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Treasury Pick Grilled on Capitol Hill; First Lady's First Moves

Aired January 21, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: President Obama's executive orders, this hour, the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay next on his agenda.

Plus, taxing questions for Mr. Obama's treasury pick, Timothy Geithner grilled about his $34,000 mistake.

And Michelle Obama's first moves as first lady, the role she's carving out for herself right now. The best political team on television is standing by.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

For the new president of the United States, every moment of this, his first full day in office, is a snapshot of history in the making. We have complete coverage of what's going on involving his economic rescue plan, what's happening in the Iraq war, what's happening as far as the Middle East is concerned.

We also have reporters covering every, every step of the way.

Reporters are standing by. Dana Bash is there. Dan Lothian is at the White House. Don Lemon is still with us. We want to welcome Soledad O'Brien. She's coming in as well.

Let's go to Dan Lothian first.

A very busy day, Dan, on this, the first day of Barack Obama's presidency.


And what has been wildly anticipated, CNN can now confirm, CNN learning from a senior administration official and a congressional aide that President Barack Obama is tomorrow expected to sign three additional executive orders focusing on the military facility in Guantanamo Bay.

The first order will focus on demanding that Gitmo be closed within a year. The second order will formally ban torture. And the third will order systematic review of detention facilities. Now, aides had been saying all along that the president would waste no time tackling some of his campaign promises. Well, today, he got right down to business.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): In a clear sign the Mideast crisis is high on his agenda, President Barack Obama called key leaders in the region -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; Jordan's King Abdullah; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the president used his first day in office "... to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab/Israeli peace from the beginning of his term." Mr. Obama then used his pen to sign weeping executive orders dealing with ethics in the executive branch.

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: However long we are keepers of the public trust, we should never forget that we are here as public servants, and public service is a privilege.

LOTHIAN: The orders would prevent former lobbyists from working on anything they once lobbied on over the past two years. Once leaving the job, they will not be allowed to lobby the Obama administration as long as he is in office. Gifts from lobbyists are not allowed. And all executive branch employees are being asked to sign a contract that will limit what they can do for two years after leaving.

Earlier in the day, the first couple, along with Mr. and Mrs. Biden, the Clintons and other government officials, attended the traditional prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral, where, for the first time, a female minister, Reverend Sharon Watkins, delivered the sermon.

REV. SHARON WATKINS, CHRISTIAN CHURCH: We need you, Mr. President, to hold your ground.

We need you, leaders of this nation, to stay centered on the values that have guided us in the past.


LOTHIAN: The president also met with his top economic advisers, including Larry Summers, pushing that $825 billion stimulus plan.

This is something that the president believes can create more jobs and really get the economy going again. He also met with top military advisers, military officials, really working on Iraq, trying to figure out the best way to start pulling those troops out within the next 16 months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent, thanks very much.

There are several dramatic pictures coming out of the White House today. I want to put some of them up.

Soledad O'Brien is joining us once again to talk about some of these pictures, and more.

It was a delicate balance he had to strike on this, the first full day of his presidency, signing executive orders, convening meetings with the military leadership, the economic team, and simply, as we see there, walking into the Oval Office.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: What a difference a day makes. Yesterday, we were talking about pageantry and waxing poetic. Today, it's really down to earth and down to work for President Obama.

You know, I think that's really important, because he is a master politician. And he is well aware that the people, Wolf, all those people we saw waving flags on the Mall yesterday, require some action. It's not enough to deliver speeches and talk about a hopeful future.

You actually have to do something meaningful. So, these are really quite tremendous pictures to see, because, of course, for this new president, everything he does will be history-making, probably for at least the very first year certainly. But also the message he's sending, again, as a master politician, is, especially in that message to lobbyists, it's a new day. It's a new generation coming into Washington, D.C. Of course, people will hold his feet to the fire when it comes to what he delivers.

BLITZER: As they should. Soledad is staying with us for the full hour.

Stand by, Soledad.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill right now. Dana Bash is getting some news on the next secretary of state.

What are you learning, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are learning that she is now officially the secretary of state. Hillary Clinton was sworn in, we are told, at 5:29 today.

They wasted absolutely no time. That was less than an hour after she was officially confirmed by a huge number here in the Senate. Not just that. She wasted no time after that officially resigning her seat in the Senate. She formally sent a letter to the governor of New York, a one-sentence letter, simply saying that she is no longer going to be the United States senator from New York.

So, certainly, this is happening with rapid speed. And, right now, Barack Obama has in place his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, stand by. I want you to stand by.

