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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama/Bush White House Meeting; Interview With Arnold Schwarzenegger; Palin Criticizes Bush Administration
Aired November 10, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, political adversaries bury the hatchet. President Bush welcomes President-elect Barack Obama to an historic meeting. What did they talk about inside the White House? And is there lingering bad blood from the bitter campaign?
Also, President Bush earning something no other American president has ever earned. It's not an honor though. He now beats even the most unpopular presidents, as record numbers of you feel the country right now in bad shape.
And Sarah Palin puts out what could be the most revealing comments you're going to be hearing. She reportedly criticizes her own party, and wait until you hear what she says about President Bush.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Today the current and incoming president walked side by side for a meeting steeped in tradition and privacy. President Bush welcomed President-elect Obama to the White House. And then shortly after that, President-elect Obama did something he's never done before. He stepped inside the Oval Office. Obama got his first glimpse of his new office during a meeting only attended by the two men.
Our White House Correspondent Ed Henry is standing by. He's got some information on what's going on. This is not only important, but it's symbolic, because it shows this transition to power, Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In fact, the president-elect, just in the last few moments, left the White House here. He wanted to show he's ready for this dramatic transfer, while the current president wanted to show he can handle a graceful exit.
HENRY (voice-over): Another day, another barrier broken. President-elect Barack Obama and the future first lady stepping into history and their future home. President Bush predicted a stirring sight when the first African-American president-elect showed up at the White House. And it turned out to be quite a moment. So much excitement, people literally pressed their noses up to the gates to try and get a glimpse hours before the two leaders took the long walk alone to the Oval Office for a one-on-one chat only a select few men have had before them. DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think any of us can understand what it's like for two people who are now going to be in a very small club who understand what it's like to be the commander in chief.
HENRY: As the principals huddled, outgoing Press Secretary Dana Perino gave her likely successor Robert Gibbs a tour, while Mr. Bush's personal assistant showed his successor around the campus. It's an American tradition that happens sooner than usual this time because the key topics were the financial crisis and the fact this is the first handoff since 9/11. Both men know there were terror attacks in Spain and Scotland during transfers of power.
PERINO: We really want to make sure that we work with them through joint exercises, through providing briefings, so that when we hand the baton to them, they're able to move forward and continue to protect the country.
HENRY: Despite their sharp differences, both sides are praising the cooperation so far.
JOHN PODESTA, FMR. CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We envision having a couple of joint meetings once our national security team's named between their national security principals and ours so that we can have a seamless transition from the -- you know, from January 19th to January 20th, when the president takes the oath of office.
HENRY: Now, aides to the current president say he's been saying privately that he sees this as sort of a relay race, that he wants to make sure two things do not happen. He does not want anyone to drop the baton and he doesn't want anyone to break stride, largely because of those national security concerns during this historic transfer.
We're told that these meetings between the two leaders lasted totally about two hours. About an hour in the Oval Office, but then they also spent private time in the residence together -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry, I want you to stand by. I want to bring in Gloria Borger to pick up a little bit of what's going on because this is a historic moment right now in U.S. history.
And I'm going to show our viewers some live pictures as we speak, Gloria, of what's going on not far away across the river, the Potomac River, at Reagan National Airport. There you see -- you'll see shortly an American Airlines charter flight that's going to be flying Senator Obama, now President-elect Obama, back to Chicago.
But as we appreciate what's going on, all indications, Gloria, are that President Bush has ordered everyone in his administration to make this as smooth as possible, to do the right thing, to make sure that when President-elect Obama takes office on January 20th, he can hit the ground running. GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALSYT: Yes. I think the transition is being well-planned on both sides, Wolf. Not only on Barack Obama's side, but also George W. Bush has been incredibly gracious.
His chief of staff has said publicly that they've been planning for this transition for quite some time. And I think what those two fellows were probably talking about, according to my Obama sources today, is the economy. And there is a big summit coming up, a G-20 summit coming up on Saturday, Wolf, and they had to talk about how they manage that to make sure that America speaks with one voice when you deal with other nations on the economy. And also how they can get together on some kind of a stimulus package.
So I don't think it was just a sort of get-together, getting to know you. I think it was, we're in the middle of a financial crisis, and how can we smooth the way between our administrations?
