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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Barack Obama; Hudson River Crash Details
Aired January 16, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Regarding the economy, Barack Obama does something he has not done since the election, then sits down for an exclusive CNN interview, his last scheduled interview before the inauguration.
In it, he talks about some tough choices to save Social Security and Medicare and the U.S. not having time to kick the can down the road.
And how much is too much attention for the Obama daughters? The president-elect explains as a father what he hopes does not happen -- all that, plus the best political team on television.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You want to know how Barack Obama will help you pay your bills, keep your homes, you can find out what he's going to what he's thinking in an exclusive interview he conducted today. He explained his intentions by doing something he has not done since becoming the president-elect. He held a campaign-style event in Ohio to sell his massive plan to get the economy out of a ditch.
The president-elect talked about saving jobs, energy and other issues you care about. It was his first trip outside Washington to promote his plan.
Then he sat down for an exclusive CNN interview with our chief national correspondent, John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President- Elect, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Thanks for having me.
KING: A lot of policy ground I want to cover, but I want to start with the moment.
KING: You are on the verge of putting your hand on the Lincoln bible and taking the oath of office on the steps of the United States Capitol, built on the back of slaves.
KING: And you will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and you will move into a historic house built on the backs of slaves.
KING: You're known as no-drama Obama. Some people say, well, he's too detached, and he's so cool. You never see his emotion. This has to be incredibly overwhelming.
OBAMA: Look, if you think about the journey that this country has made, then it can't help but stir your heart.
Obviously it's an extraordinary personal moment, but you don't have to go back to slavery. You can think about what Washington, D.C., was like 50 years ago or 60 years ago. And the notion that I now will be standing there and sworn in as the 44th president, I think, is something that hopefully our children take for granted, but our grandparents I think are still stunned by. And it's a remarkable moment.
KING: A remarkable moment, but you're still pretty cool in describing it.
In private, do you get more emotional -- John Lewis, for example, he was beaten. He was jailed. He walked the walk of the journey he thinks you're helping almost complete, more to be done. And he says he might not be able to keep it together at the inauguration.
OBAMA: Well, I'm going to try to keep in together.
But I will tell you that during the convention, there's a moment up there at the end of my convention speech where I talk about Dr. King and what he accomplished. And the first time we practiced it, I had to stop. I started choking up, because, you know, what you start thinking about is not just your own personal journey.
But you think about all the women who walked, instead of riding the bus, out in Montgomery and Birmingham, and what a moment like this would mean to them. And what's remarkable is, some of them are still alive. They're still there. And some of them are going to be standing there at the inauguration.
KING: We'll get back to the moment, but I to want to go through some policy ground. Let's start with where we are. We're in Ohio.
KING: This state is struggling. The country is struggling. This factory we're in today is a success story. This is one of the reasons you're here.
But if you go around this neighborhood, many of the factories are bleeding jobs. And they're losing. A lot of them are in the auto industry. We had breakfast this morning with some local people. And if I could boil their economic concerns into one question, it would be, to their new president, they want to know, when will the bleeding stop?
OBAMA: Well, we're going to have a tough year, 2009.
I don't think that any economist disputes that we're in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The good news is that we're getting a consensus around what needs to be done. We've got to have a bold, aggressive reinvestment recovery package.
It's working its way through Congress. That's going to help create or save three to four million new jobs. What we also need is to make sure is that those jobs are in industries that can lay the foundation for long-term economic growth. And that's why this factory is so special, because what you're seeing here are traditional manufacturing converted to focus on the wind turbines and wind power of the future.
And, so, what we want to do is to try to duplicate the success here. These folks use American steel. They've got American workers. And their goods are being imported to create American energy. And what we want to see if we can do is to duplicate this, train workers.
We're still going to have to focus on stabilizing our financial system. And so I was glad that Congress give us the authority to use much more wisely the money that's been allocated to stabilize the financial system, deal with home foreclosures in a serious way. And we've got to have tough financial regulations, so that we don't have Wall Street getting the country into the kind of crisis that we're in right now anymore.
KING: You mentioned solutions, the stimulus plan, the recovery plan, as you call it, the bailout plan, the TARP program, as they call it in Washington, you get will that money.
Hard to find anybody who disputes the urgency, but you find a lot of people worried about the price tag.
OBAMA: Yes, and they should be.
KING: One of your key allies in Congress said just yesterday, $850 billion in stimulus may be a first step. They might need more.
You know what the bankers are saying on Wall Street, that the financial institutions are still losing money, many of them been holding onto that federal money even, and they say, it might not be enough -- $700 billion might not be enough.
OBAMA: Right. Right.
KING: Are you going to have to, in your early days, draw a line, say, we can't keep printing money; this is it.
OBAMA: Here's what we're going to have to do.
