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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
President Obama Speaks; Interview With Eleanor Holmes Norton
Aired January 17, 2010 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: Right now, at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., the president of the United States.
OBAMA: ... our family here today. It feels like a family.
Thank you for making us feel that way.
To Pastor Wheeler, First Lady Wheeler, thank you so much for welcoming us here today. Congratulations on Jordan Denise...
aka Cornelia. Michelle and I have been blessed with a new nephew this year, as well, Austin Lucas Robinson.
So maybe at the appropriate time we can make introductions.
Now, if -- if Jordan's father is like me, then that will be in about 30 years. (LAUGHTER)
That is a great blessing.
Michelle and Malia and Sasha and I are thrilled to be here today. And I know that sometimes you have to go through a little fuss to have me as a guest speaker.
So let me apologize in advance for all the fuss.
Now, we gather here on a Sabbath during a time of profound difficulty for our nation and for our world. In such a time, it soothes the soul to seek out the divine in the spirit of prayer, to seek solace among a community of believers.
But we are not here just to ask the Lord for his blessing. We aren't here just to interpret his scripture. We're also here to call on the memory of one of his noble servants, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Now, it's fitting that we do so here within the four walls of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, here in a church that rose like the phoenix from the ashes of the Civil War, here in a church formed by freed slaves whose founding pastor had worn the union blue, here in a church from whose pews congregants set out for marches, for whom choir anthems of freedom were heard, from whose sanctuary King himself would sermonize from time to time.
And one of those times was Thursday, December 6th, 1956. And, Pastor, you said you were a little older than me, so were you around at that point?
You were 3 years old. OK. I wasn't born yet.
On Thursday, December 6th, 1956, and before Dr. King had pointed us to the mountaintop, before he had told us about his dream in front of the Lincoln Memorial, king came here as a 27-year-old preacher to speak on what he called the challenge of a new age -- the challenge of a new age.
It was a period of triumph, but also uncertainty, for Dr. King and his followers. Because, just weeks earlier, the Supreme Court had ordered the desegregation of Montgomery's buses, a hard-wrought, hard- fought victory that would put an end to the 381-day historic boycott down in Montgomery, Alabama.
And yet, as Dr. King rose to take that pulpit, the future still seemed daunting. It wasn't clear what would come next for the movement that Dr. King led. It wasn't clear how we were going to reach the promised land, because segregation was still rife, lynchings still a fact. Yes, the Supreme Court had ruled not only on the Montgomery buses, but also on Brown v. Board of education, and yet that ruling was defied throughout the South by schools and by states. They ignored it with impunity.
And here in the nation's capital, the federal government had yet to fully align itself with the laws on its books and the ideals of its founding.
So it's not hard for us then to imagine that moment. We can imagine folks coming to this church happy about the boycott being over. We can also imagine them, though, coming here concerned about their future, sometimes second-guessing strategy, maybe fighting off some creeping doubts, perhaps despairing about whether the movement in which they had placed so many of their hopes, a movement in which they believed so deeply could actually deliver on its promise.
So here we are, more than half a century later, once again facing the challenges of a new age. Here we are once more marching toward an unknown future, what I call the Joshua generation to their Moses generation, the great inheritors of progress paid for with sweat and blood and sometimes life itself. We've inherited the progress of unjust laws that are now overturned. We take for granted the progress of a ballot being available to anybody who wants to take the time to actually vote.
We enjoy the fruits of prejudice and bigotry being lifted slowly, sometimes in fits and starts, but irrevocably from human hearts.
It's that progress that made it possible for me to be here today, for the good people of this country to elect an African-American the 44th president of the United States of America.
Reverend Wheeler mentioned the inauguration, last year's election. You know, on the heels of that victory over a year ago, there were some who suggested that somehow we had entered into a post- racial America. All those problems would be solved.
There are those who argued that, because I had spoke of a need for unity in this country, that our nation was somehow entering into a period of post-partisanship.
That didn't work out so well.
There was a hope shared by many that life would be better from the moment that I swore that oath. Of course, as we meet here today, one year later, we know the promise of that moment has not yet been fully fulfilled.
Because of an era of greed and irresponsibility that sowed the seeds of its own demise; because of persistent economic troubles unaddressed through the generations; because of a banking crisis that brought the financial system to the brink of catastrophe, we are being tested in our own lives and as a nation as few have been tested before.
Unemployment is at its highest level in more than a quarter of a century. Nowhere is it higher than the African-American community.