BLITZER: And Ed Henry, you're over at the White House. One thing that the president-elect is doing, he's repeating and repeating and repeating not only publicly, but to his staff, there's only one President of the United States at a time. And this president, President Bush, may be unpopular, but he is the president until January 20th, when Obama will be inaugurated. And he's not even -- Obama's not even going to attend that economic summit at the White House next week so there would be no confusion internationally.
HENRY: That's right. And I can tell you that advisers to the current president appreciate that very much because they see Barack Obama handling himself very carefully right now.
They realize that he could have tried to step into what could be seen as a vacuum around the world right now because of the financial crisis, because of national security concerns. And really could have jumped in a bit sooner and started issuing all kinds of pronouncements and whatnot. That might not have made sense for him politically. That's one thing.
But for -- to kind of defer to President Bush, realize the reality of the situation, they appreciate that. And this president also realizes that when he took power in 2000, 2001, there was at least a month delay, you'll remember, of course, because of the recount in Florida. And that's why this current president is determined to make sure that things are handed off as smoothly as possible from national security, right down -- I can tell you one quick example -- to the computer programs that they're sharing.
I'm told that when President Bush came in, in 2000, he had about 100,000 applicants for his administration. There are going to be far, far more because eight years have passed and because of Barack Obama, all that excitement. And so they've even changed a computer program to deal with all the resumes, the flood of resumes coming in -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And there will be tons of resumes. A lot of happy people, but way, way more unhappy people, as well.
Gloria, stand by. Ed Henry, stand by.
We're watching Reagan National Airport right now. Reagan National is where that American Airline plane will be taking off, getting ready to take President-elect Obama back to Chicago with his entourage.
We're going to watch him there. Stand by. You'll see live coverage of that.
In the meantime, let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Barack Obama won the White House last week on a message of change, something that's easier said than done in Washington, D.C. But the president-elect's transition chief, John Podesta, told "FOX News Sunday" yesterday that Obama plans to use his executive power to make an immediate impact when he takes office in January.
Podesta said, "As a candidate, Senator Obama said that he wanted all the Bush executive orders reviewed and decide which ones should be kept, which ones should be repealed." For example, that could mean reversing President Bush's policies on stem-cell research and drilling for oil and natural gas among, other things.
Podesta said that there is a lot the new president can do using his executive authority without waiting for Congress. Waiting for Congress, of course, can be a futile exercise. President Bush discovered this early on, used executive orders and signing statements to bypass Congress and implement his agenda whether anybody else in the government thought it was a good idea or not.
Here's the question: What does it mean when President-elect Obama plans to start his first term using executive orders right off the bat?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Doesn't want to waste any time once he takes office. But we'll discuss more of this, Jack. Thank you.
The governor of California says Barack Obama's win helps his marriage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Luckily, I can get back into the bedroom. So that's a big advantage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That would be the governor of California's marriage we're talking about, Arnold Schwarzenegger on matrimony and political matters. He even tells CNN he's interested in actually working for the president-elect. It's a CNN exclusive. Stand by. Also, free from campaigning, Sarah Palin is now talking freely. What she's reportedly saying about her and John McCain's loss, very revealing.
And ladies first. Laura Bush hosts something Michelle Obama will likely never forget.
Lots of news happening on this historic day. You'll want to see it all right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: These are live pictures from Reagan National Airport. There's an American Airlines jet getting ready to take Senator Obama, President-elect Obama, right now back to Chicago.
Inside he's meeting in one of the buildings there at Reagan National. We don't know who he's meeting with. We're told he's got about a one-hour meeting scheduled right now, and we're trying to find out who this meeting is with.
The plane isn't scheduled to take off from Reagan National for a while. These are pictures just moments ago, once the motorcade arrived at Reagan National Airport. You can see the tarmac right there.
We're going to monitor what's going on. We're trying to find out who President-elect Obama is meeting with right now confidentially, secretly, over at Reagan National Airport. Stand by. We'll give you the information as we get it.
Now that the 2008 presidential race is over, peace has returned to many U.S. homes where loyalties were clearly divided. Not least among them, the governor's mansion in Sacramento, California.
