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Final Preps At Inaugural Site; Secret Service Countersnipers; "A Dream Come True"; Changing Views of Obama

Aired January 19, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Who's going to not attend the inauguration of Barack Obama?
One member of his inner circle won't be there. We will explain what's going on.

And we're also going to take you on a rare visit inside Air Force One. That would be Barack Obama's new plane. They've just spruced it up. They've got it ready for him. And we're going to go inside for a closer look. You're going to want to see this. It's rare, indeed.

To our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Our coverage of the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama continues.

Gloria Borger is here.

We're on the roof at the Nuseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

Don Lemon is here with us.

And Donna Brazile remains with us.

Amy Holmes, an excellent piece on the fashion of the first lady- to-be.



BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

BORGER: What is she going to wear?

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We know it will be long and American.


BLITZER: That's all. That's all we know. BORGER: That's all we know.

BLITZER: We don't know who the designer is going to be...

BORGER: Not yet.

BLITZER: ...because a lot of people are -- are wondering.

HOLMES: They're anxiously awaiting.

BLITZER: All right, let's go up to the west front of the U.S. Capitol right now.

That's where our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is getting ready to set the scene for us, what we can expect tomorrow morning -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is actually an extraordinary thing we have. We really have a close-up look at the very place that Barack Obama is going to get -- to be administered the oath of office here. It is the west front of the Capitol.

And let me just set the scene here for you, Wolf.

Over here, that door right there, that actually is normally open to people like me who cover Congress. I usually walk in that door. But in about 19 -- 18 hours, Barack Obama is going to walk out that door and come down here to become the 44th president of the United States.

You see all those chairs there. That is going to be for former Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush. They're going to have senators there.

And members of the Supreme Court -- actually, two members of the Supreme Court are going to be participating in the ceremony tomorrow.

John Paul Stevens will be administering the oath to then Vice President Joe Biden.

And then, at 11:56, that's right -- this is to the minute here, Wolf. At 11:56, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, will administer to -- to Barack Obama.

And I also want to show you -- I think you can see behind me, there's basically an orchestra pit underneath where then President Obama will be. It is the United States Marine Corps band. They will begin to play "Hail to the Chief" just moments after then President Obama takes that oath.

And then, of course, he is going to deliver his inaugural address.

And I want to again show our viewers the kind of scene that he and everyone else up here are going to be able to see, because this is the west front of the Capitol. And it has a view of the entire National Mall. You see that from our camera -- really a stunning view. It already is very full, but it will be much more full, we expect, tomorrow, because people will be able to go all the way down, past that Washington Monument you see, to the Lincoln Memorial for this event tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be jam-packed, indeed. And you're going to be there with us every step of the way, Dana.

Let's go over toward the White House.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry is standing by -- Ed, what are you picking up about the inaugural address?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting. Aides say the speech has really been done for about a week now and that the president-elect is really just tweaking it. He got the bulk of it done about eight or nine days ago when he was still at the Hay-Adams Hotel -- really put his own imprint on it.

And the big point that he's going to talk about is trying to usher in a new era of responsibility, specifically in the wake of the financial crisis, the trust that has been lost, not only on Wall Street, but in Washington, as well.

And he's going to talk a lot, big theme-wise, about trying to bring the country together to face all these challenge -- challenges ahead and talk about them a lot.

And then come over here. Obviously, he'll be in the reviewing stand behind me for the parade route after this big speech.

And then they want to try to send the signal that they're hitting the ground running from day one -- maybe their first full day, not Tuesday itself. But on Wednesday morning, that he's going to have meetings with his economic advisers. He's also going to have meetings with military commanders, change the mission in Iraq and immediately try to show that he's not only in control, but that he's going to have a clean break from some Bush administration policies.

On top of that, there are also going to be some executive orders. They've been having a lot of behind the scenes meetings to get those all teed up. Some are them make -- they are going to be big in terms of changing policy quickly, like on abortion. They want to reverse a Bush policy that prohibits U.S. funding of family planning programs. Another one to close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. That's going to take longer, even after the executive order is issued, though, as you know. It's going to take months to actually implement that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is going to be with us, just as Dana, at every step of the way, as well.

Gloria, you're picking up, what?

