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Coverage of Pre-Inauguration Events

Aired January 18, 2009 - 15:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The National Mall, here in Washington, D.C., you can see the U.S. Capitol, right there. You see a Jumbotron screen. Right now, this part of the mall relatively, relatively empty, the other side of the mall, closer to the Lincoln Memorial on the other side of the Washington Monument, look at it, jam-packed right now. There's a concert underway.
President-elect Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are there, together with their daughters as well as the vice president-elect and Mrs. Biden, They are there. Lots of dignitaries, lots of world-class artists and we're getting ready to hear, first from Joe Biden and then from Barack Obama.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States as well as around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting. Soledad O'Brien is here with me as well as our senior political analysts Gloria Borger, Leslie Sanchez and Jamal Simmons. Our analysts are here as well. Anderson Cooper, as we just saw, are down on the National Mall himself, speaking to people who have come to Washington literally from all over the country and indeed from around the world. They want to be here to be able to tell their children and grandchildren someday they witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African- American, to become president of the United States.

A really, exciting time, Soledad, as the pace picks up, the excitement building towards Tuesday, Noon.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, I mean, we've seen this crowd grow before our eyes and getting more and more crowded just to watch the concert. And then it's an amazing thing to see the city fill up and the traffic we all know id going to be a complete nightmare over the next couple of days.

Interesting to hear from the woman that Anderson was interviewing when she talked about the tone being very different, this being a celebratory tone, back in '63, the March on Washington, that it was a protest and it wasn't a celebration and in fact, the president did not want, at the time, the March on Washington. He was very on concerned about it. He was actually trying to get it all shut down, so a very different circumstance. Again, It all of it sort of gets boiled into the moment of the speech, but really today people are here celebrating and excited for what is going to be a historic occasion come Tuesday. Very different, of course, back in '63.

BLITZER: Every day the pace sort of picks up -- Gloria.

BORGER: It does. It does. And you've seen Barack Obama build towards the moment as we're calling it, on Tuesday. We saw him a couple weeks ago talk about the seriousness of the problems and the economy. It was a much more pessimistic speech than we're used to from Barack Obama, kind of getting that out of the way, setting the stage for all the things that we need to do in country. And then we saw him on the train ride yesterday, giving some speeches, what he wants to accomplish, how we need to have shared sacrifice.

O'BRIEN: Somber speeches. I mean not, they were not, whoo-hoo, I'm going to be president come Tuesday speeches.

BORGER: No, they weren't. They were full of "this is what we have to accomplish, we cannot do it right away, but on the other hand look at where we've come," setting the stage for his speech on Tuesday.

SANCHEZ: You know, it's an important point. I was speaking to several top Republican strategists and a lot of historians, and they say what's unique about Obama is he has set the tone. He's very measured in what he's doing. He's picking technocrats, they're not ideologues, these are educated individuals to serve in his cabinet. He's talking about setting expectations, he's trying to tamp down those expectations, but he's being realistic. And for that reason, you have a lot of Republicans who are excited about the potential for this administration.


SIMMONS: The other thing about this is I remember in 1993 when Bill Clinton came into office after there had been 12 years of Republican presidents. I was working on the Clinton campaign and the Clinton transition and we rode a bus from Monticello into Washington, D.C., and not a train, as Barack Obama did from Philadelphia, but there was also a certain level of excitement because there had been 12 years since Democrats had been in office.

I've been out all day today and you're hearing from people who are out there who are excited about this notion of having the first African- American president, they've come from all over.

I mean, I just got a text from a friend who's at the Lincoln Memorial. There was a women behind her from New Orleans and when Barack Obama came out, they burst into tears because they are so excited to see him. So, there is just a lot of pent-up excitement here from Democrats and from all over the country...

O'BRIEN: If they're crying now, think about Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the concert they're crying.

BORGER: But there is a tone associated with saying that he is setting which is -- and I think it started -- it was interesting in Grant Park when he gave the speech, they were supposed to have fireworks. And remember, they canned the fireworks, because it was a somber moment for Obama and he decided, you know what, we don't need the fireworks.

Now, this is - you know, he understands the challenges that he faces, and he wants the country to be there with him. So, while it certainly will be joyful, there really is a sense that, look, we've got to get this economy under control. We're going to have to do some very tough things and we're going to have to share the sacrifice.

O'BRIEN: It's an interesting point I think, too, about being connected, because when John King in his interview with Barack Obama, they were talking about the Blackberry, will we have to get go of his Blackberry and one of the things he referenced was, he wants the Blackberry partly because he wants to make sure people can -- you know, regular folks outside the bubble can reach him and so he doesn't sort of get disconnected and who knows whether that will happen or not, but not get disconnected from the reality which I think is kind of a really interesting thought.

