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Presidential Inauguration

Aired January 21, 2013 - 12:30   ET




WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL": The president of the United States and the vice president of the United States, this is the start -- yesterday was the start of the second term, but today is really the start of the second term because we heard the president spell out in considerable detail his priorities for the second term.

And, indeed, he went way beyond what I thought he was going to do in laying out his agenda, not only on specific economic issues, on national security issues, but also speaking in very personal feelings about climate change, for example.

I was surprised to hear him get into some of those political details. Gay rights, making it clear he supports gay marriage and is going to fight for those gay marriages.

He also made it clear he wants to go forward on some of the most specific entitlement issues and not deal with some of the -- not avoid some of those critical issues like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.

Those are his priorities right now and we even heard him talk about Newtown, Connecticut, and guns. The president of the United States was very, very forceful in his words.

It was clear he thought long and hard about each sentence he was going to make because each one had a potentially very powerful political impact in setting the agenda for his second term.

So, the president of the United States surprised me when he went forward and he went into such specific details on so many of these important issues.

Anderson, as you can tell, I was surprised, but I wonder how you reacted to what you heard from the president.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL": Well, we should also point out the president and vice president, the first lady and Dr. Biden are going to be heading to an inaugural luncheon right now inside the Capitol building, so we won't see them for some time.

But I think, Wolf, just echoing some what you said, both his comments on climate change I think are probably maybe surprising to a number of people. It's not something we heard really anything about over the first four years.

Clearly, it seems to be something this president feels very strongly about moving forward in the next four years and for his legacy.

And for a president who only recently, to use his word, "evolved" on the issue of same-sex marriage, he made very forceful statements in this inaugural address, actually, historic statements on equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, putting in the same category Seneca Falls, back in 1848, when a womens' rights convention -- conference was held there and Selma, Alabama, 1965, when Alabama state troops attacked civil rights marchers.

In the same category as Seneca Falls and Selma, he put Stonewall, the Stonewall uprising which took place in New York's Greenwich Village in 1969 on June 27th when police raided a small gay bar called The Stonewall and tenants -- and patrons at that bar fought back and that was really the spark of the modern-day civil rights movement for gay and lesbian Americans.

And he went on to talk about gay and lesbian Americans, saying our journey is not completed until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

I think that's the first time, John King, in an inaugural address where gay and lesbian Americans were particularly cited.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cited and cited in significant detail by a president of the United States who, as you noted, personally has evolved over the last four years on this issue.

That is groundbreaking language from the president of the United State in a speech that -- it's not the most flowery speech. We've heard this president use more flowery, uplifting rhetoric in the past, but I think it was an elegant speech in a simple, approachable way.

And I thought it was very clever and artfully crafted politically in that he tied everything he wanted to do, some of it very controversial -- immigration, gun control, gay rights and some other policy initiatives -- he either tied it back to the Founding Fathers, saying this is part of America's imperfect union always getting more perfect -- the Founding Fathers are often cited by the tea party and constitutional conservatives -- or he tied it to the other man we honor on this day, Dr. Martin Luther King and his involvement in the bigger, broader civil rights movement, that the journey is not done.

Artfully constructed. Not the fine-print of the details, but a pretty significant and, in some big ways, controversial and hard to achieve second-term initiatives.

COOPER: Our panel has been listening. Gloria, are you (INAUDIBLE)?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree with John. I think this was very artfully constructed, to use John's phrase. It contained more specificity than I actually thought he was going to do. It was sort of a more poetic version of the State of the Union speech. He made it very clear that these are the things he intends to do. These are things he wants to do in the next term, talking about the middle class, talking about climate change, putting Republicans, I thought, on notice that we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build his future, which means Social Security and healthcare, cares about the deficit, but cares about building for the future.

I think that there were no real surprises here other than the fact that the president stated his agenda step by step.

COOPER: "The Washington Post's" David Maraniss is with us. He wrote the book, "Barack Obama -- The Story." How do you think it compares to his address in 2009?

DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "BARACK OBAMA -- THE STORY": Well, it was much more positive and much more active. I could feel his heart beating this time. It wasn't a cool Obama.

It was really -- I think what he said, that this is our moment, I think he was feeling it was his moment.

And, you know, he did, as John said -- what he did is he took the Founding Fathers' riffs and language, Martin Luther King's language, so of King, and melded it into his own and put it into a sort of statement of action what he wants to do in the next four years.

COOPER: That's a great phrase -- "you could hear his heart beating." It's interesting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, first of all, I think it was extraordinary and we can't underscore the importance of him saying that lesbian and gay sisters and brothers are equal, that their rights are equal.

