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Countdown to CNN's National Report Card

Aired April 25, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama is closing in on his 100th day in office. And Americans are grading his leadership during difficult and dangerous times. This hour, a robust discussion of the 44th president's accomplishments and failings so far. Stand by to find out how you can be involved.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a countdown to CNN's "National Report Card." I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Ninety six days ago, Barack Obama took the presidential oath and made big promises to the American people.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America, they will be met.


BLITZER: Now as the president nears the 100-day milestone, it's time to take stock of the progress he's making or not making. Perhaps the toughest challenge, bringing back jobs and repairing the economy. He's also facing early tests as commander in chief, waging two wars, keeping the nation secure through legislation, and on the battlefield, and ensuring U.S. troops and veterans get the benefits they deserve.

We have many questions to ask. Is this president laying groundwork for a day when every American has good health care, and education on par with the best of the world, low cost energy in a clean, safe environment? Is Barack Obama the leader he promised us he'd be?

The conversation begins here, leading up to CNN's "National Report Card" on Wednesday night. Over the next hour, you'll hear a lot about how you can grade the president, the Congress and other elected officials at We want you to be part of this historic moment to help us hold our leaders accountable for the way they're spending our money and affecting our lives.

Let's begin right now with the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. He's joining us from the north lawn of the White House. Robert, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I know the president says there are glimmers of hope as far as the economy is concerned. He's very precise in his words. Listen to the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think if you look at the first 100 days, you can sum it up pretty simply: spending, taxing, borrowing and ducking the hard choices. Americans, I think, are fed up with this unprecedented level of spending and borrowing that will imprison the future for our kids and their kids.


BLITZER: All right. He doesn't sound like he sees a whole lot of glimmers of hope. Explain why you think John Boehner is wrong.

GIBBS: Well, Wolf, I have to disagree vehemently. I think he's got it almost completely wrong. This president promised a tax cut to the American people for 95 percent of working families. And in the first few days of this administration, delivered. We have taken bold steps to address the downturn in our economy through a recovery and reinvestment plan. The president promised that, and he delivered.

The president promised that he'd cut the deficit in half through a budget over the first four years. And we're on the verge of delivering that in the first 100 days, too. So I think the American people can be assured that exactly what this president campaigned on, tax cuts for 95 percent of working families, cutting the budget deficit in half, and getting our economy back on track, is exactly what he spent that time doing.

BLITZER: It's a little early to be looking ahead four years as far as the deficit is concerned, because that deficit is exploding in horrendous numbers right now.

GIBBS: Well, but, Wolf, let's understand that's not some number that I made up or anybody else made up. That's from the Congressional Budget Office, which is in charge of keeping score of what the budget plan would do to spending over the course of a four-year period of time. Those aren't my numbers, Wolf. That's the independent Congressional Budget Office that Mr. Boehner is a member of.

BLITZER: So all this spending, what Boehner and other Republicans say will result in mortgaging the children and grandchildren of this country right now -- because the U.S. national debt is going to simply keep on growing and growing and growing. How do you respond to that?

GIBBS: Well, look, this president came to this administration inheriting a huge debt and a huge deficit. We're happy that members all across Washington now seem to be concerned with out of control spending. The president identified that as a candidate and has taken steps to put that back under control. We understand we have to have fiscal responsibility returned to Washington, because, in all honesty, it hasn't been here for quite some time.

But this president also knows, Wolf, that the debt and the deficit will only get worse if we don't do something to address the economic needs and get people back to work again in this country. And that's exactly what he did with the recovery and reinvestment plan. We're laying the foundation for long term economic growth that will put people back to work and ultimately have bring our fiscal house in order.

BLITZER: On national security, the Republicans and some others say that the decision to release those enhanced interrogation memos has now opened a Pandora's Box, and you don't know where that's going to result. Are you fearful that all these kind of commissions of inquiry or truth commissions now are simply going to detract everyone from looking ahead and dealing with the real crises that are out there?

GIBBS: Well, the real crises in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan are real, and they're out there. And the president is addressing those each and every day. These memos, Wolf, were written between 2002 and 2005. And as part of a court case, there was no way that the government of this country was ever going to be able to keep those secret.

The president went through a pretty exhaustive process of decision-making in order to decide ultimately to release these memos.

We don't believe this is a moment of retribution or looking backwards. It's a moment of reflection and looking forward. This president is addressing the national security concerns of this country. We're withdrawing our troops from Iraq. We are increasing our commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan to address violent extremism.

BLITZER: What happened to all the bipartisanship that had been promised?

GIBBS: Well, look, Wolf, I think this president has remained committed to reaching out to Republicans. He said here, in one of the very first events we did at the White House, to a Republican member of Congress that he'd continue to reach out, but bipartisanship was a two-way street. We're happy that on a number of initiatives we've had Republican support, in some cases strong Republican support.

This president will spend each and every day reaching out to the Republican party, because he understands good ideas aren't the province of one political party. He understands there are good ideas in both parties and wants to work together to ensure that we can move this country forward.

BLITZER: What's the top priority for the next 100 days?

GIBBS: You know, it's getting this economy moving again. It's continuing to stabilize our banks and our financial system. And more importantly, let's also work to lay that foundation for long-term economic growth by addressing the challenges that we have in health care and energy independence and ensuring, as you said in your lead- in, Wolf, that we have an education system that's the very best in the world.

BLITZER: Can we expect some cooperation, bipartisan corporation on health care reform? Or will this simply be a Democratic led initiative that you're going to try to get passed.

GIBBS: We've had meetings at the White House. We've invited both members of the parties to come. We think there are good ideas on both sides of the aisle. This is something right now where we have a very amazing coalition emerging. You've got small businesses and large businesses that are concerned with the sky rocketing cost of health care, along with patient advocates. Putting together a group of people that really hasn't existed before to get health care reform done in this country.

We talked a little bit about fiscal responsibility and that growing budget deficit. We're never going to get our fiscal house in order unless we address the sky rocketing cost of health care and Medicare and Medicaid. Only by addressing some of those things are we going to be able to put ourselves back on that path of fiscal sustainability and sustained long term economic growth.

BLITZER: We're going to ask our viewers to grade the president, the administration, the Congress, all sorts of government institutions over the next few days, Robert. But I want you right now to grade the White House press corps over these first 100 days. What grade would you give them?

GIBBS: I'd give them a strong A, Wolf. You guys watch every day. There are tough questions each and every day, and they're looking at and trying to find the stories in this administration. I think the job that they have to do every day, to get up and go to work, ask tough questions and cover for the American people the job this administration is doing, I think they're obviously doing a tough job particularly well.

BLITZER: Robert Gibbs is the White House press secretary, who himself has a pretty tough job. We'll talk about that on another occasion. Thanks very much for coming in.

GIBBS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Americans wonder if the next 100 days will look anything like the first 100 days, Republicans turning their backs on the president's priorities or the president failing to bring change we can believe? We're going to get a prediction from the number two House Republican, Eric Cantor.

And where does the president deserve high marks and where has he gone off the mark? Some of the best political minds give grades.

And picture this, images of President Obama like you've never seen. We have them, and the photographer talks about them.



OBAMA: There's going to be action in Congress. Our administration is going to be pushing for reform in this area. We think it's important that we get input from the credit card issuers as we shape this reform, but they're -- and I'm going to leave it up to my economic team to work with Congress to evaluate all the various proposals and to get some very definitive language in place.


BLITZER: The commander in chief lays down the law. There will be changes to how credit card companies do business with you. It's one of the last items the president is pushing for as he nears 100 days in office. Will Congressional leaders back or buck his economic plans?

The number two Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, recently met with the president. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MINORITY WHIP: Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: How did that meeting go?

CANTOR: Well, look, I think it was a positive step to say that, look, we're at the end of the first 100 days of this administration. The bipartisan, bicameral leadership went to the White House. And we had a very frank discussion. We really did, Wolf. And we talked about sort of what to expect in the next five weeks here in Washington and perhaps some of the progress that we could make together.

BLITZER: Is there going to be any cooperation on some of these fundamental economic-related issues? Because, as you know, not one member of the House on the Republican side voted with the president on the economic stimulus package.

CANTOR: In fact, we had that very discussion. And the president and I talked about what happened and what broke down on the stimulus. And he knows, as well as many, that we do have a plan for getting jobs created again in this country. We did present a plan that we felt would create twice as many jobs at half the cost. But I think we agreed that perhaps because things broke down there, that maybe we should look for new ways of doing things.

BLITZER: Are there new ways, do you think? Is there any opening where we can see Republicans in the House and Senate work together with the Democrats and the White House?

CANTOR: I really do see that.

BLITZER: Where? Give me an example. CANTOR: For example, the president started the week with a meeting of his cabinet and he suggested to the cabinet secretaries that they find 100 million dollars in savings, so that we could perhaps see Washington begin to behave like most families and businesses are doing in tough times, which is to tighten the belt. So I asked the president to work with us. We have plenty of ideas of how to cut waste in Washington and accomplish some meaningful spending -- meaningful spending curtailment. That's really what we've got to do. We have to save some taxpayer dollars.

Beyond that, we had a lot of discussion at this meeting on health care. Obviously, there is -- this is the marquis on what he set out as his primary domestic agenda item. It is such is a big issue. It is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. This is an issue that affects all people.

BLITZER: Is there a middle ground on health care reform where you, Eric Cantor -- you believe you could find that middle ground with the White House?

CANTOR: I do, Wolf. I think that if we all step back a minute and think about the single working woman in the suburbs in one of the American cities across this country, and if we think about what she has to worry about when she puts her kid to bed, and what she's thinking about at night, I bet we'd all come to the realization she's worried about losing her job, because it's happening all around her. She's also worried if she loses her job, she is going to lose her health care.

We've got to address that issue. We have to look at the issue of health care through the eyes of the working families in this country, and provide some solutions that will ensure that people in this country will be able maintain the health care that they do have, and also maintain the ability to choose for themselves to make sure that their kids can see the pediatricians that they want to see.

These are the kinds of things I think that all of us can agree on. And if we approach it from that level, I do think we can produce some results.

BLITZER: In this most recent CNN Opinion Research Corporation Poll, by an almost two to one margin, 62 percent to 36 percent, they believe that the president is doing more than the GOP to try to reach some sort of cooperation with the other party. Why does the American public think that the White House and the Democrats are more assertive in wanting to cooperate with you than the Republicans?

CANTOR: Wolf, I may lay some of the blame on that on some of your colleagues in the mainstream media. It's just not as appetizing, I guess, to cover the plans that we have and the attempts that we've made, and we'll continue to make to, reach out, not only to the president and the White House, but to Speaker Pelosi, who, frankly, has been unwilling to bring a consensus-building group together to try and see a way to bring the agenda back from the extreme to the mainstream. But we're going to continue trying.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

CANTOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Grading the president on national security. Facing two wars and new terror threats, is Mr. Obama making the country more or less safe? Ed Rollins, David Gergen and Donna Brazile, they're here to give their grades.

Plus, the president promised bipartisanship and transparency in government. Is he delivering? We're counting down to the first 100 days.



OBAMA: All right. 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 on-going 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.


BLITZER: President Obama in one of his first official acts, ordering the closing of the controversial detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Supporters say it's one of the ways the president is making the country safer. Critics, however, disagree. They say closing Guantanamo makes the country less safe, as does the release of those so-called torture memos.

Let's talk about that and more with Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins, our CNN senior political strategist David Gergen, and Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile.

Ed, what do you think? Has he made the country less safe or more safe over the past nearly 100 days?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think he's done anything to make the country less safe. I think the bottom line, he committed to close Guantanamo. He lived up to that. Obviously, the torture memos are another debate, and where it goes from here. I think the key thing, though, is he was willing as commander in chief to use the drones to basically go after and kill the Pakistani Taliban leaders there when he needed to.

He gave the SEALS the orders to basically go ahead and rescue our hostages. I think they've done a tremendous outreach to our military. SO I don't think the military or the country is any less safe under his watch.

BLITZER: At least from the Republicans, that argument -- and we heard it from the former vice president, Dick Cheney, David, is resonating with a lot of the Republican core base, that he's undermining U.S. national security. And it was enhanced, that argument, by the release of those enhanced interrogation technique memos.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's true. I'm still sort of a little bit in semi-shock from Ed Rollins answer. I was so interested in how positive he was about the president's national security policies. I think he's absolutely right, that he's not made the country less safe. I think he has, in fact, if anything, increased or reopened or renewed some of the ties we needed to renew with Europe. And I think he's making some interesting overtures in the Middle East. We'll have to see where that goes. And in Latin America.

I do think, Wolf, the one thing we don't know is whether he is going to be tough enough in some of these situations. I think Ed would probably agree with that. He hasn't been tested in a full way yet. And I do think it's important for an American president, even as he reaches a hand out and extends the olive branch, that people know that there's also an underlying toughness. Because otherwise they'll exploit the friendship.

This is a tough world we live in. I think that's still incomplete. But overall, I agree very much with Ed Rollins' assessment.

BLITZER: Donna, on day 67, back on March 27th, he issued a very robust stance. Ed alluded to this earlier. As far as going after al Qaeda. I'll play a little clip for you, Donna. Listen to this.


OBAMA: I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.


BLITZER: He's sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan, to the concern of some in his own party, Donna, as you well know. And he's stepping up those so-called drone attacks against Taliban and al Qaeda-suspected targets inside Pakistan. What do you make of this strategy?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The president was very clear when he announced several weeks ago that he would put forward a new plan to strengthen not only our engagement in Afghanistan, by also making sure that we protect that border with Pakistan. The president understands that we have to have allies in achieving those goals, ensuring that the Afghanistanis (sic) hold elections late they are year.

I think he sent a message that he wanted to dismantle the Taliban, to disrupt al Qaeda from influencing that region. He's been very bold in putting forward a new schedule, so to speak, in Iraq as well.

BLITZER: It is going to be fascinating to see if he can actually deliver now, because that was a pretty bold threat that he made. Now he's got to deliver, which is always a lot more difficult. Let's go around, everybody give me a grade on how the president so far during these first 100 days is doing specifically, Ed, I'll start with you, on the issue of national security.

ROLLINS: I think he gets an A-minus. I think there's been a great consistency. Obviously, Gates is a person very responsible for a lot of it, but very consistency in the handoff. I think the same things would have occurred if Bush would have been there, with some minor changes. At the end of the day, the country is still in good hand, A-Minus.

BLITZER: David, you're a teacher at Harvard. Give us a grade.

GERGEN: A is hard to get. But I think on his team, he gets anywhere from an A to A-Plus. I think he has a first class team around him. I would agree that, generally speaking, overall execution and direction, A-Minus for the first 100 days.

BLITZER: Donna, You give grades to students at Georgetown University. Give us a grade.

BRAZILE: I will give him an A, because I think the president sought to repair our relationships with our allies and reset, so to speak, our relations with Russia and other places. I think that the president still has to follow through on some of the things that he discussed at the G-20 summit. But overall, I give him a good grade.

BLITZER: Good grades so far. But let's see what happens in the next round. President Obama confronting a crisis on a scale not seen in this country in generations.


OBAMA: This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession. We are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.


BLITZER: So how is he handling the economic crisis? Ed Rollins, David Gergen, Donna Brazile, they're back with their grades.

How dogs the president compare with his predecessors after 100 days in office? We have the raw numbers.


BLITZER: Four days from now, President Obama will endure intense scrutiny. Is he fixing the economic mess? How is he doing commanding two wars? And is he delivering the change Americans can believe in?

Wednesday marks the president's 100th day in office. Across the nation, Americans will add their grades on a National Report Card. It's a test every recent president has gone through. Let's go to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. He's been going through the numbers. How does this president compare during these first 100 days with some of his predecessors?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, on his job rating a little better, but personal qualities are where this president really stands out.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over:) How is Barack Obama handling his job as president? Our CNN poll of polls shows 64 percent approval. Obama's rating is similar to the last six elected presidents after 100 days. Only Ronald Reagan got a slightly higher rating. Clinton and the first President Bush were below 60 but all in the same general range.

All of these presidents were elected after the late 1960s, when the great division in American politics emerged: conservative versus liberal. Each has taken office with a hard core of supporters and opponents.

New presidents used to come in with a greater reserve of good will. Ratings for John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower were markedly higher after 100 days.

President Obama really stands out on personal qualities. After 9/11, the public believed George W. Bush would keep the country safe.

GEORGE BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

SCHNEIDER: Do they think president Obama will keep the president safe? Yes, 71 percent. Americans believed President Clinton cared about them.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today our nation joins with you in grief.

SCHNEIDER: Do they think President Obama cares about them? Yes, 71 percent. The first President Bush was criticized for being out of touch with ordinary Americans. Do people think President Obama understands the problems of ordinary Americans? Yes, 74 percent.

Jimmy Carter was not considered a strong leader. Ronald Reagan was. Does the public think President Obama is a strong leader? Yes, 76 percent.

Richard Nixon turned out not to be honest and trust worthy.


SCHNEIDER: Do people think President Obama is honest and trust worthy? Yes, 74 percent.


SCHNEIDER: Obama the super president? well, so far, so good. But as the figures for previous presidents suggest, you can't always judge a president by his first 100 days. Wolf?

BLITZER: Excellent point, Bill. Thanks very much. A lot of presidents learned that.

After weeks of dire warnings about the country's economic crisis, President Obama began sounding a little more optimistic. Listen to what he said a couple of weeks ago, on day 81 in office.


OBAMA: What you're starting to see is glimmers of hope across the economy. I feel absolutely convinced that we are going to get this economy back on track.


BLITZER: Let's turn back to Republican strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins, CNN senior analyst David Gergen and Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile.

Is the administration, the Obama administration and the president instilling confidence in the American people when it comes to issue number one, trying to strengthen this economy?

ROLLINS: I think he's a little more shaky on this. I don't think there's a real strategy. There are a lot of tactical moves that have been made. But I don't think he has articulated all the various pieces. They have thrown a lot of money at this thing, but they haven't talked about how they're going to pay for it.

I think, to a certain extent, I get the impression it's kind of every day is a whole new plan. And I think that's not as effective as other things he's done.

BLITZER: A lot of people have suggested, David, that the president himself is a pretty articulate, effective spokesman. But maybe some of his others, including Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, maybe not necessarily as effective at explaining what's going on to the American people.

GERGEN: I think that's an accurate perception. The president's having to carry a lot of the load himself for the explanation. Fortunately, for the administration, he's obviously an eloquent spokesman for it.

I disagree a little bit with Ed about one thing. That is, there has been a remarkable turnaround in people thinking the country is on the right track. For a number of years now, a vast majority of Americans just say fundamentally we've been on the wrong track. This past week we actually had an Associated Press poll that, for the first time in a long, long time said -- a plurality actually said, we're on the right track. That is very much the Obama effect. And I think it's primarily about the economy.

People do sense this is bottoming out. Now, if this turns out to be a false dawn, if the economy goes down again, General Motors goes into bankruptcy, which is a real possibility -- Chrysler could go as early as this next week. People may change their views or we may have a long, bumpy, joyless recovery, even as it bottoms out.

So there are a lot of major, major hurdles ahead. But I do think you have to give President Obama credit for lifting people's hopes and confidence.

BLITZER: The problem he'll have, Donna, and David Gergen, refers to this -- if this recovery that we seem to be some glimmers of hope, at least the president's words, right now prove to be what some people think of as a false, sort of a sucker's rally on Wall Street, and things eventually in the next few weeks and months things continue to slide in a backward direction; that could be a serious problem.

BRAZILE: First of all, we need to look at what has been accomplished. He passed one of -- was able to get passed one of the most ambitious recovery plans ever in the stimulus package that was produced on February 17th, that will save or create millions of jobs across the country. It's very -- the president has also, of course, laid out his budget for the next ten years. And of course he has put forward initiatives to try to strengthen our financial markets.

We haven't seen all of the great success that we'd like to see with the stimulus package, but already Americans are feeling the effects in their paychecks, at least those working Americans. And those out of work, they're able to get an extension of their unemployment benefits, as well as the ability to buy into their health insurance.

So I think this president has put a great deal of economic initiatives in motion. We'll see what will happen.

BLITZER: Let's go around and once again do a grade. Give us a grade for the president, the specific grade this time, Ed, on his handling of the economic crisis.

ROLLINS: I would give him a C-plus. I think this is a little weaker area. I think he's put a lot of money out there, but I don't think there's any real confidence yet that this thing is all going to work.


GERGEN: I do think this is more mixed. I'd give him an A for effort. I think the execution so far has been somewhere in the B to B-plus range. Whether it's going to work or not, I think you have to give an incomplete. I just don't think we know yet.


BRAZILE: I actually agree with David on the incomplete notion, in terms of the ability to stabilize the financial markets. We don't know about these legacy assets, the bank stress tests. We still don't know enough to realize the future. But overall I give him a B-Plus on his economic initiatives. I just wish the money could get down into the hands of the people who need it the most a little quicker. BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note. Thanks very much.

President Obama promised a new way of doing business here in Washington. One of the first big tests was the economic stimulus bill.


BOEHNER: Not one member has read this. What happened to the promise that we're going to let the American people see what's in this bill for 48 hours? But, nope, we don't have time to do that.


BLITZER: That was back in February. Did the president deliver on his promise of transparency? The people covering his first 100 days, our CNN correspondents, they're getting ready to tackle this one.

And a candid picture of life in the White House behind the scenes. The president like you haven't seen him before.



OBAMA: I can promise you that this is just the beginning of a new way of doing business here in Washington, because the American people have every right to expect and to demand a government that is more efficient, more accountable and more responsible in keeping the public's trust.


BLITZER: In his first 100 days, the president hasn't been able to bring Democrats and Republicans together in Washington as many had hoped. Let's talk about this and more with our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, our chief national correspondent John King, the anchor of CNN's "State of The Union," which airs every Sunday morning, and our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry.

Candy, has the president and the administration delivered on the issue of transparency?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, yes and no. In some parts, the idea that there were going to be bills for everyone to see up on the web for five days didn't happen with the stimulus. They said that was an emergency. We had those meetings at the White House where you saw the Congressman standing up and talking to the president, that seemed more PR to me than actual policy making.

They do have a website up that says here's where the stimulus money is going. But we're not going to know if that actually works until after the first horrible example of not working comes up.

BLITZER: On day 27, John, of this new administration, John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, was not impressed when it came to this level of cooperation. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I do say, in all candor, that it was a bad beginning. It was a bad beginning because it wasn't what we promised the American people. What President Obama promised the American people that we would sit down together.


BLITZER: Disappointed?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Disappointed. This was about the stimulus debate and the beginning of the economic debate. Senator McCain is trying to make the point that if you promised to rewrite the rules of Washington, promised to be genuinely bipartisan, that the Democrats and the president, beginning with the president, didn't meet that test during the stimulus.

As Candy said, they said it was an emergency. They said they had to do this right away. And the Republicans made it pretty clear they were going to vote no on a lot of this. As a down payment on bipartisanship, Senator McCain said he wanted to work with the president and he said he failed that early test.

The second hundred days, when we get to health care, climate change, some of the very difficult issues on which the president may lose some Democratic votes, and need some Republican votes, he'll a much better test. Early on, the Republicans decided, Wolf, it was safe to go back into their polarized corner and the Democrats did the same. Not just the Republicans. On Capitol Hill, I mean, everybody decided let's keep doing it the way we've been doing it.

BLITZER: He also moved unilaterally, as is his right, executive orders, if you will, getting rid of the ban on funding for embryonic stem-cell research. I'll pay this clip.


OBAMA: Today, with the executive order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for and fought for these past eight years. We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem-cell research.


BLITZER: With his signature, he did that, even though he had promised in an interview with our own John King earlier, he thought maybe this was something that should be enacted in law with legislation, so that a subsequent president wouldn't simply be able to sign another executive order reversing it.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It gets back to John's point about reaching across the aisle to Republicans. The idea of getting legislation that would hope to find bipartisanship consensus. It would be a lot more powerful in the days ahead.

Instead, he acted on his own, by executive order. A lot of conservatives are upset. They think you can get the same sort of scientific progress from adult stem-cell lines. You don't need to do it through embryonic. That's a big debate. We'll see, again, in the days ahead.

But I think it also gets to the fact that there's been frustration on the Republican side about the president moving ahead on his own. But let's face it, he has the power of that pen now. He's also going to use it on the other side eventually, probably with a veto pen. That will be a big test. On earmarks, for example, in the first 100 days, he talked so much about getting rid of earmarks. Let's not forget he signed a big appropriations omnibus that had thousands of these earmarks. He justified it by saying, last year's business.

So now he has a test when he has a chance to veto it in the days ahead.

BLITZER: The release of these so-called torture memos, the enhanced interrogation techniques, a lot of people think that simply opened up a whole Pandora's Box. We now know there was some dissent among some of his top advisers whether to go forward. In the end, he made that call.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And transparency, apparently, does apply to the Bush administration and their memos. I don't think we know how far this goes. And it is that curse. Be careful what you wish for. Because this does go up to Capitol Hill, who knew what, who was led to believe that some of these forms of harsh interrogation techniques or torture, who knew about it, who had reason to know that they were moving ahead?

So I think they have to be very careful. Then they also have to deal with the intelligence community going, you know what, let's not reveal all of this stuff. This endangers us overseas. This sort of gives people -- well, they did this, so we're going to really be -- anyone they might capture that's a U.S. citizen. So there's danger all around us.

BLITZER: The president and his aides are saying, you know what, we were going to have to release these documents anyhow because of a lawsuit that was coming forward. We just decided to do it.

KING: That's a political decision they made in the White House that could be a political perilous decision, in the sense that if a judge did it, the White House could say, we were told to do it by a court house. Politically, in town, they've polarized people even more. And the whole argument about A, was this a smart thing to do politically? Is it a distraction when you're going to do so much more in the second 100 days?

From a policy stand point, to Candy's point, Leon Panetta, a Democrat, CIA director, opposed releasing this because he's worried not so much about the political fight, but about the men and women still doing interrogations under the new rules. Will they get timid and be afraid to do something? When you watch the Taliban advance on the government of Pakistan and the risk of the Pakistani government collapsing, this is a very real debate. It's not just a Washington debate.

HENRY: It's also about pressure from the left. Because let's face it, during the campaign, this president gave liberals an idea that he was going to be with them on a lot of these issues. And even though he released these documents, he's not getting behind an independent investigation of all of this. That's frustrating people on the left.

He is going to have to deal not just with the fights from the Republicans in the days ahead. But there are some people on the left who are not happy.

BLITZER: I suspect these decisions will have enormous impact on what is going to happen in the second 100 days as well. Guys, thanks very much.

Now to a side of the president that's not often seen in the public eye. Some revealing photos capturing some private family moments at the start of an historic presidency.