We've got distinguish between short term and long term. Short term, the most important thing is to put people back to work, all those folks that you had breakfast with. If they're working, that means they're paying taxes. That means that they're buying goods and services. And the economy, instead of being on a downward spiral, starts back up on an upward spiral.
But what we also have to recognize is, IS that the deficit levels that I'm inheriting, over $1 trillion coming out of last year, that that is unsustainable. At a certain point, other countries stop buying our debt. At a certain point, we'd end up having to raise interest rates and it would end up creating more economic chaos and potentially inflation.
So, what we want to do is to say that instead of just printing more money, let's look at medium term and long term. Let's get a handle on Social Security. Let's get a handle on Medicare. Let's eliminate waste in government where it exists. Let's reform our Pentagon procurement practices.
All those things are going to have to be done in concert. And that's going to be tough. It's going to be tough, because the only way to do it is if Democrats and Republicans both are willing to give up a little bit of what they consider to be their favorite programs. And we're going to have to look at all this stuff in a fairly short period of time, because we're not going to have five or 10 or 15 years to kick the can down the road. We've got to get started right now.
KING: Back a few years ago, Ross Perot used to get attention for saying there was this giant sucking sound of U.S. jobs going overseas. Many people now say they hear this constant flushing sound, $700 billion. They don't know where it's going. And they think it's going literally down the toilet.
I want to read you a question. We asked some of our viewers what would they like to ask the president-elect.
And John Stevens (ph) of Torrington, Connecticut, to the point you were just making about mortgages and foreclosures.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm unemployed, going through a foreclosure. The bank doesn't want to work with me. They have actually told me on the phone that it's easier for them and more cost-effective for them to take my home than to work out a payment plan with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Are there not specific things, requirements for these banks, that, if you're going to get billions of dollars in taxpayer money, you have to help these people?
OBAMA: That's my attitude. And that's what we're going to have in our plan.
Look, there's no doubt that we needed to stabilize the banking system. It could have been even more catastrophic. When we saw the stock market start collapsing in September, we could have seen a serious downward spiral.
But there's nothing wrong with us placing some conditions, making sure that money's not going to excessive executive compensation, making sure that you're not seeing big dividend payouts to shareholders, and making sure that money is being left, so that we can get credit flowing again, not just to individual homeowners who are losing their homes, but also small businesses, who are the lifeblood of this economy.
If they can't get credit, then they end up having to shutter their doors. And, when they shutter their doors, people lose jobs. They then can't pay their mortgage. And you start down the road that we're on.
We want to reverse that path. And that means that the way we use the next $350 billion that Congress voted on -- and that was a very tough vote for a lot of people. So, the -- and it was tough for me to have to request it. We've got to make sure that it's transparent, that there's oversight, that the American people know exactly how the money's being used, and that dealing with home foreclosure is a central policy in that program.
KING: Every new president learns that government -- governing math is sometimes a little more difficult than campaign math.
KING: And you have talked about this, that there will be tradeoffs, and some people are going to have to wait.
I want to talk about a couple of them. You made a big priority during the campaign. You said $50 billion to $65 billion, you would spend on health care reform, and you would get that money from rolling back the Bush tax cuts for people who make over $250,000 a year.
KING: Even many who want to roll those tax cuts back say, not now, it would hurt the economy at a precious time.
Does that mean you will let those tax cuts stay in place for a while and say to people who are urgently waiting, health care reform is going to have to wait a little bit?
OBAMA: We have not made a final decision on this. We'll be unveiling our budget in February.
The important principle is, is that folks making more than $250,000 a year can afford to give up those Bush tax cuts, so we can give those tax breaks to 95 percent of working families who desperately need some relief. We are going to make sure that that's part of our package.
KING: But it might take a little longer?
OBAMA: It might take a little bit longer. Keep in mind, though, that the legislation to get our health care plan in place is going to take a significant amount of time during the course of this year. That is a huge process.
We've got to get all of the stakeholders together, the providers, the nurses, the doctors, the hospitals. Everybody is going to have to sit around the table, and then we've got to move it through Congress.
So, what I -- but here's the good news, that, in the economic recovery package that we put together, we have a lot of investment in making the health care system more efficient. Those are things that had to be paid for anyway.
Just a simple thing like converting from a paper system to electronic medical records for every single person can drastically reduce costs, drastically reduce medical error, make, not only health care more affordable, but also improve its quality.
KING: If you're not busy enough, you now say early on you will have an entitlement summit.
KING: President Clinton tried some of this.
KING: I know you disagreed with his proposals, but President Bush put a lot of capital into this.
OBAMA: Yes. Right.
KING: It's a frustrating challenge that presidents in the past have faced. You will have this summit, but what is your timetable for action in Congress?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think here's the difference. There is something about a trillion dollars that gets people's attention. And...
KING: One would hope.
