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CNN Exclusive, In-Depth Interview With President Obama

Aired August 20, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM." We're in Iowa with the president of the United States.

Happening now, President Obama talking one on one with me about jobs, the desperate need to create them for millions of Americans and his effort to hold on to his own job.

Also, the president responds to controversial remarks by would-be Republican rivals Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, including one comment that some see as disrespectful to the president.

And we talk about terrorism as the world prepares to mark 10 years since 9/11. The president says that kind of spectacular attack may not be the biggest threat right now.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States, and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos, all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama on a bus tour through the United States Midwest. He's been reaching out to rural voters. But he took some time today to sit down with me for a wide-ranging one-on-one interview. We talked about the political gridlock in Washington, the field of Republican challengers trying to oust him from the White House, and the terror threat a decade after 9/11.

But we began with what may be the most pressing issue facing the country right now. Here's part one of my interview with the president of the United States.


BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let's talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. Issue number one. You're going to release a major new jobs program, you say, in September. Here's the question: What's taking so long?

OBAMA: Truth is everything we've done has been related to jobs, starting back with the Recovery Act. That is the reason why we've seen over 2 million created over the last 17 months in the private sector. But what's happened is that number one, you've seen a lot of layoffs at state and local government, and that has been an impediment to the kind of robust job growth we'd like to see. And there have been some headwinds over the last six months. Japan's tsunami, the European debt crisis, what happened in terms of the Arab spring that raised gas prices for consumers --

BLITZER: So give us a preview what you're going to do in September.

OBAMA: Well, look, there are some things that we've been talking about on this trip that we could do right away that are already pending before Congress. We know that what we did in December, by cutting the payroll tax so that the average family gets an extra $1,000 in their pocket, makes a huge difference not only for their purchasing power but also businesses having more customers, and being able to hire.

We've continued to renew tax breaks for businesses that are willing to move up investments that they're planning into 2011. And we'd like to renew some of those for 2012. Trade deals with Korea and Panama and Colombia we know can create tens of thousands of jobs here in the United States. So there are a number of things that we've already got pending before Congress.

And what I've been saying to crowds, all across the country, and it's been getting a good reception is what they want to see is Democrats and Republicans putting country before party and going ahead and taking action in order to move the economy forward as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: But you've got something much more ambitious in mind for this September. There's been reports you want to create a new department of jobs, something along those lines. Is that true?

OBAMA: That is not true. But what is true is, I think, we missed an opportunity a month ago, when we could have dealt with our debt and deficit in a serious, balanced way that would have avoided these huge gyrations in the financial markets, given businesses a lot of confidence that Washington had its fiscal house in order. And included in that, because of the savings we'd be getting over the next 10, 20 years, more efforts on the front end to spur job creation. And given that Congress failed to act, the grand bargain that I was trying to cut with John Boehner didn't happen, we're going to take one more run at Congress. And we're going to say to them, look, here is a comprehensive approach that gets our debt and deficits under control and also accelerates job growth right now.

BLITZER: Is this an initiative you're going to give to the so-called super committee, or is this something separate from that?

OBAMA: Well, I hope the super committee takes its job seriously. And obviously, there's an added sense of urgency given how anxious I think businesses and consumers are after the debacle surrounding the debt ceiling. But my attitude is that I'm going to make my best case for where we need to go, we've made progress since the start of this recession back in 2008, it hasn't been fast enough. We've got to accelerate it. And there are two things that need to happen. Number one, we've got to make sure that people have confidence, we've got our fiscal house in order and we're living within our means, eliminating programs that don't work. Number two, there are some immediate things we can do around infrastructure, tax policy, that would make a difference in terms of people hiring right now.

BLITZER: When you took office, you said -- and I'm sure you remember. You said, if I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition. Meaning you're going to be a one-term president. Do you remember that?

OBAMA: Well, here's what I remember. Is that when I came into office I knew I was going to have a big mess to clean up. And frankly the mess has been bigger than I think a lot of people anticipated at the time. We have made steady progress on these fronts, but we're not making progress fast enough. And what I continue to believe is that ultimately the buck stops with me. I'm going to be accountable.