This is groundbreaking for Western civilization, for human history. It's very, very extraordinary.

I also think it's important he didn't back down from the fight. He decided he was going to step forward, he was going to make this case for his own values and he was going to put those values in the context of the deepest American values.

In that way, much like Reagan, Reagan didn't back down from the fight, but he tried to frame the fight in very deep, historical terms and in values that all Americans could believe in.

I think it was extraordinary, also, that he did stand up on the question of climate change. He did stand up on the question of clean energy. These are important things.

He had to speak to his coalition in terms that would resonate with the country and he spoke to every -- he has a rainbow coalition. He spoke to every stripe. He spoke to poverty. He spoke to women. He spoke to African-Americans.

When he used that language of the blood drawn from the lash and from the sword, that was a very powerful moment, I think, for every African-American. He spoke to every stripe in his rainbow coalition.

That rainbow coalition is now the governing coalition in America. He spoke to it powerfully and beautifully.

COOPER: Jessica, you've heard a lot of his speeches.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This was in a sense of a grab bag a bit in the way a State of the Union is.

It wasn't a single vision for what the president plans to tackle next. It wasn't a single driving message from the president. We ...

COOPER: Let's just go to Dana Bash. Dana, you're right where the president is.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He just walked in. You can see him walking through the capitol Rotunda, marveling at the magnificent architecture.

He's walking with the vice president, just walked by myself and other reporters here. He said, hello, how are you? We said, how you feel? Do you feel great?

He said, yes, and he is heading with members of the leadership, House and Democratic leadership -- House and Republican leadership, rather -- Democrats and Republicans, over to the Senate side and he's going to have some formal ceremonies now.

The formality is signing of official papers, some of them are important because they actually give him a paycheck, put him on the payroll, as well as members of the cabinet.

After that, he's going to be back in here and he's going to go to the lunch. That's been happening for 60 years right around here in the Statutory Hall, which is right back there.

And you can see, actually, people streaming in, senators. Senator Kerry, you can see him behind me, the senator from Massachusetts, soon to be, we assume, the next secretary of state, and other members of the senate.

This is the coat check behind me so we have a pretty good view of the really exclusive VIP guest list that's coming for this lunch which should start in just a little while as soon as the president's done with his signing ceremony.

COOPER: Jessica, you were saying?

YELLIN: You had asked earlier if the president has changed in office and what we did not hear was this gauzy message of hope and change or red-and-blue America.

What you heard here was a leader who plans to get some things done in the time he has left.

And he is programmatic about laying out what he needs to do, explaining it to the people both in America right now, the people he plans to rally to get his agenda supported in the grassroots level and create a context to get it done in Washington in this speech by using the words of the Founding Fathers and that support to try to push it.

The other piece we haven't talked about is the education reform and the drawdown overseas which are two other big pieces of this agenda.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there was a big idea, I think, in the speech today and that was equality. That's what this speech was about.

COOPER: Let's check in with Wolf. Wolf?

BLITZER: The president is about to sign a proclamation and he's also going to officially nominate four new members of his cabinet.

Let's see if we can listen in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All set? All right. I'm -- you know, I'm proclaiming peace on earth and good will towards men.


OBAMA: I'm sending a few nominations up which I know will be dealt with with great dispatch -- Mr. Jack Lew for treasurer, Mr. Charles Timothy Hagel for defense, Mr. John Kerry, secretary of state, and Mr. John Brennan of Virginia for Central Intelligence Agency.

There you go. Well, thank you very much, everybody. Look forward to (INAUDIBLE) ...


BLITZER: So, the president, once again, formally nominating members of his cabinet, including Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, John Kerry to be secretary of state, John Brennan -- let's listen in. Let's see what else he's saying.

OBAMA: This is a nice one. That's yours.

BLITZER: All right, so they have a little -- a few laughs, a little official business, the nomination of cabinet members, signing a proclamation.

Dana Bash, what's going to happen next? BASH: What's going to happen next, Wolf, is the president is going to come back from the Senate side of the Capitol where he is now through the center into Statuary Hall and that is where there is going to be what is now the traditional, post-inaugural lunch.

As I mentioned before, it is extremely exclusive. There were 1,600 people on the platform. This is only 220 guests make this list. And it is something that is really tends to bring together in a very intimate way, himself, members of the leadership, House and Senate, Democrat/Republican, members of the Supreme Court.

It's so exclusive that the president himself only gets a little more than a dozen seats that he can fill with his own personal guests, so we're actually waiting and hoping to see the president once again, once he moves through where we are, the Capitol Rotunda, to the lunch.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much. We're going to be making our way over to the White House to the reviewing stand momentarily.