Poverty is on the rise. Home ownership is slipping. Beyond our shores, our sons and daughters are fighting two wars. Closer to home, our Haitian brothers and sisters are in desperate need.
Bruised, battered, many people are legitimately feeling doubt, even despair about the future.
OBAMA: Like those who came to this church on that Thursday in 1956, folks are wondering, where do we go from here? I understand those feelings. I understand the frustration and sometimes anger that so many folks feel as they struggle to stay afloat. I get letters from folks around the country every day, I read 10 a night out of the 40,000 that we receive.
And there are stories of hardship and desperation in some cases, pleading for help. I need a job, I'm about to lose my home. I don't have health care. It's about to cause my family to be bankrupt. Sometimes you get letters from children. My momma or my daddy have lost their jobs, is there something you can do to help? Ten letters like that a day we read.
So, yes, we're passing through a hard winter. It's the hardest in some time. But let's always remember that as a people, the American people, we've weathered some hard winters before. This country was founded during some harsh winters. The fishermen, the laborers, the craftsmen who made camp at Valley Forge, they weathered a hard winter.
The slaves and the freedmen who rode an Underground Railroad seeking the light of justice under the cover of night, they weathered a hard winter. The seamstress whose feet were tired, the pastor whose voice echoes through the ages, they weathered some hard winters.
It was for them as it is for us, difficult in the dead of winter to sometimes see spring coming. They, too, sometimes felt their hopes deflate. And yet each season the frost melts, the cold recedes, the sun reappears. And so it was for earlier generations and so it will be for us.
What we need to do is to just ask what lessons we can learn from those earlier generations about how they sustained themselves during those hard winters, how they persevered and prevailed. But us in this Joshua Generation learned how that Moses Generation overcame.
Let me offer a few thoughts on this. First and foremost, they did so by remaining firm in their resolve. Despite being threatened by sniper fire or planted bombs, by shoving and punching and spitting and angry stares, they adhered to that sweet spirit of resistance. The principles of nonviolence that had accounted for their success.
Second, they understood that as much as our government and our political parties have betrayed them in the past, as much as our nation itself had betrayed its own ideals, government, if aligned with the interests of its people can be and must be a force for good.
So, they stayed on the Justice Department. They went into the courts. They pressured Congress. They pressured their president. They didn't give up on this country. They didn't give up on government. They didn't somehow say government was the problem, they said, we're going to change government. We're going to make it better. Imperfect as it was, they continued to believe in the promise of democracy, in America's constant ability to remake itself, to perfect this union.
Third, our predecessors were never so consumed with theoretical debates that they couldn't see progress when it came. Sometimes I get a little frustrated when folks just don't want to see that even if we don't get everything, we're getting something.
OBAMA: You know, King, King understood that the desegregation of the armed forces didn't end the civil rights movement because black and white soldiers still couldn't sit together at the same lunch counter when they came home.
But he still insisted on the rightness of desegregating the armed forces. That was a good first step, even as he called for more. He didn't suggest that somehow by the signing of the Civil Rights Act, that somehow all discrimination would end. But he also didn't think that we shouldn't sign the Civil Rights Act because it hasn't solved every problem. Let's take a victory, he said, and then keep on marching. Forward steps, large and small, were recognized for what they were, which was progress.
Fourth at the core of King's success was an appeal to conscience that touched hearts and opened minds, a commitment to universal ideals of freedom, of justice, of equality that spoke to all people, not just some people. For King understood that without broad support, any movement for civil rights could not be sustained. That's why he marched with the white auto worker in Detroit. That's why he linked arm with the Mexican farm worker in California and united people of all colors in the noble quest for freedom.
Of course, King overcame in other ways as well. He remained strategically focused on gaining ground and his eyes on the prize constantly, understanding that change would not be easy, understand that change wouldn't come overnight, understanding that there would be setbacks and false starts along the way, but understanding, as he said, in 1956, that we can walk and never get weary because we know there is a great camp meeting in the promised land of freedom and justice.
And it's because the Moses Generation overcame that the trials we face today are very different from the ones that tested us in previous generations. Even after the worst recession in generations, life in America is not even close to being as brutal as it was back then for so many. That's the legacy of Dr. King and his movement. That's our inheritance. Having said that, let there be no doubt. The challenges of our new age are serious in their own right and we must face them as squarely as they face the challenges they saw. I know it has been a hard road we traveled this year to rescue the economy.
