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The 'We Are One' Concert Set To Begin At Lincoln Memorial, Obama Family, Biden Family Arrive, Wide Array Of Stars To Perform, Attend, Honoring Lincoln, King, Obama

Aired January 18, 2009 - 14:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, INAUGURATION OF BARACK OBAMA: All right, you're looking at live pictures of the National Mall here in Washington , D.C. People are already starting to walk around. They're arriving there. But a much bigger crowd, not that far away. Beyond the Washington Monument, towards the Lincoln Memorial, because that's where the vice president-elect and the president-elect will be shortly. There's going to be a concert over at the Lincoln Memorial and thousands of people are trying to make their way through. They want to not only hear and see the vice president and president-elect but there are performers that are going to be making appearances there as well, including Beyonce , and Mary J. Blige , Jon Bon Jovi, among many others, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder. Is it any wonder what's going right here in the nation's capital, right now.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Reporting together with the best political team on television, Soledad O'Brien is here.

Fortunately much nicer day today, Soledad, than yesterday; not as cold as yesterday.


BLITZER: Freezing yesterday, but temperatures picking up a little bit today, which is always excellent, excellent news. Also, our Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger is here, our Analyst Hilary Rosen, I want to welcome her. And Professor Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University, well-known to many of our viewers.

Doug, we want an historic perspective on a lot of what's going on, so we're going to be tapping into your thoughts.

Soledad , a lot different tone today than yesterday. Yesterday we saw the train ride in from Philadelphia to Wilmington, to Baltimore, finally Union Station here in Washington. Today it's different because it's Sunday, for one thing, the Sunday before the inauguration.

O'BRIEN: And more crowded. I mean, if you look at some of these pictures, we had that shot up a moment ago, people starting to walk through The Mall. Yesterday, really it was pretty empty. Mostly a correspondent or two out there reporting.

But look at this, these I know they are off to the concert, but it's the first time and you start feeling excited about what's going to be coming over the next couple of days. First time you see a number of people out on The Mall, and I think the excitement really is building.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, because I went out for a walk this morning in Washington, myself, and a lot of people said to me, you know, I want to do it today, because I don't know if I'm going to be able to get close to what's going on, on Tuesday. At least I can experience some of that flavor.

And the city itself, Gloria, is beginning to jam up, traffic is getting a little bit more intense, although I must say, nothing like it's going to be over the next couple days.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's as if the city has become one big mall. Because, you know, there are lots of roads that are closed already. And most people aren't going to go to work downtown on Monday, because of all the traffic here. And it's just people have a sense of it's sort of like they just want to go down to, well, The Mall, take a look. And since so many roads are closed, walking is really the way to do it. So, it's become a walking city today. And the temperatures are a little bit milder, so you can do it.

BLITZER: A little bit better. And as a result people can walk. I tried to drive around a little bit myself this morning, and some of those streets around the -- certainly around the Lincoln Memorial, but also near the Washington Monument, up and down The Mall, Independence Avenue.

Hilary, many of those streets already closed and you know it's only going to get more intense as we begin to countdown to noon on Tuesday. What we're calling the moment when he's sworn in as president of the United States.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They are closed for a reason. Because Barack Obama wanted this to be as open an inauguration as possible, which means not a lot of barrier to see things. This fantastic concert at Lincoln Memorial is open to the public. So, there's a lot of foot traffic. The inaugural parade for the overwhelmingly part of it is open to the public. There are some ticketed seats obviously close to the capitol, and ticketed seats up by the Lincoln Memorial, but for the most part this is just all swaths of America coming, you know, walking to these events and being accessible.

BLITZER: Yes, people were screaming at me, Wolf, I'm from Seattle. I said, Seattle, and you've come all the way in? Yeah, we came in from Seattle. They just want to be here.

Doug Brinkley, let's talk about what we saw a little while ago over on the north lawn of the White House. We'll show our viewers, the president of the United States, George W. Bush, this is the last time he'll be in an aircraft -- actually the South Lawn of the White House.

There it is, Marine One, making that touchdown on the South Lawn. He had spent much of the weekend at Camp David over in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. This is the last time, Doug, he's going to be in an aircraft which has the number one on it. Whether its U.S. Air Force One or Marine One, because he's coming back now, to the White House. He'll be here until Tuesday and the next time he gets aboard an aircraft it will be that huge 747 that we know as Air Force One, but it won't be called Air Force One because he no longer will be president of the United States.