BLITZER: When we say regular folks, you mean some of his regular friends.


SIMMONS: He's been trying to do that while he's been here in Washington. We saw last week he was out on "U" Street. I get my clothes tailored at this Loftin's (ph) Tailor Shop over on "U" Street and the guy who does it was -- I saw him on camera as everyone walked down the street when they heard Barack Obama was there and they all surrounded him. So, I think he's trying to get out in the community in Washington he even played basketball at the Mary Reid Center around the corner from there while he was here.

O'BRIEN: But it's easy to lose tone if you don't have the regular people reminding you what the tone needs to be outside of what your advisors are telling you.

BLITZER: All right, we're only few moments away from hearing from the vice president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden. He will be speaking later. Barack Obama will be speaking. They're both over at the Lincoln Memorial. We'll take a quick break and be get ready for our coverage, right after this.


BLITZER: There it is, the west front of the U.S. Capitol where Barack Obama will be sworn in at Noon Eastern on Tuesday, becoming the 44th president of the United States. Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 47th vice president of the United States. And momentarily, the vice president-elect, Joe Biden, will be speaking across the National Mall, over there, the Lincoln Memorial, where there's a magnificent concert underway, Joe Biden will be speaking, Barack Obama will be speaking. We'll carry their remarks live here on CNN as we get ready to continue our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Joe Biden's got a difficult assignment coming in, Soledad, after Dick Cheney has been vice president for the last eight years, because he was -- I guess we can say, a pretty unique, extraordinary vice president.

O'BRIEN: He was an involved vice president.

BLITZER: Yeah, he was very involved. one of the most influential, if not the most influential vice presidents, ever.

O'BRIEN: Which means that Joe Biden has to figure out how to define the vice presidency for his term. What does he want to see, want to do, how can he contribute? You've seen those issues. And while he's going overseas and, you know, to some degree is that stepping on Hillary Clinton's toe a little bit.

On the other hand, here is a guy who is known, frankly, for his foreign policy expertise. Would you expect him not? But there's got to be some navigation and negotiation and sort of, choreography, for lack of a better term, between what he's good at and his interests and his new role and her role.

BORGER: You know, I've talked to some of his top advisors about that asking that very same question, Soledad, and they said, well, it's a big planet.


O'BRIEN: She'll be in Africa and he...

BORGER: And here's the way that Joe Biden really sees his role, which is, he says he wants to be the last man in the room or the last person in the room before Barack Obama makes an important decision. And he knows that this isn't going to be as visible a role as he's had in the past, but he wants to be that important adviser to Obama, and he believes that it's worked out that way already on -- in terms of cabinet appointments. I mean, he said, I have a list, Obama had a list, and believe it or not, we had most of the same people on our list.

So, I think they're establishing a very close relationship. They're very different kinds of people, but growing closer and closer and I think you'll see Joe Biden, for example, maybe go to Russia, maybe go to China. Those are two areas that he's very, very interested in, but wants to be the private adviser to Barack Obama.

BLITZER: He's the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so he knows a lot about that. He's also very much was involved as a chairman of the Judiciary Committee at one point in his Senate career, so he knows a lot about judicial nominations and appointments and the law, if you will, Leslie.

So, even though they were not necessarily all that close when they were both running for the Democratic presidential nomination or when they were both simply U.S. senators, I think they have, over these past few months, become very close. There's an approximately 20-year age difference between the two men, but I suspect that he will play a significant, very significant, role.

SANCHEZ: Definitely so. And don't forget that his role and his prominence, you know, even being selected as vice president came because of foreign affair flare-ups and the need for that type of institutional knowledge. He brings two important elements to the table, not only that amount of national security expertise, but also how to navigate the setting, how to be successful legislatively, which is going to be critical right from the bat, you know, we talked about this honeymoon period it's not, you know, 60 days or 100 days, it's six minutes, that this new president is going to have to show some -- some achievements.

SIMMONS: And if you look at Joe Biden's staff, he's really assembled a staff that's got a lot of experience. Tony Blinken who was head of the Foreign Relations Committee, the staff director, was also the head of the National Security Council under Bill Clinton, he's going to be Joe Biden's national security adviser. Ron Klain, who was Vice President Gore's chief of staff, is going to be Joe Biden's chief of staff. And then you've people over there also like Trooper Sanders who had been there, so it's a good group.

BLITZER: All right, here he is, here's Joe Biden.

JOE BIDEN (D), US VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: In my family, we were taught to live our faith and to treasure our families. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they were given a fair chance. That's how I came to believe to the very core of my being that work is more than a paycheck, it's about dignity. It's about respect, it's about whether you can look your child in the eye and say, honey, it's going to be all right.