But the economy is growing again. The job losses have finally slowed and around the country there are signs that businesses and families are beginning to rebound. We are making progress. I know it has been a hard road that we've traveled to reach this point on health reform, I promise you I know.
But under the legislation I will sign into law, insurance companies won't be able to drop you when you get sick and more than 30 million people, our fellow Americans will finally have insurance. More than 30 million men and women and children, mothers and fathers won't be worried about what might happen to them if they get sick.
This will be a victory, not for Democrats, this will be a victory for dignity and decency for our common humanity. This will be a victory for the United States of America. Let's work to change the political system, as imperfect as it is. I know people can feel down about the way things are going sometimes here in Washington. I know it's tempting to give up on the political process, but we've put in place tougher rules on lobbying and ethics and transparency, tougher rules than any administration in history.
It's not enough, but it's progress. Progress is possible, don't give up on voting. Don't give up on advocacy. Don't give up on activism. There are too many needs to be met. Too much work to be done. Like Dr. King said, we must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope. Let us broaden our coalition, building a confederation not of liberals or conservatives, not of red states or blue states, but of all Americans who are hurting today and searching for a better tomorrow.
The urgency of the hour demands that we make common cause with all of America's workers, white, black, brown, all of whom are being hammered by this recession. All of whom are yearning for that spring to come. It demands that we reach out to those who have been left out in the cold, even when the economy is good, even when we're not in recession, the youth in the inner cities, the youth here in Washington, D.C., people in rural communities who haven't seen prosperity reach them for a very long time.
It demands that we fight discrimination, whatever form it may come. That means we fight discrimination against gays and lesbians and we make common cause to reform our immigration system.
And finally, we have to recognize, as Dr. King did, that progress can't just come from without, it also has to come from within.
OBAMA: And over the past year, for example, we've made meaningful improvements in the field of education. I've got a terrific secretary of education, Arne Duncan. He's been working hard with states and working hard with the D.C. school district. And we've insisted on reform and we insisted on accountability, and we're putting in more money, and we've provided more Pell grants and more tuition tax credits and simpler financial aid forms.
We've done all that, but parents still need to parent.
Kids still need to own up to their responsibilities.
We still have to set high expectations for our young people. Folks can't simply look to government for all the answers without also looking inside themselves, inside their own homes for some of the answers.
Progress will only come if we're willing to promote that ethic of hard work, a sense of responsibility in our own lives.
I'm not talking, by the way, just to the African-American community. Sometimes when I say these things, people assume, well, he's just talking to black people about working hard.
No, no, no, no. I'm talking to the American community. Because somewhere along the way, we as a nation began to lose touch with some of our core values. You know what I'm talking about.
We became enraptured with the false prophets who prophesied an easy path to success, paved with credit cards and home equity loans and get-rich-quick schemes. And the most important thing was to be a celebrity. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you get on TV.
That's everybody. We forgot what made the bus boycott a success, what made the civil rights movement a success, what made the United States of America a success, that, in this country, there's no substitute for hard work, no substitute for a job well done, no substitute for being responsible stewards of God's blessings.
What we're called to do then is rebuild America from its foundation on up, to reinvest in the essentials that we've neglected for too long, like health care, like education, like a better energy policy, like basic infrastructure, like scientific research.
Our generation is called upon to buckle down and get back to basics. And we must do so not only for ourselves but also for our children and their children, for Jordan...
... and for Austin.
It's a sacrifice that falls on us to make. It's a much smaller sacrifice than the Moses generation had to make. But it's still a sacrifice.
Yes, it's hard to transition to a clean-energy economy. Sometimes it may be inconvenient, but it's a sacrifice that we have to make. It's hard to be fiscally responsible when we have all these human needs and we're inheriting enormous deficits and debt, but that's a sacrifice that we're going to have to make.
You know, it's easy, after a hard day's work, to just put your kid in front of the TV set -- you're tired, don't want to fuss with them -- instead of reading to them. But that's a sacrifice we must joyfully accept.
Sometimes it's hard to be a good father, a good mother. Sometimes it's hard to be a good neighbor or a good citizen, to give up time in service of others, to give something of ourselves to a cause that's greater than ourselves, as Michelle and I are urging folks to do tomorrow to honor and celebrate Dr. King.
But these are sacrifices that we are called to make. These are sacrifices -- sacrifices that our faith calls us to make, our faith in the future, our faith in America, our faith in God.
And on his sermon, all those years ago, Dr. King quoted a poet's verse, "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, and behind the dim unknown stands God, within the shadows, keeping watch above his own."