DOUG BRINKLEY, PROFESSOR, RICE UNIVERSITY: Well, that's right. He'll be heading back to Texas to start his life building a Bush presidential library at Southern Methodist University. He's bought a house right outside of there. The trucks come and they move the archives down. And guys like me, the historians, usually have to wait about 25 years for the Freedom of Information Act to releasing a lot of the documents. But it's always a very bittersweet moment when they leave. You know, famously Nixon did the flashing of the fingers heading to San Clemente. And it was a president being forced out of office. Ronald Reagan felt he had a great eight years, was high in the public opinion polls and couldn't wait to get back to the ranch in Santa Barbara. So his goodbye to Washington was actually quite joyous, because he couldn't wait to get to the horse trails up there in the San Ynez Mountains. So it depends on the president. This president I think has tried the last few weeks to put a spin on his legacy. He's gotten a slight bump in the polls. But he must be very bittersweet thinking about some of the things he didn't get done. Most presidents, their first year get the doldrums, because they have to fundraise for their library, get it open and then they usually try to start writing a memoir and it's a lot more work than they thought it would be.

BLITZER: And there he is, he's getting off - this is tape - the first lady right behind him. The president of the United States, this is the last time he'll be arriving at the White House, Soledad , and arriving as president of the United States, as I said. He's going to be in Washington until Tuesday. Must be a sentimental moment for both of these people.

O'BRIEN: It really has to be. And, you know, and also you have to wonder, they've talked a lot about their children. When I traveled with Laura Bush back in 2003, the bulk of our conversations were about the kids. I had twins, she I had twins. And I always wonder how parents who are parents in the White House feel about raising their children in this, you know, in the public eye, certainly the Bush twins had their challenges. But they were normal on all fronts. It's just growing up in front of the nation is always a tricky thing to do. And you have to wonder as they leave, what's going through their minds about what kind of focus and being the subject of focus it will be for them in a kind of acquired context.

BLITZER: He's not the first president who will soon be a former president and will have a period, Gloria, of major adjustments.

BORGER: Yeah, it will be major adjustment. He was asked many times during his exit interviews what are you going to do the next morning? He said, I'll probably make Laura some coffee, but after that I'm not sure. Also, don't forget, this is a president who used Camp David an awful lot. Some presidents didn't, like Bill Clinton didn't go to Camp David an awful lot. But George W. Bush did go to Camp David an awful lot. So, this is his final trip to Camp David, which I'm sure was kind of bittersweet for him. They've made a lot of use of it.

BLITZER: Yeah, he loved Camp David by all accounts.

You know, earlier in the day, Hilary, they went to the Arlington Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknowns, to pay their respects. I think we have some videotape of what happened there. I want to show, you know, we're talking about the president-elect and the vice president-elect. There they are, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, not the current president. They went there and laid a wreath. This is always a very - a very somber moment, but symbolically very important, and on this Sunday before the inaugural - all the inaugural - all the inauguration activities, it's a nice touch, Hilary for them to be doing this.

ROSEN: I think that they've really strived and succeeded in having the right tone throughout these couple of days, a mix of somberness and seriousness. And you saw, actually, on the train yesterday, with the president-elect's speeches, as he was stopping, he wasn't glad-handing wildly. He was really preparing the country, I think, for some tough times and tough decisions. And I think you can't help but be a new commander in chief going to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which is in Arlington Memorial Cemetery where, you know, so many of our military have been buried, and feel the enormity of the task of being the one who has to decide whether you send young soldiers to war or not.

And you start out the day that way. And then when they go to The Mall later, it will be -- it will be much more celebratory.

BLITZER: You know, I'd love to just listen in, for those of our viewers who missed it earlier. (BUGLER PLAYS TAPS)

Doug Brinkley, as you see this, look ahead to Wednesday, our Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry, told us yesterday, he's going to convene a meeting on Wednesday with all the leaders of the U.S. military and basically give them marching instructions. I promised the American people during the campaign that on the day after I'm sworn in, I would meet with the commanders, and tell them I want all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq over the next 16 months. That's an order we believe he will give them, but is it easier said than done?

BRINKLEY: As we've learned through Guantanamo, how difficult it is to close, that's a difficult order. But it looks like it's one he's going to do. There are going to be timetables for withdrawal. He is suddenly commander in chief and people are going to have to just understand that there is new management in town.

I think, Wolf, the key for this inaugural to be successful is to make a clean break with the Bush administration. There's been a lot of kind of triangulation, operating in the center, but we also, on CNN you're playing the clips of FDR in 1933 and John Kennedy in '61 and Ronald Reagan had in '81, all three of those inaugurals were a clean break with the past. So, he's got to say there's new management in town, the war in Iraq, and Afghanistan's, going to be conducted differently. Yet some of the problems still exist. Iran and Pakistan getting nuclear weapons, for example. I was reading Jimmy Carter's farewell address the other day, and Carter was saying the biggest danger facing me, as I leave office, is nuclear weapons with Pakistan and Iran. Here we are, all this many decades later and that still is such a large problem. So, he's inheriting a very strong and great armed forces, and he's also inheriting a foreign policy that is stressed and armed forces that are fatigued and stressed. But the troops love Obama.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, one of the benefits Obama has coming in, if you look at all the polls we've been looking at, is that the American public seems to understand the enormity of the problem and has a lot of patience. And says, we don't expect these problems to get solved overnight. It might take a number of years, which is what Obama now keeps saying. But it is a message that has really sunken in. So, there isn't a sense that, OK, we've got these problems, we're making a clean break, and tomorrow they're all going to be solved. People seem to under that these are intractable issues that are going to take an awfully long time.

