Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
'Transition to Power'
Aired December 24, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And this is a special report, "Transition to Power."
This hour, Barack Obama's enormous challenge. How the president- elect is preparing to lead in the worst of times.
Plus, grading the transition. Do Americans want to keep the Obama honeymoon going and going?
And Hillary Clinton-style diplomacy. How she says she's planning to boot the cowboys from the State Department.
President-elect Obama is enjoying down time with his family in Hawaii right now. The holidays offering some respite from the harsh realities that he's going to face when he takes the oath of office in less than a month from now. But you can bet those challenges ahead are never far from Obama's thoughts as many Americans experience a lean and difficult holiday season.
Well, we begin in Hawaii with our Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry. Ed, who is on the beach but certainly still working.
Ed, what is the president doing during the holiday?
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we've just learned in the last few moments the president-elect is going to be heading out for another round of golf, the second time he's done that in the last few days. We rarely see him out on the course, but we're seeing him now out there because this is his last chance really to recharge his batteries before he heads back to Washington, and he's going to go back to an Oval Office eventually that's going to be full with an inbox of all kinds of problems.
HENRY (voice-over): Call it the Hawaiian honeymoon. President- elect Barack Obama riding high with the American people. And it's easy to see why. He scored an historic election victory, moved swiftly to pick a high-powered White House staff that's basically run a mistake-free transfer to power so far, and assembled a relatively centrist cabinet that's won rave reviews from even leading conservatives.
STEPHEN HAYES, SR. WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": He's made some interesting, I think, wise cabinet choices, but I think the real proof will come when he has to make policy choices. And then I think we run into this question of how is he governing and how do people react to that?
HENRY: Indeed, the challenges ahead are enormous, with President Bush handing off a mountain of problems, starting with a deepening global financial crisis. So the transition team is scrambling to craft an even bigger economic recovery package than expected.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Over 10 million people are officially unemployed, and millions more are unable to find enough work to keep their paychecks from slipping from what they've been. And this deterioration in the nation's unemployment situation has led the president-elect to instruct our economic team, some of which are assembled here today, to raise the goal of our stimulus plan from 2.5 million jobs to three million new jobs to be created over the next two years.
HENRY: And on national security, Obama's so-called team of rivals will be grappling with a long list of international hot spots.
DAN BENJAMIN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The tasks ahead are quite daunting. If you look at Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Middle East peace process, financial crisis, you know, we could continue for quite awhile. This is not a set of tasks for the -- you know, for the faint of heart. And so I'm pleased to see that the president-elect is assembling a capable and dynamic team.
HENRY: Now, the big question now, can the incoming president rise to the occasion? A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll has some interesting insight into how a lot of Americans answer that question.
They were asked if they have a lot of confidence in the president-elect's ability to provide leadership. Forty-nine percent said yes in terms of Mr. Obama providing that leadership, 36 percent said that about President Bush in 2001 by way of comparison. Thirty- four percent said that about Ronald Reagan in 1981, and only 26 percent said that about Bill Clinton when he was coming into office in 1993.
So you can see, Barack Obama enters with more confidence from the American people than a lot of his predecessors have had, but still a lower percentage than what he got from the electorate in that historic election. So he's got some big challenges ahead -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And certainly some high expectations going into the White House.
Thank you, Ed.
HENRY: Big time.
MALVEAUX: As Obama moves forward with a relatively smooth transition, many observers can't help but wonder when he might stumble.
Our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider has some new poll numbers on the transition and what's ahead.
Bill, how is the Obama honeymoon going?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Very well. In fact, better than previous honeymoons.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When it comes to honeymoons with new presidents, Americans have, shall we say, been around the block a few times. But this new guy is really sweeping people off their feet.
Eighty-two percent of Americans are happy with the way President- elect Obama is handling his transition. Even 61 percent of Republicans like him, and they're the in-laws in this marriage. He's not supposed to be good enough for them.
PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: You know, I am remarkably pleased with Obama. I had grave misgivings about him, but so help me, he's come in forcefully, intelligently.