As I traveled across this land, I see a country built by men and women who believe in the dignity of work, who take pride in providing for their families, and measure their lives by the honest efforts they have made.

Look around you. Look at the grace and grandeur that surrounds us, and you'll see the work of American hands. The memorials, the fountains, the marble domes, and the soaring towers, representing the majesty of a great nation. All built, stone by stone, by American men and women. And let me tell you, we owe them. We owe them the chance to go to work each day, knowing they have the thanks of a grateful nation. Thank you.


BLITZER: All right, there he is, Joe Biden, the vice president-elect of the United States, going back to his chair, there. You see Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, there in the front row, they're enjoying an extraordinary concert there at the Lincoln Memorial, a concert with some world-class artists, performers. The celebratory moments of this day, leading up to Tuesday's inauguration of Barack Obama.

Pretty soon we're going to be hearing directly from Barack Obama, himself. He's going to be speaking at that same gathering, I assume he'll be speaking a little bit longer than Joe Biden did, but that's the nature of being No. 1, as opposed to being number two, you get to speak a little bit longer.

It may have been, Soledad, the shortest speech Joe Biden ever did.

(LAUGHTER) O'BRIEN: Maybe them kept him to a time limit, because we know he tends to go on and on. But it's true, it's real interesting now, too, that we look at all of these speeches, even the two-minute speeches or the 20-minute speeches or longer, and parse every word they say, what's the theme, what's the message, what's the subtext of the message that they're delivering. I mean, it's really been fascinating, so, of course, it will be interesting to see, is it the hopeful theme from Barack Obama, when he gets to speak for a little bit in front of this concert, is it a hopeful, let's be realistic, maybe even pessimistic, considering the economic crisis that we're in and some of the issues that we're facing internationally, you know, and really it's fascinating as a student of all these speeches to go back and look at all the themes that keep occurring.

BLITZER: All right, guys, let's stand by for a moment because I want to take another quick break, continue our coverage, the inauguration of Barack Obama. As I said, Barack Obama, himself, will be speaking fairly soon. We'll have his remarks live.

Tom Foreman is also standing by to show us what a chaotic situation is developing here in Washington with the traffic patterns. The normal traffic patterns, simple words, forget about it. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There it is, the Lincoln Memorial, Barack Obama will be speaking there fairly soon. He has been so influenced by Abraham Lincoln, not only because he's from Illinois, but also because of what Abraham Lincoln stood for. This could be an important address at this, one of the first formal inaugural events of the lead-up to the inauguration on Tuesday at Noon Eastern, that's when he will be sworn in as the next president of the United States.

Tom Foreman is joining us right now. He's got a unique look, Tom, at what those of us, you and me, and a lot of others, we go through every single day. There's always bad traffic in Washington, D.C., in the metropolitan area, but you know what, that's going tol be considered easy compared to what's happening today, tomorrow, and Tuesday.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Boy, you said it, Wolf. My commute's about nine miles every day. On a good day it takes 35 minutes, maybe 45 minutes. So, that's an idea of what normal D.C. traffic is. But, I want you to look at what's going to happen, here. This is downtown. This is from the other side of the Capitol, facing the Lincoln Memorial down there. And look at all the roads that are going to be closed on inauguration day.

This is something that even this city has never seen before. An enormous number of road closings that will just stretch as far as you can imagine all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial, down here. So, with all these roads closed, how will anybody really know what's going on?

Well, walk over here and we'll show you very quickly. We're looking at the Trafficland Cameras, here. This is one way that we'll be keeping track of how everything is developing in the city on these days and, frankly, how security will be keeping track to make sure that even as pedestrian traffic moves, things are working out.

This is a live picture right now of the Lincoln Memorial. That's Arlington National Cemetery behind it, it's across the Potomac River. You can see the memorial, you can see security on top of the memorial. You can't see the crowd down below, but when we pull up some of the other cameras nearby off the streets, look at this, this would normally be having Sunday traffic all up and down it, but it's already filled with people and this is not the big day yet.

As we cycle through a number of intersections all up and down the mall, you can see all the barricades that have been going up around here, Wolf, the very ones that stopped you this morning as you were trying to drive in. You can see people shuffling past them.

This is up closer to the White House. Look at this crowd, people out here selling souvenirs, already. This, I will tell you for a Sunday even in Washington, even in summertime, would be a big and surprising crowd, it's really surprising for this time of year in the cold. This is how many people are already out there buzzing around.

We cycle through a few more. This is what they're trying to avoid. This is a bridge leading into D.C. from Virginia. All of these will be closed on inauguration day, but you can see on this Sunday, how much traffic is on that bridge. They're going to stop all of that because that's the only way they can control it.