Even as Dr. King stood in this church, a victory in the past, uncertainty in the future, he trusted God. He trusted that God would make a way, a way for prayers to be answered, a way for our union to be perfected, a way for the arc of the moral universe, no matter how long, to slowly bend toward truth and bend toward freedom, to bend toward justice. He had faith that God would make a way out of no way.
You know, folks ask me sometimes why I look so calm.
They say, all this stuff coming at you -- how come you just seem calm?
And I have a confession to make here. There are times where I'm not so calm.
Reggie Love knows. My wife knows.
You know, there are times when progress seems too slow. There are times when the words that are spoken about me hurt. There are times when the barbs sting. There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught and change is so painfully slow in coming and -- and I have to confront my own doubts.
But let me tell you, during those times, it's faith that keeps me calm.
It's faith that gives me peace, the same faith that leads a single mother to work two jobs to put a roof over her head when she has doubts, the same faith that keeps an unemployed father to keep on submitting job applications even after he's been rejected 100 times, the same faith that says -- a teacher, even if the first nine children she's teaching, she can't reach, that that 10th one, she's going to be able to reach, the same faith that breaks the silence of an earthquake's wake with the sound of prayer and hymns sung by a Haitian community, the faith in things not seen and better days ahead and him who holds the future in the hollow of his hand, the faith that lets us mount up on wings like eagles, lets us run and not be weary, lets us run -- lets us walk and not faint.
So let us hold fast to that faith, as Joshua held fast to the faith of his fathers, and together we shall overcome the challenges of a new age.
Together we shall seize the promise of this moment. Together we shall make a way through the winter, and we're going to welcome the spring.
Through God, all things are possible.
(APPLAUSE) May the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King continue to inspire us and ennoble our world and all who inhabit it. And may God bless the United States of America.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you.
KING: You're watching, there, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, here in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., the president speaking for about a half an hour, there, attending Sunday services, paying tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, as the nation prepares to mark the King holiday. We're privileged to have in the studio with us Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is the congresswoman from here in the District of Columbia. She also was then and is now a foot soldier in the Civil Rights movement.
Thank you for joining us today.
I wanted to have you in here anyway because of the moment, the crisis in Haiti, one-year anniversary of the Obama inauguration.
Reflect on what we were just listening to. We were talking a bit as we were listening to the president. And during the campaign, we saw him frequently speaking to church audiences; as president, not so often. It's a different message.
NORTON: And yet these are his best moments. And many of us would like to see him inspire the country in that way more often. He does so in policy matters, but there's no moment like this.
And he certainly used King's life in a wonderful way, as a metaphor, frankly, for what our country has gone through this entire year. He spoke of the -- of the ups and downs of King's career.
We think only of the triumph. I think of being with Medgar Evers the night before he was killed. I was a SNCC kid, and he was trying to convince me not to go to the Delta but stay in Jackson.
I get on a bus, go to Jackson, wake up the next morning, and Medgar Evers is dead, has been assassinated. Setbacks like that occurred for the entire 15 years before we got the first Civil Rights Act.
And the president, by drawing on those setbacks, as well as the triumphs of Martin Luther King's life, I think is helping a lot of Americans, Americans well beyond African-Americans, I believe.
KING: I want to talk to you about challenges around the world in a moment.
KING: But first, on this, to that very point, he said early in his remarks, "There are some out there who thought, the moment I took the oath of office, their problems would be solved."
And there are those who, one year later, are impatient that the promise has not been fulfilled.
We could list the issues, unemployment nationally, certainly in the African-American community; the failure of the Democratic majority to pass health care at this moment.
What -- what is your take, simply, on, if we were having this conversation one year ago, it would be a President-elect Obama with near 80 percent approval rating, Democrats coming out of 2006 and then 2008 with this great wind at their back.
Where are we, one year later, in this remarkably different environment?
NORTON: This president is suffering from the highest favorables any president has ever had in no small part because he broke one of the great barriers in American life. And so we had expectations well beyond anything we had a right to have, particularly given the economy that he has inherited.
And what did he do? Instead of saying what am I going to do; this is not my economy, he takes these bold steps with a stimulus that's produced 3 million jobs. He rescues the auto industry. Imagine being a great power without an auto industry.
He plunges ahead with health care instead of setting aside his own agenda and saying I'm only going to mop up what I inherited.
He renews the respect of Americans in the world. And let me tell you how important that is. If you think you're a world leader and you don't have the respect of the nation -- the nations of the world, you're not a world leader anymore.