SCHNEIDER: Previous honeymoons have been good but not this good. The public is particularly impressed by Obama's cabinet appointments. Eighty percent approve of Obama's so-called of rivals.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I assembled this team because I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions.
SCHNEIDER: Obama's scoring more than 20 points better on his cabinet picks than President Bush did in 2001. A team of rivals is well and good, but will Obama be a strong leader? He insists he will.
OBAMA: And understand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost. It comes from me.
SCHNEIDER: Do people think Obama will be tough enough? Apparently they do. Nearly half the public expresses a lot of confidence that Obama will provide real leadership. That's more confidence than people felt in President-elect Bush or Clinton.
Obama even scores higher on leadership than President-elect Reagan did when he took office. That's saying something.
SCHNEIDER: Well, it's a bad time. And Americans have just gone through a failed marriage with the current president. Obama represents hope. Isn't that what honeymoons are supposed to be about, Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: We certainly hope so. OK. Thank you, Bill.
Well, should the nation's next spy chief focus more on repairing America's image abroad than on the latest terror threat? President- elect Obama is widely expected to name retired Admiral Dennis Blair as his director of national intelligence.
Our CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joining us now.
And Barbara, this really seems to be kind of a tough job at a tough time. Is that one of the reasons why?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears to be so, Suzanne. The man now likely to be named director of national intelligence is very well known in national security circles. People will be watching to see what he does.
STARR (voice-over): He's the retired four-star head of the U.S. Pacific Command. He knows China and North Korea. He's run counter- terrorism operations in the Philippines.
But how will Admiral Dennis Blair face the challenges of Washington, D.C.?
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: If Admiral Blair becomes the director of national intelligence, he will be assuming a job that many of us still question in terms of the basic logic behind the position.
STARR: The relatively new DNI job oversees an empire of 16 intelligence agencies and the nearly $50 billion a year they spend on everything from satellites to spies.
Blair himself knows it's going to be a tough job.
ADMIRAL DENNIS BLAIR (RET.), U.S. NAVY: And yet, the most vital national security missions of the future can only be done by integrated, agile, collaborative interagency teams.
STARR: Robert Grenier, a 27-year CIA veteran, has some advice: Don't fall into the Washington trap.
ROBERT GRENIER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, KROLL INC.: There's been a tendency on the part of past DNIs to do what one nearly always does in Washington, and that is to try to establish that hey, look, I'm in charge.
STARR: Grenier says Blair shouldn't worry too much about briefing President Obama every morning.
GRENIER: I believe that that's exactly what the DNI should not be focused on.
STARR: Threats like al Qaeda, Iran and North Korea might not be the first order of business. There will be pressure on Blair to first deal with the aftermath of the Bush administration's controversial interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. Grenier said Blair might need President Obama to weigh in.
GRENIER: I think he needs to reassure the intelligence community and particularly the CIA that he is not going to engage in politically-driven witch hunts to punish people for political gain for doing what the president asked them to do and what they were given every assurance was actually legal for them to do.
STARR: Now, early in his career, Admiral Blair did a tour of duty at the CIA. He knows the intelligence business. He knows how to run large organizations. But intelligence services around the world will be watching closely to see if he can take the U.S. intelligence community beyond the Bush years -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Barbara.
While many are praising Barack Obama's cabinet choices, some women's groups say that the inner circle represents a step backward. Their cabinet complaints ahead.
Plus, Joe Biden as Obama's go-to guy for helping the middle class and the VP elect's plan for bailing out families.
And George W. Bush says it was one of the most weird moments of his presidency. He talks to CNN's Candy Crowley about waiting for the other shoe to drop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I didn't have much time to reflect on anything. I was ducking and dodging.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Barack Obama's transition is being judged in large part by the biggest decisions that he has made to date. That is his cabinet choices. And as the scrutiny continues, even some of his strongest supporters, they're not satisfied.
