On a chilly winter night, I received a call on my BlackBerry that most journalists wait for their entire career. â€śIâ€™m just calling to let you know that Black Enterprise will be the first black publication to get an interview with the president,â€ť the White House representative told me. I would later find out that be would be the first magazine to gain an exclusive with Barack Obama since he took oath on Jan. 20. â€śItâ€™ll be a phoner. Youâ€™ll get 15 minutes. Itâ€™s an interview the president really wants to do.â€ť
As I heard those words, my lips curled into a smile. Initially, I thought the call was in response to my efforts to be selected as one of 300 or so attendees of President Obamaâ€™s first White House press conference (BE managed to gain access to that event as well). But this news exceeded my expectations. Since the inauguration, I had become part of the White House press corpsâ€”albeit newly mintedâ€”taking three-hour commutes via train from our New York headquarters to Washington, D.C. to cover the administrationâ€™s press briefings and executive order ceremonies, including Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnesâ€™ review of the administrationâ€™s economic agenda with black media; and the introduction of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, comprising business and economic leaders that will make policy recommendations. Our extensive coverage, constant inquiries, interview requestsâ€”which began the day after the electionâ€”and our patience paid off.
But this would not be a vanity interview. My intent was to answer the overriding question that came from our steady stream of reader e-mails: Just how was the Obama administration going to tame the turbulent economy and help millions regain their financial footing? As I prepared for the interview, the president was in the midst of battling for his mammoth American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, legislation that aims to employ and retain nearly 4 million workers through the creation of â€śshovel-readyâ€ť infrastructure jobs and public works projects; provide displaced workers with relief through the extension of unemployment and health insurance benefits; and promote consumer spending through a series of tax breaks. His ambitious program was initially stalled by political wrangling in the House and Senate after a number of personal overtures to GOP legislators were rebuffed. The Republican leadership, for the most part, derided the package as a â€śwastefulâ€ť exercise in big government and stressed the inclusion of more tax cuts (which the final bill included). Although only three Republicans voted in favor of the act, the nationâ€™s chief executive produced his first presidential milestone: In less than a month in office, he signed the $787 billion economic recovery package, purportedly the largest overhaul of the U.S. economy in history.
The action, the president asserts, represents only â€śone leg of the stoolâ€ť in his mission to revamp the economic and financial system. At press time, the Treasury Department unveiled a bank rescue plan including provisions to create â€śstress testsâ€ť to ensure the financial stability of banks with more than $100 billion in assets as