So he knows how much he's accomplished, but he also knows that, when people do not have a job, they do not look beyond that, even if you had what are probably the most accomplishments of any president since FDR in his first year.
KING: A passionate defense from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. We'll continue our conversation in just a minute with "State of the Union." We'll take a quick break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: We're back, continuing our conversation with Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is the Congresswoman from here in nation's capital, the District of Columbia.
I want your perspective on the crisis on Haiti in a moment, but first a political question, back home, the president, finishing that church service, is now headed to the state of Massachusetts. There's a special election to replace the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
And the Republicans have great momentum in what is normally a Democratic state. And there is a question that will face your leadership in the Congress, that, if that Republican, Scott Brown, wins, and the Democrats lose their 60th vote in the Senate, which is important for the process, should you rush and try to get health care to final approval or would that be disrespecting the Democratic process in Massachusetts, to try to have that vote before the new senator made it to Washington?
NORTON: I don't think you should rush, but I don't think you should put aside regular order, either. If we get it finished, we shouldn't wait for somebody to come and kill it, particularly when you consider that, once the American people get to know what's in this bill and how it affects them and all of the negative notions can be answered by what's on paper, then I think you will see things turn around.
So I don't think we owe the people of Massachusetts, if they change a senator, to say, all right, we're going to wait until you get here and we're not going to finish our business.
KING: You lived through 1994 when the Republicans seized power in a sweeping midterm election, when Bill Clinton fell out of favor, a Democratic president.
As you watch this -- we're in the early weeks, of course, of the 2010 midterm election, but do you have a sense of deja vu?
NORTON: Not exactly. Because we weren't really prepared for the strong comeback of the Republican Party. Remember, that was after 40 years.
They were -- they were in power for 20 years. I do not for a second believe that the American people think that they will get jobs better if Republicans get back into power; if the people gave us the economy that Barack inherited get back into power, everything's going to be OK.
So I'm not nearly as disconcerted as I was in 1994, as I was in my second term.
KING: Well, let's turn, in closing, to what you believe every American citizen, as individuals, should do as we look at the horror in Haiti. The day before the earthquake, it was the poorest country in our hemisphere, many people living, more than half the population, in abject poverty, less than $1 a day.
So as the world responds to try to just first save lives and get desperately needed food and medicine, what is the next challenge to not just restore Haiti to where it was the day before the quake, but to get it to a point where it is a functioning, real country where people can get basic services, where children can get an education, where somebody could find a job?
NORTON: It may be difficult to see opportunity out of a crisis, which the United Nations says is the worst crisis in its existence. But if you've been to Haiti, as I have fairly recently, with the Congressional Black Caucus delegation, and seen a nation then hanging by a thread -- there was a 40 percent increase in global food costs -- it takes the tiniest crisis to set this country back which never, ever got its full footing.
So what can this do? You're going to have to rebuild this country. If you rebuild it, it's going to be very different. People won't be building their own houses adjacent to something else which makes it inevitable that, when it falls down, the whole country will fall down.
You cannot match up Haiti any more. Therefore, I do see an opportunity out of this horrific tragedy, if the world gathers around the United States of America, which has come in there full-throttle, taken the leadership role it should have taken, because this is our ally. This is our sphere of interest. If we can't get there first, then nobody else will come.
Having taken the leadership; having seen the devastation, the road ahead is, how can we rebuild the country of Haiti with the kinds of resources it's not had in 300 years?
KING: We will bring you back for that conversation in the months ahead, as that challenge unfolds. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, thanks for coming in today.
And when we come back, we'll sit down with two presidents, two former presidents that the current president has asked to help him with the challenge we were just discussing, the long term, putting Haiti on a long-term path of recovery. Stay with us.
KING: The United States and the world has an outpouring of support for the people of Haiti in the short term, to deal with the crisis today, tomorrow and into next week. The president of the United States is asking his two immediate predecessors to help put Haiti on the road to recovery for the long term.
KING: President Clinton and President Bush, thank you for joining me.
I want to ask the simple question I think many people will ask, is how do you define success, in that, if you are wildly successful and you restore Haiti to where it was one week ago today, we're still talking about a country where 80 percent of the people live in poverty, nearly 60 percent in abject poverty -- that's a dollar a -- with a dysfunctional government that many people think can't deliver the most basic services. What is success?
BUSH: Well, for me, success is helping save lives in the short term, and then we can worry about the long term after the situation has been stabilized. But I think it's a legitimate question. You know, do we want to put money into a society that hasn't benefited after we've stabilized?
