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Michelle Obama's Role; Barack Obama Introduces Economic Team

Aired November 24, 2008 - 18:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The best political team on television is standing by.
And Michelle Obama's role as first lady -- will she make the most of her brains and influence, or will she play it down?

Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President-elect Obama today stood with four people he's tapped for some of the most important jobs in America. They're the first officially announced members of his economic rescue team, names the financial market have been desperate to hear -- the top guns, New York Federal Reserve president Tim Geithner to head Treasury and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as the director of the National Economic Council in the White House.

President-elect Obama talked at length about the challenges that they face.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Right now, our economy is trapped in a vicious cycle: the turmoil on Wall Street means a new round of belt-tightening for families and businesses on Main Street, and as folks produce less and consume less, that just deepens the problems in our financial markets.

These extraordinary stresses on our financial system require extraordinary policy responses. And my administration will honor the public commitments made by the current administration to address this crisis.

Further, beyond any immediate actions we may take, we need a recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street, a plan that stabilizes our financial system and gets credit flowing again, while at the same time addressing our growing foreclosure crisis, helping our struggling auto industry, and creating and saving 2.5 million jobs, jobs rebuilding our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, modernizing our schools, and creating the clean energy infrastructure of the 21st century.

Because at this moment, we need to restore both confidence in the markets and restore confidence of middle-class families, who find themselves working harder, earning less, and falling further and further behind. I have asked my economic team to develop recommendations for this plan and to consult with Congress, the current administration, and the Federal Reserve on immediate economic developments over the next two months.

I have requested that they brief me on these matters on a daily basis. And in the coming weeks, I will provide the American people and the incoming Congress with an overview of their initial recommendations.

It is my hope that the new Congress will begin work on an aggressive economic recovery plan when they convene in early January so that our administration can hit the ground running.

With our economy in distress, we cannot hesitate and we cannot delay. Our families can't afford to keep on waiting and hoping for a solution. They can't afford to watch another month of unpaid bills pile up, another semester of tuition slip out of reach, another month where, instead of saving for retirement, they're dipping into their savings just to get by.

And I want to repeat: This will not be easy. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and the economy is likely to get worse before it gets better. Full recovery will not happen immediately.

And to make the investments we need, we'll have to scour our federal budget, line by line, and make meaningful cuts and sacrifices, as well, something I will be discussing further tomorrow.

Despite all of this, I am hopeful about the future. I have full confidence in the wisdom and ingenuity of my economic team and in the hard work, courage, and sacrifice of the American people.

And most of all, I believe deeply in the resilience and the spirit of this nation. I know we can work our way out of this crisis because we've done it before. And I know we will succeed once again if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together. That's exactly what I intend to do as president of the United States.

With that, I'm happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Thank you. I'm wondering if you could give us some details on your proposed stimulus package, how much it's going to cost, where the money's going to come from, and when do you want to see it enacted?

OBAMA: I want to see it enacted right away. It is going to be of a size and scope that is necessary to get this economy back on track.

I don't want to get into numbers right now. Part of the task of this economic team behind me is to help to shape the details of that plan, in consultation with Congress, the Federal Reserve, and businesses, and -- and thinkers across the country. But I think the most important thing to recognize is that we have a consensus, which is pretty rare, between conservative economists and liberal economists, that we need a big stimulus package that will jolt the economy back into shape and that is focused on the 2.5 million jobs that I intend to create during the first part of my administration. We have to put people back to work.

Now, that runs in parallel with making sure that our financial system is stable. And so we're going to have to do more than one thing at a time.

But across the board, people believe that this stimulus is critical.

And the first job of my economic team is to shape that economic stimulus package so that it is delivering on the 2.5 million jobs that we talked about and is also providing a down payment on the long-term strategies we need in terms of making this economy work for all Americans.

That means we have to invest in clean energy. We're going to have to invest in the systems in our -- in health care that can reduce costs for families and for businesses.

It means that we're going to have to invest in the education system to ensure that we're competitive over the 21st century.