One of the first orders he's going to give. BORGER: One of the things they're thinking about doing first is change some of those ethics rules, Wolf. They want to strengthen the lobbying rules -- you know, how long you have to be out of government before you can lobby government and just kind of general ethics in government rules for their administration, for people who work in government, to set the tone that this is going to be different.

BLITZER: And, Donna, I want to go back to you, because we saw where Dana is up there at the west front of the U.S. Capitol. You're going to have a pretty good seat yourself.

Where are you going to be sitting?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'll be in Section 5. It's not exactly on the platform, but it's right in front of the presidential platform. And it's a good seat. And, hopefully, I'll be able to -- to see some cool people and take a couple of pictures and run over to CNN afterward and share all of the history with the CNN viewing audience.

BLITZER: Have to got some tissues ready to go, too?

BRAZILE: I have a -- I have a big, big box of Kleenex that I will be -- don't worry.


BORGER: You mean we're not going to have you miked at the ceremony?

BRAZILE: No. I don't want you to hear the sobbing.


I have this "Washington Times" here because in this paper, Donna Brazile is voted the fourth most influential African-American in the country. I forget what page it's on right now. We got this this morning.

You write for this, right?

BRAZILE: I write. My column is in there today.

LEMON: How do you feel?

BRAZILE: I was in Africa last week, in Nigeria, along with President Clinton, Jeb Bush, Andy Card, Karl Rove, Howard Dean and, of course, Paul Begala. And it was such a wonderful moment.

People were so enthusiastic about President-Elect Barack Obama. And I wrote my column about why Obama must succeed. Because the whole world is watching us.

But there's an article in there today about African-Americans of this moment.

BLITZER: All right, guys, hold on for a minute. We're going to continue this discussion. And Amy is going to weigh in, as well, and tell us -- because she's getting her gowns ready for the balls tomorrow night.


BLITZER: I know a lot of pressure on Amy Holmes, as well.

In the meantime, let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, no pressure, but as President Barack Obama has just four years to save the Earth -- well, that's a dire warning that comes from NASA scientist Jim Hansen, who says it is urgent for our new president to take the lead and do something about climate change.

Hansen says in four years, it will be too late if nothing is done. The consequences of doing nothing include rising oceans, collapsing ice sheets, flooding, dying species and severely disrupted weather patterns.

Carbon levels have already sent greenhouse warming past the point of no return and efforts to stop them from rising further are not working, according to Hansen.

Clearly, a new approach is needed.

Hansen is urging the Obama administration to order an investigation of the world's icecaps as the first order of business for the Climate Office. He's been asking the British Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences to do this. But so far, it hasn't happened yet.

And he makes it clear that the only way he thinks global warming can be solved is if the United States takes a leadership role. Without the U.S. aggressively perusing solutions, Hansen says we are doomed.

Here's the question: Where does global warming rank on the list of things that concern you?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, the Obamas getting ready to move in, the Bushes getting ready to move out. We're talking about the White House. We'll tell you how this works, tomorrow. Stand by. We have new information for you on that.

Also, Barack Obama is getting ready for his new plane. It's called Air Force One. They've just readied it for the new president. But before he boards Air Force One, we had a chance to do so. We're going to take you inside. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Years from now, when we've made the changes we believe in, when more families can afford to see a doctor, when our children -- when Malia and Sasha and your children inherit a planet that's a little cleaner and safer, when the world sees America differently, when America sees itself as a nation less divided and more united, you'll be able to look back with pride and say that this was the moment when it all began.


BLITZER: That was almost exactly a year ago -- a little bit more than a year ago in Iowa -- the Iowa caucuses, January 2008. And that was the moment for Barack Obama where, some will say -- and he certainly does -- it all began, because he proved -- he proved that had he could win a nearly completely white vote in Iowa. And he went on from Iowa to win the Democratic presidential nomination and then capture the presidency itself.

Earlier today, he also had a chance to speak about a new genuine American hero -- the pilot of that US Airways flight that made that emergency landing in the Hudson River. His name, Captain "Sully" Sullenberger.

I want to play for you that little excerpt of what Barack Obama said about this hero.


OBAMA: Dr. King used to say, you know, if you -- if you sweep floors for a living, then make sure you're the best floor sweeper there has ever been, all right?

And, you know, I spoke to "Sully," the pilot who landed that US Air flight in the Hudson. And he said, you know, me and my crew, we were just doing our job.