But just as importantly, we will be using and they will be using all of these cameras to cycle through pictures all over town. There are dozens of these cameras, from Trafficland, that help you keep track of where people are, what's happening, it will help us and help keep security and keep you in touch with any place that there might be something developing that's a problem, even if it's a large crowd problem, trouble moving people around, Wolf. It's going to be a huge challenge. Still don't know how many people will show up. Best guess now seems to be about 1.5 million, something like that, maybe two million, but the simple truth is, no one knows. This is one way they'll try to keep track -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, no one knows and there's -- obviously a lot will depend on the weather. If the weather's a little bit warmer, more people presumably will come, but if it's frigid cold, a lot of people will stay away.

And if you're coming to Washington, D.C., to participate, to watch, to see what's going on Tuesday, be prepared to walk, walk long distances. That's the good news, it's pretty healthy to walk, so get those excellent walking shoes on and be comfortable.

Jamal, you've lived in Washington now for a while. It's always pretty complicated, but this is going to be a mess, so you're just going to have to be patient and you're just going to have to walk.

SIMMONS: This is going to be a mess. And I'm trying to figure out how Tom got to do his piece from inside. That's a pretty good deal that he struck. BLITZER: And he can show us what's going on. It's just one of the little inconveniences but people, you know, if they want to come, they'll suffer through that, they'll suffer through a lot of other things, going through metal detectors, going through security, waiting in lines, because they just want to beer here.

O'BRIEN: And if you think about the historic importance of this moment, the first African-American president, I mean, think of the people who endured beatings and endured being hit by water from fire hoses and who were humiliated and spit on and -- and over decades. I mean, to me, yeah, walk a few blocks, you'll get over it, put a hat on, you'll be warm.

I mean, this is a moment of time that of incredible importance to our nation because of our history and the real conflict we have had about race and over race in this country. And it does not change the day Barack Obama is inaugurated. It does not all become happy, joy, joy for people who live in poverty and for people who are still struggling very much with discrimination and racial injustice.

SANCHEZ: You can see the frozen Potomac over there.

O'BRIEN: No swimming across the Potomac.

SANCHEZ: No swimming. But it's part of the experience, i's part of the moment. You'll remember the day when you braved the frigid weather with your children and took them down to the mall to see the first African-American president be inaugurated.

O'BRIEN: I tell you, I hope it's 1.7 million, I know that's on the upper limit of what they're thinking. But, I mean, imagine the shot for us when we take the high aerial of the mall filled with 1 million 700,000 people, it was only a quarter of a million people, slightly more than that when Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech, so I hope everybody come out and is part of that experience.

BLITZER: It'll be the biggest crowd, I think, ever in the history of Washington, D.C., by far, Leslie. It'll be huge even if the weather is cold.

SANCHEZ: No, but there have already been so many iconic images, the train pulling into Union Station, you know, already the images that you have of the Lincoln Memorial. There's so much there that, as people are reflecting upon it, I think all communities of color, it isn't just an African-American issue, it's all Americans I think collectively coming together to celebrate this.

And I think, really, if you're talking to folks on the street, you not only have people excited about a change in government, you know, people ready to move past the Bush years and move past, you know, the downturn in the economy, but it's a change in what America can stand for, the hope of what this country will bring.

BLITZER: And thousands and thousands of buses will be coming in. You already see some of those buses. Some of those bridges will be -- regular car traffic won't be allowed, but buses will be able to go over those bridges and they'll be bringing in hundreds and hundreds of people from around the country to Washington, D.C.

The bus traffic, I was out driving about a little bit earlier today, is already intense and I got stuck in between a big bus behind me, a big bus in front of me. It's not a pleasant situation. I decided you know what, I'm not going to be driving that much...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Walk, good for you. Right?

BLITZER: I'll start walking, it's a good idea.

BORGER: On the way to work the other day, I got stuck in a security drill where they were practicing for any -- anything that could possibly happen on the mall. And they've been train for that for weeks.

BLITZER: All right, guys, let's stand by. We'll take another quick break. We're counting down to Barack Obama, he's getting ready to speak at the Lincoln Memorial. Think about it, the inauguration of Barack Obama, an address by Barack Obama at the Lincoln Memorial, and you're about to see it live, right here on CNN.


BLITZER: Welcome back to Washington, the National Mall here on this Sunday, the Sunday before the next president of the United States is sworn in. That would be Barack Obama. He's getting ready to speak over at the Lincoln Memorial. We'll have his remarks live; we're awaiting Barack Obama at the Lincoln Memorial.

Right now, Anderson Cooper is down on the National Mall. He's got some special guests with him. Anderson, it's pretty exciting to speak to these people who have come in from all over the country, indeed all over the world, to see history unfold.