CNN's Chief National Correspondent John King went one-on-one in an exclusive interview with the Republican governor, Arnold schwarzenegger, yesterday on CNN's "LATE EDITION," getting his take on the outcome of the country's future and how he and his die-hard Democratic wife, Maria Shriver, are now getting along. Listen to this.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Maria has bragging rights in the house right now? Is that a fair statement?
SCHWARZENEGGER: Oh, I would say so. I think that Maria is gloating now for these last few days, and it's been very tough for me, because she's running around the house with a cutout, a life-size cutout of Obama, you know?
"We won! We Won! Obama won!" All of those kind of things. So -- but luckily, I can get back into the bedroom, so that's the big advantage. KING: On a more serious note -- although I might want to continue that one -- on a more serious note, give me your assessment of what happened in the sense that, was this a rejection of the Republicans or an embrace of the Democrats, a little bit of both? What happened?
SCHWARZENEGGER: I think that you will see that when there's an economic downturn of what we have experienced these last few months, especially -- started this last year -- but these last few months I think we have experienced a huge crash, especially on the stock market, that had a tremendous effect. And combined with the housing crisis and the mortgage crisis, I think that no matter what party would have been in control would have probably lost.
KING: When you were out campaigning with Senator McCain, you were funny but also very critical of Barack Obama, talking about his scrawny arms and skinny legs, saying you needed to give him an exercise routine. But you also said he had Soviet-style, "spread the wealth" policies.
Given the state of the economy right now, are you worried that a Democratic administration with policies as you see them, Soviet-style, "spread the wealth," will that make it worse?
SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, first of all, let me just say that ever since I've come to the United States, I have sworn to myself that I would do everything that I can in order for us in America never to adopt a system that they had in Europe in general, not just the Soviet Union -- because I didn't compare it with the Soviet Union, I compared it with Europe. And I think that Europe when I left, four decades ago, was mostly socialistic. And I've seen what effect it has on people and businesses and on new opportunities.
And America was always known as the land of opportunity. And I've seen it first hand, what tremendous impact it had on me, to be able to have a successful body-building career, to have a successful acting career, to have a successful political career, to have a successful -- and a great family, and all of those things, making millions of dollars and all this. So, I don't want to go and have America go in the direction of Europe, the way they were four decades ago.
Since then, Europe has learned. Since then, Europe has rolled back and has adopted a lot of the American ideas. So that's the right way to go, and so I want America to keep it this way.
Having said that, the rhetoric is over. I have made it very clear that now, since the election is over and the people have chosen Obama, that I will be 100 percent behind this man. Anything that he needs, we as a state will work with him.
We want to make sure that he is successful, because then the country is successful. It has absolutely nothing to do with politics. I'm all about getting the job done, whatever party it is. Let's work together, Democrats and Republicans, and I think a lot of things can be accomplished. KING: Any communication with you? Your name gets kicked around in Washington every now and then, say, for a cabinet job. Any interest? Any communication?
SCHWARZENEGGER: No. I also made it clear that I want to stay here until I'm finished with my term.
KING: What about Governor Palin? Does she have a future as a leader, a national leader in the Republican Party?
SCHWARZENEGGER: I have no idea if this is her goal and what her goal is. We know one thing, that she was a terrific mayor and that she has been a terrific governor.
I mean, imagine that she -- when she started this whole vice presidential campaign, she had an approval rating of over 80 percent. And now, even after all this beating that she's gotten, and all the things that went on, and with all the attacks, she still has 65 percent approval rating. People love her. Why? Because she's doing a great job.
So I think that if she wants to do something nationally, I'm sure that people are ready to embrace her with open arms. I don't know if that's what she wants.
BLITZER: Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking with our own John King in Sacramento, California. The interview on "LATE EDITION."
During the campaign, Governor Sarah Palin rarely went off script. Not anymore. John McCain's running mate is now making some surprising revelations about her and John McCain's loss, especially involving President Bush. Even Tina Fey's impersonations of her on "Saturday Night Live." She's speaking about all of that.
Let's go to our Brian Todd. He's working the story for us.