OBAMA: I hope.
OBAMA: And I think that, across the political spectrum, people are looking at what we have to do now to get this economy back on track. And they're saying to themselves, we know we can't sustain this. And that means we've got to make some tough decisions. And I'm going to be using a significant amount of political capital.
What I want to do is lay out the situation for the American people. And this is going to be a general principle of governing, no spin, play it straight, describe to the American people the state that we're in, and then provide them and Congress a sense of direction: Here's how I think we can solve this problem.
Now, I'm not going to get my way 100 percent of the time. I expect that people will have good ideas. And, if they've got better ideas in terms of how to deal with Medicare or Social Security than I do, I will gladly accept them. I just want things to work.
But what I know will not work is us seeing our debt levels double again, like they did under George W. Bush. We can't do it. And it's a burden on future generations that I'm not willing to accept.
BLITZER: After a rather smooth transition, does Barack Obama have regrets?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Anything about him you want to take back or any new judgments about him?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president-elect on the outgoing president, stand by for that.
And the treasury nomination runs into a bit of a controversy. But Barack Obama defends Tim Geithner, saying his pick has the best qualifications imaginable.
And what words of advice do his daughters have for his inaugural speech?
All of this and more -- CNN's exclusive interview with Barack Obama continues right after this.
BLITZER: Now that Barack Obama is president-elect, will he be able to keep many of his promises? That's one thing he spoke about in CNN's exclusive interview that he gave to our chief national correspondent, John King.
KING: You went to every corner of this country promising to restore trust and confidence in government and particularly and especially in Washington. OBAMA: Yes.
KING: Do you think that promise is in any way at risk because of the controversy over your pick to be treasury secretary, failed to pay more than $30,000 in taxes? You have said it's an honest mistake, people make them.
"The New York Times," for example, has an editorial saying, not the right guy for the job at this time of economic peril. They say he's -- this controversy has tainted his ability to command respect and instill confidence.
OBAMA: Well, you know, "The New York Times" editorial page has a lot of opinions, as does "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, and some of them are better than others.
OBAMA: This wasn't a good one.
KING: He's going to be the head of the IRS, the man who...
OBAMA: I understand.
KING: ... implements and administers the tax code.
OBAMA: But, keep in mind, nobody disputes that this guy is the best-equipped guy for the job, that he has got the best qualifications imaginable, that he has dealt with financial crises consistently and steadily.
And, so, the notion that somebody who has made what is a common mistake because they worked for an international organization, they paid this money back, paid penalties, and the notion that somehow that is disqualifying makes absolutely no sense.
And, you know, the -- I think that one of the things that we need to change about Washington is this notion that if you can play gotcha and you find, over the course of an exemplary record, one mistake that somebody makes, that somehow that's disqualifying.
If that were true, then I couldn't be president, and you probably couldn't be a correspondent. So, what I want is somebody who has terrific qualifications for the job, who has core integrity. I'm not looking for somebody who has never made a mistake in their life. And I don't think the American people are either.
KING: You will have the power at the end of that parade to, at the stroke of a pen, lift the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research.
There may be the votes to do it in Congress now, but you don't have to wait. You could do it in your first few minutes in office. Will you?
OBAMA: Well, if we can do something legislative, then I usually prefer a legislative process, because those are the people's representatives.
And I think that, on embryonic stem cell research, the fact that you have a bipartisan support around that issue, the fact that you have Republicans like Orrin Hatch who are fierce opponents of abortion and yet recognize that there is a moral and ethical mechanism to ensure that people with Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's can actually find potentially some hope out there, you know, I think that sends a powerful message.
So, we're still examining what things we'll do through executive order. But I like the idea of the American people's representatives expressing their views on an issue like this.
KING: You spent two years traveling the country, saying President Bush was incompetent when it came to domestic leadership, had a debacle of a war in Iraq, and had hurt our image around the world.
You've gotten to know him a little bit better during what by all accounts is an incredibly smooth and professional transition.
KING: Anything about him you want to take back or any new judgments about him?
OBAMA: Oh, you know, I think if you would look at my -- if you look at my statements throughout the campaign, I always thought he was a good guy. I mean, I think, personally, he is a good man who loves his family and loves his country. And I think he made the best decisions that he could, at times under some very difficult circumstances.
It does not detract from my assessment that, over the last several years, we have made a series of bad choices, and we are now going to be inheriting the consequences of a lot of those bad choices.
That does not mean that I think he's not a good person. And his White House staff has done an extraordinary job in working with us for a smooth transition. And that's part of what, I think, America is about, that we can have disagreements politically, but still treat each other civilly. And I think he's embodied that during this process.
BLITZER: Life in a fishbowl, a new life at the White House. The president-elect talks about trying to guard his daughters' privacy. And Barack Obama talks about taking his children to the Lincoln Memorial. You might be amused by their reaction.