Here's our National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): What includes five women, four African-Americans, three Latinos, two Asians, two Republicans, and a Nobel Prize winner? Barack Obama's Cabinet. The president-elect is taking the big-tent approach to governing. He wanted a Cabinet that stretches the tent wide.
OBAMA: I think people will feel that we followed through on our commitment to make sure that this is not only an administration that is diverse ethnically, but it's also diverse politically, and it's diverse in terms of people's life experience. YELLIN: Well, it might be diverse, but not everyone is happy. Some women's groups are disappointed. Among Obama's strongest backers during the election, now they say they don't have enough seats at the table. That's because, of Obama's 20 announced Cabinet-level posts, just five went to women.
KIM GANDY, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: When you're looking at a Cabinet, and you have such a small number of women in the room when the big decisions are being made, there need to be a lot more women's voices in this administration.
YELLIN: Bill Clinton and George Bush each had a comparable number of women in their first Cabinets. Women's groups say they hoped they would make progress by now.
In fact, some are so angry that The New Agenda accuses Obama of taking "shocking steps backward" and says, "This constituency does not matter to the president-elect."
Obama says he's picking people for their skills, not pandering to special interests.
ANNE KORNBLUT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": In this case, we have seen Obama emphasize credentials. I think they obviously knew they would get a lot of bang for their buck, so to speak, in appointing Clinton, but, at the end of the day, the numbers aren't really any more impressive than any previous president.
YELLIN: In the election, women put Obama over the top. Add to this disappointed constituency a number of others. Many of Obama's gay and lesbian supporters are irate over the Rick Warren controversy. And some progressives are disappointed he's tapped moderates for key positions.
So, the question is, has Obama made the tent too big? Does he risk alienating his core supporters before he's even taken office?
This supporter says, no way.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He has a team of heavyweights, a team of rivals who will help him set a new course and a new tone here in the nation's capital.
YELLIN (on camera): Privately, Barack Obama's team says, wait and see. They think it's too early to start criticizing Obama's picks before they even have had a chance to be sworn in.
Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.
MALVEAUX: With just weeks until he becomes a former president, President Bush is talking about the economy, about the chance of seeing another Bush elected, and even the man who threw a shoe at him.
He sat down with CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. He began with the pain that all Americans are feeling.
BUSH: Well, I obviously have made a decision to make sure the economy doesn't collapse. I have abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system. And when people review what's taken place in the last six months and put it all in one -- in one, you know, in one package, they'll realize how significantly we have moved.
And I'm so sorry we're having to do it. I'm not real happy about the fact that there have been excesses in the financial markets which are affecting hard-working people and affecting their retirement accounts.
Having said that, I'm very confident that with time, the economy will come out and grow and people's wealth will return.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you about the shoe thing in a slightly different way...
CROWLEY: ... simply because you are the symbol, really, overseas of the United States.
Was there ever a part of you that, in reflection, went, wait a second, we have poured billions of dollars, not to mention U.S. blood and treasure, into this country; how dare this guy...
CROWLEY: ... even if he's a single guy?
BUSH: No, I...
BUSH: I mean, look, first of all, I didn't have much time to reflect on anything.
I was ducking and dodging. And I...
BUSH: First of all, it has got to be one of the most weird moments of my presidency.
Here I am, getting ready to answer questions from a free press in a -- in a democratic Iraq, and a guy stands up and throws a shoe. And it was -- it was bizarre.
And it was an interesting way for a person to express himself. I was asked about it immediately after the incident. And I said, here is a person that obviously was longing for notoriety. And he achieved it.
But I -- no, I don't view this as -- I'm not angry with the system. I believe that a free society is emerging, and a free society is necessary for our own security and peace.
CROWLEY: Do you think they ought to let him out of custody?
BUSH: I don't know what they're going to do. You know, he's -- I'm not even sure what his status is.
They shouldn't overreact.
CROWLEY: The last time I interviewed was the night before -- interviewed you was the night before you were inaugurated.
As we were walking out, someone congratulated you. And you said, "I won't let you down. I won't let you down."
CROWLEY: Has there been a time in the past eight years when you thought, "I have let the American people down at this moment"?