Brian, as we look at all of this, the comments she's making to the Alaskan news media are sort of revealing, aren't they?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Wolf. She did this interview with "The Anchorage Daily News," and she's asked first why she thinks the McCain/Palin ticket didn't win. The first reason that she cites there is the unpopularity of the current administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: There was such a desire for change across the nation. I mean, that was -- that was the given, was change was going to be ushered in. And I think the Republican ticket represented too much of the status quo, too much of what had gone on in these last eight years. That Americans were kind of shaking their heads and going, wait a minute, how did we run up a $10 trillion debt in a Republican administration? How have there been blunders with war strategy under a Republican administration?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Now, the White House declined to comment on that today, but last week they said, historically, it has always been very difficult for a party to win a third consecutive term in office. Palin has returned to her job in Alaska and says from now on, her state will have to be careful in asking for earmarks since during the campaign, both McCain and Obama pledged to reform that practice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: We had better make sure that every earmark we request is in the nation's best interest and is something that has been vetted and seen the light of day via public participation before we even request it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Now, Palin also said again she was frustrated with the media, saying they failed to dispel myths such as whether she ever attempted to ban any library books. But when it came to how she was covered by "Saturday Night Live," she had only nice things to say about actress and comedienne Tina Fey, who lampooned the governor in several comedy skits.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I really liked her. And then her in-laws came to one of our rallies and met us back stage. And they're pretty hard-core Republicans, the in-laws were. And she had told me that. She was like, "Believe it or not, I'm from a family of Republicans."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And for those who may be curious about that kitchen scene, that was a crock of moose chili she was cooking -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ooh, it sounds delicious. I guess. I've never had that. Have you ever had that, Brian?
TODD: No, I have not.
BLITZER: I suspect a lot of people haven't.
Let's talk a little bit about what she said involving her future, a national run once again in 2012? Did we get insight on what she has in mind?
TODD: Not really, but she would not rule out running for president or vice president in 2012. Later this week she's already going to be back in the limelight. She heads to Miami to attend that Republican Governors Association meeting. And I know you know a little bit about that one.
BLITZER: I know, because I'm going to tell our viewers right now, Brian. Thanks very much.
Governor Palin will be my guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Wednesday. I'll be speaking with her about a whole range of issues.
I'll be down at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Miami. That's where she's going to be.
And guess what? You can be part of the interview, as well. If you have questions for John McCain's former running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, send them to us. To upload your video questions for Governor Palin go, to ireport.com. We'll try to get some of those questions for her on Wednesday. We'll be reporting Wednesday from Miami.
When President Bush moves out of the White House, he'll take with him a dubious distinction. He has set a record that any leader would prefer not to see on his or her resume. CNN's latest opinion poll is about to be revealed.
And President-elect Obama is moving on, and that leaves a job opening in the U.S. Senate. We'll give you an idea who might be on the short list to fill his Illinois seat.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the pink slips mount. Thousands of Americans are losing their jobs as an international courier company, DHL Express, announces it's discontinuing shipping within the United States. The news simply devastating for one state in particular. Stand by.
Does Barack Obama plan to close down Guantanamo Bay prison by executive order? We're going to tell you what we're hearing and what may happen to the detainees being held there.
And family first. How the Obamas plan to help their girls cope with their new life as they move into the White House. Big decisions facing the nation's next first parents.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A new president will move into the White House in January. And it looks like he will have his work cut out for him. That's a certainty.
A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll has just been released measuring Americans' attitudes about their leadership, old and new.
Let's go to Bill Schneider. He's working the story for us.
Bill, what does this say, first of all, about the mood of this country right now?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there's bad news, and there's worse news.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): How bad is it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the economy is falling off the cliff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have got two wars going on, and we have got an economic crisis, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression.
SCHNEIDER: Eighty-three percent of Americans say the country is in bad shape. That's more than in 1992, when the first President Bush was ousted because of the economy, stupid. That's more than in 1980, when President Carter got fired after the malaise crisis. That's more than in 1975, after Watergate and the Nixon pardon.
In fact, the public is in its worst mood since this question was first asked nearly 35 years ago. Who are they taking it out on? President Bush -- 76 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing. That's a record. It's worse than President Clinton's low points in 1994. It's worse than his father's low point in '92. It's worse than Jimmy Carter's low point in 1979. It's worse even than Nixon during Watergate.