And this: Will the president-elect have to give up his beloved BlackBerry?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And there are a lot of people who say, because this will end up in the presidential library, because you don't have privacy any more, your life's about to change, Tuesday noon, you have to give this up.
Are you going to do it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You have been watching and listening to Barack Obama talk to our John King about the economy and other issues you care about.
In the next part of this exclusive interview, he speaks about things a little bit more personal.
KING: Let's spend a few minutes, as we close, on your personal transition.
KING: Your family has come to Washington. Your two beautiful daughters have left some friends behind, and they're making new friends...
KING: ... in a new school.
I have a 12-year-old daughter.
KING: She sees their pictures in those magazines that we should probably both keep away from our daughters on occasion.
KING: And she says: "Daddy, do they have new friends? And what sports do they like?"
Where do you draw the line? There are pictures of them even around this plant.
KING: Some people have pictures of your family on their machine stations.
OBAMA: Right, right.
KING: Where do you draw the line when it comes to my business and your daughters and your family?
OBAMA: Well, my hope is that the press is going to be respectful of the fact that growing up is hard enough without doing it in a fishbowl.
It would be naive of me or Michelle to expect that people take no interest in the girls. But I think the press has a lot of control over this. We've asked them not to follow them around, not to take pictures of them when they're not, you know, with their parents doing something that is a public event.
And I hope that folks are respectful of that, precisely because, you know, folks in the press are parents, as well. And they know the struggles. And, even if you're not a parent, you'll remember what it was like being a teenager. And, you know, that can be a painful process, as well.
KING: I have spent some time since the election with a young boy named Melvin Thomas (ph). He's 14 years old, lives just outside of Baltimore, African-American.
He says -- if I visited with him a year-and-a-half ago and said, "Who's your hero?" he would have said, without blinking, "Michael Jordan. " If I ask him today, he says, "Barack Obama. "
KING: And he says, "Barack Obama's going to change the country." He thinks you're going to create more jobs. And he thinks you're going to help stop people from hating black people.
What's the burden you feel there and the responsibility to kids like Melvin Thomas?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I hope that -- part of what my election communicates to Melvin is, he can shoot for the stars. He can go as far as his worth ethic and his -- his imagination takes him.
And what I also hope is that, not only me, but all of us take responsibility for the millions of Melvins out there. There are so many young people with so much talent.
KING: What, specifically, do you need to do?
OBAMA: Well, I think that part of what we have to do is make sure that our school system works. Part of it is all of us as parents taking responsibility, because government can't do it all.
And what Melvin is going to benefit from, hopefully, is some good policies from my White House. But I also hope he's going to benefit from parents who instill in him a thirst for learning, that he has a community that is supportive of the idea that there's nothing wrong with black boys, or any American child, hitting the books before they worry about whether they're popular or whether they're worrying about their sports.
I think that the idea that each and every one of us has responsibilities to the next generation is one of the things that I want to communicate, both on Inauguration Day and throughout my presidency.
KING: We're short on time, so a couple more quick ones.
You took your family to the Lincoln Memorial.
KING: What did you talk about, walking around and looking at the president and reading those walls?
OBAMA: Now, this is a good story.
I love the Lincoln Memorial at night. It always inspires me. So, I take Michelle and the girls. We're looking at the Gettysburg Address. And Michelle's describing what Lincoln's words mean. The fact that these soldiers died on this battlefield means that any words that Lincoln could have said or any of us could have said would ring hollow. They've already consecrated this ground.
And what we have to do is to honor them by working for -- for more just -- more justice, more equality here in America, at which point, Malia turns to me, and she says, "Yes, how are we doing on that, Mr. President-elect?"
KING: Accountability in the house, that's a good thing.
And then we go and look at the -- Lincoln's second inaugural, which is on the other wall. And Sasha looks up, and she says: "Boy, that's a long speech. Do you have to give one of those? "
I said: "Actually, that one's pretty short. Mine may even be a little longer," at which point, then Malia turns to me and says: "First African-American president. Better be good."
KING: You were tired during the campaign, and it's a pretty exhausting process. At one point, you got a little confused about how many years you've been married.
KING: I know you're busy right now.
(LAUGHTER) KING: So, I just wanted to help you out. You know what this weekend is, right?
OBAMA: This is her birthday, Michelle's birthday. And we are going to make sure that we -- we actually had a little birthday party last night. And...
KING: Ahead of the curve this time. That's a smart man.
OBAMA: You know, listen, if you're -- if you're going to miss it, better miss it earlier than miss it late.
KING: I will ask you one last question.
And it's, in part, silly, but it's not always silly. You like these. I was just with you before this, and you have a couple of them. And there are a lot of people who say, because this will end up in the presidential library...