COOPER: Well, they are special guests. Because just about everybody who is here in Washington feels very special to be here. They know this is a special time. I just want to introduce you to a couple people who have come from all around. You've come from Miami, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Haiti now I live in Miami.

COOPER: You have perhaps the most original haircut of anyone here. Can you show the back? This is the Obama haircut and it says 1/20 here and it's got an Obama design. How long have you had that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I did it on Thursday.

COOPER: Why did you want to be here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a special occasion. This is history; I'm going to live history.

COOPER: And what is your name?

JUDY BLAIR: Judy Blair.

COOPER: Judy, you've come all the way from the Nassau and the Bahamas?

BLAIR: That's correct.

COOPER: Your son is with you?

PETER BLAIR: Right, my name is Peter.

COOPER: You've actually met Barack Obama?

P. BLAIR: Yes, the way that I met him, my mom told me, Peter, he'll be here; tell him you're from the Bahamas. Explain it to him. I said, mommy, there will be 10,000 people there. But at the end of a long story I was able to meet him and embrace him and he said thank you.

COOPER: You said that you saw Barack Obama in 2006. And what did you say?

J. BLAIR: That's the president of the United States of America. They told me, America's not ready for a black president. I said, America is going to get ready, because it's divine providence. Forty years after Martin Luther King, I said it's the dream come true.

COOPER: And it's pretty amazing that Barack Obama being inaugurated on -- taking the oath of office on January 20th, the day after Martin Luther King's anniversary.

J. BLAIR: Yes, yes, yes. So --

COOPER: Why did you want to be here and fly all the way from Nassau and the Bahamas?

J. BLAIR: Because history is being making. I wanted to be a part of history. I was around when Martin Luther King was assassinated and he fought for equality and this is the reality of it. I think America should give itself a pat on the back. America has come a long way.

COOPER: You've seen a direct thread from Martin Luther King to Barack Obama?

J. BLAIR: Definitely, yes. Yes, yes, yes.

COOPER: At the moment at 12:00 on January 20th when he raises his hand and he takes the oath of office, what's going to be going through your mind?

J. BLAIR: God is good. And he loves all people, of all color. So, we have every right to celebrate.

COOPER: Have you ever seen Washington, D.C., like this?

J. BLAIR: Well, actually, I was here in 2003 for the National Society of Black and Hispanic Business Conference, but, my, it's so historic to see so many different people. I saw the gospel choir sing along with, just the togetherness you feel. This is the American dream that will go forth and I think inspire the nation towards democracy and coming together. COOPER: Have you seen Barack Obama yet?

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: No. My mom has, though.

COOPER: Why did you want to be here?

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: For the inauguration.

COOPER: Is it exciting?


COOPER: Yeah? What's the most exciting thing?

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Um, that I'm here in D.C. for my first time.

COOPER: Where did you go? This is a studded Barack Obama, it says Obama. Where did you get that?

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: At the Ritz-Carlton Mall.

COOPER: Nice. All right. Have a great time. Thanks very much for talking with us. There's -- you know, what's amazing, just about everybody here has a story about how they came to be here and where they've come from and even folks that can't get close to the concert have decided not to fight the crowds and they want to walk around the mall and figure out where they will be on inauguration day and just soak in the sights, Wolf.

BLITZER: I love the fact that you found some people from the Miami and the Bahamas. They're not necessarily used to this kind of weather, are they, Anderson?

COOPER: Absolutely. They bundled up. They bought extra clothing the last couple of days. But, you know, the weather today is much nicer. I'm not sure how it is on the roof where you are, but down here on the mall, it's not too bad, the weather, is it? No, not at all. Positively balmy, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's much better today than it was yesterday; we can hope it gets better tomorrow and even great on Tuesday. It will be a long, beautiful day on Tuesday, no matter what the weather is.

All right, guys, thanks very much. Anderson is going to continue to talk to people who have come here. I love these stories, Soledad, from people. But there's a common theme that so many of them have.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, I think at the end of the day, people talk about sort of the dream being realized and, you know, I guess I -- I was a part of the dream. I don't know that Martin Luther King was the beginning of the dream and that Barack Obama is the end of the dream and he has himself said in many speeches, I am not the end. This is the beginning, you know, the end game that Martin Luther King talked about from that very location that we are looking at was not -- and once we get a black president, who, the hard work is done, people, it's not about that. And now is the time to think about, I think, and many people are thinking the social issues in addition to the economic crises and the political, international crises that we're dealing with, there's major social issues that have been problems in this country that have affected disproportionately people of color, Latinos, native Americans, Asians, African-Americans and those issues, I hope, and many people hope will get some focus now and hopefully get, you know, on the way to being -- being cured.