Harry Truman held the previous record for the most unpopular president since World War II. President Bush has now broken that record by nearly 10 points. But wait. There's hope.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Immediately after I become president, I'm going to confront this economic crisis head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families, and restore growth and prosperity.
SCHNEIDER: While three-quarters of Americans believe President Bush is doing a lousy job, three-quarters believe president-elect Obama will do a good job. What's he going to do, exactly?
B. OBAMA: We are going to have to focus on jobs.
SCHNEIDER: Most people are not clear exactly, but they have great expectations.
SCHNEIDER: Voters are clear about one thing. Two-thirds say it is more important for the new Obama administration to stimulate the economy than to reduce the deficit, full spending and full tax cuts ahead -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will see what happens, Bill. Thank you.
And, as Bill just detailed, President Bush's record disapproval rating is really, really startling. On the flip side, though, let's show what happened to Mr. Bush's approval rating over the years. It peaked early in his two terms in office, when it stood at 87 percent in November 2001. That was right after 9/11.
You can see his approval with voters taking a slow, steady fall over the years, plateauing at 38 percent in '05, '06, and '07. Now it is at its lowest. And only 24 percent approve of the job he's doing.
You may be looking at the person who will replace Barack Obama in the Senate. While only one person can make that decision, some names are floating out there who could fill Barack Obama's seat, including the name of a trusted adviser and close friend.
Let's go to CNN's Brianna Keilar. She's been looking at the various possibilities. Brianna, what are you finding out?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are many possibilities. And it's really an unusual situation, the first time since John F. Kennedy was elected that a sitting senator will become president.
KEILAR (voice-over): The jockeying to replace Barack Obama as Illinois's junior senator is under way.
REP. JESSE JACKSON JR. (D), ILLINOIS: I have only missed two votes in -- in almost 14 years in the Congress. No Democrat or Republican can say that. Based on that record of service, I hope the governor would give me consideration.
KEILAR: Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, both Illinois members of the House of Representatives, have been floated as replacements. A prominent Democratic source close to the president- elect says Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago lawyer and one of Obama's closest advisers, is his top pick. Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel spoke highly of Jarrett over the weekend.
REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D-IL), OBAMA CHIEF OF STAFF: Valerie Jarrett is a -- and people do know, she's a very dear friend of the president- elect and a valuable ally of his, not only prior to running for president in his Senate life, and just personally for Michelle and Barack.
KEILAR: While Obama will have input, ultimately, it's Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's call on will serve out Obama's term through 2010.
B. OBAMA: This is the governor's decision. It is not my decision. And I think that the criteria that I would have for my successor would be the same criteria that I would have if I were a voter, somebody who is capable, somebody who is passionate about helping working families in Illinois meet their -- meet their dreams.
KEILAR: Tammy Duckworth, a prominent Iraq veteran, is another possibility. As for who replaces Joe Biden as Delaware's senior senator, some political observers say the logical choice would be the senator's son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden.
KEILAR: One hitch, Beau Biden is just beginning a deployment with the Army National Guard. And that is fueling speculation that someone will be appointed to keep his father's seat warm, until a special election could be held in 2010, and Beau Biden could run, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brianna Keilar watching the various possibilities. We will see what happens in Delaware and Illinois.
After Senator Obama won the presidency last week, it seems everybody wanted a piece of history. He's now the president-elect of the United States. Newspapers were sold out across the country. And now they're ramping up to try to meet this increasing demand.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is looking into this front- page frenzy, as some people are calling it. What -- what is going on?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, a spokesman for "The Chicago Tribune" told me that the only thing that even remotely comes close to the demand for last week's November 5 was when the White Sox won the World Series, but even that front cover left in the dust by this one, which is -- they have had to go to another 400,000 copies to reprint this, not just that from last week, but a weekend commemorative edition that they sent out yesterday, they're having to reprint that, and add it to tomorrow's copies, as well.
You're seeing this from newspapers around the country. If you go to the New York Times Store Web site today, you're saying that they're experiencing unusually high traffic there, from "The Washington Post," as well. They have teamed up with a Web site CafePress to offer the front cover posted on a mug, on a T-shirt, whatever you would like.
And also, at "The L.A. Times," they're telling me today that the queues are still there to buy copies of this. They're also adding a printing plate from the press room if you want to spend a few extra bucks. Unprecedented demand, suddenly a good week for newspaper sales -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. They said newspapers were a dying industry.