And it made you think, if everybody did their job -- whatever that job was -- as well as that pilot did his job, we'd be in pretty good shape. So, you know, doing your job well, finishing your job, you know, cooperating as a team, all that stuff's important.


BLITZER: And he will be a special guest here in Washington -- Sully Sullenberger, the pilot of that US Airways flight.

There will be one individual who won't be attending the inaugural festivities out on the west front of the U.S. Capitol.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is standing by.

She's got some details to explain why -- Barbara. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, a lot of people are here on foot tonight here in Washington, D.C. . One man that will not be -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Senior Pentagon officials confirming he is being taken to an undisclosed military location outside of Washington in case of a doomsday scenario.

In case there were to, God forbid, some sort of attack, he will be at a military base with enough communication and personnel to command the government. This has been done before, of course. In State of the Union addresses, one cabinet member always left behind.

But one very interesting thing we learned today, Wolf. The Pentagon, for some time, has been sending a top level official out of town whenever Mr. Gates or the Defense secretary is at a national event like this, for security reasons.

But Mr. Gates will be back bright and early Wednesday morning. There will meetings about Guantanamo Bay, meetings about troop drawdowns in Iraq, building up troops in Afghanistan, two wars to run -- it all gets started Wednesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It does, indeed.

All right, the agenda will be enormous. There will be plenty of work to do.

But first, the ceremony tomorrow. That's what we're all waiting for, noon Eastern. Stay with us for complete coverage.

Once he becomes president, we've been reminding our viewers, he'll have a new plane. It won't be a chartered commercial jetliner. It will be this aircraft -- Air Force One.

And over the past several days, they've been getting it ready for a new commander-in-chief. We went inside to take a Closer Look. We spoke to the pilot. We're going to show you what's going on, as they get ready for a new president of the United States.


BLITZER: As you can imagine, security intense, to put it mildly, right there in the nation's capital right now, because they're expecting not just hundreds of thousands of people, but maybe millions of people coming to Washington, D.C. .

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is about to take us behind-the-scenes to see how law enforcement gets ready for what is about to happen -- Jeanne, set the scene.

What have you picked up?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you're here on the parade route tomorrow and look up on the rooftops, you'll see the men in black with rifles at the ready to protect the president.






MESERVE (voice-over): They shoot with great accuracy at great distances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, right arm.


MESERVE: And call it a blend of art and science. They are the countersnipers of the U.S. Secret Service.

MARK SULLIVAN, DIRECTOR, U.S. SECRET SERVICE: They're very good. And I would put them among the best in the world at what they -- what they do.

MESERVE: The countersnipers consider themselves the most elite unit in the uniformed Secret Service. Nine weeks of intense training turns them into Olympic quality shooters. They have to requalify monthly. Standards are so high, half of the officers accepted for training wash out.


MESERVE: Each countersniper uses a rifle customized for his height and arm length. They work in two man teams. Though both are expert marksmen, only one shoots at a time. The other gauges the wind, which can change a bullet's trajectory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Line in the forehead.

LT. BERNARD HALL, COUNTERSNIPER UNIT: There are different methods -- smoke from chimneys, undulatings and the mirage from heat, foliage on the trees, flagpoles.

MESERVE: When a president is going to move along a public route, the countersnipers scout it out to assess threat and find good vantage points for themselves.

On Inauguration Day, some will position themselves on rooftops, with a view of the parade route, the crowd and other buildings where snipers could be hiding. The cold will be biting. But the countersnipers can wear lightweight gloves and they have tricks for keeping mental focus no matter what the weather.

HALL: When it's hot, we think about the cold days in January. And in January, we're thinking about what's happening in -- in August. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: And they'll be thinking of August tomorrow. They make no effort to hide, by the way. They want the bad guys to know they're there, ready to shoot, if necessary -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: As we say, security is tight, very visible, but probably some of the most important aspects of security invisible to most of us. That's the way it should be.

Kate Bolduan is also watching what's going on at the White House, as one family gets to move in, another family, Kate, as you know, gets to move out.

How does this happen?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, first, just take a look at the crowds here that are waiting to see the first family since morning.


BOLDUAN: We're all anxiously awaiting the swearing-in of Barack Obama.

But first, the Obamas themselves are waiting to make that big, final move.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): As the president-elect moves into power Tuesday, another very big move is happening away from the spotlight -- the actual move in to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So a lot does happen in a very short period of time. You're going to have your -- you're going to have a new home made for a family, so that it's ready for them to feel as if it is a place that -- that they can call home.

BOLDUAN: So how does that work?

Teams of people, including 90 resident staffers, are standing by to help in another time-honored presidential transition tradition -- quickly replacing the Bushes belongings with the Obamas', led by the Chief Ushers Office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Working with the Chief Ushers Office, he has a floral team and he has a chef. And he has lots of folks that can help make this a very smooth transition.

BOLDUAN: A complete transformation that must be finished in a matter of hours, starting inauguration morning and ready for the new first family that same evening. It's a final dash and the culmination of a lengthy process that began days after the election, when the Obamas first visited their new home. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had plenty of questions this week, as I'm sure Obama's transition team has, as well, like what's going to be here, what's going to be there. It's not going to happen all overnight. But certainly, they all have a sense that this is their space and it is -- it is -- they'll have plenty of time to make it a home.


BOLDUAN: Now, while the first -- the White House says the first lady is very organized and has already moved almost everything out, one thing that will be left behind, as it tradition, is a personal note from the outgoing president to the incoming -- a personal note left in a desk drawer of the Oval Office -- Wolf.

And all these people...

BLITZER: All right...

BOLDUAN: ...are waiting to see that move happen.


BLITZER: We're just as anxious as anyone else.

All right, Kate, thanks very much.

And thank your friends over there for us, as well.

We'll take another quick break and continue special coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're standing by for a special guest, the Reverend Al Sharpton. He's coming by on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s national holiday. We'll talk to him about that and more.

And remember, stand by for something you rarely see -- what's happening inside Air Force One right now, as it gets ready for a new president.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: What an exciting day it's been here in the nation's capital -- recalling, remembering, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chris Lawrence is down on the National Mall with a little scene setter -- a lot of people are just amazed, Chris, that on this day before Barack Obama becomes president of the United States, it's a national holiday remembering Dr. King.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are so excited about the inauguration. But they're also raising some questions about what it means for Martin Luther King Day. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)



LAWRENCE (voice-over): The preacher and the politician -- some see the diverse crowds marching to Barack Obama's inauguration and say that's it -- Martin Luther King's dream fulfilled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This really is a dream come true. Because, for one thing, you remember the hurt. You remember when people couldn't walk together. It was -- it's like I didn't think I would live to see this coming.

LAWRENCE: Singer Wyclef Jean celebrated King's Day in Washington and said there's a generation gap in how people perceive King's legacy.

WYCLEF JEAN, SINGER: Because you know there's still some older people that have racism in their blood, you know what I'm saying?

And we want them to know we, the younger generation, we don't believe in racism. You know, we don't believe in color.

LAWRENCE: Others say the inauguration completely changes King's holiday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it will ever be the same again.

LAWRENCE: This family says people have been focusing too much of Martin Luther King Day on the man instead of the movement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After Barack Obama, I think we'll never be able to really look at Dr. Martin Luther King as a one person crusader, but that -- that there was a movement around him. And there certainly was this movement in the last year with Barack Obama and just the amazing coalition that he had.


LAWRENCE: And it will be interesting to see if that coalition is as strong and united next year, when we're celebrating Dr. King's Day again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence down on The Mall.

Thank you very much.

Joining us now, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

He's here at the Nuseum with us.

Leslie Sanchez is joining our conversation, as well.

Don Lemon is still here.

Gloria Borger.

You guys are not leaving.

Reverend Sharpton, you reached -- you tried to reach out to some political rivals today. It was an extraordinary development.

Tell our viewers what happened.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Well, the National Action Network and I a King Day memorial here in Washington at a local school, Cardoza High School. Joel Klein co-chaired it and...

BLITZER: The New York City police commissioner...

SHARPTON: New York City education chief.

BLITZER: The public school commissioner.



SHARPTON: And John McCain came. And so did Newt Gingrich, along with seven mayors of different cities talking about education. But we feel the new civil rights cause is education.

But for John McCain to come out -- and he said tonight Barack Obama is coming to honor me, I wanted to come out and honor Dr. King and stand with you, Reverend Sharpton, who disagrees with me on everything about education. We've got to close the achievement gap, black to white, in education.