The answer is I think we do, just so long as we work with the government to develop a strategy that makes sense. To say the country can't succeed is too defeatist as far as I'm concerned.
CLINTON: Yes, and let me remind you that it's true that they were in bad shape before the earthquake hit. It's also true that everybody who's seriously followed Haiti over a long period of time believed that Haiti had the best chance it has had in our lifetime to break the chains of its past, to build a truly modern state, to have a more thriving economy, an honest and competent government, better health care, better education, more self-generated clean energy, the whole nine yards.
They have an economic plan. We're going to have to amend it now and substantially take account of the damage done, but I would define success as setting up a network quickly to get the food, water, medicine, security, and information people need, and then, as quickly as possible, resuming the path they were on before the earthquake to build a strong, modern country.
I think they can do it. I agree with you. I won't feel successful if all we do is get them back to where they were the day before the earthquake.
KING: When you talk about the short-term challenges, there's a shortage of doctors right now. There's obviously a shortage of food and supplies and the like.
Do you view that as our role -- yours might a little different because you're a U.N. role. But do you get involved in checking in on that, or is your job not too many cooks in the kitchen and just to raise the money and make sure it gets there?
BUSH: I think the primary job to get food, medicine, water to people would be our United States military and other organizations on the ground. Our job is to set up a fund to make sure that the compassion is still existent once the crisis gets off TV and to make sure people's money is wisely spent.
CLINTON: The best thing we did -- I did with former President Bush in the tsunami -- we actually didn't raise a massive amount of money in our fund. What we did was try to raise the overall level of giving and have a fund big enough that we could pick projects that would shine the light on what worked, what would be really good, what would be good for other people to spend their money on. And it really helped that area to build back better.
I think that's the answer to your first question. Those areas where we worked are in better shape today than they were before the tsunami. That can be done here.
KING: And about a billion dollars is credited to that fund- raising effort, your effort with President Bush's father, President H.W. Bush.
CLINTON: The American people would have given a lot of money...
KING: Any idea in the early days here what this will take?
CLINTON: No. BUSH: It's hard to tell.
BUSH: I mean, you know, it's -- John, obviously -- and you know this better than anybody -- that the first call is to save the lives. And that's what the American people want to see happen. This situation will stabilize, and when it stabilizes, that's when you begin to think about how to effectively encourage Haiti's economy to grow and the infrastructure to be developed in a way that makes sense.
CLINTON: I agree with that. Give us a couple of weeks on this. KING: The initial outpouring has been phenomenal.
KING: From the American people and from governments around the world. But both of you made a point, and President Obama made a point of emphasizing, you know, keep a good eye on it. This will be money well spent.
As you both well know from your service here and from your time out of government, there's rising skepticism -- mistrust of institutions, mistrust of government, they can't get anything right.
And some of that, Mr. President, some people would say would stem from you suffered a political scar when people were pointing fingers after Katrina. Some blamed the mayor. Some blamed the governor. Some blamed the president in Washington.
Did you give this president any advice on how to...
BUSH: No. That's just part of the thing. I mean, people love to point fingers. But what people should focus on in Katrina is the -- how the American people responded to help a neighbor in need. And same situation here.
And whether it be the tsunami or whether the earthquake in Pakistan or the tornadoes that hit during my presidency, there was always an outpouring of support. And all I want to do and Bill wants to do is to be a part, to lend our hand.
One of the things I am concerned about is that on these -- during these crises, all kinds of fake charities spring up, that, you know, take advantage of people's goodwill, and we're a safe haven. We will make sure that the money is accounted for, that there's transparency, and properly spent.
KING: Another thing that some are worried about happening -- you mentioned the scams, and we'll keep an eye on those. But it's those who do have an infrastructure, and you know the ground in Haiti very well. Beyond the United Nations, are largely faith-based organizations, church groups that have done it for years and they're trying to help. How do you make sure those with that kind of an infrastructure and network, goodwill on the ground, don't get rolled over when people of all good intentions, mind you, just come running in?
CLINTON: Well, one of the -- it's so interesting you ask me this, because the last thing I did last night before I went to bed was to figure out how to allocate the first couple of million dollars that came into the fund I set up for the U.N. when the U.N. mission in Haiti went down. And we had -- we had made up our mind, we had to give it in a hurry, but to people who are already there. I don't think we should -- first, I'm certainly not prejudiced against faith- based groups. They're making a great difference. And, secondly, I think they should get -- the people that have been there and are working and know the ground, they ought to get preference in donations.