TATTON: Not this week.
BLITZER: Not this week. They're huge. All right, thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
President Bush's unpopularity reaches a record low, unpopularity, a record low. So, what kind of advice might he give president-elect Obama? And how effective can the president be in creating a smooth transition?
Also, with a departing Republican president and big GOP losses, who will lead the party right now? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
Barack Obama used the power of the Internet to help him win the White House. But wait until you hear how he plans to use the Internet to help him govern.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right, take a look at this. This is Reagan National Airport right here in Washington, D.C. That American Airlines charter plane is getting ready to take Barack Obama back to Chicago. It's a historic day here in Washington.
He met inside the Oval Office one-on-one with President Bush. Once we see president-elect Obama getting on those stairs, we're going to go there live. You're going to see live coverage of that. He's having some private meetings over at the -- at Reagan National right now. Don't know who those meetings are with, but we will soon enough.
Let's discuss all this and more. Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett are joining us.
So, what does he need to do? In fact, what do both of these men need to do right now to make sure there's a smooth transition?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, President Bush has already created a very smooth process, so that John Podesta and others can hit the ground running. And John Podesta has put together a very good process to begin vetting people. He -- he has the policy resources, as head of the Center for American Progress. So, I think this will be a smooth transition overall.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And I think the president has done very well -- I appreciate what Donna has said -- extended himself right away. President-elect Obama is in earlier than a lot of president-elects are. And I think it was very gracious today.
What else he needs to do, of course, is be very candid and show a lot of goodwill, as he's done, but be very candid about the problems as he sees it, because this president-elect inherits a lot of big problems. I know the polls, I know they are tough on Bush. I hope we can stop with that.
The expectations for Barack Obama are extremely high. And this president -- I know he will be gracious -- has to give him the lay of the land and lay it out.
Campaigns, you don't have to have tradeoffs. When you govern, then you have got to make choices. And I hope the president gives him his best judgment. I believe he will.
BLITZER: You know, as Senator McCain pointed out at that -- at that dinner in New York, the Al Smith Dinner -- and he was very gracious that night -- he reminded all of us, it was not that long ago, an African-American, a black person couldn't even come to the White House, except perhaps to work there, you know? And, all of a sudden, we're seeing a transition, remarkable pictures, the current first family and the next first family of the United States.
And -- and that's a meaningful -- that's a meaningful moment in our country.
BRAZILE: Well, I decided today that's my Christmas gift, once I can get a couple copies out of the White House.
But just seeing Barack Obama at the White House today with Michelle, it just -- it just made me once again feel good about what has happened. You know, in 1901, Booker T. Washington was invited over to meet with President Roosevelt. And, afterwards, he invited Booker T. Washington -- Booker T. Washington was an educator -- he invited him for dinner.
BENNETT: Yes, he did.
BRAZILE: He got in a lot of trouble for that.
Later, in 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes invited Frederick Douglass. Got in a lot of trouble. So, blacks really, although they built the White House, as slave craftsmen, were not invited to the White House.
In 1930 -- in the 1930s, Eleanor Roosevelt invited Marian Anderson to sing at the White House after she was refused at the Constitution Hall. So, this is a historic moment, there's no question.
BLITZER: And I'm sure Bill agrees.
BENNETT: I thought I was the historian here.
BENNETT: Pretty good. No, of course I agree. Frederick Douglass, you remember, climbed in through the window see -- to see President Lincoln. Yes, that shot that you show all afternoon, Wolf, on CNN, President Bush, president-elect Obama walking down the portico, that's a heck of a picture.
BLITZER: It's an amazing shot. And it will resonate, not only in this country...
BENNETT: Around the world.
BLITZER: ... but around the world. People are watching this in amazing numbers.
I just want to point out, these are live pictures over at Reagan National Airport. It looks like the motorcade is getting ready to bring president-elect Obama and his entourage over to those stairs. They're going to be walking up those stairs. There's the limo right there getting ready to bring the president-elect.
You know, we're -- we're covering history right now. And let's -- and, Bill, let's not lose sight of what we're seeing right now, as we look at him getting ready to get on top -- getting on -- getting on that plane.
BENNETT: The nervous-making part of it -- could I comment?