BUSH: I have given it my all.
I have poured my heart and soul into the job. I have -- I understand, the institution of the president is more important than the individual. And, by recognizing that, you work to strengthen the institution.
And I'm sure people have disagreed with my decisions, but they have been made with a lot of deliberation. And they have been made with one thing in mind, what's best for the United States of America.
CROWLEY: Three yes or nos.
Have you told Jeb to run for the U.S. Senate in Florida?
CROWLEY: Is he going to?
BUSH: Don't know.
CROWLEY: Really don't know?
BUSH: I really don't know.
BUSH: I wish he would. He would be a great senator.
CROWLEY: Kay Bailey Hutchison versus Rick Perry, who is your pick?
BUSH: Neutral. CROWLEY: That's no fun.
CROWLEY: And any -- any thought that you might commute the sentence of Governor Ryan, former Governor Ryan, of Illinois?
BUSH: Won't be discussing pardons or commutations on this show, but thank you for trying to make news.
CROWLEY: I like to ask.
BUSH: Thank you for trying to make news.
CROWLEY: But Jeb is interesting.
BUSH: Well, I did answer Jeb.
BUSH: Because, if I said I hadn't talked to him, then you say, "Well, why don't you talk to your brother?"
So, I decided to lay it all out there for...
CROWLEY: Does your dad want him to run?
BUSH: I haven't talk to my dad about whether or not he wants Jeb to run.
First of all, knowing my dad, I bet he would say, "I want Jeb to do that which is best for him." And then he would go on to say, "But, if he chose to run, he would be a great United States senator."
And he would be.
MALVEAUX: If Hillary Clinton becomes the nation's top diplomat, what kind of secretary of state will she be? We'll listen to her past criticisms of the Bush administration and you decide.
And Barack and Michelle Obama like you've never heard them before. Obama talks to me about his struggles being biracial, and Michelle Obama opens up about the struggles she and her husband have had as a couple.
MALVEAUX: She says cowboy diplomacy is over. But with America fighting wars on two fronts and facing threats on others, what changes would Hillary Clinton make as secretary of state?
The public shows remarkable confidence in Barack Obama's ability to lead. But is Obama getting a boost from President Bush's efforts to ease the transition?
And a top strategist for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid says he's going to work for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Can he help Bloomberg get an historic third term?
MALVEAUX: America is fighting two wars, faces nuclear challenges from unpredictable regimes, and must keep a constant eye on powerful rivals. That's what awaits Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama's pick for secretary of state.
Our CNN's Zain Vergee joining us now.
And Zain, do Clinton and Obama, do they see eye to eye on how the two approach these very, very serious problems?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it sure looks that way now. The starp disagreements of the campaign have gone and all seems forgiven.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I am proud to join you.
VERJEE (voice-over): Hillary Clinton made it clear, look for a change in how the U.S. walks on the world stage.
CLINTON: We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries.
VERJEE: The former first lady who visited 82 countries, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, now is poised to ramp up diplomacy. Or, as she put it back in the campaign...
CLINTON: The era of cowboy diplomacy is over.
VERJEE: In "Foreign Affairs" magazine, she wrote, "True statesmanship requires that we engage with our adversaries not for the sake of talking, but because robust diplomacy is a prerequisite to achieving our aims."
In fact, during the primary campaign, Clinton called Obama naive to suggest talking to Iranian leaders, herself taking a more hawkish view.
As Clinton spoke in Chicago, the current secretary of state headed to India after the Mumbai terror attacks.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I know that she will bring enormous energy and intellect and skill to the position.
VERJEE: Both Secretary Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want more soft power like building schools and roads, promoting jobs, versus military power. Both also want major expansion of the number of U.S. diplomats and support staff overseas that Hillary Clinton will need. Clinton will face enormous challenges. Two wars, nuclear tensions with Iran, North Korea, a rising China, resurgent Russia, all amid a world recession.
OBAMA: Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances.