Jill Dougherty is our foreign affairs correspondent over at the State Department.

All of us are about to get a new secretary of state. What's likely to be, Jill, her first-order priority?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, she will be here tomorrow, as we know, and ceremony -- or be here at the State Department, getting to work. And you would have to say the first thing would be working on the Mideast. That's the crucial issue. But there's a lot more on her plate.

BLITZER: All right, Jill, thanks very much -- Jill Dougherty over at the State Department. We will cover that swearing-in, formal swearing-in ceremony over at the State Department tomorrow.

But Hillary Clinton is the secretary of state of the United States right now. She was confirmed by a lopsided 94-2 vote by the full Senate earlier today. We will watch what happens. And now we will also watch to see what the governor of New York State, David Paterson, does as far as the successor of Hillary Clinton. Will he name Caroline Kennedy as the next junior senator from New York? Stand by.

In the meantime, I want to go back to Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill.

She was confirmed overwhelmingly today, but the pick for treasury secretary facing some hurdles, Dana.

BASH: Facing hurdles and faced some tough questions today on Capitol Hill from senators who got their one and only chance to ask the question they say their constituents are saying. How could it be possible that the man who would be treasury secretary in charge of the IRS didn't pay his own taxes?


BASH (voice-over): Timothy Geithner came in with a simple strategy for answering questions on why he didn't pay $34,000 in taxes -- apologize.


BASH: ... over...

GEITHNER: I should have been much more careful.

BASH: ... and over...

GEITHNER: This was an avoidable mistake.

BASH: ... and over...

GEITHNER: I absolutely should have read it more carefully.

BASH: ... again. GEITHNER: I regret not having done that sooner.

BASH: But contrition did not save Geithner from a grilling about his errors.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: My phones line lit up, and they're now also lighting up in my offices in Kansas and here, why we are considering a nominee for treasury secretary who had not paid the taxes that he owed.

BASH: At issue, Geithner's failure to pay his payroll taxes from 2001 to 2004 while working for the International Monetary Fund.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: On the reverse side of the application, there are three lines right in a row -- federal tax, state tax, S.E., meaning self-employment tax. What explanation do you have for writing the check for federal and writing the check for state and somehow totally ignoring the very next line?

GEITHNER: Again, you're absolutely right.

BASH: Geithner also got several questions about whether in his previous role at the Federal Reserve, he could have done more to prevent the Lehman Brothers failure that triggered the financial crisis. And he got an earful from skeptical Democrats about hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout funds he would control as treasury secretary.

SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: It is extremely hard to answer to our constituency if we don't have more details, if it's just, you know, mostly rhetoric.


BASH: Now, Geithner's failure to pay his taxes back in -- from 2001 to 2004 certainly has made his confirmation process bumpy and embarrassing for the new president. But several Republicans, even those who gave him a hard time today, Wolf, said that they do think that ultimately he will be confirmed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry, who wrote "Lonesome Dove," arguably one of the great books ever written, says he doesn't see kids reading anymore. He never sees them in his bookstore. And McMurtry thinks we're witnessing the end of the culture of the book.

And he might be right. Kids in the U.K. spend an average of six hours a day looking at screens while either watching TV, on the Internet, or playing video games, according to a new report by ChildWise. The annual survey across the United Kingdom found that kids ages five to 19 spend only a half-an-hour a day reading a book, while they spend three hours a day watching TV, an hour-and-a-half on the Internet, and more than an hour playing games on consoles.

A lot of parents justify the time their kids spend online as necessary for schoolwork. Wrong answer. Only nine percent of kids said they looked up something for school the last time they logged on.

Instead, they spend their time on the social networking sites, chatting with friends, playing games and watching YouTube videos. Some experts say the result could be a generation unable to compete in the adult world later in life because they will lack essential reading and writing skills. Others warn it's a dangerous digital divide between kids and parents that is simply getting wider.

So, here's the question: What's the risk of allowing children to spend six hours a day in front of computer screens?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Big announcements from Barack Obama on this, the first full day of his administration. You are going to be hearing from the president directly, what he had to say on this day.

And we're also taking you inside the White House, emotions running high as the first couple make their new house the people's house.

And a new role for Michelle Obama -- how she plans to tackle the full-time job of being the nation's first lady.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Another confirmation moving forward.

Let's go back to Zain Verjee.

What's the latest on President Obama's pick to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're just getting this information in to CNN.

We're able to confirm that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has endorsed Dr. Susan Rice as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. That really paves the way for her confirmation by the full Senate. No vote as of right now has been scheduled, Wolf.

