Obama: Time to clear away the wreckage

President Barack Obama told Americans on Wednesday his administration was working to "clear away the wreckage" of recession as he assessed his first 100 days in office and promised to keep up the whirlwind pace.

"We are off to a good start. But it is just a start … I am pleased with our progress, but I am not satisfied," Obama said in an opening statement delivered at a televised White House news conference.

Buoyed by high public approval ratings, Obama was set to focus on the jam-packed policy agenda he has pursued since his January 20 inauguration, topped by efforts to rescue the crippled economy and repair the United States’ image in the world.

In just a few short months, Obama — a Democrat elected on a promise of sweeping change in government — has made a sharp break with his Republican predecessor George W. Bush on issues ranging from war and recession to healthcare and climate change.

Supporters and critics alike filled the airwaves with conflicting assessments of Obama’s record so far, but most analysts said it was too early to judge whether his long list of new initiatives would yield success.

Even though the White House had dismissed the 100-day marker as a symbolic point largely of interest to the media, it staged two events — a townhall meeting in Missouri and later a prime-time news conference — for Obama to rally continued public support for the challenges ahead.

Underscoring the difficulties Obama faces, new government data on Wednesday showed the economy contracted at a 6.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter, a steeper-than-expected decline.

Citing approval by the Democratic-controlled Congress of his $3.4 trillion fiscal 2010 budget shortly before his news conference, Obama insisted that his policies had put the country on the right track.

"But even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I have also said that we cannot go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand," he said, according to advance excerpts from his opening statement.

"We have plenty of work left to do. It is work that will take time. It will take effort. But the United States of America will see a better day. We will rebuild a stronger nation," said Obama, who became the country’s first black president when he took office in January.

Obama, who has job approval ratings of more than 60 percent according to opinion polls, also kept up efforts to reassure Americans about his administration’s response to a growing swine flu outbreak that has presented him with his first public health emergency.

His aides are mindful of the political damage to Bush over the government’s inept handling of the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and want to be sure the new president is not seen as out of touch if the flu threat continues to build.

Obama was also expected to face questions from reporters about his foreign policy agenda, including overtures to Iran, efforts to stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan in the face of growing insurgencies and his administration’s deepening engagement in Israeli-Palestinian peace diplomacy.

Countering critics who say he is taking on too much, Obama was to say in his opening remarks that "We still confront threats ranging from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to pandemic flu."

"And all of this means you can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security — in the second hundred days, and the third hundred days, and all the days after," he said.

The tradition of marking the first 100 days of U.S. presidencies dates back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who set the standard by putting in place the building blocks of his New Deal programs to pull the United States out of the Great Depression.

With his deliberative "no-drama Obama" style, the president has sought a balanced tone between harsh economic reality and a more hopeful future, which pollsters say has helped ease Americans’ anxieties in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades.