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War on Terror Overhaul; In Charge of Your Security; Pushing Back on Obama's Strategies
Aired January 22, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama orders some major changes in the war on terror. Critics say his plan to close the Guantanamo prison camp could be putting America at risk.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vows a new era for U.S. diplomacy. This hour, team Obama takes charge. But will there really be much change?
And the president fixes the flub heard around the world. We'll take you inside the do-over of President Obama's presidential oath.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama says he's taking America's fight against terror to the moral high ground, his words. Right now he's putting a stamp on national security, and he's moving very aggressively to show he's on the job and in command.
The president appeared with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over at the State Department only a little while ago. He drove home his commitment to set a good example for the entire world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defense of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States. And that's why in this twilight struggle we need a durable framework. The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's head over to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by.
You know, Dan, he said he would hit the ground running, and he certainly has.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He really has. And in the orders today, the president believes that America will be much safer. But he really was broad in his approach. There's still a lot of details that have to be worked out.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama used his pen to make a clean break from the Bush policy on the war on terror, signing three executive orders that will uproot the Guantanamo Bay prison facility and its detainees.
OBAMA: The message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism. And we are going to do so vigilantly. We are going to do so effectively. And we are going to do so in a matter that is consistent with our values and our ideals.
LOTHIAN: Obama has ordered Gitmo closed within a year. A senior administration official says a group made up of the attorney general, who has yet to be confirmed, the secretary of state and defense and others will determine where the detainees should be sent and how they will be prosecuted.
In his first briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president relied heavily on his military experts before deciding to shut Gitmo down.
ROBERT GIBBS, PRESS SECRETARY: He believes that with this, we've made our security stronger.
LOTHIAN: Obama's also banning torture techniques and requiring all U.S. personnel to follow the U.S. Army Field Manual while interrogating detainees.
GIBBS: The president believes that torture is wrong. And we've taken steps today to make sure that those beliefs are upheld.
LOTHIAN: And all detention policies will now be reviewed to avoid future minefields when it comes to how detainees are handled.
But House Republican Leader John Boehner has questions about how these executive orders will play out, where the detainees will go, how they will eventually be brought to justice.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: And I'm concerned that some will be let go too soon, could end up back on the battlefield.
LOTHIAN: And Wolf, in what is a first for a U.S. president, Mr. Obama will be receiving daily economic briefings. His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, saying that this will most likely take place in the Oval Office each morning.
As you know, Wolf, presidents always receive national security briefings each morning. This is just yet another indication that this administration believes that the economy is at least equal with national security -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It makes an enormous amount of sense. And I'm surprised it hasn't been done earlier.
What about the special envoys that he and the secretary of state named today?
LOTHIAN: That's right. George Mitchell, he's the former Senate majority leader. He did take on the same role in the Bush administration. And essentially, what this administration is trying to show, that they are very serious about trying to broker a peace deal in the Mideast, early in the administration.
BLITZER: And also, Richard Holbrooke would be a special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
LOTHIAN: That's right.
BLITZER: Two veteran diplomats are going to be dispatched very soon.
Thanks very much for that.
Let's go over to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, with more about the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
It's going to take up to a year, so it's not happening right away. And we're talking about, what, about 250 prisoners there?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Right now 250, Wolf, but think about this. You know, saying you're going to close Guantanamo Bay is -- the detention center there is one thing. But actually figuring out where you're going to put these prisoners and how you're going to try them, that's quite a different matter.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): The clock is ticking on the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and there's still no clear idea where these prisoners will go.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER JR. (R), CALIFORNIA: I don't think that they ought to be put on American soil.
LAWRENCE: California Representative Duncan Hunter Jr. introduced legislation that would make it illegal to transfer terrorists to San Diego's Camp Pendleton. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates says since the inauguration, more European countries may be willing to accept prisoners.
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: That they are willing to consider taking these. And we have not heard from those people before.
LAWRENCE: President Obama has ordered a review group to examine each case at Guantanamo and divide prisoners into groups, those that can be released to other countries, those tried here in the U.S., and those who can't be tried in American courts but are too dangerous to let go.
SARAH MENDELSON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INT. STUDIES: It's very important that President Obama urges the review panel to do everything they can possibly to put the men to the two categories, release or prosecute. LAWRENCE: Analyst Sarah Mendelson says if too many prisoners end up in that third group, Secretary Gates will find those European countries much less willing to help.
MENDELSON: They'll think of it as moving Guantanamo rather than closing it.
LAWRENCE: And we heard Dan talk about the president's third executive order that bans torture and requires all government agencies to follow the Army Field Manual. That is true, but there is a loophole where the taskforce can recommend "any additional or different guidance" for agencies outside the military like the CIA. It will bear close watching, Wolf, to see exactly what the taskforce recommends for those agencies.
BLITZER: And we're going to play at length what President Obama said today on these specific issues. That's coming up later this hour.
Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.
The track record of freed terror suspects may be adding to some concerns about closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The Pentagon says 520 terror suspects have been released since 2002, returning to their native countries or others willing to take them in. Sixty-one of those freed detainees are suspected of committing attacks after they were freed. Twenty-four of them are believed to have resorted to violence in the past 10 months.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama wasted no time getting to work and making changes as he promised on the campaign trail. He's determined to make a clean break from the policies of the Bush administration.
So far, he ordered the closing of the military prison at Guantanamo within a year, ordered all cases of terror suspects be reviewed, and he's banned torture. The new president also issued a freeze on the salaries of senior White House staffers, implemented new ethics rules for staff who leave government jobs. He promised openness, transparency and instructed his team to follow his example. A sharp contrast to the secrecy of his predecessors, where it seemed the entire eight years was based on executive privilege.
President Obama's moving at lightning speed in a town that ordinarily moves at a snail's pace. He wanted an emergency economic stimulus bill signed before his inauguration but was told by Congress that will have to take until February.
So here's the question. At the end of the day, can President Obama really change the way business is done in Washington, D.C.?
Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog. BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Thanks very much.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is giving her new staff a pep talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe with all of my heart that this is a new era for America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Obama team taking power and making promises. Will those promises be too hard to keep?
And the Obama administration is going to new and remarkable lengths to allow the president to keep his BlackBerry. We're all over this story, and we'll explain how he's doing it.
And disturbing new information about threats against the president of the United States.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton received a rousing, rousing and enthusiastic welcome over in the lobby at the State Department when she showed up for work this morning. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, getting to know members of her staff over at the State Department. She's warning them they certainly have a lot of hard work ahead, and she says she'll need their help to put new muscle into U.S. diplomacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I believe with all of my heart that this is a new era for America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama also gave a pep talk over at the State Department. In his remarks just a short while ago, he said he was giving staffers there a gift. Namely, their new boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Another member of team Obama started working today. Let's go over to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.
We're talking about Janet Napolitano, the new secretary for Homeland Security. How did that go, Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, in just a few minutes, the new homeland security secretary is scheduled to pay a visit on the U.S. Coast Guard, one of the 55 agencies that make up her department. Trying to integrate those various components and their missions has been very difficult, and Napolitano has set building one DHS as one of her major goals. She met yesterday with the so-called Gang of Seven, the key leaders in the department, to try to get that going.
Napolitano was selected because, in part, as governor of Arizona, she had first-hand experience with immigration issues, one of the very problematic areas for DHS. That's one of her priorities, along with protection, preparedness, response and recovery. She is asking offices and agencies to gather information on existing strategies and programs so she can determine what works, what doesn't, and what can work better.
It's a big job, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's a huge, huge job. And we wish her success.
Thanks, Jeanne, very much.
Let's head over to CNN's Kate Bolduan. She's taking a closer look at another secretary who started working today, Arnie Duncan, who's the new secretary of education.
What a challenge he faces.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another big challenge, yes, Wolf.
Former Chicago public schools superintendent Arnie Duncan started his first full day as education secretary this morning. He's called education the most pressing issue facing America today.
His big focus now, reforming President Bush's landmark legislation "No Child Left Behind," for one. Duncan has said the Obama administration is committed to holding teachers, principals and school districts more accountable while working to close achievement gaps.
Other priorities, increasing funding for early education, as well as the controversial idea of merit pay to ensure teacher quality. That's compensation based more on performance than seniority.
Now, Duncan and President Obama also want to make college more affordable. One idea there, a $4,000 tax credit for college students in exchange for 100 hours of community service. Now, the biggest challenge facing Duncan, Wolf, may be right out of the gate -- funding, keeping the focus on putting more money toward education in the middle of an economic crisis, where that is demanding the president's attention.
BLITZER: We wish him success, too. Nothing's more important than making sure the young people are educated and educated well.
Kate, thanks very much for that report.
It's his second full day in office. And President Obama is wasting no time slapping back some things the former president, George Bush, did. He's reversing some Bush terror policies. You're going to hear the president explain at length why he's doing what he is doing.
And the new White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, holds his first White House Q&A with reporters. How did he do? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: I want to bring in Bill Schneider right now. He's taking a look at the GOP and what's going on, on that front.
How are they doing? Are we expecting some major pushback from the Republicans to the president's new strategies?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, we are. But it's not just from Republicans, Wolf.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): President Obama expects pushback from Republicans. And he's getting it on his cabinet nominations..
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Geithner's failure to pay all the Social Security and Medicare taxes he owed until he was to be nominated is hard to explain to my constituents who pay these taxes on a regular basis.
SCHNEIDER: ... and on his stimulus plan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is stimulus? Republicans think not.
SCHNEIDER: President Obama is also getting pushback from Democrats. Some liberal Democrats don't think his stimulus package is large enough. So-called Blue Dog Democrats think it's too expensive. Most congressional Democrats don't think of themselves as foot solders in Obama's army. They're independent political entrepreneurs.
"I do not work for Barack Obama," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "I work with him."
Congressional Democrats have their own mandate. The latest CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation asks whether the country would be better off if the Democrats or the Republicans controlled Congress. Democrats lead by 25 points. This is the first time since at least 1994 that a majority of Americans has favored a Democratic Congress.
But the Democratic Party has changed, too.
CLINTON: That the last time we had fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget and a surplus, it was a Democrat in the White House. And, therefore, we need to get back to that.
SCHNEIDER: Do Democrats really believe in fiscal responsibility? Most Republicans think the government should balance the budget even at a time of recession and war. But here's a surprise. Democrats are more likely to feel that way. That's why some congressional Democrats are pushing back. (END VIDEOTAPE)
SCHNEIDER: Congress is sending the new president a message: Don't think you can just roll over us. But, our poll also has a message for Congress. By better than two to one, Americans say they would trust President Obama more than Democratic leaders in Congress when they disagree on an issue -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I don't think we should be surprised about that given the approval ratings of Congress in recent polls.
All right. We'll stay on top of this.
Bill Schneider, thank you.
There was an "oops," so he did it again. President Obama retakes the oath of office, but the relative secrecy surrounding it raising many questions.
And the White House is going the distance to let President Obama keep a BlackBerry. It'll likely be the most secure and expensive BlackBerry ever.
Brian Todd is all over this story. You're going to want to see what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Caroline Kennedy bows out. She won't replace Hillary Clinton in the United States Senate after all. But what prompted the about-face? There's new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We're going to be taking you behind the scenes into the drama surrounding all of this.
And keeping President Obama safe. The FBI says the number of reported threats have gone up -- up since his election. We're going to tell you what authorities are doing to protect the commander in chief.
And take two for President Obama and the oath of office, only the American public didn't get to see it.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But first, President Obama spent some time this morning talking about the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, formally banning torture and taking other important steps.
Hear in his own words what the president of the United States said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This first executive order that we are signing by the authority vested in me as president by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to affect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detayed by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo, and promptly to close the detention facility at Guantanamo consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interest of justice, I hereby order. And we then provide the process whereby Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.
We will be -- is there a separate executive order, Greg, with respect to how we're going to dispose of the detainees? Is that...
GREG CRAIG, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: We set up a process.
OBAMA: We will be setting up a process whereby this is going to be taking place.
The individuals who are standing behind me represent flag officers who came to both Joe and myself, and all the candidates, and made a passionate plea that we restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great, even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism. They've made an extraordinary impression on me.
They are outstanding Americans who have fought and defended this country. And for them to fight on behalf of our constitutional ideals and values I think is exceptional. So I wanted to make sure that they were here to witness the signing of this executive order.
There we go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everybody. Thank you.
OBAMA: We've got one more. There are three of these.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, several more.
OBAMA: This one -- by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to improve the effectiveness of human intelligence gathering, and to promote the safe, lawful and humane treatment of individuals in United States' custody and of United States' personnel who are detained in armed conflicts, and to ensure compliance with the treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions, and to take care that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed, I issue this following executive order that effectively ensures that anybody detained by the United States for now is going to be -- any interrogations taking place are going to have to abide by the Army Field Manual.
And to take care that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed, I issue this following executive order that, effectively, ensures that anybody detained by the United States, for now, is going to be -- any interrogations taking place are going to have to abide by the Army Field Manuel. We believe that the Army Field Manuel reflects the best judgment of our military, that we can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively attain the intelligence that we need.
This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard.
And so, with that, let me sign the next executive order.
There we go.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Two more -- I got two more.
What we're doing here, is to set up a special inter agency tax force on detainee disposition. It's going to be made up of the attorney general, secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of homeland security, director of national intelligence, the director of the CIA, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and any other officers that we may need. They are going to provide me with information in terms of how we are able to deal in the disposition of some of the detainees that may be currently in Guantanamo that that we cannot transfer to other countries, who could pose a serious danger to the United States, but we cannot try because of various problems related to evidence in a Article 3 court.
So this task force is going to provide us with a series of recommendations on that.
Is that correct, Greg?
GREG CRAIG, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: That's right. And detainee policy going forward.
OBAMA: And detainee policy going forward so that we don't find ourselves in these kinds of situations in the future.
OBAMA: And that we are providing clear guidance to our military in terms of how to deal with them.
OK. There we go.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: And finally, this is a -- a much more specific issue related to the current detention of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. Some of you are familiar with the al-Marri case. You have a legal resident who has been detained. He is clearly a dangerous individual. His case is currently before the Supreme Court. We have asked for a delay in dealing -- of going before the Supreme Court and dealing with this case so that we can properly review the evidence against him and the various policies that have been presented up until this time. So. All right.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: With those three executive orders and this memorandum the message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly; we are going to do so effectively; and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.
And all of the individuals who are standing behind me, as well as, I think, the American people, understand that we are not, as I said in the inauguration, going to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals.
We think that it is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world.
We intend to win this fights. We're going to win it on our terms.
Thank you, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, the president of the United States speaking at the White House earlier on his new executive orders dealing with torture, dealing with prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, among other subjects.
We're going to continue to watch this story.
Last night, he did something only two other presidents were ever forced to do. He had to redo his oath of office.
CNN's Deborah Feyerick is working this story for us.
It was pretty remarkable, Deb. Explain to our viewers the background, how it unfolded, and what now.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, two things are going on here with this second swearing-in. First, lawyers wanted to quash any possible conspiracy theories that Barack Obama was somehow not president simply because he stumbled over the words to the oath of office, something that really wasn't his fault.
Second, after promising transparency, many reporters were upset that the swearing-in was done in relative secrecy, certainly as compared to the first.
FEYERICK (voice-over): It was the flub heard around the world. JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully...
OBAMA: ... that I will execute...
ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States...
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully...
FEYERICK: Chief Justice John Roberts catching Barack Obama by surprise when he scrambled the words of the presidential oath of office, misplacing the word "faithfully."
OBAMA: So, help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FEYERICK: It seemed such a small thing on such a big day. But, as one of the few mistakes in a carefully choreographed inauguration, it raised questions for some people and became easy fodder for others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Turns out Barack Obama's first act as commander in chief was to bungle Chief Justice Roberts' perfectly reasonable attempt to rewrite the oath of office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FEYERICK: Even the vice president joked about the flub at a swearing-in ceremony for senior staffers.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts', Chief Justice Roberts' is.
FEYERICK: And the president looked none too happy.
So, to put it to rest, and on the advice of White House counsel, President Obama had his first official do-over.
ROBERTS: ... that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States...
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Out of an abundance of caution, Chief Justice Roberts came last night to re-administer the oath. FEYERICK: There was no Lincoln Bible, no cheering crowds, just a handful of people, including a White House photographer, four aides and four print journalists.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he -- they didn't do it over again, you would have started getting into the conspiracy theory school. The blogosphere was starting to explode that Obama wasn't a real president.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: It seems inconceivable that anyone would have the standing, have the right to challenge Obama's presidency.
FEYERICK: But, for White House reporters, who, just hours earlier had been promised a transparent administration, the relative secrecy of the re-swearing-in was troubling.
QUESTION: In terms of transparency, why didn't you show the world this?
GIBBS: We think it was done in a way that was up-front and transparent.
FEYERICK: Now, the interesting thing is that the flub was discussed at all by White House counsel, even though President Obama was, well, president. He will not have to resign any of those executive orders that he signed in the interim -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Deb Feyerick, thanks very much for that.
President Obama, by the way, now joins an exclusive club, very exclusive, presidents who have redone their swearing-in. Only two others have. In 1881, Chester Arthur was sworn in, in New York by the state's chief justice, after president James Garfield's assassination. But, two days later, Arthur redid it in Washington to establish a federal record.
And, in August 1923, after President Warren Harding died -- died of a heart attack, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in by his father in Vermont. But questions about his father being a notary, not a federal official, caused Coolidge to retake the oath in Washington -- interesting little facts.
All right, imagine a BlackBerry that cost more than $3,000. It's a one-of-a-kind device that will allow President Obama to stay plugged in every minute. We're going to show you how it works and what it means and why this is fascinating to a lot of us.
And we're talking to Americans who took Mr. Obama's call to serve their country to heart. You're going to find out how you can get involved as well.
And the Obama girls get a how-to manual for being a kid in the White House -- the inside information they got from the Bush twins. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The man chosen to help fix the economy is one step closer to getting the job. Today, the Senate Finance Committee voted 18-5 to recommend that Timothy Geithner be confirmed as the treasury secretary.
The full Senate could vote on the confirmation later today.
Meanwhile, President Obama talked about how to kick-start the economic with his economic team. Joining him in the Oval Office were the vice president, Joe Biden, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, the national economic director, Lawrence Summers, and the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Peter Orszag.
President Obama is determined to keep his BlackBerry. He wants to stay in touch with a lot of folks. But how is he going to do it? Easier said than done. It sounds simple. You keep the BlackBerry, and you could communicate your friends, family, your top aides.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right.
BLITZER: But, when you're president of the United States, nothing is simple.
TODD: That's right.
And, as you remember, Wolf, during the transition, it looked like Mr. Obama was going to have to give up that BlackBerry. And he dreaded the prospect, saying that they would have to pry it out of his hands. Well, now it looks like at least some of the security concerns have been addressed, and it looks like the president is getting an upgrade.
TODD (voice-over): It's official. The new president won't have to kick his tech habit.
GIBBS: The president has a BlackBerry through a compromise that allows him to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends in a way that use will be limited and that the security is enhanced.
TODD: Published reports say the president's new device could be the Sectera Edge, made by General Dynamics. It's not available to the public. And the company says the $3,300 portable has to be approved by the National Security Agency before government officials can use it. Why?
A General Dynamics official took us through the capabilities of this personal digital assistant, or PDA.
MICHAEL GUZELIAN, GENERAL DYNAMICS: The device has -- is two BlackBerrys in one. It's an unclassified PDA that can go out to a Web site, like Weather.com, or check flights. And, then, with one push of a button, you switch over to a classified PDA, which would allow you to access secret e-mail or secret Web sites.
TODD: Phone calls are made by pressing that telephone button. But hit the button for the red background, and it's a top-secret phone call.
We e-mailed the NSA, asking whether it approved the Sectera Edge for Mr. Obama's use. The agency referred us to the White House, which wouldn't say which device the president has. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs didn't say whether Mr. Obama would communicate with his entire staff with his BlackBerry, but did say why he thought he should have one.
GIBBS: He believes it's a way of keeping in touch with -- with -- with folks, a way of doing it outside of getting stuck in a bubble.
TODD: But security is still a concern. Some Internet security experts have told us that no device is hack-proof. The General Dynamics official wouldn't say whether this device is a relative Fort Knox, but he did say the NSA wouldn't certify a device that was easily hacked, Wolf. They're pretty confident about...
BLITZER: All right, this is a really high-tech device.