And Newt Gingrich, who had me come to the Republican Convention.

So I thought it was a spirit of, on King Day, reaching out. I thought it was surprising. But I thought it was a good thing to do.

BLITZER: And John McCain often said, during the campaign and elsewhere, one of his great regrets in life is that he voted against making this day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday. Do you talk to him about that?

SHARPTON: Yes, we did talk about it which is why I thought it was good he came. I admit I was cynical last year when he said that. I said, it's easier to say that now for votes. He's not running this year. To come back and to come back to a rally like mine where he doesn't know how he'll even get the reaction of the crowd, he had no votes to gain this year, so I give him credit.

BLITZER: How as the reaction of the crowd not only to John McCain, but Newt Gingrich?

SHARPTON: The reaction to both were very polite, very supportive of when McCain said that he wanted to come when he wasn't looking for votes. I think people felt it was the right thing to do just as I must say a lot of conservatives are happy that President-elect Obama's going to a dinner honoring him tonight. If anything shows the spirit of Dr. King, I think it's reaching out even though we don't agree. We don't have to compromise, but we can be civil and courteous toward each other.

BLITZER: Leslie, you've got to love it. Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, they're all celebrating this national holiday.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We should make a commemorative plate because I think it's very exciting to have this. This is really truly historic. It's an important movement. It's an important step for this country. And in the spirit of this, these issues of education, these issues that we can collectively come together on, I think you're going to see bipartisanship. There is a movement to get this country going to keep us strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But is this a lesson to the Republican Party about opening up the tent and being a bit more diverse and accepting people? Do you think that they're reaching out to people?

SANCHEZ: You know what's interesting is you have leadership. It's individual leaders who say this is the way the Republican Party should move. They lead by example. This is exactly what it takes. And it's a relationship you build over time.

BORGER: Reverend Sharpton, I have to ask you a Democratic political question though and that is who's going to be the next senator from the state of New York? Now you met with Caroline Kennedy -- what's your --

SHARPTON: The only one that really knows is Governor Paterson. He and I talk a lot. He really makes his own decisions. I think the one thing to assure your candidate will not win is to try to put pressure on him. David Paterson will not be pressured. I have no idea who he's going to chose. I will support whoever he chooses.

But I just felt that a lot of people were ganging on up Caroline Kennedy and I do not agree. I think she's qualified. I think that anybody who's worked as she has in education, wrote seven books, certainly is a serious candidate. I supported Al Franken in Minnesota and certainly, she has more of a background than he does in terms of serious work in the community and Al is a great guy. So I think that Caroline was beat up unfairly but I'll go where ever the governor goes.

BLITZER: Whatever Governor Paterson decides, how is your view, your opinion of Barack Obama changed over the years? I go back to the Democratic convention in 2004 when he gave the keynote address. You knew him then. You see him now about to become the 44th president of the United States. How has Al Sharpton changed his view about this man from Illinois?

SHARPTON: I didn't know him well in '04. We had just met. I had seen him a few times but we had just met. We started talking really in '06 and we got to know each other. The more I talked to him, the more I began to appreciate what he was trying to do. He's grown. I think he's different than he was in '04, maybe all of us are. I think he really believes in certain things and he does not mind telling you, his thing to me is Reverend, let's talk blunt and he's very blunt, I agree with this, I disagree with that. I think that's what you want in a leader of a nation. He's never tried to be a civil rights leader. He says I understand your issues. Here's where I am. Here's where I'm not. He and I are not that far apart in age. We're like six years apart. So I understand some of what he says about America. When I grew up, there were already black mayors. I never sat in the back of a bus but I chose activism. He chose to go in government and our best days I hope they compliment each other but I think he's the solid man for these times and we're going to support him and I hope we do from every angle of the American public.

BORGER: What about the burden on him right now? The public opinion is so high, people wish him so much success. Isn't there a huge burden on him to succeed and how do you deal with that as president?

SHARPTON: I think it's a huge challenge more than a burden and I think he can rise to that occasion. I think the fact that he has represented a breath of fresh air. The fact that his predecessor was so unpopular and the fact that he represents history puts a lot on him, but I think if there was one person that could bare it, it's Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very interesting because whatever challenges that he gets makes him better. When he had to deal with the race problem and any other issues that he had to deal with, it made him a better candidate.