So not only do I want this stimulus package to deal with the immediate crisis, I want it also to lay the groundwork for long-term, sustained economic growth.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) question is about taxes. Will you let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 or will you use legislation to repeal them before that?

OBAMA: Well -- well, I said during the campaign that my plan represented a net tax cut. And that's important to remember: 95 percent of workers in this country would receive a net tax cut under my plan.

Now, the reason that's important is not only is that good for families who are struggling, but it's also part and parcel of what we need when it comes to stimulus.

We're going to be putting money into people's pockets so that they can spend on buying a new computer for their kid's school, so that they can, you know, make sure that they are able to deal with heat and groceries and all the other strains on family budgets.

Now, what I have also said during the course of this campaign is we've got to restore some balance to our tax code. And the Bush tax cuts were disproportionately targeted towards the very wealthiest Americans. Those who are making more than $250,000 a year can afford to pay a little bit more.

And it is important, if we're going to help pay for some of these expenditures that are absolutely necessary to get our economy back on track, that those who are in a position to pay a little bit more do so.

Whether that's done through repeal or whether that's done because the Bush tax cuts are not renewed is something that my economic team will be providing me a recommendation on.

But the basic principle is that we're going to provide tax cuts to the vast majority of Americans, the middle class that have been struggling over the last eight years, that those who've benefited disproportionately over the last eight years, the very wealthiest among us, will pay a little bit more in order for us to be able to invest in the economy and get it back on track.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, I would like to ask a follow-up on the size of the stimulus package. Senator Schumer said yesterday up to $700 billion was needed. Today, investor Barton Biggs said as much as $1 trillion. Could you give taxpayers a range of -- of the figure that you're thinking of?

OBAMA: I'm not going to discuss numbers right now, because I think it's important for my economic team to come back with a recommendation.

But what I want to emphasize is that there is a consensus among across the political spectrum that we need a stimulus, and we have to make sure that the stimulus is significant enough that it really gives a jolt to the economy, that it is putting people back to work, that it is making investments, that it is restoring some confidence in the business community that, in fact, their products and services are going to have customers.

And so we are going to do what's required to jolt this -- this economy back -- back into shape.

Now, it's going to be costly. And one of the things that we know already is that, even if we did nothing further for the remainder of this year, that we're going to see a substantial deficit next year, bigger than we've seen in a very long time.

And so I think American taxpayers are understandably concerned, if we already have a big deficit, and now we're added an additional stimulus, how are we going to pay for all that?

The right answer is that we have to first focus on getting the economy back on track. We've got to first focus on making sure that we're creating those 2.5 million jobs. We've got to make sure that the investments are made to sustain economic growth over the long term.

And then what we also have to do as part of this package -- and this is going to be one of the major charges to my economic team -- is that we reform how business is done in Washington and how the budgeting process works, how projects are done, so that we have a path towards a sustainable and responsible budget scenario down -- down the line. So the way to think about it is short term, we've got to focus on boosting the economy and creating 2.5 million jobs, but part and parcel of that is a plan for a sustainable fiscal situation long term, and that's going to require some reforms in Washington. And I'm going to be discussing that more tomorrow.


O'BRIEN: More of the president-elect's news conference is straight ahead.

Attention, automakers and auto workers: The incoming president has a stern message regarding a bailout. Every taxpaying American will want to hear this.

Promises, promises -- is Barack Obama getting ready to bail on some things he said he would do during the campaign?

And what will a Harvard-trained lawyer who is a high-powered executive do as first lady? Just one question facing Michelle Obama. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" and his question of the hour.


O'BRIEN: More of Barack Obama's news conference in just a moment, but, first, Jack Cafferty, who has been distracting me here, is here with "The Cafferty File."


O'BRIEN: Would you stop talking to me when I...


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: We were having a much more interesting conversation than this will be, I can assure you.

O'BRIEN: All right, go ahead.

CAFFERTY: The Supreme -- well, maybe not.

The Supreme Court of Canada is upholding a regulatory ruling that people who are -- quote -- "functionally disabled by obesity" -- unquote -- have the right to occupy two airline seats on a flight for the price of one. The ruling late last week said that airlines in Canada can no longer charge an obese passenger extra for an additional seat. The same goes for a disabled person who needs space for a wheelchair or who must be accompanied by an attendant.