BLITZER: And I think they're also patient to a certain degree, because they know how enormous the economic crisis ...

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: ...the United States is facing right now, Soledad , and as a result they say, let's get the economy in order, because people have their jobs and their car payments, their house payments, foreclosures at a record level right now, so they want to make sure that's priority number one. Obviously national security you can't ignore.

O'BRIEN: But I would add a "but" which is, but a lot of people feel they went out on a limb. A lot of people feel they supported his candidacy early on, a lot of people want feel they need some of the things that they have been hoping and dreaming and have been working for, for decades. They need to be realized, and not by, you know, sometime Wednesday, noon.

BORGER: Right, right.

O'BRIEN: But at some point there has to be hints and signals along the way that the schools will improve, that education for inner- city kids and opportunities for young, black men like Barack Obama was once will be not just a, wild, special case, but will be the norm. And all those things I think people -- you know, those, again, are things that take a long time, but people want to see those.

BLITZER: Let's go over to the Lincoln Memorial right now. Suzanne Malveaux is over there.

Suzanne, set the scene for us, especially those viewers who are just tuning in right now. What is about to happen where you are? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, obviously, there's a time for seriousness, the problems of the nation, but for this moment, for this place, it is about celebration.

There's hundreds of thousands of people gathered here for the "We Are One" kickoff. It's an inauguration concert. I want to take you here, give you a sense of the stage. We got a chance to be right up close there, just moments ago, that's where some of the Cabinet members are actually gathered there.

But what's going to happen is Barack Obama and his family as well as Biden and his family, they will start at the Lincoln Memorial, they'll walk down those stairs. You see that wall behind the flags? Now, that wall will actually part at some point, and then you see the glass box there? That is where the first family will be sitting to view this concert.

It is really extraordinary, Wolf, when you take a look at the sea of people, the hundreds of thousands of people who have gathered here at The Mall, it's a free concert, open to the public. And some of the (AUDIO GAP) who's who of performers, Beyonce , Mary J. Bridge, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, Usher, Shakira, many of these folks, there are also really going to be entertainers who are going to read historical passages from Abraham Lincoln as well as John F. Kennedy. That's Queen Latifah, Denzel Washington , folks who you would normally not see in such roles. This is not going to be a top ten list of greatest hits, Wolf, but really more of a sense of people who are laying down the groundwork, giving these passages of inspiration.

We expect Barack Obama is going to use his role model, Lincoln, to talk about the need to come together, but also to sacrifice as a nation. That is going to be his message today and that is really going to be about setting the tone of his administration, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're also going to be hearing, as you point out, from the vice president-elect, Suzanne, and the president-elect, they'll be having brief remarks. And, of course, we'll show those remarks, we'll carry those remarks live here, so this is going to be an exciting afternoon over at the Lincoln Memorial. I can't overstress how significant Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln , has been. We'll talk about this a little bit more as a model for Barack Obama as he goes forward with all these inaugural events.

We'll take a quick break. Continue our special coverage, the inauguration of a president of the United States, right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our coverage. There it is, the U.S. Capitol. It's there at noon on Tuesday, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. And Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 47th vice president of the United States.

A little windy, not too bad, here in the nation's capital right now. It's going to go get a little bit nicer, we're hoping by Tuesday, maybe not. We're not meteorologists. So we don't know for sure.

O'BRIEN: We also can't control the weather, which is even worse.

BLITZER: Yes, but you know what, it will be warm for all of us and for the millions who will be gathering here in Washington and many millions more who will be watching us not only in the United States, but around the world.

We're talking about Abraham Lincoln's influence. Specifically, Doug -Doug Brinkley, the professor of history at Rice University, because of the fact that he's going to be, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, at the Lincoln Memorial very soon, delivering some remarks and an all- star, a cast of celebrities, artists, have gathered there to not only entertain him, but to entertain all of us.

BRINKLEY: Well, that's right. And it's become starting a tradition to do this, to have a rock concert and celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial. But let's not forget Martin Luther King Day coming tomorrow, and the fact that the whole country will be celebrating Doctor King. Whenever I see the Lincoln Memorial, I think of King's famous speech there. And when King went and gave the "I Have A Dream" speech, all of these musicians came. Harry Belafonte organized a lot of it, but Bob Dylan came and played, and Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta (ph), Mahalia Jackson. And it was really a moment of strife in many ways. People were coming here not to celebrate as much as it was to protest.