VERJEE: It is a show of teamwork. There could be major internal debates on policies, Suzanne, but Barack Obama says that he really welcomes the difference of opinion. One key point though, as you know, the success of the secretary of state is often measured by the closeness and the access to the president. And we're going to have to wait and see how that really works out in practical terms. Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Zain.
As the new team readies to enter, President Bush readies to leave office. Just moments ago, you heard him talk to CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley about the economy, even the man who threw shoes at him. Well next, Mr. Bush talks about one president who came before him and the man who will come after.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Do you still come into this room and think of like the decisions that have been made here by predecessors?
BUSH: Not so much -- yes, occasionally. I look at Abraham Lincoln here.
CROWLEY: Your favorite president. I remember that.
BUSH: He is my favorite president and made a lot of tough decisions. Since you and I visited in here, I've read a lot about him.
CROWLEY: You and the incoming president, by the way.
BUSH: I've read a lot.
CROWLEY: Have a lot in common.
BUSH: He'll find it very interesting to be reading history and making history. And so I do think about a lot of the decisions that Abraham Lincoln made. I primarily think about two things with Abraham Lincoln. One, that I think he has taught presidents the importance of speaking with moral clarity on certain truths. And secondly, when you start to feel sorry for yourself, just look at Lincoln. Rarely, believe it or not. I think self-pity is a pathetic trait and I think you ill serve the American people when you complain about the burdens of the office.
CROWLEY: What's the most important decision you've made in here? Sitting there.
BUSH: Sending troops into harm's way. The reason it's the most important because it's the most consequential. And -- it is a decision that no president should ever take lightly and every president should take a lot of time thinking about it because lives will be lost. And in my case, obviously, I came to the conclusion twice that we ought to send troops in order to protect the United States because that's the most important job of a president.
CROWLEY: If you made that decision with clarity which you say you did, did you ever come back in here on a dark night or after seeing relatives or after watching something happen in Iraq, did you ever come back and think, wow, and revisit that decision?
BUSH: I've thought about it, of course, but I usually came back and, you know, with a concern about whether or not we would succeed.
CROWLEY: Are you worried about that sometimes?
BUSH: I have worried about it in the past. In 2006 in particular in Iraq. I was deeply concerned about whether or not we would succeed. And I felt that the, you know, the political people beginning to fall away where people were saying, you know, you must withdraw. It wasn't just the political people. A lot of people in Washington were saying, let's get out now. And I obviously chose not to do that. But that was a very difficult period.
CROWLEY: Did you consider it ever?
BUSH: Of course, I considered all options, but -- absolutely. You know, ultimately, I had great faith in the universality of liberty. I had great faith in our military. I had faith in the Iraqis who had suffered so much.
And I could not live with myself if I had chosen to just leave and leave behind the valor and the sacrifice of a lot of our young men and women. I would never have been able to face their loved ones. You know, the military looks at the president and wonders whether or not the president is going to make decisions based upon victory or whether or not the president will be making decisions based upon his political skin.
And if you ever make decisions based upon your political skin with troops in harm's way, you as commander in chief will have a lot of problem keeping the respect of the military. There's a lot of lasts. Really and I guess it helps with the nostalgia.
BUSH: But it's -- CROWLEY: Are you having nostalgia already?
BUSH: No, but I've had a lot of laughs. This is your last meeting with your advance teams, last flight overseas on Air Force One.
BUSH: You know? And so you get used to the final last which will be soon.
CROWLEY: There's still a lot of things going on. I mean, there's still -- you're still president. There's an economy. There is, you know, still an overseas and intelligence coming in, I'm sure.
BUSH: Believe me, I'm not sitting around doing nothing. No, there's a lot to do. There's also, you know, a transition to oversee and Josh Bolten, the chief of staff has done a really good job of making sure this transition is, you know, works and that it's robust.
CROWLEY: So far so good from your point of view?
BUSH: Yes, but most importantly, I would ask President-elect Obama's point of view. We care about him. We want him to be successful and we want the transition to work.