BENNETT: The nervous-making part of this for me is the level of expectation for Barack Obama. These problems are big and serious. You can't solve them in a short period of time. And I hope everybody gives him that time. I hope liberals don't try to force everything at once, and I hope conservatives will back off a little bit and not be critical. The man hasn't made any decisions yet. Let's give him the opportunity to be the president of all the people.
BRAZILE: You know, I forgot to mention that President Lincoln signed an autographed book of Sojourner Truth. So, he essentially was the first person. And, in 1814 -- yes, I remember my history.
BENNETT: You're showing off.
BRAZILE: No, no.
BENNETT: That's great.
BRAZILE: It's important...
BENNETT: No, of course it is. Of course it is.
BRAZILE: ... because, as a young girl, I wanted to be so involved in politics, I read up on all of that.
BLITZER: There he is. You see -- and you see president-elect Obama walking off the -- out of the car and going up the stairs as he gets ready to fly back to Chicago. This is an important day, because a lot of the transition process, Donna, that goes through, I'm sure the -- the tone was set and specific decisions were made inside the Oval Office.
BRAZILE: Well, I'm sure that the president gave him a real thorough briefing on the economy, what they're doing now, in terms of the bailout, and perhaps the war and some other stuff. He received his first national security briefing last week. And I'm sure the president was gracious enough to give him a -- some more encyclopedic knowledge of what he knows about the world.
BLITZER: He had never been inside the Oval Office before. He's been a United States senator for a few years, never invited into the Oval Office. But now he comes, Bill, as the president-elect.
BENNETT: No, it's amazing. You know what I like, too, as a guy? He's very cool, you know? I got to tell you, all those sheiks and avatars and princes and princesses, this guy's a very cool guy. It's America. And it's amazing country that continues to amaze. In addition to all the other burdens, he's bringing his mother-in-law, I understand.
BRAZILE: I mean, this guy -- this guy can -- has...
BLITZER: What you're saying is...
BLITZER: ... on top of everything else, he's a good son-in-law.
BENNETT: He's a -- yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.
BRAZILE: He's a family man.
BENNETT: Good luck. Yes, it's great.
BRAZILE: And he's bringing her because she's been very much a part of their lives.
But President-elect Obama is also one of the most disciplined people I have ever met and just very steady...
BENNETT: He sure is. He sure is.
BLITZER: That came through in the campaign.
BRAZILE: ... and smart. And he really enjoys reading and -- and getting to know things.
BLITZER: Don't you like this transition to power? I remember, I was with a dissident when Ronald Reagan took the oath and Jimmy Carter shook his hand. And this guy from the Soviet Union said, "Will they shoot him now?"
I said: "No, they don't. Some people would like that. That's not the way we do it here."
I mean, that handshake, that walk, hand on the back of the shoulder, it's a great country. (CROSSTALK)
BRAZILE: More than anything, the American people would like us to come together. That's what they want with this next president.
BLITZER: Let's -- let's see if that happens. You know what? We will hope for the best and we will get ready for whatever happens.
BRAZILE: I want a long honeymoon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's see.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.
BENNETT: Thank you.
BLITZER: Michelle Obama does something she's never done before, and First Lady Laura Bush helps make it happen. It's a historic event for the women who will soon be making history themselves.
And Jack Cafferty's question of the hour: What does it mean when president-elect Obama plans to start his first term using executive orders? The answer straight ahead.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Barack Obama, the president-elect of the United States, is now aboard this plane. Take a look at it. You see it right there. It's getting ready to take off from Reagan National Airport in Washington, heading back to Chicago.
Our live coverage continues after this.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, what does it mean when president-elect Obama plans to begin his first term using executive orders?
Jon in Philadelphia writes: "It means we can get past the Bush years real fast. Bush misused his power on so many different occasions that Obama's undoing them is only fitting."
Barbara in North Carolina says: "It means canceling all the unconstitutional crap..."
(LAUGHTER) CAFFERTY: "... that W. put in place to protect himself, Cheney, Rove, et cetera."
Dan in Virginia: "Right idea, wrong implementation. An abuse of power for the greater good still an abuse of power, even if you're using it to undo someone else's abuse of power. After all, who defines 'the greater good'? Last I checked, that should be the job of the people -- or at least their elected officials in Congress -- not the president."