Now, the dream fulfilled, if you'd like, to have Barack Obama and all these musicians there basically celebrating the fact that the racial discrimination is really, truly on the run and some of Doctor King's dream is still alive. So, I think that's part of the spirit. It's like Lincoln and Kennedy and Martin Luther King all rolled up into one.

BLITZER: And Soledad O'Brien will be anchoring our coverage tomorrow on this national holiday in the United States from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., from The National Mall. And at noon you're going to do something, Soledad , very, very special, and rare.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, you never really get a chance to hear the "I Have A Dream" speech which, of course, was not called "I Have A Dream". It was called, "Normalcy, Never Again". And the first two thirds were all about the check that African-Americans have tried to cash, in this country, that they had not been able to. And then he launches into "I Have A Dream" speech. You mentioned Mahalia Jackson. The story goes, in fact, it was Mahalia Jackson who said, "Tell them about the dream."

We will be running, in full, that speech on CNN, starting at 12 noon, and then sit down with one of the people who helped co-author that speech, Clarence Jones; he'll be joining us to talk a little bit about the speech and what went into it.

What a remarkable thing. It's 17 minutes long. You never really get to hear it in its entirety. And I'm so excited that people will finally have a chance to hear the whole thing, not just the part we all know, but the entire thing. BLITZER: I've been getting a lot of e-mails, because we've been telling our viewers this is an exciting moment. It his hard to believe it was only 17 minutes. In the scheme of things, one of the most remarkable speeches ever, only 17 minutes long.

O'BRIEN: They told him he could only do five. They told him he could only do five and the way Clarence Jones tells it he went back to them and he said, there's no way we can do five.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, the best speeches are often short. Gettysburg Address, not too long, right.

BRINKLEY: Doctor King had tried out the speech at Cobo Hall in Detroit a little bit, and actually Motown Records had then printed up one. And so some of the lines were already in existence so when he delivered it that day. But also there's a -- we're talking about Clarence Jones, he was the lawyer for him. You know, there was a guy I interviewed once, a basketball coach, who was a young guard, guarding Doctor King that day, and the paper that King read off of, even though it's all improvised, a lot of it, but the young kid asked him who is now a basketball coach, can I have it? And so he gave it to him. And the guy's got it in a safe in Los Angeles the "I Have A Dream" speech is not in the National Archives. But the one that King delivered that day is in the guy's personal safe in California.

BLITZER: Hilary Rosen, in your former capacity as the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which is a trade association here in Washington , on behalf of the record labels and a lot of artists out there. Talk a little bit about the amazing cast of performers who are about to appear at the Lincoln Memorial at this event, which they're calling, the official title is "We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial."

ROSEN: Well, it hasn't happened every inauguration. In fact, the last time we had an outdoor concert was when Bill Clinton was inaugurated. I'm not saying this just because I'm a Democrat, but it seems to be that the Democrats party a little better and enjoy the music a little better. You know, George Bush apparently did not want to have that kind of an outdoor celebration. And in fact they actually had some trouble getting artists - because I was in the music business during the time - want to do this.

This concert, I think, is something that surpasses anything we've seen. I've been hearing stories for the last three or four weeks of major artists calling the campaign, and saying, please, are you going to have me on? You know, when you have artists like Mary J. Blige and Bruce Springsteen and Bono saying, like, am I on? Am I playing? You know, do you want me? That's just unheard of.

BLITZER: These are artists that would normally perform before a 100,000 people but they'd be making a lot of money in order to do so; they just wanted to volunteer and come and participate. I assume they are not getting paid for the performances.

ROSEN: They are not being paid. One of the thing that happens with an event like this is there are no prima donnas allowed. Everybody comes, you don't have a lot of handlers. You don't have big VIP sections. You really come and participate in the spirit of these things and these artists, a diverse group of artists, you know country artists, like Garth Brooks.

BLITZER: Let me read a few of the names of some of the people who are going to be at this concert. Soledad , you'll get a kick out of this, because I know you love music, like all of us.

O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely.


BLITZER: I'm going to start from the bottom, Stevie Wonder, because I love Stevie Wonder. So, he's going to be there., we saw him at the convention, as a lot of our viewers remember. We saw that hologram.

O'BRIEN: He was our hologram.

BLITZER: I wonder if he will be there in person, or they're going to beam him in like a hologram.

ROSEN: With the Black-Eyed Peas.

BLITZER: The Black-Eyed Peas are going to be there, too?

ROSEN: They'll be there, backing him up.