She's really someone that is considered a shoo-in. And if she's in fact confirmed, which by all intents and purposes does seem extremely likely, she would be the first African-American woman to hold this post. She will report directly to President Obama. Her position is now at the Cabinet level -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And forward on her confirmation, Dr. Rice, to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Zain, thank you.

White House officials went -- considered very, very carefully what the new president should say on this, his first day in office. And they weighed his words with utmost care, trying to send an important signal to the American people.

Here right now is what Barack Obama said today.


OBAMA: Please, be seated.

Still getting used to that whole thing.


OBAMA: Please be seated.

Thank you so much. I wanted to get everyone together on the first day to welcome you to the White House.

From our vantage point yesterday, you couldn't help but be inspired by the sight of Americans as far as the eye could see. They were there because they believe this is a moment of great change in America, a time for reinvigorating our democracy and remaking our country.

They have entrusted all of us with a great responsibility. And so today I would like to talk with you about our responsibility to keep that trust.

In a few minutes I'm going to be issuing some of the first executive orders and directives of my presidency. These steps are aimed at establishing firm rules of the road for my administration and all who serve in it and to help restore that faith in government without which we cannot deliver the changes we were sent here to make, from rebuilding our economy and ensuring that anyone who's willing to work can find a well-paying job, to protecting and defending the United States and promoting peace and security.

However long we are keepers of the public trust, we should never forget that we are here as public servants, and public service is a privilege. It's not about advantaging yourself. It's not about advancing your friends or your corporate clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization.

Public service is, simply, and absolutely, about advancing the interests of Americans.

The men and women in this room understand this, and that's why you're here. All of you are committed to building a more responsible, more accountable government.

And part of what that means is making sure that we're spending precious tax dollars wisely and cutting costs wherever possible.

During this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington.

And that's why I am instituting a pay freeze on the salaries of my senior White House staff. Some of the people in this room will be affected by the pay freeze, and I want you to know that I appreciate your willingness to agree to it, recognizing that it's what's required of you at this moment. It's a mark of your commitment to public service.

But the American people deserve more than simply an assurance that those who are coming to Washington will serve their interests. They also deserve to know that there are rules on the books to keep it that way. They deserve a government a government that is truly of, by and for the people.

As I often said during the campaign, we need to make the White House the people's house, and we need to close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely and lets them use their time in public service as a way to promote their own interests over the interests of the American people when they leave.

So today, we are taking a major step toward fulfilling this campaign promise. The executive order on ethics I will sign shortly represents a clean break from business as usual. As of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits than under any -- under any other administration in history.

If you are a lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years. When you leave government, you will not be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am president. And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well.

Now, the new rules on lobbying alone, no matter how tough, are not enough to fix a broken system in Washington. That's why I'm also setting new rules that govern -- govern not just lobbyists, but all those who have been selected to serve in my administration.

If you are enlisting in government service, you will have to commit in writing to rules limiting your role for two years in matters involving people you used to work with and barring you from any attempt to influence your former government colleagues for two years after you leave.

And you will receive an ethics briefing on what is required of you to make sure that our government is serving the people's interests and nobody else's, a briefing I'm proud to say I was the first member of this administration to receive last week.

But the way to make a government responsible is not simply to enlist the services of responsible men and women or to sign laws that ensure that they never stray. The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served.

The directives I am giving my administration today on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just that. For a long time now there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing some thing to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.

Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known.

To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does mean you should always use it.

The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable.

And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law.

I will also hold myself, as president, to a new standard of openness. Going forward, any time the American people want to know something that I or a former president wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the attorney general and the White House counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law.

Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be beheld -- withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.

Let me say it as simply as I can. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know.

And that's why, as of today, I'm directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans, scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs.

Because the way to solve the problem of our time is -- the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.

The executive orders and directives I'm issuing today will not, by themselves, make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be. And they do not go as far as we need to go toward restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in Washington.

But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country. And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people, in the days and weeks, months and years to come.

OBAMA: That's a pretty good place to start.

Thank you very much.


OBAMA: All right?


BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on President Obama's remarks today.

Also, Michelle Obama, will she transform the first lady's office? We have some new information for you.

And Vice President Joe Biden pokes fun at the way the chief justice, John Roberts, administered the oath of office to President Obama. But was the president amused?

And it didn't take very long for the president to change one thing about the Oval Office. Our John King is standing by. He's going to tell us what it all means.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



OBAMA: Welcome. Enjoy yourself. Roam around. Don't break anything.



BLITZER: The president and the first lady having a little bit of an open house at the White House today, greeting members of the public over there.

John King is here.

John, I guess it's all symbolic on this, the first day, some substance, as we have been pointing out, but he's trying to reassure the American public.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This part is quite refreshing, actually, seeing average Americans getting to walk around the White House. You know from our experience there it's a spectacular building, full of history, full of just treasures, going back previous administrations, hundreds of years. So, that's fun to see.

What you just played on the air before the break, the president talking about the new lobbying restrictions, that is getting very high marks from people outside of government who are often critical of lobbying practices, disclosure practices.

One of his executive orders today is about the Freedom of Information Act, saying the default should be release the information. It is a dramatic shift, Wolf. Remember, the early days of the Bush administration, immediately, there was a big controversy over this secret energy task force that Dick Cheney pulled together. They wouldn't release records. There was lawsuits even from conservative groups over that.

So, from day one, they are sending a clear signal that they want to be different and they want to be more open. Now, that does not mean it will be kumbaya with the news media or these groups that monitor the administration.

Already, there are some questions. Today, he met with his economic team and with the military brass. The media was not allowed into those meetings.

And Tim Geithner's tax issues, disclosed to the Senate Finance Committee, in early December. The public didn't learn about them until January 13. Some say that's not transparent, but off to a good start. There will be a lot of questions about this and a lot of pressure. One day does not freedom make.

BLITZER: And check out these two pictures, a bit of style- changing in the Oval Office.

KING: I would defy anyone to go back over the eight years of George W. Bush and find a picture where he is in the Oval Office without a jacket on. It was a rule in the Bush White House, even on Air Force One in his office there, that you wore a jacket. And if you started to walk in the door without one, you were turned away.

This is the first photo they released this morning of Barack Obama making phone calls to world leaders, the same desk, the Kennedy Resolute desk, made famous by the Kennedy children climbing underneath. Both presidents have used that.

But Barack Obama walked in with a suit on. But, clearly, he is comfortable sitting at the desk making phone calls without a jacket, not a huge deal. It's just how presidents work. You remember the Clinton days. Sometimes, on weekends, you would see him in jeans and a sweatshirt heading into the Oval Office. President Bush was very strict and formal about it, a bit more relaxed there from our new president.

BLITZER: All right, very interesting.

Soledad is still with us.

Soledad, you were in Wisconsin today. What are folks saying to you out there about what has happened?

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's very interesting to spend the afternoon, have lunch in Wisconsin, having had breakfast in Washington, D.C., and having dinner tonight in New York.

But I have got to tell you, to talk to folks who did not attend the inauguration, they hear words like bailout, not happy about government bailing out, because they feel like the little guy. No, that's Main Street. We talk about Wall Street and Main Street. That's Main Street.

So, when you talk about accountability, as John pointed out, as a politician, that's a great word. You can't say the word accountable too much. But it's a good start. It has to more than read well. He's going to have to continue to have the actions that go along with it, but people getting a very warm feeling about it.

BLITZER: Don't leave, Soledad. We have got more to talk about.

We just, by the way, spotted the defense secretary, Robert Gates, leaving the White House. We will have more on what's going on, the president meeting with the military brass.

Also, this is Michelle Obama's first full day as the first lady. We have got new information on what she's planning on doing.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Michelle Obama sorting through a hefty to-do list of her own. You're going to find out how she plans to spend the next few weeks.

The inaugural speech -- millions watched, but it a home run?

And the inauguration an especially emotional day for African- Americans.

Did President Obama's message resonate with them?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The first lady has new job right now. Michelle Obama is going to have to be very careful what she does every step of the way, especially these first few days, as she's introduced to the American people -- Brian Todd is taking a closer look at how she plans to move forward -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, she's got a difficult balancing act ahead of her. Michelle Obama is known for being down to earth, straightforward, tough. Those are qualities that friends and observers say she'll need to tap into to shape her family's personal experience in the White House and to carve out her own role.


TODD (voice-over): She has to get down to work now, too. And her job is a lot less defined than his -- liberating, in a sense, for Michelle Obama. But it also carries so many intangible pressures.

That's why an aide says she'll hold off on her own public events for a couple of weeks and focus on priority number one -- getting her children acclimated to the incandescent glare of the White House.

But from there, how will Mrs. Obama carve out her role?

PROF. THOMAS WHALEN, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: She's going to, I think, exercise what I would call soft power here. Instead of being put in charge of a commission that's going to reform or set out to reform a certain part of the government or society, she's going to basically provide private advice to her husband.

TODD: The kind of advice that almost never makes headlines, but will likely be crucial to a president who, like all others, will be guided by aides who might have competing agendas.

But as she told CNN's Larry King during the campaign, Michelle Obama has got issues she wants to make her own.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: What can I do that is useful in with this role?

How -- I spent a lot of time focusing on working -- the challenges of work/family balance with women and families.


TODD: An aide says she'll also pursue programs to help military families and expand volunteerism. But Mrs. Obama has also hired a team of seasoned political veterans who have shaped policy, like Chief of Staff Jackie Norris and Jocelyn Frye, her policy director, who worked for a non-profit that championed equality in the workplace.

So could there be a more formal role in governing?

WHALEN: She's trying to, as I see it, trying to steer a kind of middle course between, you know, kind of a Jacqueline Kennedy, who put an emphasis on family, you know, her two children, and like a, you know, a politically active Eleanor Roosevelt.


TODD: That comes back to that balance of work and family. Only unlike millions of others, Michelle Obama will have to do all that with all the potential pitfalls with the whole world watching. It's a tough job. But as one of her aides told us, she's had two years to adjust to this really intense media glare -- Wolf.


All right. Thanks very much for that, Brian.

Let's talk about this and more.

Joining us, our political analyst Roland Martin. He's still in Washington. Welcome.

Don Lemon is still here. Soledad Brian -- she's at the Time Warner Center in New York -- Soledad, first to you.

Did -- did we get a sense over the past few days how the first lady is going to operate -- a better sense, based on what you're hearing?

O'BRIEN: I think what we've been getting is consistency in the message. You know, Brian said a moment ago that she's been operating under this glare.

But what concerns parents -- and I'm sure it's concerning Michelle Obama -- is the glare that her children will be under. You know, she talks about keeping their lives as normal as possible.

And when you are looking for a work/family balance, that's kind of the same thing. Working mothers everywhere -- even if they're not the first lady -- want to try to keep their kids' lives as normal as possible. So there will be a good intersection.

But, again, you know, I have seen -- even from my last interview with her, the sort of hints in what she was interested in talking about and thinking about and doing. But no -- no major word yet.

And so I think we're going to -- it's going to be a sort of a slow rollout. But you certainly know where her interests lie. I mean she's interested personally in being a mother. And I expect her -- her sort of volunteer efforts will be in that -- that regard, also.

BLITZER: Did Barack Obama -- I understand there's great pride, understandably so, in the African-American community.

Did he live up to the expectations over the past 24 hours?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the expectation was him being sworn in. I mean I think -- and, again, we can sit here and talk all day about the speech and whether it was the right thing and did he strike the right tone. But the bottom line is, the moment was simply seeing him sworn in -- someone, as he noted in his speech, who 50 -- really 50 or 60 years ago couldn't even get a hamburger in most restaurants in America.

I mean that was the moment in itself. And so I think that's what really speaks loudly.

I will say this, though, Wolf, when it comes to Michelle Obama. Her focus will deal with the military families. She's made that clear over and over and over again. That is going to be from a policy standpoint, where she is going to focus on.

BLITZER: You've got a good sense of the community.

How are African-Americans reacting?

What are they saying?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think Roland is right in that all he needed to do was stand there and take the oath of office. All you really needed was the moment. But I think if anyone speaks to African- American pride and spirit, it is the Obama family -- and, also, family values. Just by them being who they are -- a two parent household and loving their children, they speak to all the issues...

MARTIN: Right.

LEMON: ...that African-Americans should address in their own community. And I think -- and they do it in the right way.

BLITZER: And, Soledad, listen to this little clip from his inaugural address yesterday.

I want to play it for you.


B. OBAMA: It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our fate.


BLITZER: All right, what was he -- what was the message he was trying to deliver there -- Soledad?

O'BRIEN: That's the definition of hero. Before that he was talking about those who helped rescue people during Hurricane Katrina -- listing what we define as heroes. And the other hero -- the last in that line is the parent who nurtures their child. That's a hero, too. And we haven't really heard that a lot. So I think that's going to be a theme not just for the Obama presidency, but, again, something, as Roland said, she's going to pick up with military families, certainly. But whatever other work she does -- wherever her fingertips reach out, it will be about parenting, nurturing, motherhood, loving your kids.

BLITZER: Because he...

MARTIN: Wolf...

BLITZER: Because he makes the point often, Barack Obama, that you can get great schools...

MARTIN: Right.

BLITZER: ...but it really takes a mom and a dad to help make them even greater.

MARTIN: Yes. You cannot forget the fact that his life has been determined by a father leaving at the age of two and a single mother having to raise him. He gave the fatherhood speech when he was campaigning. He's also talked about turning the television off, what you feed your kids, all those different things.

He understands the role of a parent. And it tore him up being away from his children during the campaign, as well.

So he is going to expect a cultural shift, if you will, in terms of how he speaks to the issues in the black community when it comes to family and children.

LEMON: And strong women. Strong women. He's been surrounded by -- I mean, you know, his mom, obviously, married a black man -- an African, in that day and age. So he had a very strong mother, a very strong grandmother. And his wife is strong, as well.

And we hear about all these traditional roles for first ladies. Michelle Obama is not predictable. She is a smart businesswoman in her own right, very successful.

So who knows what she will do, where she will pick up the torch?

BLITZER: All right, guys, I want to -- I want you to take a look at the this. Only moments ago, as Dana Bash was reporting, the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton -- we say the secretary of State, because she has now been formally sworn in as the nation's secretary of State. She'll have a formal ceremony tomorrow over at the State Department.

All right, guys, stand by.

The new vice president takes a dig at the chief justice of the United States, who flubbed the presidential oath.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts' -- Chief Justice Roberts'.



BLITZER: But how did the joke go over with the president?

Plus, the president taking some sweeping action on this, his first full day in office, on ethics, Guantanamo Bay, the White House pay scale and a lot more.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: President Barack Obama taking some sweeping actions in his first two days in office -- that would be yesterday and today.

Let's talk about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our political contributor, Steve Hayes of "The Weekly Standard" and Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune".

What do you think, Gloria?

Is it going to satisfy Americans when they hear what he's doing and saying on this day?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's all about perception right now. And I think an easy way to sort of tell the American public, this is what I promised and this is what I'm doing on day one, is to do it on day one. And you do that through executive orders.

So you say to people, I'm making the people who work for me tighten their belts, establishing a pay freeze, no revolving door for lobbyists. He's going to close Guantanamo. He's met with his -- his military advisers because he wants to withdraw from Iraq.

You can do that on day one and get the message across that you meant what you said.

BLITZER: He's going to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, at the U.S. Naval base there. But he says it's going to be up to a year that it's going to take him.

Some will some complain why does it have to take so long?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER AT "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I think because we have to figure out what we're going to do with these terrorists who are there. You have tremendously complicated questions about how to handle them.

Some of them are Yemenis, for instance -- people who have been, when they've been repatriated back to Yemen in the past just released out into the population.

So you get into the questions with these different categories of detainees -- what do you do with them?

And that's where it goes from being easy today to being hard tomorrow.

BORGER: Hard tomorrow.

BLITZER: And on this very sensitive issue, Clarence, as you know, he's got to make a very important decision -- what, if anything, to do about looking back at the eight years of the Bush administration.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, just spoke with Larry King for an interview that will air later tonight.

Listen to this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do think that there should be some review of some of the actions that may be criminal that occurred in the Bush administration. I don't know specifically the parameters of the investigation Mr. Conyers is talking about. I'm sure he will make that known to me.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Apparently, it's not a criminal probe as such, but it could lead to that.


L. KING: Are you surprised that the president appears to be against that?

PELOSI: No. I think the president is taking exactly the right approach. His approach is he's about the future.


BLITZER: And she's looking -- she's saying well, maybe there should be a review potentially of criminal actions. But Barack Obama is certainly not ready -- at least at this point -- to go down that road.

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Nancy Pelosi is trying to placate John Conyers. Conyers has been pushing for this kind of...

BLITZER: He's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

PAGE: Thank you. Thank you for reminding me to remind everyone of that.


PAGE: Yes.


PAGE: He's chairman of the Judiciary. He's been pushing for -- well, he was pushing for Bush's impeachment before. Now -- and now he's pushing for some kind of criminal prosecutions and convictions on past crimes. Look, you know, once we go down that road -- if it were to really happen -- where does it stop?

Whoever follows Barack Obama then investigates Barack Obama and his administration. That's why Barack Obama wants to cut it right now.

You know, we have a long tradition in this country of giving a lot of leeway to the questionable activities from one administration to another, when they appear to be at least motivated by good reasons, like national security. So, you know, maybe he goofed up, but criminal prosecution?

That's a bit much.

HAYES: I think he actually has to placate a much broader segment of his liberal base. And this is where I think he runs into trouble. I think conservatives would look at this kind of an investigation and say we welcome it. This would be good for -- politically -- for conservatives here at this point in time.

BORGER: Right.

HAYES: Because...

PAGE: Sure. They welcomed the Rezko investigation.

HAYES: Because it would...

PAGE: Why not?

HAYES: It would be -- it would be butting heads between a very liberal Democratic House and President Obama, who's trying to find...

BLITZER: But there's no shortage...

HAYES: Some kind of common...

BLITZER: There's no shortage of liberals out there who would love President Obama to launch a criminal investigation of Dick Cheney, for example, among others.


BORGER: He won't do it. But...


PAGE: It isn't going to happen.

BLITZER: But, yes.

BORGER: But he's not interested in it, won't do it.


PAGE: He...

BORGER: It's not what he's about.

PAGE: It isn't going to...

BORGER: It's not what Barack Obama is...

PAGE: This is helping the nation and helping those folks and the other folks keep raising the pressure on Obama. You know, he's not going to lose any votes on his side by not prosecuting the Bush administration.

And, by the way, I've been to Yemen and they have enough trouble -- trouble keeping their terrorists in jail as it is.

HAYES: Right.


PAGE: The bigger problem is the countries that don't want Guantanamo open.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Gloria, listen to this...

PAGE: What do you do with them?

BLITZER: The vice president was at an event earlier today with the president. And at one point, the president says to him, I want you to go out and do a swearing-in ceremony for the senior White House staff.

And we'll play the clip of what the vice president said. And I want our viewers to watch closely the reaction on the face of President Obama.


OBAMA: Joe, do you want to administer the oath?

BIDEN: Am I doing this again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the senior staff.

OBAMA: For the senior staff.

BIDEN: For the senior staff. Oh, right.

OBAMA: Yes. A number of the cabinet members have already...


BIDEN: My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts' -- Chief Justice Roberts' is.






BORGER: He shook his head, actually.

BLITZER: He didn't seem pleased. BORGER: No. I think there's going to be a bit of an issue there -- I mean, to put it mildly. Barack Obama is sort of the master of understatement. That's not where Joe Biden is.

HAYES: Come on.

BORGER: Really.

HAYES: Come on.

BORGER: So I think he sometimes cannot self-censure. I think that's a skill he's going to have to learn.

PAGE: Are we ready to lighten up?

I mean, really, he was joking, for Pete's sake.

BORGER: Well, but Obama didn't lighten up, did he?

PAGE: Well, so what?

BORGER: The president didn't lighten up.

PAGE: Obama didn't tell a joke yesterday, did he?

This is the new serious Obama. This is a strategic move on Obama's part.

BORGER: Absolutely. Calm.

PAGE: He smiled yesterday when Joe Lowery made -- made an old racial joke about, you know, if you're brown, stick around, blah, blah, blah. He smiled then as if he was embarrassed by Joe Lowery's remarks.

I think Barack Obama right now is trying to come across as the serious president now.


HAYES: Well, he said he's going to...

BLITZER: All right...

PAGE: He's off the campaign trail.

HAYES: He said he's going to...

BLITZER: Hold your thoughts, guys, because we're...

BORGER: ...change his tone.

BLITZER: ...we've got another day tomorrow.

Guys, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, coming up tonight, much more on the president's first full day in office, his promise of a clean break with the past, his decision to curb the influence of lobbyists and special interests. Three of the best political analysts join me.

Also tonight, rising anger at the Bureau of Prisons' refusal to release Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean from prison and immediately. The president commuting their sentences Monday, but they won't be released until March. The former agents' wives and family and their attorneys join me here tonight.

And more and more of our youth flat out refusing to work -- refusing to look for jobs. The percentage of 16 and 17-year-olds at work has now fallen to the lowest level in 16 years.

What in the world is going on in this country?

Please join us at the top of the hour. We'll have that answer and quite a few more, and all the day's news -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou.

Thanks very much.

See you in a few moments.

Love -- love is in the air at the inauguration.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aren't they the sweetest, most romantic?

This is what we need. This says hope.


BLITZER: CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look at the cuddly first couple.

Plus, hundreds pictures coming together as one -- capturing the moment of President Barack Obama's swearing-in. You'll see that and more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The president met with some of his top economic advisers. The White House just released this still photo. The president; you see to his right, Joe Biden. Larry Summers, his top economic adviser, directly across from President Obama.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: They did a study in the United Kingdom. Kids between the ages of five and 19 spend six hours a day in front of computer screens.

And we asked: What's the risk of allowing kids to do that?