BLITZER: Hold that thought Reverend Sharpton because we're up against a commercial break, but I want to thank you very much for coming on this important day. Good that you could spend a few moments with us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Leslie, no choice, she had to come here. She's part of the best political team on television. I don't know if you've heard me ever say that. Good to have you here with us. Thanks very much.

We're going to continue to watch what's going on. Jack Cafferty, I think has got "The Cafferty File." That's coming up.

Also, a rare look inside Air Force One. We'll take you there. We're standing by. We spent some time inside and we'll show it to you as it gets ready for a new commander in chief.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" on this historic day, the day before the inauguration of a president -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: One of NASA's top scientists has suggested we have four years to start making end roads into the problem of global warming and if we don't, he says it will simply be too late. So the question this hour is: Where does global warming rank on the list of things that concern you?

Jerry writes from Georgia: "It ranks extremely high if it is true. Governments and media have made a real mess out of the public's ability to discern what is true and what is false. I will act as though there is true global warming occurring, because this decision leads to conservation of resources. But I don't have any idea if it is in fact really happening. Do you? Really."

Ed in Rhode Island writes: "Climate change has been my number one issue for years. It's extremely unfortunate that the outgoing president and industry pals spent millions in propaganda campaigns to debate our leading scientists' arguments and create a gray area of doubt for our citizens. The world's aware and involved, but not the majority of Americans. The wars and global economy pail in comparison to the consequences of global warming."

Don in Michigan writes: "Come on Jack. Give us 24 more hours to enjoy this historic event before we start prioritizing our many big issues. I don't think it's asking too much and I think the problems will be there for us on Wednesday."

Megan, Ohio: "It certainly has to rank behind the economy and our wars in the Middle East. I think it is important because of our energy situation. It will need to get its share of attention in the next four years."

Albert in New York writes: "It's tied for first with everything else."

And Ed writes: "It's snowing today and has been cold all week. Global warming is high on my list but will settle for local warming."

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

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.

President Bush spent the last eight years flying aboard Air Force One. Barack Obama getting ready to spend at least the next four flying aboard Air Force One. They've been cleaning it up and getting it ready for him. We went inside over these past few days. We're going to take you inside Air Force One when we come back.

You've seen some movies that depict Air Force One, Harrison Ford for example. The escape pod, is there such an escape pod?


BLITZER: Air Force One is ready for the next president of the united states. In a CNN exclusive, Air Force One pilot Colonel Mark Tillman takes us on board. He tells about the desperate hours on 9/11 and the secret flight into Baghdad. We ran that interview on Friday, but now, one flight that drew criticism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Let's talk about Katrina and that fly over. We saw the picture of the president looking out the window, caused some controversy as you know. What was it like on that day flying over the devastation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?

COL. MARK TILLMAN, AIR FORCE ONE PILOT: For me, it was special because I went to Tulane University in New Orleans. I spent four years in college in New Orleans. I was very familiar with the area, very familiar with the lake. I was very interested when I flew. We brought the president out of the ranch. We brought him into that area. We were descending into New Orleans going by the airport, heading into the city, the president was sitting in the jump seat and we started picking up on some of the flooding that was occurring at the time and we went around the superdome and totally my fault to get - I needed to bring him down below the clouds so he could see the area and that was the president's intent that day was to see exactly what was going on in the area, to see the superdome area, the low lying areas and that's what we did. We showed him it. The navigator went downstairs, started pointing out all the different areas in the New Orleans region. For us in the cockpit, it was amazing. Just for me, growing up there in college, I spent a lot of time out at the lake and all the homes were underwater. To me the amazing thing was the lake front basically the carnival area out there, a roller coaster came out of the water. You could see the top of the rollercoaster and then went back in the water. It gave you a sense of just how much water was there and how much devastation. The president saw all that. I'm not a political man. I'm an air force officer, but what I saw was the president was actually concerned about the whole area. I know a lot of the media had concerns the way we flew around the area, but the goal was to show him the area on the way home.

BLITZER: There was never any intent to land right then. The president himself said he was afraid it would have disrupted the recovery operations. Law enforcement for example having to come and protect him.

TILLMAN: There was no way I could have landed.

BLITZER: Even in Baton Rouge?