BLITZER: Usher, U2, Bono, as we just pointed out, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Shakira, Peter Seeger, John Mellencamp, Jennifer Nettles, John Legend, we saw him at the convention, Heather Hadley, Herbie Hancock, Josh Grobin, need I go on, Beyonce , Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks, Sheryl crow, she's been attending a lot of these events over the years. I remember she used to come when Bill Clinton was president of the United States. It's not - I mean, it's pretty extraordinary, I should say.

ROSEN: I love the juxtaposition of Pete Seeger and


ROSEN: You've got a scenario, Pete Seeger was, you know, famously an artist activist from the '60s, Peter, Paul, and Mary and Odetta (ph), and a few others. Although it was very white then, the protest artists of the '60s. And, you know, it's so full circle in terms of the organizing and the community spirit that Barack Obama has inspired and artists coming together this way.

BRINKLEY: I'm going to venture a bet because it's called "We Are One" that Bono tries to steal the show with "One Love" and singing his famous classic song, with everybody singing. And also there's been a Bob Marley kind of thing going on with his famous song, Bob Marley, you know, "One Love", because the whole world is going to be watching this. It's a kind of - and Marley is one of the most-listened to artists and that song, all over the world is a healing song. And it is a side, like Lincoln saw himself as a healer. He ended up being a commander of chief at wartime. Obama sees himself as a healer, too, hence the "One Love" kind of motif.

BORGER: There will be something for everyone in this concert. The fact that it's taking place at the Lincoln Memorial, I guess it was a week or so ago when Obama first came into town when his family came in and joined him, the first place he took his daughters was to the Lincoln Memorial. And there's a story in today's "New York Times" that says one of his daughters said to him, "Hmm," They read what was on the wall there, the inscription and said, "Hmm, first African- American president, better be good, Dad.



O'BRIEN: Yeah, John King told us that story. He was talking in his interview with Barack Obama.

BRINKLEY: There is a dark side to the Lincoln Memorial for presidents, though. Richard Nixon during Watergate used to drink gin at night and have Secret Service drive him there and talk to the statue. It's not all inspirational at the Lincoln Memorial.

BORGER: That's right.


BLITZER: Is that a real story or is that apocalyptic?

BRINKLEY: No, no, it's true.

BLITZER: It is true?


BLITZER: You know that as a historian, for sure?

BRINKLEY: Yes, I do. Yes, I do.

BLITZER: You've done all the documentation?

BRINKLEY: Yes, I documented his gin stories.


BLITZER: Because I've heard that story over the years, and there it is. And I wanted to make sure it was true.


There it is. That's the shot right there. They are getting ready for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, their families, they'll be going over there for this fabulous concert.

O'BRIEN: The other day, a couple weeks ago, I brought my kids to D.C., it was sort of balmy weather we took a tour, and right kind of where those guys is also marked the spot where Martin Luther King stood to give his address. And, again, you just continually see this line between President Lincoln and Martin Luther King and Barack Obama. Now the campaign has worked very hard to make us all understand that line, because it's a good narrative, certainly.

But there are so many interesting connections, both Martin Luther King and Barack Obama also referencing back to President Lincoln and the emancipation of the slaves, etc cetera. So it is - to me, to see that little mark up there. I have to tell you, my kids stood there and took pictures of their feet. It was a wonderful thing.

BLITZER: This is a rare shot. I want to stay on this shot for a few moments. It's taken from the Washington Monument; it's rare that we're allowed to have a camera up there. And you can see the reflecting pool leading up to the Lincoln Memorial, where tens of thousands and maybe the Park Service will tell us, in the course of the day, hundreds of thousands of people have gathered, in order to watch and listen to this magnificent concert that's about to begin.

And in that crowd, Soledad, in addition to the performers, there are other guests. And Hollywood celebrities who are coming in. They're not going to be speaking, they're not going to be reading poetry, not going to be singing. But if you take a look at some of them, like Jamie Foxx, Tom Hanks, Ashley Judd, Queen Latifah - and I guess it looks like some of the kids ...

O'BRIEN: Malia and Sasha, front-row seats.

BLITZER: ...have arrived. How excited are those two sweet little girls, getting ready to hear these artists, see some of these celebrities, Denzel Washington , Forest Whittaker, and one of my personal favorites, Tiger Woods. He's going to be there as well.

O'BRIEN: Which is a real rarity. I mean, Tiger Woods does not do a lot of these events. It's very unusual. It very much supports his charity that helps kids in the inner city who want to, you know, learn golf. But you do not see him out on the campaign trail. You don't see him pitching for people, so I think that in and of itself is interesting.

BORGER: In fact, after Tiger Woods won the Masters, Bill Clinton invited him to the White House which is pretty common after a big sporting event, the champions are invited to the White House. And Tiger Woods refused to come. He didn't want anything to do with politics or politicians, so this is a big moment for him.