This applies only to domestic flights inside Canada. Air Canada and other Canadian airlines had appealed the original ruling by the Canadian Transportation Agency, but the high court refused to hear it. Air Canada claims it will lose an estimated $5.6 million annually on this ruling. U.S. airlines are not currently required to follow similar regulations. However, it's not unreasonable to expect that obese people in this country might try at some point to make the same argument here.

So, here's the question: Should obese people be entitled to an extra free seat when flying? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

O'BRIEN: Well, it does occur to me that, what do you need, a certificate of obesity? There's an opportunity for fraud here.

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know.


CAFFERTY: I guess, if you don't fit in the seat, right?

O'BRIEN: Well, you could pad yourself out and get an extra seat. It's just a thought. Maybe I'm thinking a little feloniously.

CAFFERTY: Perhaps.

O'BRIEN: OK. Jack, we will be looking forward to the responses on that one.

President-elect Obama emerging from closed-door transition planning today to name some of the most important members of his economic team -- the most important members of his economic team.

Let's hear more of his news conference now and his plans for confronting the crisis.


OBAMA: John from "The Wall Street Journal."

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.

The current administration has been criticized in some quarters for taking an ad hoc approach to financial rescues. Can you describe how your new team's approach might differ from the approach that we've had for the last year?

OBAMA: Well, I don't want to look backwards. I think that -- as I said, we've had an unprecedented crisis.

I mentioned in my "60 Minutes" interview that I'm sure there are some things that didn't work exactly the way Secretary Paulson intended. He'd be the first to admit that. Some things have obviously helped in terms of stabilizing the financial system.

But what I want to make sure is that, moving forward, we are clearly articulating for the American people and the business community what our end goals are. Where are we going? What are we trying to achieve? And that there's clarity and transparency to our plan.

That doesn't mean that there aren't going to be adjustments over the course of weeks or months to respond to changing situations, but I think part of what we've seen is, is confusion on the part of the markets sometimes in terms of what the overall direction might be. And we want to make sure that we're providing as much clarity as possible.

The other point I would make is that, even as we are doing whatever's required to stabilize the financial system -- and I think that's a commitment that exists currently in the administration and is going to be a top priority for me during the transition, as well as once I take -- once I'm sworn in as president.

Even as we focus on making sure that the financial system is stable, that we also recognize that a strong Main Street will reinforce and help a strong Wall Street and that we can't separate those two things.

And a working principle for me is going to be, are we looking at, for example, home foreclosures in a systematic way and addressing some of the struggles that are taking place outside of Wall Street, not only because it's good for working families, but also because it'll help stabilize the financial system?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. I was wondering if you saw the auto hearings last week. I wonder if you think the automakers made a convincing case for some kind of rescue package from Washington. And how do you want to see Congress proceed on that issue?

OBAMA: The auto industry historically has been the backbone of America's manufacturing base. And it's not just the auto industry. It's not just the big three. It's also all the suppliers, all the businesses that in one way or another are part of our auto industry that are at stake here.

So I have said before -- and I will repeat -- we can't allow the auto industry simply to -- to vanish. We've got to make sure that it is there and that the workers, and suppliers, and businesses that rely on the auto industry stay in business.

What I also have said is that we can't just write a blank check to the auto industry. Taxpayers can't be expected to pony up more money for an auto industry that has been resistant to change.

And I was surprised that they did not have a better-thought-out proposal when they arrived in Congress. I think Congress did the right thing, which is to say, "You guys need to come up with a plan and come back before you're getting any taxpayer money."

OBAMA: And my attitude is that we should help the auto industry, but what we should expect is that any additional money that we put into the auto industry, any help that we provide is designed to assure a long-term sustainable auto industry and not just kicking the can down the road. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

OBAMA: Well, the -- I think that the auto industry needs to present us with some clarity in terms of the dollar figures that they're talking about, but more importantly, are they describing for us an auto industry that is focused on retooling, understands that we're entering into a new energy economy, that is going to be competitive globally?

That's the kind of plan that the American people I think want to see. Nobody wants to see more job loss. And I think Americans take great pride in the history of the American automobile industry.

But taxpayers don't want to see more money wasted, so we need to see a plan. And when we see a plan, we're going to, I think, be able to shape the kind of assistance package that makes sense.


O'BRIEN: Uncle Sam, can you spare a few billion dollars? Do you think the government bailouts are looking like generous cash handouts to whatever companies say they need one? Mm-hmm.

Who will replace Joe Biden in the Senate? The guessing game is now over.

And pirates are hijacking, looting, menacing ships off the African coast. How can their attacks be stopped? Military officials are ruling out at least one bold act.



O'BRIEN: As America's economic crisis plays out, some seem to wish the president-elect would take charge right now.


THOMAS FRIEDMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": We're supposed to sit around now for two months and wait for the new administration to get in position? This administration has kind of checked out.


O'BRIEN: Should President Bush effectively step aside and let the Obama team get to work on the economy? The best political team is ready to think on that question.

Plus, campaign promises vs. cold hard realities -- what President Obama and the rest of us may have to live without.

And Michelle Obama's role as first lady -- will she be anything like Hillary Clinton?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Happening now: The government throws Citigroup a lifeline, and Wall Street cheers. News of a government bailout for the banking giant helped push the Dow higher, almost 400 points, about 5 percent.

Also, his promise of change helped sweep him to victory, but how will the financial crisis impact Barack Obama's ability to deliver? We will explore his options.

Plus, a highly educated career woman about to become a housewife in the White House. What will Michelle Obama make of her new role and who might her role models be? All of this, plus the best political team on television.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Promises, promises. During the campaign, Barack Obama essentially said, read his lips, no more tax cuts for the wealthy. But now that he's president-elect, can he deliver on that and other economic promises?

CNN's Samantha Hayes joins us now. She has been looking at the rhetoric vs. the reality -- Samantha.

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, the new economic stimulus package Obama wants will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than what he proposed before the election. And that's not the only change.


HAYES (voice-over): When you want to make major changes in health care, education, and energy policies, something else has got to go.

OBAMA: What I'm trying to do is to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of working families. We are going to roll back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, those making more than $250,000 a year.


HAYES: But he said that in October. The economy was bad then. It's worse now.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, OBAMA ECONOMIC ADVISER: The number-one priority that is trumping all other priorities is to prevent the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression from turning into the next Great Depression.

HAYES: Obama has another option -- let the tax cuts for the wealthy run out on their own at the end of 2010 -- something he says he is he's now considering.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Whether that's done through repeal or whether that's done because the Bush tax cuts are not renewed, is something that my economic team will be providing me a recommendation on.


HAYES: The economy may force Obama to prioritize.

PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND ECONOMIST: My feeling is some things won't get done that he promised and he'll use the recession as an excuse to evade them.

HAYES: On the other hand, it may afford the new president an unprecedented opportunity to get much of his agenda on everything from education to health care reform underway quickly -- and all in the name of creating jobs.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But from the Obama team's point of view, all of these things are integrated. If you move forward on all of them, you bring -- you bring economic recovery faster.


ROESGEN: Of course, the big problem with this is money. All the money is going to cost -- and money we don't have. Some Republicans are saying hold on, if federal spending created economic growth, well, shouldn't we be in better shape right now? They don't want to see more government programs -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: A good question. Samantha Hayes, thank you very much.

Barack Obama's wife is a Ivy League-trained lawyer and spent years as a high-powered executive. But she's entering a role that's very traditional. So some wonder if her experience and expertise will sort of be put in a box.

CNN' Susan Roesgen is in Chicago. She's been looking at what she might do as first lady -- Susan, what do we know?

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Miles, nobody wants to see her in a box, that's for sure, because behind every great man, Miles, is a great woman. And it's going to be, you know, a tough balance between staying in the shadows or being out in front.


ROESGEN (voice-over): The first lady of France, Carla Bruni, was a star before she married Nicolas Sarkozy -- and she says she doesn't intend to stop strumming her own tune. So what's Michelle Obama doing these days? Well, while her husband is choosing his new cabinet, she's choosing a Washington school for their two daughters.

Don't be fooled. Michelle Obama is a Princeton graduate with a Harvard law degree. But her career is in Chicago and there are no plans for her to practice corporate law or set up community development programs in D.C. as she did here. Can she still be herself without her own job?

RUTH MANDEL, POLITICAL SCHOLAR: I wouldn't tie identity to paycheck. I would tie it to what you see as your opportunity, what you can accomplish with that. And there's so much you can do from the platform of a first lady. ROESGEN: Political scholar Ruth Mandel says every first lady defines the role for herself.

But Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has some advice for Michelle Obama. Mrs. Blair says Mrs. Obama should "learn to take a back seat to her husband, both publicly and privately." She also says: "You always have to remember it's not you who was elected." Mrs. Blair says to please her critics, she did interviews about her favorite recipes. But others say if Michelle Obama has the president's ear, she should use it.

MANDEL: I think every first lady has had an opportunity that few other people have -- and that is to express her opinion, give her advice. And then he gets to choose how he wants to use that. So everything really depends on the relationship they have.

ROESGEN: In a line often quoted from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt: "A woman is like a tea bag -- you never know how strong she is until she's in hot water." And the water is always hot in the White House.


ROESGEN: And, Miles, you know, here's something else to think about. Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, who had such a tough time as she was trying to get Congress to pass universal health care and now President-Elect Obama seems to be on the verge of naming her secretary of state, which is a much bigger role than she could have had as first lady and a much bigger role than his wife will have as first lady. So, hey, chick power.

O'BRIEN: Yes. A lot of strong women. And, as you say, we should respect them or else we're in deep trouble. Susan Roesgen, thank you very much.

The Obama inauguration still seven weeks away. And some say that's just too long given the current financial crisis. Should some key players of the next administration take up positions now, even Obama himself?

Also, another bailout -- this time for Citigroup. But what about the millions of Americans still struggling? Where is the help for everyone else?

And should Barack Obama keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates? The best political team on television weighs in on all that and more.


O'BRIEN: Two airline seats for the price of one if you're overweight?

Jack Cafferty will be back with your e-mail just ahead.


O'BRIEN: Seven weeks until the Obama administration takes up positions. But can the country afford to wait?

Listen to what Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tom Friedman told CNN's Fareed Zakaria on his show, "GPS," over the weekend.


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: Tom, is this a big moment for Barack Obama -- a kind of testing moment?

TOM FRIEDMAN, JOURNALIST, AUTHOR: I think it's not just a big moment for him, Fareed. It's a huge moment for America and the global economy. I think we should seriously consider moving up the Inauguration Day.

There is a storm coming, OK? And it hasn't hit yet. And I believe the decisions made possibly in these next two months could determine the next four years. This administration could be over before it starts -- over in the sense that it will spend the next four years digging out of a hole that has been created right now that may be deeper and darker than anyone realizes.


O'BRIEN: Whew. Chicken Little there.

Here to talk about that and more, CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; and our CNN contributors, "Weekly Standard" senior writer Stephen Hayes and Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post". They're all part of the best political team on television.

It's kind of a bummer, Gloria, but talk about the proposal that he floats out there. I don't think he means seriously moving up the inauguration.


O'BRIEN: That would require some constitutional amendments, which we really don't have time for. But what about this notion of accelerating the transition, putting some Obama people in key spots, that kind of thing? Does that make any sense politically?

BORGER: Well, I think what you're seeing now is a -- is a version of that. I mean we're going to have a press conference tomorrow where the president-elect is going to be a little bit more specific, we hope, about his economic stimulus package -- the specific reforms he's going to offer.

And in talking to Democrats on the Hill today, it's very clear to them that they may be coming back so that they can have a stimulus package on the president's desk on January 20th, so he signs it right after he's sworn in. So I would say things are moving along very, very quickly as it is.

O'BRIEN: Stephen, are they moving fast enough, given the stakes here? We're talking about big stuff here.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, yes. I mean, the stakes are huge. But I think there are some of us, including a lot of conservatives or Libertarians in Washington, who would say, you know, no, let's let him wait. President Bush is doing quite enough to damage the economy on his own.