BLITZER: We're happy the president of the United States will be able to stay in touch. I love my BlackBerry. I'm sure you do as well. This is highly secure, the technology pretty impressive.
But what about some of the other technology at the White House? I understand it's sort of low-tech.
TODD: It looks like there are some initial problems, at least, with the head-start here with the White House -- "The Washington Post" reporting that the staff is encountering disconnected phone lines, e- mail accounts blocked, outside e-mail accounts, and old computer software.
Now, we talked to one aide who said that there is old some software, but that they're getting up to speed. Things will get much quicker, he said, when their new director of new media is settled. That seems like a special position that this team is creating. And you will see some upgrades on the Web site and other things like that. So, it's -- it's slow going at the start. They think they will get going pretty soon.
BLITZER: Because, during the campaign, as we all know, the Obama campaign was very high-tech. And I'm sure they will be up to speed fairly soon. TODD: That's right. This is...
TODD: ... coming to a screeching halt right now.
BLITZER: This is the U.S. government at work.
BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens on that front.
Brian, thank you.
He's talking to you, but he speaks for the new leader of the free world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIBBS: The president believes that we can change the way Washington works. The president believes that we can reach across party lines and share ideas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The new White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, in his first Q&A with reporters.
President Obama hits the ground running. There's no doubt about that. But is he doing too much too soon? Stick around. We're assessing -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us now, the Democratic National Committee spokeswomen Karen Finney and Republican strategist John Feehery.
And let me start you, John.
I know you watched Robert Gibbs' first exchange with reporters in the West Wing over at the White House today. How did he do?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think the honeymoon is definitely over.
FEEHERY: He got some tough questions from Ed Henry, especially -- I thought he did OK on that question. I think he named one of his background briefers, which he should not have done.
Otherwise, he used some humor to get through -- through some tough times. It shows, though, that the -- the honeymoon is definitely over. The press is not going to take it easy on him. And he's got to be prepared.
BLITZER: He dodged some of those questions, too. He tried to walk around some of the sensitive issues.
KAREN FINNEY, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Yes, but, you know, it's a really tough job up there, because, really, you're not trying to make news. You're trying to explain what's going on. But you're not trying to lay down new ground.
I think he did a great job. I know he's been preparing for quite some time. He's actually looked at some of the previous briefings. And I think he was prepared for the fact that the honeymoon would be over the minute he took the podium.
BLITZER: Did he make a mistake -- not him necessarily, personally, but the entire Obama White House, by not letting television cameras come in and record that second wearing-in ceremony?
FINNEY: Well, you know, they did have a pool photographer -- they did have a pool reporter in there.
BLITZER: Print reporter.
FINNEY: A print reporter in there. And they did have a White House photo that -- released that photo. So, I think they tried to, you know, follow the spirit of openness and have folks in there. Certainly, Gibbs was in there and there were some other folks in there.
And, again, it was -- it was a do-over. And we all got to see it the first time. So, no, I think they did fine.
BLITZER: Well, I disagree, but I'm biased, because I'm a reporter.
BLITZER: I think the American people had a right to see the president of the United States being sworn in a second time. There should have been television cameras in there.
FEEHERY: Wolf, I agree with you.
FINNEY: Of course you do.
BLITZER: That is the -- that is the correct answer.
FEEHERY: Right. Also -- but, also, the other question, he didn't answer the question about if the president wasn't officially sworn in the first time, how about those executive orders, are they valid? And he did not have a good answer when a -- when a reporter asked that question.
So, he has -- Robert Gibbs has got to get those questions right.
BLITZER: He's got a -- you know, this is a tough -- look, I spent almost eight years, as you know -- you worked in the Clinton White House -- dealing with, you know, Joe Lockhart, you know, who was one of the best White House press secretaries. He knew how to finesse and finagle.
Mike McCurry, who was an excellent White House press secretary.
BLITZER: It's by no means easy, as all of us know, but you have got to be prepared, because you're going to get some tough questions from these reporters.
FINNEY: You do. And there is a lot of preparation that goes into it.
But, you know, the other thing I think that Gibbs did very well today was to kind of set a tone. He made it clear that, again, he was going to try to be forthcoming with answers. He was very clear when he didn't know something or felt like he couldn't say something, not trying to make it up on the spot. And I think he set a tone, so it's not an antagonistic relationship, but really kind of returning to maybe having a little bit more of a cordial relationship.