BLITZER: We're going to see some big arrivals coming in pretty soon. We assume since if we just saw Sasha and Malia, the two little girls, the daughters of President-elect Obama and Michelle Obama, we assume the parents are there as well. We'll get some arrival shots of them and certainly we'll be able to show you the speeches that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be delivering live before this audience of thousands and thousands of people have gathered there, to participate in these events leading up to the inauguration of Barack Obama.

It's one of those exciting moments. Yesterday we had the train ride and today we have this Lincoln Memorial event. It's officially entitled "The opening celebration for the 56th presidential inauguration." It's going to be an exciting couple hours coming up.

There's no doubt, as they get ready for this, Soledad, the president-elect, the vice president-elect, they must be thinking ahead to their -- the swearing-in ceremony, though, the so-called moment on Tuesday.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, absolutely. And I was really interested to learn that Barack Obama was still working on the speech, because you'd think it's been a while. He had a couple of weeks, he'd want to get that done and read through it a few times.

But, yeah, as you know, I can't even imagine what those moments are like, and I assume, Doug, you've spoken to presidents who have told you about those moments before the inauguration, when they know, and especially for an African-American president, where not only is he changing history because a different person comes into office, but he's changing history, really the face of history.

BRINKLEY: We're talking about Lincoln and literally when you look at the Lincoln Memorial, I mean, every president loves Lincoln, because no matter how grim your time is in the White House, you realize Lincoln had it worse with half the country breaking away from him, hostile forces surrounding him --

BLITZER: There they are. I want to interrupt. The Vice president-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden, they're walking down those majestic steps of the Lincoln Memorial, being introduced to the crowd. It looks like they're pretty happy. She's smiling broadly. Gloria, in her own right, she's quite an accomplished woman. A lot of our viewers aren't familiar with Jill Biden, but she's an educator of the first order.

BORGER: Yes, she is. As a matter of fact, when they moved to Washington, Wolf --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president-elect of the United States and Mrs. Michelle Obama.

BLITZER: All right, there you see them, the president-elect and the first lady-to-be of the United States. They're walking down. They're pretty excited, pretty happy right now. And they both look, dare I say, Gloria, presidential.

BORGER: They do.

BLITZER: It's a nice -- it's a nice shot.

BORGER: This is a moment to savor for them, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a beautiful moment. They're going to connect pretty soon, you see over there with Joe Biden and Jill Biden. And I guess the next thing they're going to do is just participate and listen and enjoy.

They'll be delivering some brief remarks, and then they'll have a chance to be entertained by some of these world-class artists who have come in. There they are, right there.

You know, you think about the journey of Barack Obama, growing up in Hawaii and then Indonesia, spent a few formative years there. Eventually winding up at Columbia University and Harvard Law School, becoming a community organizer in Chicago. Who would have thought, Doug Brinkley, that he would wind up as president of the United States.

BRINKLEY: Well, it's one of the great American political journeys. You guys were mentioning Tiger Woods a moment ago. Larry King last night said he's the Tiger Woods of politics because he's always in the zen mode, he's always at the very top of his game. And you don't find Barack Obama make a great many of mistakes.

But also when you talk about the freedom struggle, the whole "yes we can" line really came from Cesar Chavez which we haven't heard a lot about. The Hispanic vote this year really helped Barack Obama. They were able to forge an alliance that King and Chavez used to dream about forging back in the '60s.

BLITZER: They helped him certainly in the general election against John McCain, although I think the polls, Soledad, correct me if I'm wrong, Gloria probably knows this better -- in the primaries, Hillary Clinton was the favorite of so many Hispanic-Americans, is that right?

O'BRIEN: Yes, certainly. I think there was a sense that we know her and we know what she thinks of us and how she thinks of us and that was really -- and the Obama campaign knew that was a problem and they worked very hard to try to turn that around. And that was a big challenge for them. And plus I think generationally, too, there was a sense and a concern that Latinos would not necessarily vote for an African-American to be president. And you saw some of that generationally, but you also saw young people. You see that change. You see that divide, you know, it's a new day and it's a new America.

BLITZER: Certainly is. You know, you can't -- as someone who's lived in Washington for more than 30 years, it's -- it's -- it's even remarkable for those of us, and Gloria's been here a while as well, how beautiful this city really is.


BLITZER: Especially for people who are watching who are not going to have a chance to come here, but just to watch on it television. You get an enormous sense of the majesty and the power and the beauty of Washington, D.C.

BORGER: You do, Wolf. You know, those of us who commute every day to Capitol Hill or to the -- or work at the White House or attend the briefings at the White House or go cover the Capitol, we sometimes get used to this or drive by the Lincoln Memorial on our way in to town from the airport. We don't get to see it from this vantage point, Wolf, that we're at very often, but we certainly can appreciate it today. O'BRIEN: It was a cute moment, I don't know if you guys noticed it, when the president-elect and Michelle Obama came down the stairs, I think it was Malia who grabbed her camera and took a picture of them. Did you see that? She wanted to capture her parents. It was such a neat moment.