CROWLEY: Do you ever sit in that Oval Office recently and think, wow, an African-American is going to be sitting here. Do you have that sense of history in there?
BUSH: Absolutely. I will have a front row seat in an unbelievable moment in American history. And I was deeply touched by a lot of the people I saw on election night with tears streaming down their face and saying, I never ever thought I would see this day coming.
CROWLEY: Did you ever, ever think?
BUSH: Yes, I did. I've got great faith in democracy. And I believe there will be a woman president, obviously.
CROWLEY: Looking for a Republican woman?
BUSH: That's who I'm always going to look for, you know. But anyway, but I am amazed to have watched you know, Barack Obama come from basic relative obscurity to now be soon to be the president of the United States. And he -- he gets a lot of people hope. And that's good for the country.
MALVEAUX: And a rescue plan for the little guy led by Joe Biden. How the next administration plans to put middle class families back to work.
And remember George Washington? Well, that's the holiday message from President-elect Obama. Why he says Americans should draw inspiration from Washington's Christmas crossing of the Delaware River.
MALVEAUX: And just a short time ago, we got a little bit of information, an unusual situation from the White House here. A statement by the press secretary talking about a pardon that was issued essentially being revoked. This is a statement that came out again just a short time ago. What this was was a case involving a man named Isaac Toussie. This is a person who was involved in a real estate scam, and he was among the individuals that was on the list of people pardoned.
Well, since then, this statement by the White House talks about the application, new information essentially coming to light and the application being deemed not meritorious. Now, a senior administration official says the bottom line is that this individual did go through a pardon review. White House counsel Fred Fielding did in fact, review the application at the time, thought that it was a solid application and went ahead and made the recommendation to the president that this individual be pardoned.
Now, overnight, we understand, from news reports, the White House learned some additional information, two bits of information to be precise.
One, additional information about the nature of the fraud that was apparently carried out by this individual. And two, the White House also learned about political contributions of this individual's father. Both those things, the White House was unaware of at the time that it reviewed the application of this individual.
And so based on that information that came in overnight, again, based on news reports, the White House decided to pull this -- decided to pull this pardon. Suzanne, back to you.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Elaine Quijano from the White House once again recapping that breaking news that the White House is reconsidering a pardon that the president granted. It was just yesterday that he announced 19 pardons and it seems as if they are now reconsidering at least one of those.
Well from, polls we now know how most Americans feel about the Bush presidency. But Mr. Bush is getting some high marks for something. His impact on the incoming president's popularity just ahead.
And the honeymoon with Barack Obama. Can he stay in good favor? A new CNN poll is out and what it reveals about America's confidence in him as a leader.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST: I am remarkably pleased with Obama. I had grave misgivings about him, but so help me, he's come in forcefully, intelligently. He's picked the middle of the road cabinet. And so far, if he continues down this course, he has the makings of a great president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Well, that was my guest Pat Robertson from yesterday. In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll bears out his point, 33 percent of Americans say their opinion of Obama during his transition has gotten better -- 59 percent say their opinion has stayed the same and 8 percent say, well, it's gotten worse.
Joining us now for a strategy session are DNC communications director Karen Finney and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty. This is the Karen hour, the hour of power here. What do you make of this? I'll start with you first, Karen. That Barack Obama seems to be winning praise from people like Pat Robertson. There are not a lot of Republican who are criticizing this guy now. How long does the honeymoon last?
KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: They're not, but I have to tell you I would think that if you're on the left, perhaps an endorsement from Pat Robertson is like a lump of coal in your stocking. I'm not sure that's something they're really embracing.
However, you know, I think the fact that the president-elect has done such a great job of picking people who I think are really able to unite this country who aren't terribly partisan themselves or at least willing to put that aside for the greater good right now is just really helpful and I think encouraging and comforting even to Republicans.
KAREN FINNEY, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DNC: I think that's right. And I think also what we're seeing in the cabinet he's putting together is consistent with what he promised during the campaign which was to put together a cabinet that was not about ideology, but that was about how do we come together and solve the problems that we're facing. And I think he's made good on that promise. That's an important first step. I think these numbers are consistent with the numbers that we saw on Election Day where he won just a broad coalition of voters from across the country, men and women, young and old. So it's good to see those numbers staying strong.