But, David Gergen, a quick thought on what the president had to say.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We've just heard one of the most important speeches Barack Obama has given as president.


GERGEN: It's a real declaration of conscience about principles and what he believes in.

He's basically said, when I came in the first term, we had all these emergencies. We had these wars. We've now started to clear the decks. Let's talk about what's essential.

And he placed himself squarely in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. If anything, I thought, in many ways, it was a response to King, his version of the march on Washington speech in -- 50 years ago, because it was set forward in the same way -- Alex started talking about this -- it was a speech about a quality of opportunity. That that's the essential American dream. And everything else flows from there.

BLITZER: And it was appropriate he did it on Martin Luther King Jr.'s --

GERGEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Day here in Washington.


GERGEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, all of us, we're going to head over to the reviewing stand.

Anderson, we'll be in close touch with you. We should get there fairly soon.

COOPER: All right, Wolf, we'll continue to hold down the coverage while you make your way to the reviewing stand, because the festivities continue as the parade will be getting underway after this lunch.

We should tell you a couple of excerpts or a couple of key moments from the president's speech, because I think as David Gergen said, this was really a very important speech. And as David and Miranda (ph) said, you can really feel the president's heart beat in this speech. Let's listen in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.


COOPER: Gloria, you cited that -- that --

BORGER: Yes. I think it was the president saying, I'm going to stand up for what I believe in. I'm not going to choose between generations. My generation needs to build on what the generation has done before us. And I think that doesn't only refer to Social Security or the deficit. I think it also does refer to civil rights. It refers to equality, what generations did before, what Martin Luther King did before. My generation will continue. So he spoke about civil rights.

He talked about having to act about gun violence. He talked about climate change. And so it's part of this construct of, as the president used to say, the fierce urgency of now. He said we have divided views of government, but we cannot let these century-long debates about the role of government for all time stop us from acting right now.

COOPER: The fierce urgency of now is, of course, a phrase that Dr. King himself used.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Van Jones, do you agree with David Gergen that this was a speech kind of Barack Obama, President Obama's response to Dr. King?

VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I felt that way. And I felt that you have -- he had an opportunity, the 50-year anniversary this year of that speech, to put his own marker down for equality. And I think that it was nailed by Alex. This was a speech about equality. I think it's also important to recognize there's a question of his patriotism that has gone on in some parts of the far right. This is not a patriot. He's not -- he doesn't believe in real American values. He had to take those values that he believes in and put them in the context, as Dr. King did, of the best of our traditions. I thought he did an extraordinary job of stitulating (ph) his true beliefs in the best traditions of America. And I thought -- and I thought it -- and I think that it will go down as important (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: And there's John Lewis, of course, legendary civil rights leader, talking to Hillary Clinton.

JONES: And, I mean, and you have that -- you have that kind of history all day long today. Again, Medgar Evers' widow, who was not -- who's husband was gunned down. She was supposed to be at the March on Washington to represent her husband. She couldn't get here. She's here 50 years later and --

COOPER: Medgar Evers who was assassinated fighting for voting rights.

JONES: Yes. Yes.

MARANISS: In 1963.

COOPER: In 1963.

MARANISS: If I could put sort of Martin Luther King holiday and Barack Obama into the perspective of these biographies, the day he was born, August 4, 1961, four freedom riders were arrested in Shreveport, Louisiana, for walking into the whites only section of the Trailways bus terminal. When he was two, that very day, J.D. Goodman and Schwerner's bodies were found --

COOPER: In Philadelphia, Mississippi.

MARANISS: The civil rights worker. When he was three, the Senate put -- gave final approval to the Civil Rights Act, which made his rights possible.

COOPER: Dana Bash is standing by with John Lewis.


BASH: That's right, we are honored to have John Lewis here, who is now a member of Congress. But most importantly, I think, given this day, you were a compatriot of Martin Luther King, Jr. What did it feel like to stand here on Martin Luther King holiday with a black president being inaugurated for the second time?

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: It felt very good. It felt really moving. It was almost unreal, almost unbelievable to see President Barack Obama taking the oath with the Bible of Martin Luther King Jr. I saw him reading that on Bible on many, many occasion as it traveled all over America, but especially in the American south.

BASH: You heard in the president's speech mention in one breath Thelma, Stonewall, Seneca Falls. What did that mean to you?

LEWIS: The president was saying, in spite of our differences, in spite of all of our issues, the difficulties, that we're one people. We're one American. It doesn't matter whether we're black or white, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American. It doesn't matter whether we're straight or gay. We're one people. We're one country. That we all live in the same house, the American house.

BASH: You have such an experience behind you at Selma. You were beaten up. Take us back in time then and put yourself back then looking forward to this day where a black president was inaugurated for a second term.