TILLMAN: No, because for the president to go to an event site, we just can't take the president into an area and go to an event without all the capability around him. That day going into New Orleans, I had to stay well above the helicopters providing relief efforts. I stayed above them, I stayed out of their way. That's the goal in a disaster zone is to stay out of the way of the relief.

The president coming in there, it dedicates too many resources to the protection of the president and it takes away from the people. The president and staff were very sensitive to that and they always are. Every time I fly that is a major concern is to get him there. We got him there as quickly as we could after that.

BLITZER: The Katrina flight, the secret Thanksgiving flight to Baghdad in 2003, and 9/11, were Colonel Tillman's most memorable flights as the pilot of Air Force One. TILLMAN: September 11, to me, what a lot of folks in America didn't get to see was a man making a lot of key decisions based on the information he had at the time and protecting not only my crew, myself, but the American public. A lot of folks didn't see that and it's unfortunate they didn't see that.

Same with Katrina. The president was concerned about coming into the area and then shortly after that, when we could get him there, we took him into the New Orleans airport. That to me was, I sat on the plane here, we had Mayor Nagin, we had all the folks from the region, waiting on the aircraft for us after the president did his tour and we had a chance to talk to those folks. The amazing part was in front of the aircraft there was a line of helicopters coming in with many of the injured, many of the folks that they had saved which is a tribute to the coast guard, the army. They sprang into action. So I mean there wasn't a concern about who was running the show. The military came into action and the local responders all came into action saving lives as they do every time. You could see it firsthand right there.


BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue our look inside Air Force One when we come back. We'll show you some things you've probably never seen aboard this huge aircraft. We're also going to tell you about some misperceptions about Air Force One that are out there.


TILLMAN: The president has sleeping quarters, the staff have quarters to carry out their work. It is not a king's plane as such. It is a flying White House.



BLITZER: Barack Obama will soon learn that Air Force One has extraordinary capabilities that let the president run the country literally in midair. It's ready to go back to work for him. It's just been cleaned up for the new president of the United States. Right now, more of my exclusive inside look at Air Force One with the presidential pilot, Colonel Mark Tillman.


BLITZER: You actually started flying Air Force One as a co-pilot back when the first President Bush was still president?

TILLMAN: Yes. Started flying 747 and then stayed in the unit for President Clinton and then eventually took over the unit during President Bush 43.

BLITZER: So the last eight years, you've been the pilot, chief pilot, for Air Force One.

TILLMAN: Yes, I have.

BLITZER: From your perspective, what's it been like to fly the president of the United States?

TILLMAN: It's an amazing honor that the United States Air Force gave me to be in command of a unit of just unbelievable people, 235 of the air force's finest. It's a great opportunity to work in the government work and fly, truly an honor to fly for President Bush and Mrs. Bush. Whatever he's asked us to do, we have made happen. So we have gone to a lot of places around the world representing the United States of America.

BLITZER: Tell us about this plane. It's basically a Boeing 747.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. It's similar to what the airliners have. It's a 747-200. Has the same configuration of the majority of the airliners with the exception of we've got a few extras for the president.

BLITZER: A big bedroom where the commander in chief can pull down the shades and get some shuteye during the long overseas trips. They can convert to couches but President Bush was said to prefer to keep them as beds. A special spot for the Secret Service. They are never far away.

And here, one of the two galleys on the plane capable of feeding up to 100 passengers. When the president or his top aides ask for coffee, there's no need to ask how they like it. It's already posted on a card. For President Bush, it looks like he takes it black with equal.

Since the president can never leave the job behind, the flying oval office is ready for briefings and secure phone calls. His flight jacket at the ready, along with the first lady's. Just down the hall is a conference room for meetings with aides.

The situation room in the west wing of the White House, we know he's got extraordinary communications capabilities in the situation room. Does he have the same capabilities aboard this Air Force One?

TILLMAN: Absolutely. After September 11th, we made a tremendous amount of communication upgrades so he has the ability to video teleconference. He can address the nation. We can get the video of him addressing the nation down to the ground so they can get it out to the news networks and get it to the American people. He has the ability to contact anyone, any time, anywhere in the world, through our communications suite aboard and to run the country while on board Air Force One.

BLITZER: He never done that yet, correct me if I'm wrong, actually addressed the nation while flying on board Air Force One.