KING: ... because you don't have privacy anymore, your life's about to change, Tuesday noon, you have to give this up.
KING: Are you going to do it?
OBAMA: I think we're going to be able to beat this back.
KING: Beat this back?
OBAMA: I think we're -- we're going to be able to hang onto one of these.
KING: Do you want mine?
OBAMA: ... my working assumption -- and this is not new -- is that anything I write on an e-mail could end up being on CNN. So I make sure to -- to think before I press "send."
But what this has been -- what this does -- and it's just one tool among a number of tools that I'm trying to use to break out of the bubble, to make sure that people can still reach me, that, if I'm doing something stupid, somebody in Chicago can send me an e-mail and say, What are you doing, you know, or You seem detached, or You're not listening to what is going on here in the neighborhood.
I want to be able to have voices, other than the people who are immediately working for me, be able to reach out and send me a message about what's happening in America.
KING: Do you think you fully comprehend how much your life is about to change?
OBAMA: Oh, I've gotten a pretty good sense over the last few -- the last few days. And, truthfully, over the last two years. It's -- it's a process of consistently ratcheting up. And you've got to pick up your game correspondingly. And so far, so good.
KING: Mr. President-Elect, we thank you for your time.
OBAMA: Thank you.
I enjoyed it.
KING: We wish you the best.
OBAMA: Thank you so much.
KING: Hope to see you again when we drop the elect part.
OBAMA: There you go.
Appreciate it, John.
KING: Thank you very much.
OBAMA: Thank you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: All right, so there it is -- President-Elect Barack Obama in that exclusive interview with our chief national correspondent, John King. He's the host of CNN's new Sunday morning show, "STATE OF THE UNION."
John is joining us now from Cleveland -- you know, it's amazing, John -- and I'm sure you get this impression -- how cool he is, given the enormity of the history of what's unfolding.
KING: Very relaxed, Wolf. And you might say how, with so much pressure building on him?
I had a few minutes before the interview off-camera and it was quite striking.
He had not only one of these in the holding room, but he had two of them. So they said he had found a way that he will keep at least one of them as president. We will see how that one goes forward.
But when we were talking, he said, yes, he needs a lot more time to work on his speech. But he was quite relaxed. He was talking about being at Harvard Law School. And we were talking about how I'm from Boston. And he said well, he went to Fenway Park when he was up there as a law school student, but didn't get to see as much of Boston as he would have hoped. But then he made crystal clear, as I tried to convert him over, Wolf, to Red Sox nation, that he was a White Sox fan and always a White Sox fan.
BLITZER: Can we make him a Washington Nationals fan, do you think?
He's going to be spending at least four years in Washington, maybe eight.
KING: I asked him if he expected to throw out the first pitch anywhere in this conversation beforehand. He was recalling a moment when he threw out the first pitch when the White Sox, a couple of years back, were in the play-offs. And he talked about how he just wanted to make sure that he got it over the plate and that he didn't bounce it into home plate.
Again, it was a very funny story, as he told it.
I suspect the new president will be in demand at ballparks all around the country. He's a big sports fan -- more a basketball guy, but still, as he said, a big White Sox fan. And I suspect we'll see him out at the Nationals games. I don't think we're going to convert him -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, we'll see. We'll work on it, you and me.
All right, let's talk a little bit about behind-the-scenes. You know, he comes across, as I said, very cool, very relaxed. But behind- the-scenes, do you get a sense he's a little jittery, a little anxious compared to how we've seen him over the past several months, even years?
KING: He does not let that out in public, even in the off-camera moments you get to share with him. He obviously is paying a great deal of attention of what goes on.
But he watched some interaction with his staff and sometimes that changes. I've been through a few transitions and you see a candidate treated one way during a campaign and then when that candidate becomes the president-elect, things get more formal, a little more uptight and disciplined. Barack Obama was very relaxed with his staff -- the top aides he was with.
And also quite striking, Wolf, you heard him talk about the bubble -- one of the reasons he wants to be able to e-mail is so he doesn't get trapped in the bubble. When he was talking to the factory workers at this factory, he was also very relaxed and very friendly and casual with them. And he makes a point to get up and reach out and touch them.
It's the challenge for any president. We worked together in the Clinton White House. We saw, especially at difficult times, how a president can sometimes, you know, lose touch with everyday Americans. It is clearly important to him and it will be interesting to watch as we go forward -- number one, with the security concerns; number two, with the privacy concerns; and then with his very busy agenda, how much he can actually have conversations with everyday Americans.
He was enjoying himself at this factory today. And the workers, of course, liked him very much. But hard to be so casual when you're the president of the United States. And that, of course, is noon on Tuesday.
BLITZER: And we'll be -- of course, we'll be watching every step of the way.
KING: John King in Cleveland -- in Ohio. And he's getting ready to come back to Washington. He's going to be working hard all this weekend, over the next several days.