HAYES: I mean, you know, one bailout after another after another -- I think we can wait and wait until January. They're talking about more aggressive intervention in these markets. I think -- I would not be wanting to move too precipitously to make that happen.

O'BRIEN: Dana, while we were hearing from President-Elect Obama today, President Bush had a news conference on the economy today. It didn't get quite as much notice. Has -- we sort of passed by the Bush administration emotionally, collectively?

DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Who is that fellow Bush you speak of?


MILBANK: Yes, it looked kind of sad, him sort of standing there on the steps of the Treasury, nobody really paying attention.

But, you know, the truth of the matter is this is still the Bush administration that's bailing out Citigroup. And it's still the Bush administration that, for the next few months -- Tom Friedman notwithstanding -- is going to be making the decisions here.

There seems to be some sort of a false impression that once Obama is sworn, in suddenly the sun comes out and the angels start singing and the economy is all of a sudden all better. Even if that plan were implemented tomorrow, it takes months for a stimulus package to start to have some effect on the economy. So Tom Friedman is right about the hole. The problem is we're already in it.

O'BRIEN: All right...

BORGER: But can I just speak to Steve's point for one second?

I mean, Steve, Republicans, if they don't want to spend more -- and, by the way, there are lots of conservative economists who believe that you really do need to spend more now. If they don't want to spend more, they need to tell the American public what it is they want to do in opposition.

HAYES: Well, right. I think that's a fair point. I mean it's not that they're necessarily as opposed to the -- you know, more stimulus, as they are to one bailout after another or a bailout that starts -- bailouts that start at $700 billion and suddenly, you know, a month later are $7 trillion.

I mean, you're talking about changing the whole function of the bailouts in the middle of a four week period -- I mean, dramatically talking -- dramatically altering...

MILBANK: Yes, but, Stephen...

HAYES: ...the shape of the American economy.

O'BRIEN: But the shape and dimensions of this are so large, I don't think anybody can comprehend it. It's -- you know, the ship is sinking so fast, I don't think anybody really understands it, you know.

HAYES: No, I think...

O'BRIEN: But nobody wants to say that, right?

HAYES: No, no, no. You know what, Miles, I think, actually, that is the key point. You just made the fundamental point of this whole thing. And it's one of the only times I've agreed with Harry Reid in my entire life.


HAYES: He came out right when this was all starting and said nobody knows what to do. I think you're still seeing that that's the case, when you have Henry Paulson changing the targets of this money and changing the direction of what the Treasury is doing.


HAYES: And the problem is, government is doing a lot in the meantime.

BORGER: But in terms...

MILBANK: So by that measure...

O'BRIEN: Well, Dana...

MILBANK: ...let me...

O'BRIEN: That's -- that's a sobering thought.

Is it possible that the best and the brightest -- the people leading us, all these smart people with all this Wall Street background, they're clueless?

MILBANK: Well, I don't know if they're clueless. They have more of a clue than the rest of us do, but that doesn't mean they know what's going to happen here...

O'BRIEN: But that might not be enough of a clue, huh? MILBANK: Right. And Obama himself was saying he doesn't want to put numbers out there today. He wants to have people to think this through.

So I suppose, taken to its logical extreme, perhaps we need to postpone the inauguration and have them really...

BORGER: Well, I've got -- I've got a...

MILBANK: ...have them really think this through.


O'BRIEN: No, no, no.

BORGER: But, you know, some of the Obama people I talk to see this as a huge opportunity because the consensus is -- aside from Stephen -- but if the consensus is generally that you do have to spend some more money now, why not put out your energy proposal?

Why not put out part of your health care proposal?

Give those middle class tax cuts while you can. And do it all more or less at the same time.

Have a jobs program. Inject all this energy into the economy at the point when people think it needs it. He might do that.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's shift gears here slightly, because one of the things that will come up -- and Stephen, you've alluded to this -- bailout after bailout after bailout. Citigroup is the latest. A lot of my friends in Detroit are wondering, well, what about the auto industry here? Politically, do you suspect the Obama administration is going to be tempted to just expand this bailout to the point where we're completely flat broke?