I think that people understand that a lot of these problems were decades in the making. People understand that this financial crisis was the worst since the Great Depression. But ultimately they say, look, he's the president, we think he has good intentions, but we're impatient. And we want to see things move faster. And I understand that. I'm sympathetic to it. And we're going to just keep on putting forward ideas that are going to be good for the country. We're going to need a partner from Congress. And we're going to need folks to move off some of these rigid positions they've been taking in order to solve these problems.

BLITZER: I want to go through some specifics on that. But let's talk about some things that you need to do. You, yourself, have said you support modest modifications in Medicare. Give me specifics.

OBAMA: What I'm going to do, I'm not going to make news here, Wolf, in terms of what a comprehensive plan would look like. But what I've consistently said is that Medicare and healthcare costs generally are out of control. That the health reforms that we initiated are starting to reduce those costs, but we're going to have to do more, particularly around Medicaid and Medicare.

BLITZER: Changing the cost-of-living index, which would reduce the amount of money for Medicare, Social Security recipients?

OBAMA: As much as possible what we'd like to do is actually reduce the cost of health care. As opposed to just shifting the cost from the government to seniors.

BLITZER: But changing the cost of living, is that something you're open to?

OBAMA: The problem with some of the proposals we've seen, including some of the proposals coming out of the House of Representatives, and the Republicans there, is they don't really address what it takes to reduce costs. What they say is senior citizens, we're going to "voucherize" it. And whatever inflation there is you're going to have to cover out of pocket, so seniors might have to spend $6,000 more.

What we say is there are modifications that can change the delivery system, and how health care is delivered so you that don't have to take five tests, you take one. So that providers are not ordering unnecessary procedures but focusing on what actually works. The more we can do those kinds of changes, and in some cases that involves empowering consumers to make better choices, then we can hopefully control these costs without seeing any radical change to the basic structure of Medicare.

BLITZER: Why don't you support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution?

OBAMA: Well, I support balancing our budget. The question is do we need to change our Constitution to do it? We didn't for a lot of years. And what we've always said was that the federal government needs, as a actor of last resort, if we've got a war, if we've got a recession, to be able to step in, in ways that states or local governments can't do.

BLITZER: Couldn't you write language into that so in case of an emergency, a war, there would be exceptions?

OBAMA: I guess here's the question, is why can't Congress simply make good choices? Why can't the president and Congress, working together, get a handle on our debt and deficits? Why do we need to go through a constitutional amendment process and have a whole bunch of contortions, and try to write in every single contingency that might come up, instead of simply saying the same thing that families all across Iowa, and all across the country do. Which is you know what, here's how much money we're bringing in, here's how much we're spending, and if it's out of balance let's fix it.

BLITZER: It's clear Congress can't do that. That's why they need -- the argument is 74 percent according to our own CNN/ORC poll want a balanced budget amendment.

OBAMA: You know, here's my suspicion, I think 100 percent of the American people want Congress to act responsibly; 100 percent of the people want us to make serious choices. We don't need to amend our Constitution in order to do that. What we need is folks acting responsibly and saying here's a balanced package that would actually get our debt and our deficit to a manageable place. And here's the thing, Wolf, is it doesn't require that much.

Our fiscal situation is so much stronger than so many countries around the world including a lot of European countries. And the reason is because all we have to do is make some modest changes in terms of what we spend, and make some modest changes in terms of raising revenue. And we could get things into balance. The problem we have is a political system in which you've got one side or the other that says here's the line in the sand, we're not going to make any changes. When I saw our Republican presidential primary candidates suggesting that they would not be willing to close a single loophole, or close a single special interest tax break, even if they were going to get $10 of savings for every $1 of revenue that raised, that is no longer thinking in a common sense way. At that point what you're saying is ideological rigidity that is preventing us from solving problems.

BLITZER: Because you keep saying that there are "some in Congress", and you don't say who, "some in Congress" who are more interested in political gain than really helping the country. Who do you mean by that?