BORGER: Malia has been taking pictures I've noticed for the last couple of days.

O'BRIEN: For her book.

BORGER: There were pictures on the train and --

O'BRIEN: Show and tell at school.

BORGER: It reminded me of when Tipper Gore was the second lady and she used to document big events right from the platform, frequently.

BLITZER: She is a terrific photographer, Tipper Gore.

BORGER: She is and if Malia follows in her creative footsteps, that would be a tribute.

BLITZER: All right, we're standing by for the remarks by Joe Biden and Barack Obama at this concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Thousands of people have already gathered and there are still many thousands of others who are trying to make their way in. We'll take a quick break, continue our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama, right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. You see a lot of folks already on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. That is a shot, you see the west front of the U.S. Capitol. That's where Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president on Tuesday. On the other end of the National Mall is the Lincoln Memorial, where momentarily, a great concert is about to begin with some world-class artists who have gathered. You just saw live here the president-elect and Michelle Obama. They arrived together with Joe Biden and Jill Biden, the vice president-elect. And they're going to be entertained. They are also going to be speaking. You'll hear what Barack Obama and Joe Biden have to say.

Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting, Soledad O'Brien and the best political team on television, Gloria Borger, our senior analyst is with us. Joining us now Leslie Sanchez and Jamal Simmons. Welcome, guys. Good to have you.

Jamal, you're watching this, and you must be so excited, because I know early on, before it was fashionable for a lot of Democrats, you decided you loved Barack Obama.

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. I saw it early. This is a big day. And I think a lot of Democrats are excited all over the place. Leslie and I were just talking a few minutes ago about the people who are here in town and they are walking up to you on the streets. And they are so excited. They've been watching CNN all year. They know everything that everyone's ever said about what's happened in this campaign. They like you or they don't. They mention it.

BLITZER: So, they even recognized Jamal Simmons on the streets, is that what you're saying?

SIMMONS: From time to time.

BLITZER: That's because you're in "THE SITUATION ROOM" and people watch "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Leslie, you get recognized all the time. I know you're a Republican, but a lot of Republicans are thrilled also by the history of what is about to happen.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Republican or Democrat, there's a tremendous sense of optimism. If you walk the Mall, there's such excitement. But more than anything, there's hope. And I think at a time when people are very concerned about their pocketbooks, paying their mortgages and the security of all our security, I think this is a very important time in our history and it's very important in terms of our support for Barack Obama. I think a lot of us -- all Americans want to see him succeed.

BLITZER: It's not a notion -- I'm sure there will be some Republicans and some conservatives who will just tune out and say you know what, I don't want to watch, I don't want to listen. But I think they will be the minority in this particular case of the minority.

SANCHEZ: You know, there's a distinction that comes with the inauguration. The inauguration really puts the battle aside politically and it's a time to reflect and bring this country together. That's what we want to do. There will be our day to have the divisive talks, but that is not over the next couple of days.

BORGER: You know Wolf, if you look at the polls, almost 60 percent of the folks who voted for John McCain say they are optimistic about Barack Obama. What does that tell you?

BLITZER: Yeah. There's a lot of -- it tells you that there are high expectations right now, Soledad, for Barack Obama.

BORGER: And that could be a problem.

O'BRIEN: And some big problems for the country, too. I think one of the messages of the Obama campaign has been everyone get on board. You see folks come out and be part of a party. But also we have big issues to deal with in the country and everybody is going to need to be part to solve them.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break right now. You see the huge screen, Bruce Springsteen performing right now, and as we take this break, we'll continue our coverage on the other side.


BLITZER: There it is, the Lincoln Memorial, where Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Jill Biden, among the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of others, have gathered for a magnificent concert. Some of the world's greatest performers have gathered there to entertain, to participate in what's being called "The we are one opening celebration" for this, the 56th presidential inauguration, this opening inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.

And it's Lincoln Memorial is at the other end of the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol. You see the Washington Monument, Soledad, right in between. Yesterday was pretty empty, but today it's beginning to fill up, especially the closer you get to the Lincoln Memorial, it's packed already, because people just want to listen and be able to enjoy this inaugural concert.

O'BRIEN: Really, the first preview I think of what we're going to be able to see on Tuesday. Because you're right, yesterday was completely empty, and now we're sort of seeing some people come out and give you the sense of the crowd and the excitement.

And I think we'll see more certainly from Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, where people will not only come out to pay tribute to the work of Dr. King, but also to stake out their little part of the ground. Twofold mission, to make sure that they also have a good spot to be able to watch what they can of the inauguration.