HAYES: Well, I mean, I think it depends it depends what you're talking about. That's the thing. I mean I think there's this misimpression out there, especially among members of Congress, frankly, that there is some pot of money. You know, they go to this pot of money and they can get more money for bailouts. That money is just being shifted around.

I mean it comes from all of us, ultimately. I mean this is taxpayer money that comes from somewhere. And I think there's talk in Washington as if these bailouts, one after another -- I mean Citibank -- Citibank canceled my credit card when I was a poor, struggling grad student. So I would have liked to see Citibank fail. It would have been poetic.


O'BRIEN: Well, you know what they say...

BORGER: That's a good reason.

O'BRIEN: Stephen, justice comes, you just have to be patient. So...

HAYES: I'm waiting.

O'BRIEN: Anyway...

HAYES: I'm waiting.

O'BRIEN: All right. So, Dana, go ahead.

MILBANK: Yes. I mean, the public is pretty much dead set against this whole thing. The exit polls show them against the original bailout. There's an Citibank News poll showing 57 percent of Americans are opposed to an auto industry bailout. So if they're opposed to helping out the auto industry, you can only imagine they're hoping Citibank is going to sleep with the fishes, I think.

O'BRIEN: All right. I'm going to have to leave it there, unfortunately.

Thanks, guys. Appreciate it. It's grim times, but we appreciate you navigating it with us.

We had with us Gloria Borger, Stephen Hayes and Dana Milbank -- part of the best political team on television.

Ahead, when your bank needs a bailout, is it time to bail on your bank?


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Does it make you nervous when you hear that a big bank like Citibank is in trouble?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it doesn't make me nervous. It's a game.


O'BRIEN: CNN's Jeanne Moos is staking out one ATM. Wait until you hear what else customers are telling her.

And should obese people be entitled to an extra free seat when flying? That's this hour's question. Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.


O'BRIEN: "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" is coming up in about 10 minutes. Lou is busy getting ready -- Lou, what do you have?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, we're not that busy -- not so busy we can't tell you what's coming up, at least.

Million, tonight, President-Elect Obama has unveiled his team to battle our economic crisis. And he says the economy is likely to get worse. New estimates now put the cost of bailing out our financial institutions at more than $7.5 trillion, if you can imagine that. We'll have complete coverage.

And bailout dollars also flowing to Citibank -- $20 billion now and possibly hundreds of billions later. President Bush says there could be more bank bailouts to come. And despite promises of a tax cut from the president-elect, many Americans the new president promised to help are likely to see, instead, tax increases.

And Congressman Thaddeus McCotter joins us tonight. He wants to give the auto industry their bailout. And four of the country's top political analysts also join me.

Please be with us at 7:00 Eastern for all the day's news and much more, from an Independent perspective -- Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Lou. We'll be watching. Thank you very much.

Jack Cafferty joins us again -- Jack, what do you have?

CAFFERTY: Up in Canada, the high court ruled that Canadian airlines must -- must provide obese people with an extra free seat. So we asked the question: Should obese people be entitled to an extra free seat when flying? It's not a requirement in the United States. It could become one at some point.

Leah in Toronto, Ontario writes: "If thin people got to pay less for taking up less space on planes, trains or buses, there would be public outrage at this discriminatory practice. So why is this acceptable? We pay extra for oversized baggage and I'm sorry, this isn't any different. Space is space, no matter what's taking it up."

A.T. writes: "Morbidly obese people are considered a disability. To charge a morbidly obese person an extra fare because of their size is discriminatory, period. Not everybody is Brangelina, you know? And for the insensitive jerks who have made snide comments about another size, get over it. Let's see if it's that easy for you to put down the cigarette or bottle of beer or gambling or crack or whatever your vice is."

Mark in Oklahoma City: "I think the airlines ought to make seats on their planes that are actually big enough for a normal person to sit in them. You don't even have to be obese to be unable to fit in one of those junior car seats that the airlines insist is a regular coach seat."