OBAMA: Well, look, I think there is no doubt that the deal that I put forward to Speaker Boehner, which a lot of people in my party attacked me for because they thought that we were going too far; we were being too generous in terms of trying to compromise. The fact that they couldn't accept a deal in which you had significantly more cuts than revenue, that would have done substantially more to close our deficit than the deal that ultimately we arrived at. The fact that Speaker Boehner and folks in his caucus couldn't say yes to that tells me that they're more interested in the politics of it than solving the problem.

And I think, to his credit, I think Speaker Boehner tried. I think he wanted to. But I think he had problems with members of his caucus that thought that somehow cooperation with this White House would help us politically as opposed to thinking, what's it going to take to help the country as a whole?


BLITZER: All right. There's much more, much more ahead with my interview with the president of the United States, including his response to his newest challenger, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who appeared to suggest, maybe even more than just appeared to suggest, that U.S. troops really don't respect the commander in chief.


BLITZER: The race for the White House is heating up, here in Iowa and so is the rhetoric. The newest contender, Texas Governor Rick Perry, raised eyebrows with one controversial remark. I asked President Obama about that as our interview continued.


BLITZER: Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, Republican presidential candidate now, says the men and women of the United States military want someone who's worn the uniform. He says he served in the Air Force. Do you see a comment like that, that he makes referring to you as disrespectful to the commander in chief?

OBAMA: You know, Mr. Perry just got in the presidential race, and I think that everybody who runs for president, it probably takes them a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn't like running for governor, or running for senator, or running for Congress. And you've got to be a little more careful about what you say. But I'll cut him some slack. He's only been at it for a few days now.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney says corporations are people. Does he have a point?

OBAMA: Well, if you tell me that corporations are vital to American life, that the free enterprise system has been the greatest wealth creator that we've ever seen, that corporate CEOs and folks who are working in our large companies that are creating incredible products and services and that is all to the benefit of the United States of America that I absolutely agree with.

If, on the other hand, you tell me that every corporate tax break that's out there is somehow good for ordinary Americans, that we have a tax code that's fair, that asking oil and gas companies, for example, not to get special exemptions that other folks don't get; and that if closing those tax loopholes somehow that is going to hurt America, then that I disagree with.

And I think that, you know, corporations serve an important benefit but ultimately we've got to look at what's good for ordinary people, you know, how do we create jobs, how do we create economic growth, and a lot of the special interest legislation we see in Washington isn't benefiting ordinary people.

BLITZER: What do you think of that Republican field lining up to challenge you?

OBAMA: You know, I haven't been giving it too much thought. I figure that I'll let them winnow it down a little bit. When they decide who they want their standard bearer to be, then I'll be ready for them.

BLITZER: I was in North Korea last December. And every time I raised the issue of hunger in North Korea, which is a huge problem, starvation, the North Korean handlers would say to me, well, what about hunger in America? One out of seven Americans, including a lot of children, are hungry, they would say. And in fact, last week 46 million Americans now rely on food stamps, really, to survive. What does that say about the wealthiest country in the world, that 46 million Americans rely on food stamps in order to put food on the table?

OBAMA: Well, what it says is, first of all, we've had a terrible recession. And that means that's strained a lot of families' budgets. And so you have a lot of folks who consider themselves middle-class, working families, who are going through a tough spot. That's why we have food stamp programs in place. That's why it's important that we're not trying to reduce our budget deficit on the backs of those who are most in need.

On the other hand, keep in mind that America is the world's bread basket. Agricultural exports are incredibly important to the U.S. economy. We see the incredible bounty in places like Iowa here. And the problem we have is not that we don't have enough food, which is the problem in a place like North Korea. The problem is that the distribution of income and wealth in this country has been a problem for some time. Wages and incomes for ordinary families have not gone up for the last decade, even before this last recession hit.

And that's why it's so important, in addition to creating economic growth, in addition to seeing corporate profits go up, in addition to seeing the stock market go up. We've got to make sure that we're investing in people, investing in innovation, investing in infrastructure, doing those things that are going to put people back to work, and give them more income so that they can live the kind of American dream that all of us want for our kids and our grandkids. BLITZER: I've covered the Middle East for a long time. I've covered terrorism for a long time. And I have to tell you, I'm worried that on the 10th anniversary or approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Al Qaeda, or what's left of Al Qaeda or their supporters will try to do something to seek revenge for your killing bin Laden. How worried should we be about that? How worried are you about that?

OBAMA: Well, look, we are vigilant and constantly monitoring potential risks of terrorist attacks. And I think that the men and women in our intelligence agencies as well as the FBI have done a terrific job, and Department of Homeland Security.

But the risk is always there. And obviously, on a seminal event like the 10th anniversary of 9/11 that makes us more concerned. It means we've got heightened awareness. The biggest concern we have right now is not the launching of a major terrorist operation, although that risk is always there. The risk that we're especially concerned over right now is the lone wolf terrorist; somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently.

When you've got one person who is deranged, or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage. And it's a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators. So we're spending a lot of time monitoring and gathering information. I think that we generally have to stay vigilant. There may be a little extra vigilance during 9/11.

On the other hand, keep in mind the extraordinary progress we've made over the last couple years in degrading Al Qaeda's capabilities. They are a much weaker organization with much less capability than they had just two or three years ago.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is we don't have to worry about a spectacular 9/11 event, a lone wolf could do some damage, kill a lot of people, but not a nuclear, radiological or anything like that?

OBAMA: Look, as president of the United States I worry about all of it. But I think the most likely scenario that we have to guard against right now ends up being more of a lone wolf operation than a large, well-coordinated terrorist attack. We still have to stay on top of it, though. And we're never letting our guard down. That's part of our job.

BLITZER: We're out of time. But a quick question. If you're reelected -- the last time you were elected, you got Sasha and Malia a cute little puppy, Bo. What are you going to get them the next time if you're re-elected?

OBAMA: When I'm reelected what I'll be getting them is a continuation of Secret Service so that when boys want to start dating them they're going to be surrounded by men with guns. That's their gift.


BLITZER: I'm sure they're going to be thrilled about that.


BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much. Good to see you in Iowa.

OBAMA: Appreciate you.

BLITZER: See I back in Washington.

OBAMA: Thanks very much.

BLITZER: I hope you'll be coming and joining me in my THE SITUATION ROOM.

OBAMA: I look forward to it.

BLITZER: And if you invite me to yours, I'll be happy to come to it. You can do that. You are the president of the United States.

OBAMA: Thank you, wolf. You can visit anytime.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take you up on that.

OBAMA: Just you can't bring cameras. That's the only difference.

BLITZER: All right.


BLITZER: That was the formal sit-down part of the interview. But there was a lot more. We had a chance to walk and talk, and talk about some other issues with the president of the United States here in Iowa. That's going to be Part 3, we're calling it, of the interview. And among other things I'm going to ask him, what the best job in the world is according to Barack Obama.

Also, the president tells us and explains what else is the best and worst parts of being the leader of the United States. The third and final part of the interview with the president, that's coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Before I sat down for my one-on-one interview with the president we had a chance to speak informally, and the president spoke candidly about the best part of this job and the worst.


BLITZER: How do you feel, first of all?

OBAMA: Well, we've had two incredible days. First of all, the weather's been perfect. It's nice getting out of Washington. But what's been most important has been the chance to just talk to ordinary folks, reminding you how wonderful, decent, hard-working, responsible people are out here. They're clearly frustrated with what's going on in Washington. They understand that the economy's tough. And what they're hoping for is everybody pulling together to get things done. And it's a real affirmation of the American spirit. And it fills me up with a lot of good feeling that I hopefully can take back to Washington.

BLITZER: You know, you've aged over these past three years or so.

OBAMA: I have.

BLITZER: You've got a little bit more gray hair.

OBAMA: Some people -- some old friends who I've been seeing around here have reminded me that when I was a young senator, traveling through Iowa, that I looked a little younger than I do now.

BLITZER: We're going to show our viewers a picture of you what you looked like in Des Moines at the end of October 2008. And what you look like now. And you know what? I might go back to 2004, to the Democratic convention in Boston.