BLITZER: Over the last weeks and months, we've seen a lot of images of President Obama. But now "Time Magazine" is revealing a side of him we didn't often see, behind the scenes of the president's first 100 days, life in the White House, captured in some amazing photos.

Joining us now, Callie Shell. She's the photographer for "Time Magazine," our sister publication. The president of the United States and the vice president of the United States, by most accounts, they seem to have a pretty good working relationship.

CALLIE SHELL, "TIME MAGAZINE" PHOTOGRAPHER: I believe they have a great working relationship. They do. They can kid around with each other. But at the same time, they have different views, and in my opinion, they seem to really respect the one for the different opinion, the different views.

This is a photograph where he's just telling the president something funny that his mother had said. The vice president is the support system, too, for the president, giving him a little bit of relief, comic relief.

BLITZER: Take a look at this picture. It's a very different picture. This one, the president and the first lady. They're getting ready for the first formal affair at the White House, the governors dinner right there, the black tie, the elegant gown.

SHELL: Yes, Michelle Obama always looks beautiful. And I wanted to show that Michelle Obama is his best friend and his companion. But at the same time, she may tidy him up and take him -- take care of him, but she also says, OK, you're president, we got to get back out there. And it's a hard place to be. And it helps if you have your best friend around. And they do things jointly.

BLITZER: And look at this next picture. This is at the governors dinner. They were dancing, I believe, to the music of Earth, Wind and Fire. Is that true?

SHELL: That's true, to "Fantasy." This man loves his wife. And I wanted to show that he's madly in love with his wife. And I hope that when my husband dances with me, he looks that happy. In a room of 100 other couples dancing, they're able to just kind of shut the world out for two seconds and share a dance and a moment with his wife.

BLITZER: He certainly loves his wife. But he also loves his daughters. There are two great pictures you have with Malia and with Sasha. Let's put the first one up. You see the first family with daughter Malia. She's the older young girl.

SHELL: What's great about, I think, being president, that he couldn't do on the campaign, is he would be away from his children for weeks on end. Now he can come out of an ESPN interview and run right into Malia. She had just gotten out of school. She was telling him about school. To me, it seemed like he really wanted her to know that he was listening.

He's a very physical person and he kids around with his children. But they're a great outlet. There was another photograph where Sasha just walks into the Oval --

BLITZER: We have that picture. I'm going to put it up now. This is what you call a chat with dad in the Oval Office. There's Sasha, the younger one, with her father.

SHELL: And they can do this. They can see their dad every day almost now. And he gets to see them. And so there is this great -- people say how are the kids holding up. I don't know, but I think for them it must be wonderful now, because they can just drop in on their dad. They can say, hey, dad, this is what I did today.

And for him, when you go through 10 and 15 meetings a day, you know it's got to be a great break just to hear what's going on. They're the ones with the real world every day.

BLITZER: They get to see their dad almost every day, after two years when he was on the campaign trail and there was a limited amount of time they could spend with their dad. So this is great for all of them.

We have to leave it there, Callie. Once again, Callie is doing some great photography. You got great access for our sister publication "Time Magazine." The new issue entitled "100 Days: Behind The Scenes Photographs" by Callie Shell.

SHELL: Thank you very much. BLITZER: We've seen the family moments. Now the president getting down to business. The job comes with some late nights. Hot shots from the first 100 days in office.


BLITZER: Here are some hot shots from President Obama's first 100 days from "Time Magazine" photographer Callie Shell. In his personal office, complete with computer, the president works late into the evening.

The president's meal awaits him, along with a classified briefing folder.

On Air Force One, President Obama reads the paper with his aide, David Axelrod.

And in this picture, the president's advisers listen intently during a meeting.

Those are some of the hot shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

Remember on Wednesday night, we mark President Obama's 100th day in office with a CNN "National Report Card," the first 100 days. We'll begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern with a prime time special, including a presidential news conference.

I'll be joined by Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien and the best political team on television. And you'll be able to take part in live voting online at That's Wednesday night 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Join us week days from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.