BLITZER: Jamal Simmons, your generation of African Americans probably not all that excited. I'm sure excited -- I mean, very excited, but certainly not as excited as your parents' generation, certainly not as excited necessarily as your grandparents' generation, because I've heard from so many grandparents out there, they simply didn't think it would ever be possible.

JAMAL SIMMONS: That's right. But, you know, this is a different kind of excitement for this generation, because I think what this shows is what is possible in America and for the first time when you say, you know -- you say the pledge of allegiance or when you think about the "Star-Spangled Banner" all those words have a different meaning than they did a couple months ago, because everybody has everything open to them in the United States right now and that's the difference about what has happened post the Obama presidency than before.

I think what you are going to see are a lot of African-Americans, just last night I was at an event with a lot of African-Americans here in town, the current theme was there are no more excuses now people can achieve their dreams and buckle down and work harder.

BLITZER: How did your grandparents react to all this as opposed to your parents' generation or your generation?

SIMMONS: I don't have grandparents anymore. But my grand parents' generation that I talked to, I mean the tears that were at the Thanksgiving table with my great aunt was amazing, I was with my grandmother's sister who was in a wheelchair before election day, and I asked her if she had cast an absentee ballot, I'm not casting an absentee ballot, because I'm wheeling myself into the voting booth to vote for Barack Obama in person. That's how powerful it was.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We'll continue this conversation, because we have a lot more to talk about. Barack Obama getting ready to speak at the Lincoln Memorial. We'll see his remarks and hear his remarks live here on CNN. What a beautiful scene this is. Stay with us. Our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama continues right after this.


BLITZER: All right, this is where we are right now, the museum here at Pennsylvania Avenue, Sixth and Pennsylvania northwest, if you're paying attention, if you look up on the top of the museum, you can see us. Look all the way up in the right-hand corner of your screen. You see that little tent or whatever it is up there, we're there. We're watching what's going on. We have a great vantage point. That parade is going to be coming down right in front of us and we can see the west end of the U.S. Capitol from this location.

That's us, Soledad O'Brien is here together with me, we've got the best political team on television, Gloria Borger is here, Hilary Rosen, want to welcome her back, Stephen Hayes of "The Weekly Standard" one of our CNN contributors. Anderson Cooper is right in the middle of everything down there on the mall. This one of those exciting moments, because we're building up right now, just think about this, Barack Obama getting ready to speak at the Lincoln Memorial.

O'BRIEN: What a remarkable thing I mean from a historical perspective and one has to imagine what is going through his mind right now as he thinks he has to knock out this speech and then the big one comes on Tuesday, the crowd is quite big for a concert, but of course it will be so much bigger when Tuesday's event comes. I would like to be a fly on the wall hearing both sides.

BLITZER: Both sides of the reflecting pool filling up on both sides. He's going to be speaking and honest Abe will be sitting right on top of him, basically, Gloria, think about it, all the references he made going back almost exactly two years when he announced he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in Springfield, Illinois.

BORGER: Just two boys from Illinois, huh?


BORGER: Obviously, Abe Lincoln is one of his hero's and he's modeled so much of what he's done on Lincoln. Even when Barack Obama talks about there's no red America, there's no blue America, there's just one America, it reminds you of Abraham Lincoln saying, you know, united we stand, divided. He has modeled much of his campaign, and I believe his governor thesis, on the notion of shared responsibility and Abraham Lincoln.

BLITZER: He's going to have that as a major theme in his inaugural address. We're not going to get into specifics, sort of, that's going to have to wait until the state of the union address, sort of a laundry list of specific items. But in his inaugural address that lofty theme will certainly come through, don't you think, Hilary?

ROSEN: I do. It's interesting to think of him using today, this concert that he is witnessing. It's kind of like a musical revival in a contemporary way. You know, they're doing lots of church songs done by contemporary artists and the idea that he's kind of sitting there getting the inspiration for what he ends up having to do on Tuesday is sort of a nice image for me. That he's absorbing Lincoln today, to -- to replicate.

BLITZER: I was struck earlier today, Stephen, David Axelrod, one of his top advisors, who's going to be working for him in the White House, he said, you know, in terms of the economic recovery, we're not talking about months, he said, we're talking about years, given the gravity of the economic crisis facing the United States right now.

