. A photograph of President Obama taken today in the Oval Office reveals a nearly empty desk. But Mr. Obama's first full day as president was a busy one. It included issuing an executive order that sets new ethics rules regarding his staff's dealings with lobbyists. He met with military advisers, and he made phone calls to leaders in the Middle East. As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, the day began with prayer.

DON GONYEA: After a long historic inauguration day and night, President Barack Obama was at the National Cathedral this morning participating in a Washington tradition dating back to George Washington, the presidential inaugural prayer service.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HE'S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN HIS HANDS")

CHILDREN OF THE GOSPEL CHOIR: (Singing) He's got the whole world in his hands, He's got the whole world...

GONYEA: That song, performed by Washington's Children of the Gospel Choir, is one we've all heard countless times. On this day, its words took on even greater meaning as Mr. Obama watched from the first pew.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HE'S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN HIS HANDS")

OF THE GOSPEL CHOIR: (Singing) He's got the little bitty baby in His hands, He's got the young and the old ones in His hands. He's got the rich and the poor ones in His hands.

GONYEA: The service featured prayers and readings by Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders. The theme of the program was renewal. There were blessings from Mr. Obama and his family. In the sermon delivered by the Reverend Sharon Watkins, there was a recognition in a playful, but still appropriate way of the many serious problems now his to confront.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERMON)

SIEGEL: Mr. President, tag, you're it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL")

OF THE GOSPEL CHOIR: America, God shed his grace on thee...

GONYEA: He followed that action today with a gathering of senior staff in an auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office building. There he announced several moves, including one designed to send a symbolic message to the American people during hard times.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OF THE GOSPEL CHOIR: During this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts and so should Washington. That's why I'm instituting a pay freeze on the salaries of my senior White House staff.

GONYEA: The freeze will affect about 100 White House employees whose salary is more than $100,000 a year. And there was another presidential memorandum regarding transparency and open government. During the campaign, candidate Obama often criticized the secrecy and behind closed-doors dealings of the Bush administration.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OF THE GOSPEL CHOIR: That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known. To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it.

GONYEA: Mr. Obama also signed an executive order setting guidelines for all administration employees regarding dealings with lobbyists.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OF THE GOSPEL CHOIR: If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years. When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am president. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well.

GONYEA: Mr. Obama then asked Vice President Joe Biden to swear in senior staff officials.

(SOUNDBITE OF SWEARING-IN)

V: I, your name, repeat your name please, do solemnly swear or affirm.

GONYEA: So it was a first day of substance and symbolism from Mr. Obama, even as he and his staff adjust to their new surroundings. Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.