And you can see John's entire interview with the president-elect this weekend during the premiere of his brand new show here on CNN. John King hosts, "STATE OF THE UNION." It premieres this Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and every Sunday after that.
Barack Obama says he welcomes input from across the political spectrum. But with partisan battles already heating up on Capitol Hill, is he being naive?
James Carville is standing by. So is Alex Castellanos. They're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will discuss.
And new details on the crash landing into the Hudson River and the heroic efforts that saved the lives of all 155 people on board.
And a new mystery -- where are the plane's engines right now?
And Jeanne Moos on a Moost Unusual acronym that's on everyone's lips here in Washington.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: President-Elect Barack Obama telling CNN's John King in that exclusive interview you just saw he wants to work with lawmakers on Medicare reform, lifting the ban on embryonic stem cell research.
But is he putting too much faith in Congress?
Joining us now to talk about that and more, our CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist, James Carville; and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. They're both part of the best political team on television.
Too much faith in Congress?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CLINTON SUPPORTER: You know, the founding fathers put a lot of faith in Congress. About 95 percent of these things he has no choice but to go through the Congress. They have enormous constitutional power in anything -- particularly on domestic issues. You could say the president has a lot of freedom in foreign policy.
But, clearly, most -- he could do some things on stem cell research without Congressional approval. But by and large, anything to do with spending and that kind of stuff has to go through the Congress.
BLITZER: And he...
CARVILLE: And he'd better develop a good relationship with them because the founding fathers are the people that gave them that power.
BLITZER: He's got a nice lopsided Democratic majority in the House and Senate. But he can't always be sure that all of those Democrats are simply going to salute and say, yes, sir.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we're seeing -- we're seeing partisan bickering now, not Republicans and Democrats, but within the Democratic Party.
CASTELLANOS: That's -- that's what happens with one party rule, Wolf, you're right.
But, you know, he is placing too much faith in that Democratic Congress right now, because they have a 68 percent disapproval rating. The American people think they can't run the government we have now and they have given themselves the power now to make government even bigger.
So, you know, it's -- I think it's a train wreck putting things in their hands.
But we're also seeing the presidency much empowered. George Bush is leaving Obama a much bigger, powerful presidency -- the bailout, a lot of more money and power in the presidency. You have a charismatic leader and the one party rule in Congress -- that -- that's much bigger government, period -- not just in Congress.
BLITZER: You wanted to add something to that?
CARVILLE: Well, no, just to say Mr. Madison gave -- and his cohorts gave him a lot of power. And I think one of the things is that a lot of these Republican senators and congressmen are telling the Democrats -- you know, they do actually talk to each other. They're saying, you know, we've got 15 fewer senators and, you know, 58 fewer congressmen. And that's because we went lockstep with a Republican president. You guys had better watch yourselves.
And I think, to some extent, they're probably listening to that, too.
BLITZER: He's got a -- I think it's fair to say he's got a good year to try to turn this economy around, maybe a little more, before folks out there start losing -- getting impatient?
CASTELLANOS: You know, I think the American people have fought long wars and been patient. I think the American people are willing to stick it out as long as we're making progress.
But -- and they start seeing that. And they see people of goodwill trying to do the right thing.
But somehow this myth that -- that we're going to print our way out of this -- out of this economic mess that we're in, that we're going to pretend we're more prosperous than we are so that we can pretend to have a better economy -- I think there's a certain falsity built into this thing that government's going to get us out of this. And that's the danger for Obama. He's -- he's saying hey, government can fix this. And that's what's going to build some...
BLITZER: Well, what...
CASTELLANOS: ...immediate expectations.
BLITZER: Which raises the question if he should appeal for sacrifice to the American people.
CARVILLE: Right. Look, I think he's -- he's being very candid with people, saying this thing is going to be a long, hard slide.
And what the government is trying to do right now is prevent a meltdown in the financial system -- the credit markets and the banking system. That's one thing. And fixing it is -- is quite another thing.
I think that we're going to see this. I'll make a prediction right now -- four years from now or whatever. But I think that they're going to get something done in places that we hadn't -- we had only thought about before. And he's sent a strong signal that he was going to do something about health care and Medicare costs and things like that.
Somebody once said a crisis is too valuable a thing to waste. I don't think this president has -- intends to waste this crisis.
CASTELLANOS: But I think he's got it exactly backwards. He's being pessimistic about the economy and optimistic about government. That's not what made America the greatest country in the world. It's just the opposite. And if he keeps going down that road, people are going to be disappointed out there.
BLITZER: What did you think of his defense of Timothy Geithner as his Treasury secretary in the face of, you know, the -- what is now acknowledged, of course, by everyone -- he failed to pay about 35 or so thousand dollars in taxes?