TILLMAN: He has not. The video teleconferencing capability he has used with his staff, but we have not gone ahead and addressed the nation from the aircraft while flying.

BLITZER: But he can do. You have tested it, it works?

TILLMAN: Correct. He has capability to stream the video to the ground and get it out to the news networks.

BLITZER: Up the stairs from the president's quarters, the cockpit, where the pilots can chart a course halfway around the world without refueling. And behind that, the crew quarters.

You have seen some of the movies which depict Air Force One. Harrison Ford, for example, the escape pod. Is there such an escape pod?


BLITZER: A module aboard to get the president to parachute out?

TILLMAN: No. There's no escape pod whatsoever. There's no parachutes for the president, either. So it's an aircraft similar to the airliners and that's what he will do. It's a four engine plane that's highly capable. No, he does not need an escape pod. It was a nice movie.

BLITZER: It was a great movie. What are some of the other misconceptions that folks out there have about Air Force One?

TILLMAN: It's a flying White House. There's no gold inlaid sinks. We don't have anything amazing on the aircraft. It is a flying White House. The design of the plane is just that. The president has sleeping quarters, the staff have quarters to carry out their work, but it is not a king's plane as such. It's a flying White House.

BLITZER: Since you flew for President Clinton, the first president Bush, and the second president Bush, you make sure that the plane is sort of suited to their needs.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. Same thing with President-elect Obama, when he comes on board now, we will take a good look at what his likes, dislikes are, make sure we have everything available for the first family.

BLITZER: Make sure what kind of food he likes, he will be well taken care of?

TILLMAN: Absolutely. We're ready to go, we're stocked. Whatever he needs, we'll take care of.

BLITZER: When the beige carpet turns to blue, it means you're leaving the flying White House and entering the area for guests and the press. Passengers may walk behind their assigned seats but should ask permission before walking forward. The seat belts here do not have the presidential seal. There's also a space that can be converted for the most somber purpose of all, transporting the remains of a president. The tables and chairs are removed to make enough space for the remains to lie in state.

What are you going to miss most about this plane?

TILLMAN: I think what I'm going to miss most is working with the staff. There's just great people on the staff and in the Air Force One family. We're a unique family of folks dedicated to perfection. So what I'll miss most is driving into the complex every day and I'll drive around the complex and the plane is being waxed, the plane is being taken care of.

The amazing part is, we've done a little over 1,600 sorties with the President of the United States on board, a little over 1,670 Air Force One flights. We have never delayed the president yet. There is no organization in the military that can say -- make that statement. The only way I can say that is, I have 235 of the finest airmen, officers, the military can offer.

BLITZER: They're assigned to this responsibility. Talk about next Tuesday. What's going to happen next Tuesday, because I take it that's going to be your last flight.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. Saturday was my last Air Force One flight with the president, taking him to the commissioning of his father's ship. We brought him back here. The president spoke to all the troops here and thanked us for everything we had done. That was just an amazing day for us. I've done my last Air Force One flight. On the 20th, I'll fly President Bush back home and we'll take him back home and get a chance to talk with the president and see him in a relaxed atmosphere. Get him back home, get the first family back and give him some need relaxing. He's done amazing things, in my mind. He's been an outstanding commander in chief for us.

BLITZER: Then you'll drop him off in Crawford, Texas, then you'll come back to Andrews air force base. You won't be the pilot anymore, will you?

TILLMAN: No, I will not. The duties will be handed over to Colonel Scott Turner, and Scott will take over after the 20th. He'll go ahead and president President-elect Obama's pilot at that point.

BLITZER: What will you do?

TILLMAN: I'll retire shortly after. I have accepted a job out in Scottsdale, Arizona flying for the owner of Discount Tire, working in his corporate flight department.

BLITZER: Little bit different than this.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. But after interviewing with him, he's got the same kind of folks, all dedicated to perfection and excellence. I'm honored to come work for him.

BLITZER: Let me end the interview the way I started, by thanking you for your service to the U.S. Air Force and the American people. Good luck to you.

TILLMAN: Thank you.


BLITZER: Exciting day over at Andrews Air Force Base.

You're looking at these live pictures here of the National Mall. They're getting ready for the inauguration of Barack Obama. It's coming up very, very soon. This was a day, though, on this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, he wanted to reflect on national service, making sure that everyone chips in and gets involved.