BLITZER: I think some of those officials probably think they make a mistake not letting TV cameras in. But, you know, they wouldn't acknowledge that.
BLITZER: If you make a mistake, you're supposed to acknowledge it, move on. The American public will forgive and forget.
FINNEY: Off to a pretty good start...
BLITZER: They did hit the ground running. You have to admit, the president of the United States is doing a lot, this, his -- only his second full day. But is he too ambitious right now, at the start?
FEEHERY: A lot of pent-up, let's do something fast. And we will see how it works.
I think, with the stimulus package especially, if they ram that through, they risk not only alienating Republicans, but alienating the American people, who are still trying to come to grips with where did all the TARP money go? And we're going to spend all this money. Is it going to have any impact?
They have got to be careful on this stuff not to overdo and overreach. Otherwise, they are going to alienate a lot of people.
FINNEY: I can't imagine that you couldn't be trying to do, you know, as much as you could as fast as you can.
I think what he did today, in particular -- and yesterday -- was important on two fronts. One, from a policy perspective, if you looked at the headlines from today, it's clear, things are changing. And that sent a really important signal, both here at home and around the world.
It also sent the signal that he's going to be a man of his word and keep his word. And that's very important.
BLITZER: First impressions are so important. And I think, by and large, he's made an excellent first impression over these first two-and-a-half days.
Guys, we will leave it right there. Thanks for coming in.
President Obama is asking you to get more involved in public service. We're tracking the response and ways all of us can do more to serve the country.
Plus, the president's new point man for the Middle East, George Mitchell has been down the road before. Will he have more success with President Obama behind him?
And the disturbing new threats against the president of the United States -- how federal officials are taking action, and they're taking action right now.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's head right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, can President Obama really change the way business is done in Washington, D.C.?
Jim in California: "President Obama won't change anything. It will be business as usual. He has most of the Clinton administration back in power. He was using the term change just to get elected. He has been close to personal friends with thugs before being elected, and now we have more like Geithner, who ought be charged with tax evasion."
Raoul in New Orleans writes: "President Obama will be the first one to tell you he does very little on his own. One of the reasons he went from near obscurity to win the nomination and then the presidency was his management style and who he chose to surround himself with. He is inclusive, not afraid to listen to other points of view. The changes will be much easier with this frame of mind."
Asim writes: "You need to watch a bit more CNN, Jack. He already has."
Linda in Bisbee, Arizona, "I doubt it very much."
Nancy in Tennessee: "Nancy Pelosi said the Congress will not adjourn for the President's Day holiday until they get the stimulus package signed into law. Thank goodness for this carrot to dangle over their heads to help speed the process. It seems like politics as usual, Congress always wanting something in return for doing the right thing."
Mike in California: "If you mean can he change the culture of government by the corporate interests and for the corporate interests, time will tell. I do think Obama has a better shot at wresting control of government from the greedy hands of the corporate class than any of his recent predecessors."
And Kim in Dublin, Ohio, writes: "Why not? The Republicans did."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: President Obama aims a tough message at the Middle East, telling Israel and Hamas to take steps to make their cease-fire last.
Hillary Clinton starts work over at the State Department, and big-name troubleshooters will head to key hot spots, as the new administration flexes its diplomatic muscles.
And a flurry of announcements, appointments, and orders -- James Carville and Bay Buchanan, they're standing by live. They will weigh in on a hectic start to the Obama era.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Secretary Hillary Clinton today took charge over at the State Department, got a rousing reception when she walked into that building. She also got an immediate boost from President Obama, who showed up, along with the vice president, Joe Biden, as the new administration signals, it's ready for some tough diplomacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But the of our young century demands a new era of American leadership. We must recognize that America's strength comes not just from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from our enduring values.
And, for the sake of our national security and the common aspirations of people around the globe, this era has to begin now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go straight to our CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She's over at the State Department.
It was pretty dramatic, that -- that arrival of the secretary earlier today, Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Wolf.
And, you know, she got here at 9:00 a.m. It's now 5:00 p.m., and it's already clear this is not going to be any kind of 9:00-to-5:00 operation.