CARVILLE: Go ahead. You ought to go. I'll be glad to (INAUDIBLE).
CASTELLANOS: Well, I think -- you can bat clean up.
CARVILLE: Right. CASTELLANOS: I think -- I think it is a problem. The president- elect said, look, no one disputes that he's the most qualified guy. I dispute that he's the most qualified guy. If he couldn't keep up with his own taxes, how is he going to keep up with everyone else's?
But that's not even the biggest issue. The biggest issue is President-Elect Obama is sending a message here -- hey, those really smart people -- those elites in Washington, they don't have to play by the same rules that you do. They get -- for them, it's just an honest mistake. You -- you've got to do jail time.
Is that the message you really want to send at the beginning of an administration?
CARVILLE: Oh, no. I mean, no. Come on. I can't -- no. Look, any -- honest people out there make honest mistakes on their tax returns. This was a question of...
CASTELLANOS: And pay for it.
CARVILLE: Look, again -- and he paid for it. And he paid the penalty. I mean the idea to elevate this man to some kind of a criminal other than someone -- and this was not all of it. It wasn't like he didn't pay taxes on his income or he didn't pay taxes. This is ludicrous. This was...
CASTELLANOS: He (INAUDIBLE)...
CARVILLE: ...again, this was an honest mistake.
CASTELLANOS: Well, (INAUDIBLE).
CARVILLE: I can't tell you the number of times that somebody comes back and you say, well, gee, OK, and sometimes people make that. I think this is an honest man. He's the most qualified person to be secretary of the Treasury. I don't think this thing was anything close to intentional.
By the way -- and they came and they went to Senator Grassley, they went to Senator Baucus. They pointed this out. They were very up front with it -- this is an example of what you do when you make a mistake on your taxes.
CASTELLANOS: He also filled out some forms that said he was aware that he had to pay these taxes and that he would pay them. He was also subsidized by the IMF, where he worked, to pay these taxes.
So there are a lot of questions, I think, that need to be asked.
BLITZER: All right...
CARVILLE: I think this is an honest man that made an honest mistake.
CASTELLANOS: Well, we hope so.
CARVILLE: And if the IRS -- let me say this. I might have made an honest mistake, too, people.
CASTELLANOS: We'll call the hotline, James.
CARVILLE: Yes, I'm -- I'm not...
BLITZER: James Carville made a mis...
BLITZER: ...an honest mistake?
BLITZER: All right, guys.
Thanks very much.
We'll be working hard over the next several days.
He's being called a hero and his wife says she'd expect nothing less from the pilot who landed that US Airways jet in the Hudson River. She's speaking out.
Plus, the four letter word most Americans oppose in theory but don't know by name. That would be TARP. CNN's Jeanne Moos is standing by with a Moost Unusual look.
All that coming up.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs, though, right now to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.
Tonight, we'll have new information on the flight crew and the rescuers who saved more than 150 people aboard US Airways Flight 1549. We'll have the exclusive report for you. We'll be talking with some of the first rescue personnel on the scene.
Also, the president-elect telling Americans the economy is likely to worsen in the weeks ahead, before his new stimulus package can take effect.
Is the president-elect talking down the economy?
Can he convince Americans to support his bailout plan for banks and others?
And another day of brutal job losses across the country -- more than 80,000 jobs lost. Three top political analysts join us. We'll be talking about what the Obama administration must do to restore confidence in our economy.
Please join us for all that at the top of the hour, for all the day's news, as well -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Lou, thanks very much.
We'll take a quick break.
We'll get to the disaster in the Hudson River and the miracle that's now being acknowledged by all.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: The search for what happened begins. Investigators are looking for clues to what caused that US Airways plane to use the Hudson River as a crash landing strip. Investigators are searching for both engines and preparing to lift the plane from the water. They're also interviewing the crew.
Meanwhile, there's growing praise for the pilot who helped save so many lives.
Our Dan Simon is in Danville, California.
He spoke just a little while ago with the pilot's wife -- all right, tell us about that, Dan.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf.
This is the pilot's house behind me. And I want to show you what it looks like when Mrs. Sullenberger looks outside of her window. You can see all of these satellite trucks. Obviously, there's a tremendous amount of interest in what she has to say.
Wolf, this is one instance when you don't mind knocking on the front door.
LORRIE SULLENBERGER, PILOT'S WIFE: We were very grateful that everyone got off of the airplane plane safely. That was the first thing that "Sully" wanted me to convey, actually, that just very grateful for everyone's safety. And that we were obviously very proud of dad. And that I was very surprised.
SIMON (voice-over): Lorrie Sullenberger said that when she got the call from her husband, he was so calm that she didn't realize the seriousness of the crash.
SULLENBERGER: I know flying is very safe.