Do you still like being president of the United States?

OBAMA: It's the greatest job on earth. Obviously, we're going through a lot of challenges right now. And when you're president of the United States you feel accountable and responsible for every single thing that happens. If there is a flood somewhere, if there is a tornado, if somebody's losing a job, at some level you feel responsible. And you want to make sure that you're doing right by the American people. But the incredible privilege of being able to work with so many talented folks, to meet so many wonderful people all across the country, nothing compares to that.

BLITZER: What's the best part?

OBAMA: The best part is the kinds of things that I've been doing today. You go into a diner, and you sit down and you talk to people, and you hear their life stories. And every once in a while they'll say, you know what, my kid has hemophilia. And was about to lose his insurance until you passed your health care bill, and it's really helping us. Or a small business owner says, you know, I got started because the SBA got in there and took a chance on them -- on me. When you hear that some of the policies you put in place have actually made concrete differences in people's lives, nothing's more gratifying.

BLITZER: And the worst part?

OBAMA: The worst part is when you -- when you're talking to a family member of a fallen soldier and you're hugging them. On the one hand, you hope that you're making them feel a little bit better. At the same time, you're reminded of the incredible sacrifices that people are making for our country. And then when you see sometimes our politics not living up to that level of commitment and patriotism that we see from our troops, that gets a little bit of frustration.

BLITZER: Do you get emotional in those meetings?

OBAMA: Oh, absolutely. You know, for a mother or a father who've lost a loved one, that's always the toughest thing about the job. BLITZER: And you have to say to yourself, you know what? I sent those young men and women off to war.

OBAMA: At some level I'm responsible. And it's a sobering reminder that every single decision we make in the White House counts, and is making a difference in people's lives. And there are times where they'll keep you up at night. No wonder I've got more gray hair now.

BLITZER: Yeah. A quick question, Washington. I've been there a lot longer than you've been there. When we spoke here end of 2008, hope and change. You know what I see in Washington, still, to this day?

OBAMA: More of the same.

BLITZER: The same old same old.

OBAMA: Yeah.

BLITZER: A lot of bickering, backstabbing --

OBAMA: Maybe a little worse.


OBAMA: Well, I think what's happened, you know, there are a lot of theories about this. Part of it is you have these congressional districts that are now so Democratic or so Republican that people don't feel like they need to move to the center and try to find some common ground. They dig in their heels.

They're more worried about a primary fight coming from their own party and I think that contributes to it. Some of it, frankly, Wolf, is I think the media's changed. It's much more splintered. You don't have the entire population just watching Walter Cronkite and hearing one source of news.

Now everybody's going off kind of into their respective corners and look, when the economy's tough and people are anxious, I think that contributes maybe to a little more polarization. But what I know is that when I leave Washington and I talk to folks out here.

You know, I've had a number of conversations with people who come up and say you know what, I'm a Republican, I don't agree with everything you're doing, but I know you're trying to do your best for the country and I'm rooting for you, I'm praying for you.

That kind of attitude, that says, you know, we're more concerned about the country winning than we are about winning the next election. If that kind of spirit is infused in Washington, I think we're going to be just fine.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. Let's talk about what we just heard from the president. Joining us, our CNN senior political analyst David Gergen and our CNN chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

David, you just heard the president's explanation of why U.S. politics can be so ugly. He spoke about the media, redistricting, but is he doing enough right now to rise above it all, to do something to bring back what he spoke about, hope and change, instead of what I suggested was just the same old same old? And he said it might even be worse now.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I thought in what he did say he was dead on. The analysis it struck me is just right. I think most people would agree with his point. Whether you think he himself has done enough, a lot depends on where you sit.

If you're a Republican, you think he's contributing to the cause. You know, he's blaming the Republicans for the downgrade of the debt. He's blaming Republicans for putting politics above the country and all the rest.

But if you're a Democrat, there are a lot of Democrats who feel he hasn't fought back hard enough, that he's been too compromising. He's been too willing to seek the middle. He's been too conciliatory and they would like him to come out punching more.