BLITZER: And you'll be anchoring our coverage, our special coverage from 9:00 a.m. Eastern until 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Where exactly are going to be, Soledad, tomorrow, for this coverage?

O'BRIEN: Right out in the middle of it, right on the Mall, which will be great, because we really want to get out there on Martin Luther King Day, to have a conversation with the people that have come out, many as you know who have come from a long distance, but also a long psychic distance, people who really never thought the day would come, regardless of where they were geographically in the country, never thought that they would see this.

We're going to be right in the middle of it with them. And then at 12 noon, we're going to play the entire speech, the "I Have a Dream" speech in its entirety, at 12 noon, and talk a little bit about that speech. It will be a remarkable thing because of course we see clips, know little pieces. We can all recite the "I Have a Dream" part, and that's about it.

But the speech is so much more than that little bit that we can recite. And I'm so excited to be able to share it with folks and have them sit down and really watch it start to finish and think about the message of Dr. King who often is distilled down to a sound bite or a little moment. It's so much more than that especially right before the historic inauguration of the first African-American president in this country. BLITZER: We'll be watching. Hold on, Jamal, I want to go to Anderson Cooper right now, he's down in the middle of the action on the Mall. We're going to go talk to Anderson Cooper, but I want to take another quick break, continue our special coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama. That's coming up, right after this.


BLITZER: All right, welcome back to our coverage. This is it. What a beautiful scene. The Lincoln Memorial here in the nation's capital, where tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people have gathered for this inaugural concert. Some of the world- class entertainers are performing for the president-elect and Mrs. Obama, their family, the vice president-elect and his family as well.

Anderson Cooper is right in the middle of all the action there. Anderson, tell our viewers where you are, what you are seeing and hearing.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm on the mall, which is already sort of packed with a lot of people. People kind of just milling around, wanting to just be part of this event, two days away from the inauguration. The excitement is clearly building. I have a couple of people here who are particularly excited. Kako Atifa (ph), you are a resident of Washington, D.C.


COOPER: You've probably been to a lot of inaugurals. Have you ever seen Washington this excited?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen Washington this excited. People are really hyper around Barack Obama being our newly elected president and we're glad to have all of these beautiful people from all over the world right here to celebrate it, this historical moment.

COOPER: And Victoria Becker (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Viola Becker (ph).

COOPER: Viola Becker, I'm sorry. You say you were actually here for the march on Washington?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I definitely was. I was here in 1963 and it's an awesome thing to be here 45 years later.

COOPER: Did you ever think you would see this day?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hoped I would see this day. That's one of the reasons I'm backing Barack Obama.

COOPER: You came from Chicago to be here. Why was it so important to actually be here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I felt it was a historic moment. The idea that we are one is something that's so expressed in these large crowds. I loved the diversity and I love what it means to be present in the moment.

COOPER: Where did you get your Obama earrings?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were a gift from my daughter.

COOPER: What do you think is at that moment, at 12:00, on Tuesday when Barack Obama raises his hand and takes that oath which is written in the Constitution, what's going to be going through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just what it means to be present, to live in the present and to be here at this time, for the whole world. It's not just about the United States of America. It's about our planet in peril.

COOPER: What was the march on Washington -- how do you compare the mood there, the atmosphere there, to what you're seeing today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I think the march on Washington, we were here to make demands. We were here for a purpose. We were here because we wanted America to live up to its democratic values and to the things that our country was founded for. And it seems to me that this has come full circle. That's one of the things about this being a moment. This is a moment when the whole world feels America is as big as it planned to be.

COOPER: And to have Barack Obama, first African-American president, inaugurated, the day after Martin Luther King Day, it's pretty amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's amazing. It's wonderful. And it's uplifting, and once again, it's about hope and promise. And I think that's something that's brought our country together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Divine providence. It's divine providence, that's it is.

COOPER: OK, Koaka Ati (ph), thank you very much and Viola (ph), thank you very much. Have a great time.

Clearly Wolf, a lot of excitement. People here really from all around the country. And even those who aren't going to be able to get into the concert today, or actually get to the inauguration or get a glimpse of Barack Obama, just wanted to be here. People said they just want to soak it up, they just want to be able to say that they were here, Wolf.

BLITZER: I love hearing from these people, I know you do as well, Anderson, so I want to come back to you and hear what folks are saying. They are coming in from not only around Washington, D.C. They are coming in, as you point out, from all over the country. Indeed I ran into folks from all over the world. They just want to be here and witness and participate and perhaps, even more important than that, someday be able to tell their children and their grandchildren and if they live long enough their great grandchildren, they were here in Washington, D.C. when Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States.

Hopefully it will stay relatively warm, relatively warm, compared to yesterday. It was very cold. Today it's a little bit nicer. People are here. We're going to have more of their stories and much more of our coverage right after this.