HAYES: I think he's -- he's smart to say that, number one, because it's smart politically, to prepare people for this kind of a long campaign that they're about to launch. But I think it's also true. I mean, you've seen economists revise their predictions over the past several months from people who were saying, well, we might be nine months in and it might last another nine months because recessions usually last 18 months to people who are now saying, look, we could be looking at bad economic conditions through the 2010 election, through the 2012 election.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: The thing that Obama, I think, really admires about Abraham Lincoln is the way he was able to balance political necessity against his own moral conviction. He was able to really read the public mood and take a snapshot of where the people was and understand what it was he could do and what it was he couldn't do at any given moment. And I think that's -- that's something that Obama admires. I know talking to people who work for Obama, they say this is something that he prides himself on, trying to really understand where the American public is and what it is he can achieve and when.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: The title of the speech itself is taken from the Gettysburg address, so right there you have a connection. And he also has to, you know, Lincoln was coming in at a time when literally states were trying to secede from the union and that's, you know, as we heard earlier, the fracturing that people talk about today and how politically polarized our government is, well, that's nothing compared to what Lincoln had to deal with.


UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: And you know he continually looks back to that, again, it's his role model and his hero, in many ways.

BLITZER: Let's take another quick break. I want to make sure we're not at a commercial break when Barack Obama starts speaking, because that's the speech we're all waiting to hear right now, on this Sunday. A very important Sunday before the inauguration of Barack Obama. We'll continue our special coverage right after this.


BLITZER: On this Sunday before the inauguration of Barack Obama he's getting ready momentarily to speak over at the Lincoln Memorial. Not only the Sunday before the inauguration, it's the day before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s national holiday here in the United States. Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You know, Soledad, you've spent a lot of time studying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He would not have been an old man necessarily --


BLITZER: Even today.

O'BRIEN: Right.

BLITZER: If he had been alive. Just think how he would have felt if he could have eye witnessed Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony. O'BRIEN: People ask that a lot, they say you know, what would Martin say today? I think the answer is twofold, one, incredibly proud and probably even amazed at others have been that we are in the place in the nation where an African-American can be elected president. At the same time, when he died, he was looking to economic empowerment of poor people. It was the poor people's campaign that he was working on and I think in some ways, he'd be dismayed about the levels of poverty and sort of the situation in our inner cities.

John King talked about it yesterday as the train was rolling through. Some the neighborhoods in America that are an embarrassment to our nation. He'd be incredibly proud and also say with all this money and opportunity, we have to do better. And I think a lot of people, you know, when they get to hear the speech tomorrow that we'll be playing on the Martin Luther King Day, that they remember the thing he was fighting for and people don't lose sight of that.

BLITZER: Noon Eastern we're going to play the whole 17-minute "I have a dream speech" as it's come to be known. I have a dream clip part of it was sort of an afterthought if you will. It wasn't really part of this intent going into this speech.

O'BRIEN: Not in the original notes of the speech and the story goes, tell him about the dream, Martin, and he launched into what he had done as a sermon many times. He had delivered it, but, like most preachers and pastors kind of worked it for the crowd, and it was a hit. And it's those final two-third of speech that runs 17 minutes long and it is what is remembered. But it really ties together all the themes. It's remarkable. I am so excited for folks to get a chance to watch it.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by I want to take another quick break and continue our coverage because we don't know how long Barack Obama will be speaking for. We will cover and show you live every word that he's about to say at this scene. There it is. The Lincoln Memorial here in Washington, D.C. Our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama continues in just a moment.


BLITZER: The sun is beginning to slowly, slowly, but surely go down. It's going to be up there for a little while longer. What a majestic site the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds of thousands have already gathered over at the Lincoln Memorial. There's a concert, an extraordinary concert under way right now.

And Barack Obama momentarily will be addressing all those people. His remarks coming up live here on CNN. And as we await the remarks of Barack Obama, we are not calling it formally, Soledad, a speech, because a speech, I guess, means a bigger deal than just some remarks. Although, I suspect he's going to want to take advantage of being, literally in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln and speaking eloquently about what this day means for him.

O'BRIEN: The symbolism may be a little too much too pass up. A good opportunity to have as you said, honest Abe over your shoulder as you address the nation. No question about it. But you're right. I think also because of the celebratory nature of it, we saw Joe Biden who never gives a short speech, ever, giving a short speech. I think we'll see the same thing. It will be relatively tight.

BLITZER: That was the shortest speech Joe Biden ever gave. Maybe a minute, two minutes.

BORGER: That was history making.

BLITZER: That was pretty good.

Stephen as you watch the build-up to the inauguration continue, what goes through your mind just as far as his effort to try to reach out and forge some sort of bipartisan coalition, especially in dealing with the economy?

HAYES: Well, I think, obviously, it's very smart. There were people, I think during the campaign, as he talked about these things, who were skeptical that he was really going to be the post partisan, post racial president that he was campaigning as. Certainly throughout the transition, we've seen some of that from him. We've seen him reach across and have dinner with conservative commentators. We've seen him spend a lot of time on the phone with Republicans on Capitol Hill. Lots of face-to-face meetings, and I think certainly at the start you have to give him credit for reaching out.