And when he called and said there had been an incident, you know, I thought he had, you know, run into something in the parking lot of the airport. Never in my wildest dreams.
So that -- that was really all I said this morning. SIMON: She says the attention has been overwhelming and gratifying, though her husband has largely been unaware of the news coverage.
SULLENBERGER: He's been sequestered and he hasn't turned on the television. And so he only knew what I told him last night. He turned on a little bit. But he has -- he is going to be shocked. He has no idea.
SIMON: The Sullenbergers live in Danville, California -- 45 minutes outside of San Francisco. Their neighborhood now flooded with media crews.
SULLENBERGER: I was looking out here in my neighborhood and going what are all these trucks doing here?
But I didn't make the connection. I thought it was a Publisher's Clearinghouse. I thought he had won a million dollars. And I thought, oh my gosh, this is great.
SIMON (on camera): How are your daughters handling all this -- seeing the exposure on television and seeing all the cameras out here?
SULLENBERGER: I heard them talking as we were walking by -- talking back and forth going, boy, this is so bizarre, isn't if?
SIMON: And here's an obvious question, how proud of him are you?
SULLENBERGER: Oh, I just you -- but, you know, this is the "Sully" I know. This is -- I always knew this is how he would react. So to me, this is not something unusual. It -- it's the man I know to be the consummate professional. And so it's not a surprise.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SIMON: Well, in addition to his flying for US Airways, Captain Sullenberger also has his own consulting firm. He advises companies on how to deal with risk management. And, Wolf, something tells me he just may pick up a few more clients after all this is done -- back to you.
BLITZER: Yes, I think it's fair to call him a genuine hero.
All right, thanks very much, Dan, for that.
Dan Simon out in California.
All right, everyone is talking about it, most want a piece of it, but few know it by name.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The TARP.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The so-called TARP funds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole TARP process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Additional TARP funding.
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The $700 billion TARP.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN's Jeanne Moos is out to teach them -- and you.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: There's an acronym -- practically every Washington insider is using it these days. It's a mystery, though, to a lot of people outside the Beltway.
Our Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual look at a word that's hard to grasp.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a four letter word that some politicians swear by and others swear at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The TARP.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The so-called TARP funds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole TARP process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Additional TARP funding.
BUSH: The $700 billion TARP.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Modest expenditure of TARP money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really think TARP has devolved.
MOOS: Care for another slice of TARP?
(on camera): What is TARP?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Top?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No idea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Top?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got me.
MOOS (voice-over): TARP can be hard to grasp...
MOOS: ...really, really hard to grasp.
MOOS: Sometimes a team of ball players has to come to the rescue.
MOOS: But that's not the TARP on everyone's lips.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY MSNBC)
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You listen to some of these people and you'd think the TARP was an animal that had been going around biting people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Well, there is a fish called the tarpon.
MOOS: President Warren Harding was photographed catching one, though his line broke and the tarpon got away. We weren't letting anyone off the hook.
(on camera): What is TARP?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American reclamation of the public money.
MOOS (voice-over): Wrong. Though he's right, the tarpon is an acronym for the $700 billion government bailout.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Totally action rescue plan?
MOOS: You can even try to decipher TARP backwards in this lady's sunglasses.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: P-R-A-T is backward.
MOOS: No one got TARP exactly right. But three people missed by only one word.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Troubled Assets Recovery Program.
MOOS: Actually, it's the Troubled Assets Relief Program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to be an accountant.
MOOS: One senator dislikes calling it TARP.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've renamed it to the SOAP program -- SOAP -- the Spend On Any Program. MOOS: Those who suspect the banks of skimming money from TARP might get a kick of knowing there really is such a thing as TARP skimming.
MOOS: Even those who didn't know precisely what TARP stands for were still able to put their own negative spin on it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terrible Asset Recovery Program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take All Resources Period.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Try and Rip-off the Public.
MOOS: The bigger the TARP, the easier it is to get ripped off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Meanwhile, don't miss the Obama train. Tomorrow morning after an event in Philadelphia, the president-elect boards a train on his way to becoming president of the United States. The train slows down at the Claymont, Delaware train station, as President-Elect Obama waves to supporters.
Next stop, Wilmington, Delaware in the early afternoon. Joe Biden hops on and both men speak.
On to Edgewood, Maryland. The train once again slows down.
Baltimore in the early evening. President-Elect Obama will speak there, also.
The final stop, Union Station, right here in the nation's capital, we think around 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be there every step of the ride. I won't be on the train. Candy Crowley will be on the train. But we're covering it from the Newseum, right here in Washington, on Pennsylvania Avenue overlooking Capitol Hill.
Our coverage for that train ride begins tomorrow morning 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming up from our friends at the Associated Press.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Don't forget to stay with us throughout the weekend, Monday and Tuesday for complete coverage of the inauguration of the president.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.