Ann in South Carolina: "I'm hung up on the word 'entitled' in the question. I think I'm entitled to a seat without the overflow of an obese person sitting next to me. Are they entitled to two seats? No."

Jim in Reno, Nevada -- my hometown: "This makes me think of the smoke breaks smokers used to get at work, with no comparable breaks for non-smokers. A free extra seat for an obese person is a seat not available for purchase by someone of normal size. There are other solutions. Airlines could install a few over sized seats on all airplanes specifically designed for over sized persons, just as movie theaters reserve some spaces for non-ambulatory customers." And Buster in New York writes: "Shame on you, Jack, for hating on fat people. We need to protect the civil rights of all individuals, especially the obese. Such talk about denying a gravitationally enhanced person the right to spread out is clearly racist in nature and should be banned from the airwaves. Yes, free seats should be made available -- when pigs fly."


CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

O'BRIEN: I don't suppose it would be politically correct to charge by the pound?

CAFFERTY: No. Whatever...

O'BRIEN: That would be a bad idea.

CAFFERTY: Whatever you're going to do...

O'BRIEN: Whatever you're going to do...

CAFFERTY:'s not politically correct.

O'BRIEN:'re going nowhere good.

CAFFERTY: Right. The answer is no.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jack.

We'll see you tomorrow.


O'BRIEN: Another day, another bank, another bailout -- with financial giant Citigroup the latest to get a big boost from Uncle Sam, here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


MOOS (voice-over): You know we're in trouble when the president says...

BUSH: But we'll recover from it.

MOOS: Both the outgoing and the incoming president sound like they're talking about a patient in critical condition.

OBAMA: We need a stimulus -- a big stimulus package that will jolt the economy back into shape.


OBAMA: stabilize the financial system. MOOS: The latest patient to be stabilized...

(on camera): You heard Citibank is in trouble?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean they're huge. How can they be in trouble?

MOOS (voice-over): But as we hit up customers after they hit the ATM, almost no one talked of dumping Citibank.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not nervous. It's a great bank. Huge. It will not fail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm optimistic. I don't know what else we can be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess the best decision is to just leave it here. I can't put it under my mattress. I don't know what else to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One bank is as bad as another.

MOOS: Only one woman we talked to was really worried.

(on camera): You actually went up to a teller and said, hey, is my money safe?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I don't -- I don't know if I can trust it.

MOOS (voice-over): They told her yes. And the tellers had their own question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They asked me, is CNN still out there bugging our customers?

MOOS: When we bugged this lady, she joked she'd come to the bank.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To see if they're giving samples.

MOOS: Citigroup may need a bailout, but Mets fans will still see strike-outs at Citi Field. The company bought the naming rights to the stadium the Mets will move into next year for a record $400 million over 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the time, it seemed like a perfect deal.

MOOS: Citigroup still thinks its a good idea, calling it an important marketing priority -- not to be confused with Enron Field, which turned into Minute Maid Park after Enron's downfall.

Somehow, all this brinksmanship doesn't seem real.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can it be -- seem like real money when they're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars? It's just like they just keep adding zeros and commas.

MOOS: Meanwhile, it turns out Citigroup, which offers a credit card with purchase protection against defective merchandise...


MOOS: ...had a few defects of its own.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


O'BRIEN: A little snow, a little gusty wind, some frigid temperatures -- a nice day for a bike ride, right? Not. This image and much more coming up in today's "Hot Shots."


O'BRIEN: Time for the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at Associated Press -- pictures like to be in your newspaper tomorrow. You get to see them here.

In Sweden, a brave woman bikes through a blizzard as traffic approaches. Yikes.

In Saudi Arabia, a stock trader takes a break to play Solitaire on his computer. Maybe the market wasn't going so well.

In Afghanistan, a boy eagerly awaits customers as he sells balloons.

And a competition in Indiana -- Oregon University's cross-country team takes first place and celebrates a national championship. Congratulations to them.

That's the hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures worth a thousand words.

We want you to check out our political pod cast. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at

I'm Miles O'Brien in THE SITUATION ROOM.