MALVEAUX: Does he run the risk of disappointing? Obviously, you can't please everybody. There's going to come a time and point. He's already disappointed some with the selection of Rick Warren.
FINNEY: Sure. It doesn't mean that everybody's going to be happy with every choice that he makes but again, it's consistent with what he said he would do during the election. I think that has give him, bought him some time and people are saying OK, I might be disappointed, but I'm going to take a step back and let's see what happens when he gets into office. HANRETTY: And also, presidents get a honeymoon period. Every president does. And also, you want the nation to succeed. You want a president to succeed even if you didn't elect him. And I think that you're seeing a lot of good will in a time of economic crisis right now. Everyone has a lot of self-interests at stake right now. They want this president to succeed because they themselves want their own financial interests to succeed.
MALVEAUX: Let's take a look at another poll here. This is showing the confidence in Obama's ability to handle foreign affairs. This is confident a lot, 33 percent say they have a lot of confidence in him, 42 percent say they have some confidence and 25 percent say that they don't have any confidence in his ability to handle foreign affairs.
Now he's got a very strong foreign affairs team when you take a look at it, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates. What does he need to do to really get more people on board here and to feel like this guy knows what he's doing? Because he does have a strong team in place. We'll start with you, Karen.
HANRETTY: Well look, I think this is simply a matter of time. You're seeing good poll numbers right now that deal with the economy and leadership because that is what Barack Obama is out there talking about. That is the crisis that is front and center right now. And I think that you know, in fact, over time, as you see him in his first State of the Union address, I think that is where we'll really see, you know, where he intends to take the country as far as foreign policy. I think that's probably where you'll see those numbers increase.
FINNEY: I think that's right and actually if you look at them, my read of those numbers is a little different. It's about 75 percent of people are saying they feel pretty good about where is he. But again, I agree that what they've seen so far is really a focus on the economy. They haven't really seen this foreign policy team in action, so to speak. And so I think when we see that, I think we'll get a sense of how they're going to handle these challenges.
MALVEAUX: Do you think he needs to have a crisis, a national crisis for real, to be tested before people are more confident in his abilities?
FINNEY: I don't think we need to have a crisis. Again, I think it's a matter of seeing this team come together, seeing how they work together and seeing sort of let's see them in action in terms of -- because we've got plenty of issues on the table as it is without having another crisis. So let's see how the team comes together.
HANRETTY: We have an active war. We don't need a crisis. It will be about Afghanistan.
MALVEAUX: Let's talk a little bit about the leadership question here, another poll showing leadership. How do you define -- whether or not they have a lot of confidence in his providing leadership, Obama now 49 percent, Bush it was 36 percent, Reagan it was 34 percent, Clinton 26 percent. How do you define leadership here? Is there a way that -- why do you think he scores higher than some of his predecessors?
HANRETTY: Well, I think there's a very unique position that Barack Obama is in right now. And that is, he's out there not on a daily basis, but for a while he was. He's holding regular press conferences and briefings whereas past president-elects, it wouldn't be appropriate. And I think you're seeing him play a much more hands- on active role which I think is why he conveys that leadership.
MALVEAUX: And Karen, really quickly, can you give President Bush a little bit of credit for this? Because obviously, he is making this transition pretty smooth. He's laying out the path for Barack Obama. Does that allow Barack Obama to look more like a leader, present himself more like a leader before he steps into office?
FINNEY: Well certainly this is it the first post 9/11 transition that we've been through and with the economic crisis that we're facing. I think those create unique conditions. But I would say is that Barack Obama has stepped up to the challenge and I think that's what we're seeing. I agree that it's appropriate given what we've seen but I think it's good that he's been stepping up to that challenge.
MALVEAUX: Karen and Karen, thank you so much.