BLITZER: Is there going to be a significant honeymoon as far as attacks against him from the Republican conservative opposition?

HAYES: Well, it's interesting. I think there will be. I interviewed John Boehner last week. We talked quite a bit about this. How are you going to handle this? And once in his interview with me he said basically, this guy has said that he's serious about reaching out. I take him at his word, and I believe him, which is an interesting position to be as we sit here a couple days before inauguration thinking that you've got the leader of the house Republicans, the most conservative faction here in Washington, essentially acting as a character witness for Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Having said that, though, Hillary Rosen, John Boehner was visibly upset when the speaker, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama they unveiled their economic recovery plan, $825 billion. And he suggested you know what? Nobody consulted with me and I'm the Republican leader in the House of Representatives. Where is all -- there's a lot of talk of reaching out and working and forging this coalition, but nobody asked me for my opinion about any of this.

ROSEN: Well there had been some consultation. We saw earlier in the effort for the stimulus plan the Obama team was looking at increasing the amount of tax cuts in that plan to try and win more Republican favor. The problem is, when you curry favor with Republicans you alienate your Democratic friends. And that's ended up being what happened. And they scaled back that a little bit. And I think the final plan still should get a significant amount of Republican votes. But there is a little cynical analysis going on, I think, for the Republicans, which is they don't really know how to criticize this president yet. That, you know, the country is so overwhelmingly in favor of giving him a chance to succeed at this really difficult time. And I think the Republicans would do themselves a big disservice with the American people if they came out and looked abstinent.

BLITZER: All right. While we await Barack Obama, I want to go back to the National Mall. Anderson Cooper is down there with a lot of excited people, a lot of excited visitors who have made this journey to Washington to participate in this celebration.


COOPER: It is amazing. Everyone seems to be from somewhere else. I'm with Mia? And Nyla. And Jamal. How old are you?

JAMAL: 10.

COOPER: Nyla, how old are you?

NYLA: 9.

COOPER: Why did you want to bring your kids here?

MIA: Because this is historical and it is important for the kids to be a part of this event our first black president. We're all the way from New Orleans just to see this happen.

COOPER: You couldn't actually get tickets to any of the big events.

MIA: No, but it's exciting to be here. Just the energy is great here. And we love it.

COOPER: And why do you think this is something your kids are always going to remember?

MIA: Oh, they will definitely remember it. They will definitely remember it, and they'll have something to talk about when they go back to New Orleans, with everything that's going on.

COOPER: What -- what have you liked so far? What have you done so far?

NYLA: Being here.

COOPER: Is it much colder than you thought?

NYLA: Yeah.

COOPER: Is it much colder than New Orleans?

NYLA: Yeah.

COOPER: But you are all bundled up so you're pretty warm.

NYLA: Uh-huh.

COOPER: Have you seen Barack Obama yet?

NYLA: Yeah.

COOPER: Where did you see him?


COOPER: That's where most of us get to see him. What are you looking forward to most?

NYLA: Seeing him live.

COOPER: And you are going to go to the parade on Tuesday. Do you think maybe you'll get to see him at the parade?


COOPER: Jamal, has it been exciting for you?


COOPER: What's been the most exciting thing?

JAMAL: Being here.

COOPER: Yeah? And you are a friend of theirs who came with them. But you've lived in Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I'm originally from Washington, D.C. I moved down and I came back after Katrina but decided to go back home and rebuild in New Orleans. So Mia and I decided to come back and we stay with family for this momentous event.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you think Barack Obama is going to make a difference in New Orleans?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Definitely, he came and helped before Katrina happened. We're definitely looking forward to a change.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been slow with the rebuilding it but it needs a lot more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's come a long way. We're excited for more change in New Orleans and we need it.

COOPER: And what are you going to do tomorrow? Tomorrow is the Martin Luther King anniversary

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're probably going to celebrate out here somewhere. COOPER: You just basically have been walking around and kind of enjoying the atmosphere?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Taking pictures in front of the capitol and the monument. Just taking a lot of pictures and just enjoying the atmosphere. Feeling the excitement in the air.

COOPER: It just seems like you meet people who are complete strangers. But people just kind of want to talk to each other and experience this together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We gravitate towards each other. Because it's just a feeling of change and excitement. It's just so exciting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've all been waiting for.

COOPER: All right. Well you have a great trip. And I hope you have a lot of fun. I hope you get to see Barack Obama. What do you say to Barack Obama if you get to see him?


COOPER: How about you, Jamal?

JAMAL: Congratulations.

COOPER: That would be good. That would be good thing. All right. Cool. Thanks. Have a great trip here. All right.