One of the things we can do at our website, in addition to collecting money and spending it right, is to give people information about that, if they want to know. And now, more and more people are volunteering to help. We get about 300 e-mails a days, just in my Harlem office, for people who say, OK, I can't do what you need now, but when you start rebuilding, we want to do this. And I'm going to try to hook them in as much as possible into the existing networks, and I think it's important.
BUSH: Yes, let me tell you what I think about the faith-based community. They're going to be there a lot longer than a lot of other folks will be. They were there before the crisis, and they'll be there long after the attention has shifted somewhere else.
And I don't know what you mean by rolling over them, but I do know that they're motivated by their -- by the right reason, and that is to love a neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves. I don't think you have to worry about the faith communities' interest and/or ability to get the job done.
KING: You both lived in this house for eight years, at a time of pretty polarized politics in our country, and you both have lived that. And even in the days right after this, we see some voices injecting politics.
One is a radio host, Rush Limbaugh, who said, this is -- the Obama White House will, quote, "use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community and both the light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country."
And then, on the left, you had a TV commentator, anchor have a picture of the destruction in Haiti up and he said, "We are reminded of what health care reform really (ph) means."
As two guys who lived it as president and now who watch it as private citizens, what do you make of the politics of this moment?
BUSH: We should keep politics out of Haiti.
KING: Are those comments appropriate?
BUSH: There's going to be a lot of comment. You can find comments all over the place.
My focus is on helping the desperate people down there, and a lot of Americans feel the same way, and they are. And I appreciate their help.
CLINTON: I think when -- when people see us together -- look, they know we have differences, even though we're friends, and what I -- the only political thing I hope that comes out of this is that people keep their differences of conviction, but they treat their neighbors as friends. Because the American people are coming out of this and giving to these people from Haiti. They're aching, and all these people are dying, all these little kids that are orphans.
We don't want to contribute to this political debate now. But I hope that it will humanize us all in every aspect of our lives.
KING: Well -- well, let me close on that. You mentioned this is a bit of an odd relationship.
BUSH: He didn't say odd. Did he say it's an odd relationship? Just because my brother calls him my stepbrother, my mother calls him my stepbrother...
KING: How did this come about? And you're back in this building with the current president of the United States. You've both dealt with all the challenges.
I'm just wondering what it's like to walk back through these halls. And any words you have for him as he hits the one mark in his administration. You both have been through that first year where you learn that governing's a lot different from campaigning. I'm just wondering at this moment what was shared in -- the president in the Rose Garden called it, "in the back room."
BUSH: He just briefed us on what they're doing. And it was -- it was -- it was good to walk back through here. It's interesting.
I frankly don't miss the limelight. I'm glad to help out, but there's life after the presidency is what I've learned, and I'm going to live the fullest, and this is part of living it to the fullest, to help other people.
CLINTON: You know, I think that once you've been president, you shouldn't gratuitously offer any advice to your successor. If somebody asks you what you think, you tell them. Otherwise, you just show up when you're asked to help.
Look, we had the greatest honor the American people can give, and I think both of us feel a sense of profound gratitude. But President Obama is a gifted man with good people working for him. He's working hard. And I -- you know, I wish him well. Obviously, I support him, and I think he had extraordinary taste in his secretary of state.
But this is not...
(LAUGHTER) BUSH: But (ph) not (ph) her husband.
CLINTON: Yes. That's it. But this is -- it's not our role. He's -- he's got a hard enough job without everybody else trying to, you know, give him advice. And I will say this, and I think George agrees with me. He has been great on it.
I mean, from the get go, this whole government was organized and mobilized, from the military to the State Department to that fine young director of AID, Rajiv Shah, who's coordinating all the civilian efforts. They're doing a good job. KING: It's great to see you both. And on this front -- we don't usually say this to politicians, but if there's anything we can do to help you in your work, I extend my hand.
CLINTON: Thank you. Well, you've been great. This coverage, you've done -- you made this come alive for the American people. You put us in the skin of the Haitian people, and I'm personally very grateful.
KING: Thank you both. Great to see you.
KING: Up next, we head to Philadelphia, where for one NBA player, the tragedy in Haiti literally hits home.