Personal conversations with the president-elect and the first lady to be. Barack Obama talks about his youth, dealing with his biracial heritage and his family life. And Michelle Obama talks about their courtship, the day they became parents, and the one thing that most people don't know about her husband.
Plus, a bumper crop of political scandals this year. In our new poll, Americans pick the naughtiest politicians of 2008. Also, Sarah Palin's scribbles and Barack Obama's doodles. Could one of the president-elect's random pencil sketchings really be worth six figures? Well, Jeanne Moos finds out.
MALVEAUX: On our political ticker, a top strategist for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid has a new job. Howard Wolfson says he's been tapped to be a senior communications advisor for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election campaign. Wolfson tells New York One that he's been supportive of the Republican turned Independent mayor who's seeking a third term after the city council voted to extend term limits.
President-elect Obama is urging Americans to remember George Washington as inspiration to get through the current tough times. In a holiday message, Obama cites Washington's improbable crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas in 1776. He says Washington and his army overcame impossible odds to give new hope and momentum to the fight for American independence.
Americans apparently think the Illinois governor should get a lump of coal in his stocking this Christmas. Rod Blagojovich was named the naughtiest politician of 2008 in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. The man accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat trumped other public figures at the center of scandal. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was ranked as a distant second after revelations that he was a client of a high end prostitution ring forced him to resign. Former presidential candidate John Edwards was a close third in the naughtiest politician poll for his admission that he had an extramarital affair with a former campaign staffer.
Now, to the incoming president and his scribbles. We're not talking about Barack Obama's notes. We're talking about doodles. One man says he's been offered six figures to sell one. Why such an interest? CNN's Jeanne Moos has been noodling with political doodles by Obama and Sarah Palin and had a graphologist explain what they really mean.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot of people can say...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I got his autograph.
MOOS: But this guy can say I've got Obama's doodle -- and he's not selling.
WAYNE BERZON, PURCHASED OBAMA'S DOODLE: And then he said, well, what if the offer was six figures?
MOOS: Nope. Financial consultant Wayne Berzon is not selling the doodle he bought for about $2,000 at a charity auction a year-and-a- half ago.
(on camera): There's Senator Feinstein, Senator Kennedy, Senator Harry Reid and this is Senator Chuck Schumer, only it doesn't look like him.
(voice-over): Compare this to another famous doodle that made the rounds recently.
(on camera): Here's Sarah Palin's.
(voice-over): "The New Republic" uncovered it in a box of odds and ends kept by the woman who ran Palin's campaign for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's fantasizing about her win.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's me. Check this box.
MOOS: Palin jotted down possible slogans like, "time for a change," telling citizens, "you would be my boss."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks confused and talky.
MOOS (on camera): Talky?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Um-hmm.
MOOS: What's talky?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like she's talking too much.
MOOS (voice-over): As for opinion on President-Elect Obama's doodle...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy is intelligent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This actually looks done well, except for the hair. I don't like the hair.
MOOS: What's wrong?
Not yellow enough?
We had graphologist Sheila Kurtz put the two sets of doodles under her magnifying glass.
KURTZ: He is economical and clear and to the point.
MOOS: Ronald Reagan used to like to doodle faces. The book "Presidential Doodles" features LBJ's devil cap, FDR's fish and JFK's sailboats. As for Sarah Palin's doodles from back before she was famous, our graphologist notes the circle dot over the I, the hook on the P and the words scrawled over words.
KURTZ: She's smart, but she's very scattered and all over the place and wants everyone to recognize her and to know who she is. It's almost like a teenager's writing.
MOOS: Yes, well, tell that to the guy who wanted his cell phone signed. The collector who bought the Obama doodle is putting it in a safe deposit box for now.
BERZON: It's kind of a neat idea to own something that could end up in a presidential museum.
MOOS: In a museum or on some blog?
It makes you want to hide your doodles lest they be criticized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really. It's like somebody who was in prison who would write on, like, their wall.
MOOS: Or, as someone posted after eying Sarah Palin's doodles: "I think the O in Mayor just winked at me."
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.