Luci in Illinois says: "I don't think it's a good idea. I think they ought to be doing math, reading, spelling, etc. out of their schoolbooks. We didn't have computers when I was a kid. The teacher went over and over on things until the students understood and learned them. It might help to go back to those times. I think we were much better off." Lou writes: "My kids have actually started reading more since they've discovered the Internet and video games. My 14-year-old son devours any written word about his games, from strategy books to participating in blogs. My 12-year-old daughter Googles every day. As a teacher, I used to worry about it, until they both started testing at well above grade level in reading comprehension."

Karen says: "Kids today have no imagination or much ability to think for themselves. Their brains have been replaced with instant access to any bit of trivia they can find on the computer. They have no knowledge of research, spelling, grammar or composition. The computer does all that for them. And most of them can barely read. I respect the parent who monitors his child's computer use and teaches him to enjoy books."

Gerry in Toronto says: "Computers and the Internet are not going to go anywhere. The problem isn't the kids being on for six hours a day, it's parents not sitting behind them, training them what to do, what the guidelines are and how to properly use these resources." Hope in Kentucky: "My 13-year-old daughter is on the honor roll. She does her homework as soon as she gets home, watches one hour of television, spends her downtime either texting friends or on the computer. Either way, she's writing and reading as she uses the computer. She also skateboards and roller skates. It's a matter of balancing the time you have between sedentary and active activities."

Roy in Chicago writes: "It's ironic that someone in the media is asking this question, as the proliferation of the media in our lifetimes is the cause of this problem."

Yet something else that we're responsible for.

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

It's all our fault -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It always is, Jack.

I want you to look at -- look at this next report, because it's Moost Unusual and you're going to enjoy this.

Our Jeanne Moos takes a closer look at the Obamas' public displays of affection.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was bad enough -- the hand holding, the kissing, the arms around one another. But when they did this...


MOOS: ...women everywhere swooned over the cuddly first couple.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love it. I love that they love each other and they show it in public.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just exudes out of them. It just -- it spills over and it just comes to all of us.

MOOS: If this keeps up, America is going to need a cold shower.

When Beyonce sang "At Last" to the Obamas on ABC...


BEYONCE KNOWLES, SINGER (SINGING): And here we are in heaven.


MOOS: Enthralled gawkers looked like they were in heaven. Not since Annette Bening danced with Michael Douglas in "The American President"...


MOOS: ...has a slow dance gotten folks so revved up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I fell in love all over again.

MOOS (on camera): Have you noticed how affectionate they are?




MOOS (voice-over): Even when the president stepped on her dress...


MOOS: seemed cute rather than klutzy.

(on camera): Half of you are probably all goo-goo eyed right this second -- smiling at the TV set watching these images.

Get a grip.

(voice-over): Some even marveled at their grip while dancing.


MOOS (on camera): That's what they did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like this versus like this.

MOOS (voice-over): This partially obscured snuggle on the parade route ended up on front pages all over the country.

(on camera): All it is is about their public...


MOOS: What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just saw the picture. It's really nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Aren't they the sweetest, most romantic?

This is what we need. This says hope.

MOOS (voice-over): On YouTube, this couple celebrated their second anniversary with an anniversinauguration (ph), dancing along with the first couple.


MOOS: But dancing is not the only thing being emulated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like the fact that they have, like, a date night, you know, once a week. Actually, a lot of my friends have implemented that into their own relationships.

MOOS: You don't need a psychiatrist to figure out why folks are so smitten with the Obamas seeming smitten.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because that's essentially something we all want.

MOOS: The first lady even switched the hand she used to hold the president's so she could wave with it, then switched back. Some say the dancing reminded them of newlyweds at a wedding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were definitely at the top of the cake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, at least this will last four years. A lot of weddings don't.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: I love Beyonce's "At Last" -- loved, loved, loved. All right, more than a million people turned out for the inauguration. And it seems like all of them had cameras. We're going to show you some of the pictures they sent us, capturing the moment.


BLITZER: They're amazing photos sent into CNN capturing what we call "the moment" -- Abbi, show us what we saw.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we've been showing people this photosynth of the moment -- the moment when Barack Obanna -- Obama, sorry -- was sworn in. And you can see it online at

Hundreds of pictures pieced together in a great big image that you can navigate yourself, look at it for more angles. Well, now we're adding to it. So many people have been sending in their experience of the moment at home, watching it on TV, that we've added that to the site, as well.

There are hundreds of pictures here -- people young and old across the country, across the world. And if you've still got pictures to send in, that's

BLITZER: And I'm really thrilled and very proud -- and I've been saying it all day -- that CNN, we played a great role, I think, in helping bring the world a little bit closer together on this historic day, yesterday.

Thanks to all this stuff. Great work. Thanks very much.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll see you back here tomorrow.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.