So much depends. We're so polarized we have different interpretations of that. I must tell you that from my own perspective I think it's very early for him to be out campaigning and I continue to believe that he would be better received by the country if he were spending time in Washington right now calling the congressional leadership back to see if he can get a -- cut a deal on jobs.

BLITZER: Yes, he made it clear he's not going to do that, at least not now. They're going to continue their recess until September 7th. Jessica, the president acknowledged what's being said about him by Governor Perry, by Mitt Romney.

But you know what? He didn't exactly go very hard in hitting them right back. They've been very tough on him and he sort of responded, but he didn't slam them by any means. Is there a strategy here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure. He wants to stay above the fray of presidential primary politics. You know at this point in a campaign it would essentially be handing either candidate a gift for the commander in chief to take a swing at someone who hasn't even become a nominee.

So the president's not going to step into that fight right now. But what you do hear him doing is attacking Republicans broadly for their policies and he says -- he calls it Congress.

But when he says, you know, Congress is standing in the way of getting my jobs initiatives passed. You can read that as the Republicans in the House of Representatives and also the Republican candidates on the trail who endorse their positions.

You heard the president say it in his town halls. You heard him say it to you, Wolf and you'll hear him say it throughout September as he comes back from his vacation and continues to push his jobs proposal, which he told you he's going to unveil, and he's going to hit the campaign -- well, he'll hit the road.

He won't call it the campaign trail. Sending this message that Republicans in essence are blocking an agenda he would like to get done for the country.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica, David, I want both of you to stand by. We have much more to talk about. I want to get your take on some of the other things the president said about jobs, how much responsibility is he taking for the unemployment crisis in the United States. More on the president's tour through the American heartland as well. Stay with us. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."



PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I continue to believe is that ultimately the buck stops with me. I'm going to be accountable. I think people understand that a lot of these problems were decades in the making.

People understand this financial crisis was the worst since the great depression. But ultimately they say, look, he's the president, we think he has good intentions, but we're impatient and we want to see things move faster.

And I understand that. I'm sympathetic to it and we're going to just keep on putting forward ideas that are going to be good for the country.


BLITZER: That's more from my one on one interview with the president here in Iowa. We're talking about it with our senior political analyst David Gergen and our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

David, the president is in a tough spot, I should say. It sounds like he admits he's responsible, but doesn't want to blame -- doesn't want to receive the blame for the slow recovery. What's your take?

GERGEN: Well, he's been very, very deft, I would have to say. Whenever these kinds of subjects come up, he does sort of shove the blame in a different direction.

And you know, he said basically that we had a lot of headwinds that came out of Japan and so forth, but he also made it clear he thought that the Republicans -- and again, to go back to Jessica's point. He sort of camouflages it sometimes. He talks about Congress.

But you know he's -- you know, what he's really saying is the Republicans have caused this downgrade. So he -- you know, a lot of people find that disingenuous, that it's not really a serious conversation. But look, it's what got -- he's come a long way on those kind of arguments in the past. So I guess the White House feels they're going to keep pushing him.

BLITZER: You know, Jessica, we also heard the president say he's got a new jobs proposal he's going to release in September. You know, he wouldn't tell me what's in it. And you heard me ask him what's taking so long?

We've had a jobs crisis in the United States for 2 1/2-plus years. Longer than that, I should say. But what are we hearing about this new proposal? Do we have any idea where it's going to take the U.S.?

YELLIN: Well, they're working on it. There are a lot of potential elements of it that could involve different kinds of payroll tax credit possibilities and different -- different kind of policies that have been floating out there for a while, Wolf.

But what we know he'll do is put out a jobs -- like a big jobs package that has a lot of these different policies together into one comprehensive plan that he'll release after Labor Day vacation. He will also, in addition to that, put out a proposal, what he believes and the White House believes this "Super Committee" should do, the sort of combination of revenues and taxes combined.

And then we will see him go on the road, pushing and promoting this and making the case to the American public, and have him out there rolled up in his shirt sleeves selling his case so that he has a lot of distance from Congress. Because they think the closer he is to congress the lower his poll numbers go.

