Just days before he again takes the oath of office, President Barack Obama is rounding out his Cabinet and White House staff while bracing for major economic and foreign policy storms.
Just when one crisis seems resolved or put off, another one springs up.
The latest emergency: the capture by Islamic militants of dozens of foreign hostages, including some Americans, at a natural gas complex in the Algerian desert. Algerian forces raided the plant on Thursday in an attempt to free the hostages, but heavy casualties were reported among both hostages and militants.
At home, Obama has already picked nominees for his national security and economic teams, including the top jobs at the State Department, the Pentagon, CIA and Treasury Department.
Now he appears poised to name Denis McDonough, a senior national security aide, to be his fifth chief of staff. McDonough would replace Jack Lew, nominated by Obama to be treasury secretary.
McDonough brings rare foreign policy experience to the influential White House post .
He helped shape the White House response to winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, confronting Iran over its nuclear program and reacting to the Arab spring uprisings.
As chief of staff, he could also weigh in quickly on overseas challenges.
Some big tests of will for Obama can be seen coming, such as a series of fiscal deadlines due to hit in February and March over the debt limit and automatic spending cuts.
But others crop up suddenly, such as the hostage-taking in Algeria — by militants with ties to rebel Islamists fighting government and French forces in bordering Mali.
The chief of staff post does not require Senate confirmation.
Obama is sworn in for a second term on Sunday, with public Inauguration Day ceremonies to be held on Monday.
Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner and other House Republicans are attending an annual winter retreat near colonial Williamsburg, Va., to reunite and regroup for the coming battles with the re-elected Democratic president.
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