Tom in Maine writes, "It means that president-elect Obama isn't going to waste any time turning this ship's bow into the waves."
Roy in Chicago: "When the previous President has resorted to executive orders, as opposed to vetoes, in order to further his own agenda, I do not see an issue with Obama beginning his term negating some of the most irresponsible Bush orders, such as stem cell research and opening roadless areas to development. There are some things we need to change immediately."
Dave in Denver says "Executive order vs. congressional process. I wonder how an issue is allowed to be decided through the sole discretion of the president, or when it is required to go through the Congress. Since there are hundreds of orders signed by Bush, their retention or repeal by Obama could make a significant impact. Positive or negative is something left to be seen."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.
President Bush and his successor, Barack Obama, weren't the only ones to meet at the White House today. Laura Bush and Michelle Obama took a tour together, as well -- what Mrs. Bush showed the first lady to be still to come.
And the president-elect has his eye right now on Guantanamo Bay and some changes there. CNN's Kelli Arena is standing by to take a closer look what he has in mind.
And Obama used the Web to his best advantage when waging a successful presidential campaign. Word is, he plans to harness the Internet again to govern.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: News now from our "Political Ticker."
One side effect of Senator Barack Obama's victory in the presidential race last week, a surge in sales of his two books. Amazon.com says, the day after the elections, sales of "The Audacity of Hope" and "Dreams From My Father" increased tenfold. They have remained in the top two spots on Amazon's bestseller list ever since and are currently one and two at Barnes & Noble's site as well.
Howard Dean will step down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Aides say that will happen when Dean's term expires in January. Governor Dean was elected DNC chairman back in 2005. President-elect Obama is expected to choose Dean's successor.
And, remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can also download our political screen saver. You can check out what's going on over there.
While President Bush and president-elect Obama met, their wives were touring the residence over at the White House. It's Michelle Obama's first visit to the White House.
Let's go to Kathleen Koch. She's working this story for us.
So, how did it go this time compared to years past, Kathleen?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, from all appearances, it went well, though this first visit was likely overwhelming.
I mean, if you have ever been there, you simply can't help but be awed by the majesty and -- and the grace of the White House, the elegance of the furnishings. Michelle Obama likely also got some advice from Mrs. Bush on how to settle in.
KOCH (voice-over): Smiles and a warm welcome, the job for First Lady Laura Bush, turning over the 132-room mansion that has been home for eight years.
SALLY MCDONOUGH, PRESS SECRETARY FOR LAURA BUSH: Every First Lady who's come before would say, make -- make it your home. And that's certainly what Mrs. Bush did. And that's what she hopes is made available for the Obamas.
KOCH: Michelle Obama will, like first ladies before her, be able to redecorate. Each president gets $100,000 to use to refurbish and maintain the White House over the next four years. Historians will guide any changes made to the public rooms.
MCDONOUGH: There's a wear and tear that happens, replacement of carpeting, et cetera. There will be rooms that will need attention, and they will bring that -- those rooms to Mrs. Obama's attention and give her the option of being actively involved or not.
KOCH: And, yes, Malia and Sasha can paint and decorate their rooms any way they want.
MCDONOUGH: It is their space. It is their bedroom. It is their private residence. And, so, depending on what their parents allow them to do, I'm sure the girls can help decorate their room, to the degree that they would like to do that. KOCH: The incoming first family brings their own furniture, if they choose, one set of moving vans rolling in at noon on January 20, as another rolls out.
It can be a difficult time. But most point to Laura Bush's defense of Michelle Obama on national television after her remarks about being proud of America for the first time as a sign the two women will get along well.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I think she probably meant "I'm more proud," you know, is what she really meant.
MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: I was touched by it. And I -- that's what I like about Laura Bush, you know, just calm, rational approach to these issues. And, you know, I'm taking some -- some cues. I mean, there's a balance. There's a reason why people like her.
KOCH: And indications are, Michelle Obama will be taking more cues from Laura Bush. She said she won't have a West Wing office, that she will advocate for issues she cares about, like those facing working women and military families. And, like Laura Bush, Obama plans to very much arrange her schedule around their two daughters -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Kathleen Koch.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.