I would make one point going back to what David just said, which is that the public has been deft sort of saying the buck stops here but other people are actually also to blame. A recent CNN poll said that most Americans, 57 percent, still say that Bush and the Republicans are mostly to blame for the economy.

So it's actually connecting with the American public to say that, you know -- when the president says that he's ultimately responsible for fixing it, but he didn't cause the problem, it's a message that seems to be working for him.

And so they're continuing to try to use it to dig him out of some of his low favorable ratings when it comes to the economy right now.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you. David, thanks to you as well. When the president of the United States, by the way, goes on a bus tour, you can be sure it's no ordinary bus.

We're going to take a closer look at what our White House correspondent Brianna Kielar has ducked the beastie bus. Plus CNN's Jeanne Moos and a hero's welcome for man's best friend.


BLITZER: Iowa has six electoral votes at stake in 2012. It's certainly become more of a swing state in recent presidential elections. President Obama easily won Iowa back in 2008.

But the state went Republican four years earlier with George W. Bush eking out a slim victory. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore narrowly beat Bush in Iowa. Let's reflect a little bit about what's going on.

Brianna Keilar is with us. Brianna, this isn't technically a campaign trip, although it has that feeling. I've covered a lot of campaigns. It certainly does to me, but he's trying to make some policy decisions and meet with local constituents at the same time.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is. It's a bit of a two-fer it strikes me as. You have on one side the fact of course here we are in Iowa and you can't escape that fact, especially with all of the action that you're seeing from Republican presidential candidates here in the last week.

And of course, the president is hoping for some support here that he got in 2008 that really gave him that early momentum. But on the other hand, you also have him here using Iowa as a backdrop for rural issues and we've talked about this.

That Democrats in the midterm election in 2010 really struggled with rural America and arguably it cost them, or helped cost them control of the House of Representatives, which the president would now say is causing certainly a lot of the headaches that he's having.

So here you saw the president today. And even though we're waiting for him to unveil a big sort of jobs creation series of initiatives he was unveiling smaller things here today for rural communities, increased lending, for instance, increased technology in areas like this for businesses here.

BLITZER: He certainly, though, was ready to engage with me on political issues when I brought up some of the controversial comments that Rick Perry made, that Mitt Romney made. He didn't back away at all although he didn't slam them or anything like that.

KEILAR: No, he didn't back away. And having talked to some of the advisers for the president, they're really in a wait and see kind of mode here right now. I mean, right now there's so much interest in Rick Perry.

But you know, months ago there was so much interest in Jon Huntsman that we're not seeing as much now. So I think they're keeping an eye now on Rick Perry to see kind of what comes from this because even though there is so much interest and so much kind of fire in a way, intensity there, there's also a thought that this could come to fizzle.

Who knows? We've seen that with other candidates and so certainly now is not the time, they feel, to really be truly engaging. That will come as things sort of flesh themselves out.

BLITZER: I was I guess surprised to see how emotional he got when I asked him what the worst part of his presidency is and he said meeting with families of those who have died fighting for the United States. And I was also surprised he was pretty blunt in expressing his concerns about the 10th anniversary of 9/11.


BLITZER: You know, when he spoke about a lone wolf, if you will, trying to take revenge for the killing of Bin Laden.

KEILAR: That struck me as well, too. That was really one of the parts of the interview that kind of opened my eyes. When you said what about the idea that there may be some sort of revenge in a way from al Qaeda, from a terrorist --

BLITZER: Because you know they want to get revenge for killing Bin Laden.

KEILAR: Certainly, and always these anniversaries or something of such import, there's always this concern. But were you surprised that he said that?


KEILAR: The lone wolf comment.

BLITZER: I was surprised that he went into that kind of detail. And then when we spoke about a spectacular event he said, I have to worry about it, I'm the president of the United States, and they will take -- they will beef up their security in advance of the anniversary of 9/11. That's coming up very soon.

Brianna, don't go away because we have something else we want to share with our viewers, the bus. It's no ordinary bus that the president of the United States is riding through the Midwest. Like the limo nicknamed the beast, the president's bus is a one of a kind.