KING: Support for the people of Haiti pours in from around the world. Among those making major contributions are professional sports leagues and organizations associated with high-profile athletes. Let's take a closer look. If you look at the numbers pledged so far, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL pledging $1 million each. The New York Yankees, $500,000. Lance Armstrong's Foundation and the National Hockey League also making contributions. Among famous Haitian American athletes, Pierre Garcon. He plays with the Indianapolis Colts. Andre Berto is the Olympic boxer, and Samuel Dalembert is the center for the Philadelphia 76ers. Dalembert for years has been involved with UNICEF, trying to help Haiti's children find a path out of poverty. So in our "American Dispatch" this week, we traveled up to Philadelphia to get his perspective on the tragedy and a closer look at one man's effort to make a difference.
(UNKNOWN): He's phenomenal. You know, he's one of those guys that's young, and he's dynamic, and he has truly got a heart of gold when it comes to helping children.
DALEMBERT: I know at a time like this, things are tough in our own home, but you find a good heart to help us out, thank you so much.
I feel helpless here. And the people over there under the bricks have been waiting for help for a day. You know, and how much -- you know, how much more? You know, so even if you do get yourself to safety -- and it's not guaranteed -- so many people. It's frustrating.
(UNKNOWN): We've been in Haiti since 1949, as a matter of fact. It's one of the things that's unique about UNICEF. He's been with us to Haiti before -- long before this tragedy. And he has continued to be there for us. And tonight, he's going to be there again for us.
DALEMBERT: And together we can make a change, and together we can rebuild this place and make it a better place for our kids. You know, hopefully there'll be more hospital or food. There'll be better security. You know, hopefully we can go and visit our country without fear.
KING: So you've spoken to your father...
KING: ... and others. What do they say the immediate needs are now, when they look around and they say, "We need what"?
DALEMBERT: My dad -- my dad said medical supplies. He said that's the first thing that, you know, people are needing over there.
KING: And are they encouraged by what they see so far? Are they frustrated? Do they think the response has been as good as it can be?
DALEMBERT: We still more help, but we're also grateful for what -- you know, for what help has been so far.
(UNKNOWN): It'll be a good number of days until we really have a full extent of what's coming in and what needs to be done. We know it's going to take a long time. You know, if you look at our own country, industrialized nation, roads, hospitals, police force, military, government, when Katrina hit and look how long it took.
KING: In the first few days, sometimes you're so desperate in dealing with finding loved ones and your immediate needs you don't really get a sense of the context of the destruction. What is the sense now when you talk to them about -- what do they say about neighborhoods gone? And how do they describe...
DALEMBERT: I mean, I was looking at the TV a couple days ago, a few days ago. I was looking at the buildings that I used to, you know, pass by, you know, when I'm going to school. You know, all of them destroyed. You know, and -- you know, it's like flat land.
KING: Do you worry that in weeks and months and a year or two that Haiti will be forgotten again, that people -- there's been a remarkable outpouring of support in these early days, but that attention will move to something else, and down the rode it will be forgotten?
DALEMBERT: We have to maximize on what we can right now, because after everything's stabilized, everybody gets help -- help, what -- what are we going to do now? You know, right now it's really tough, but it's going to be even tougher in the next six months, because, you know, there has to be a plan. You know, there has to be a plan in place to be able to know what we're going to do for the next -- after we get everything under control, what we're going to do for these people.
(UNKNOWN): He's going to present us with a $100,000 check tonight. He has pledged to match contributions made in the arena.
DALEMBERT: And I know in the bad time, you know, right now everybody has their own problems. That's something we know. The economy dropped (inaudible) but, you know, I really greatly appreciate -- and my country, myself, we appreciate that everybody -- what everybody is doing. And we see that -- you know, people might feel like, OK, what -- what $2, what $1 is going to do, what's $5 going to do? Believe me, that makes a huge difference.
(UNKNOWN): It doesn't take a lot of money. It will ultimately take a lot of money, but a little money will help. Oral rehydration salts, 7 cents. You know, water purification tablets, 60 cents. A blanket for a child, $3.
DALEMBERT: I want to tell people out there, you know, all the, you know, Haitian people, you know, keep their head up. And, you know, let's pray. We've been through a lot, you know, keep going through a lot. It seems like it's a test which we're going through. And I think they're -- they are good. God has good for us for the future.
KING: Our thanks to Sammy Dalembert for sharing his story. And if you'd like to help and don't know just how, go to CNN.com/impactyourworld for some tips on how you can contribute, help the devastation in Haiti.
I'm John King in Washington. Thanks for spending some time with us today. "Fareed Zakaria GPS" starts right now.