And Brianna's here to give us an inside look. We'll look at the bells and whistles. And sit, stay, and fetch. Those are the usual tricks dogs are asked to learn. But the best one of all is welcoming back a family member from a war zone.


BLITZER: By now you've probably seen it, the president's new black bus. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, more appropriate for Darth Vader than the commander in chief. But as you might suspect, this is no ordinary bus.

Let's bring back our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar is joining us. There's actually more than one of these amazing buses, there's two.

KEILAR: That's right. There are two of these buses that the secret service has purchased. It's the first time that they have added buses to their fleet of vehicles, which does include, of course, the presidential limousine known as the beast when the president is it in. Why did they buy these buses? They actually say it was to save money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama is rolling through the Midwest this week on a three-state campaign-style swing in a brand new sleek black armored bus.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: As I was driving down those little towns in my big bus, I'm -- we slowed down, and I'm standing in the front and waving.

KEILAR: It's one of two the secret service bought in the last few months for moving what they call protectives, the president and first lady, the vice president, and eventually the Republican presidential nominee, among others.

This bad boy cost $1.1 million, that's $2.2 million for both coaches. According to a public invoice showing the buses were purchased from a company in Tennessee. The company web site displays a number used buses for sale, including one that used to belong to a popular country music act.

But this bus is brand spanking new, outfitted with advance communication system so the president can talk securely with advisers or world leaders while on the road and, of course, protective armor.

Though it doesn't shield president Obama from this, Americans upset with his policies lining up to send him a message as his motorcade passes by in Iowa. The secret service bought the buses in anticipation of the busy 2012 presidential campaign.

A spokesman saying, "We felt we were overdue for having an asset like this in our fleet. Candidates and presidents have been participating in bus tours since 1980."


KEILAR: Now before buying these buses, the secret service would lease buses because they were using them, and then they would outfit them with advanced communication systems and armor, and then when they had to return the buses, they would have to take all of that stuff off.

And that's why nay said it was a tremendous expense, tens of thousands of dollars per month to lease these buses. That's why they said they went this direction.

BLITZER: It's $1.1 million is a bargain, is that what they're saying?

KEILAR: Apparently.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, good work. Thanks very much. Enjoy the rest of this bus trip.

A dog can be a service member's best friend and faithful pets are turning up to welcome back troops from the battlefield. Sometimes with extremely enthusiastic welcomes.


BLITZER: Sometimes a family dog is more than just a pet. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know all those heart warming two-legged reunions, military ones that end in --


MOOS: This is the four-legged version.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't recognize me?

MOOS: Emmett Thunderpaws is the Great Dane's name. For Senior Airman Trevor Crowder arriving back from Afghanistan --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the second best reunion I've had since getting back.

MOOS: The best being the one with his wife, Whitney.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he remembers you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't get out of his face for probably a solid week.

MOOS: From humongous dogs like Emmett Thunderpaws to tiny ones like these dachshunds. Canine reunions are running rampant on Youtube.


MOOS: From baying beagles to whimpering molly, crying over the return of her Air Force captain owner. The one thing most of these doggy reunions have in common is they can turn a macho soldier into a baby- talking softie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember me? You're my boy.

MOOS: While others talk to their dogs like adults.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I missed you so bad, honey. I'm so sorry I went away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at you. How small you are. You lost all this weight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to make me cry.

MOOS: Soldiers locked in a canine embrace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to have direct eye contact and make sure that I was here.

MOOS: The doggy reunion can even eclipse the human one. When the lady of the house handled her man the camera to show off her welcome home ensemble --



MOOS: Kodiak kept stealing the show.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look wonderful. So do you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry, but I -- I need to be the center of attention, so --

MOOS: Of course, dogs have a pretty short attention span. So after only about 45 seconds of intense petting and a little chasing around --


MOOS: For those of you who think the joy pet bring is just hot air --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The next best thing to a reunion. Yes.

MOOS: Couldn't you just once be happy to see me? Happy even when outnumbered. At least a soldier can say things to his dog that he probably shouldn't say to his wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's your butt.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." The news continues on CNN.