LEWIS: Well, I did everything possible today to keep from crying. When I saw him standing there, taking the oath on the Bible of Martin Luther King, Jr., knowing that just 50 short years ago that Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, "I have a dream." When there was so many people who voted for him last year, four years ago couldn't even register to vote.

BASH: You mentioned the fact that you traveled with Dr. King. You saw him using that very Bible that President Obama used to put his hand on to take the oath right now. Can you give us some recollection, any anecdotes, about being with Dr. King while he was using that same Bible?

LEWIS: Well, Dr. King used the Bible to give a message of hope, to be inspired, or to have the courage to stand up and preached in the hospital like he did on August 28th, (ph) 1963, 50 years ago. He had the ability to turn those steps then by reading that Bible, turn those steps into a modern day (INAUDIBLE). It gave him the courage to walk from Selma to Montgomery, to move though the streets of Atlanta and the dusty roads of Georgia and Mississippi and to go to Tennessee.

BASH: Thank you so much. We really appreciate you joining us and, you know --

LEWIS: Well, thank you.

BASH: Especially on this very special day of the inauguration --

LEWIS: Thank you.

BASH: And Martin Luther King holiday.

LEWIS: Thank you.

BASH: Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Dana, thanks very much.

And again, Van Jones, I mean just to underscore for him to reference Stonewall in the same sentence as Selma and Seneca Falls, it is extraordinary because it's essentially saying, which is a controversial statement, that the fight for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans is a fight for civil rights. And among some people in this country, that -- they do not hold that viewpoint.

JONES: Well, that argument has now been settled. That argument has been settled. It is a civil rights question that all love is equal. And when you have both the president of the United States say -- and he put it on that same platform. But you just heard John Lewis. That was the last living human being who spoke on that stage 50 years ago, John Lewis. And he just said it's a civil rights issue. And so that question now is settled as far as I'm concerned.

BORGER: Well, that is --

JONES: It's a moment in history.

COOPER: Let's check in with the reaction of the crowd. Don Lemon is out there.

Don, what are you hearing from people?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, you guys are exactly right, John Lewis, of course, from Georgia. I live in Georgia. I see John Lewis all the time. A big proponent for gay rights. He believe it's a civil right, especially same sex marriage. He came out for it and says it all the time.

And people here, there are gay people who are out on the mall. We're very proud. Some people were surprised in a good way that the president mentioned gay rights in his speech. Reggie (ph) is one of them. Greg (ph) is here as well. Both of them are gay Americans.

When the president mentioned gay rights and mentioned Stonewall, what did you think?

REGGIE: I thought it was good that it was inclusive like that, you know.

LEMON: Were you surprised? Did you ever think in your lifetime that a president would mention that in an inaugural address?

REGGIE: It's a little bit surprising, but given his history, the Obama administration's history with the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and also his revolution of gay marriage, it's really not surprising.

LEMON: And what about for you, Greg? You specifically mentioned Stonewall. You thought that was a bit of a surprise for you. You liked that?

GREG: Yes, I was very surprised when he was talking about different civil rights, (INAUDIBLE) that he mentioned Stonewall, because it's just something that you're not used to hearing when they talk about civil rights, especially from a president. So I was -- that really struck me when he said that.

LEMON: What do you think this does for gay people not only in this country but around the world?

GREG: I hope it pushes us forward and makes us more equal with everyone else, included with everyone else in the country.

LEMON: Do you feel an additional sense of pride having heard the president mention that today?

GREG: Yes, I do. I do. I really do. And it makes me feel good to be an American right now and think that things are going to be better in the future. LEMON: Well, thanks to both of you and thanks to all of the students who are from Kentucky who stood around and waited to get on television.

I'm going to put it back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Don, thanks very much.

Alex Castellanos, again, for you it really was a speech about equality, you were saying?

CASTELLANOS: I think speeches are not only spoken, they're lived. And to see a black man stand in front of his nation's Capitol today and for the second time take an oath of office, and then say remind us of the most evidence of truths, that all of us are created equal, you know, that doesn't happen everywhere in the world. What a powerful moment.

But, you know, there are two ways to lead people. One way is a John F. Kennedy style speech saying, let's all of us go to the moon together, let's all of us go on a great mission. He didn't give that speech today.

COOPER: Dana Bash has our former president, Jimmy Carter.


BASH: That's right.

Mr. President, thank you so much. It's a pleasure to have you here. What are your first and initial reactions to President Obama's speech?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, it was a very progressive speech, and I think it outlined some of the things that need to be done this next four years. And I don't have any doubt that now he'll be much more attentive to those things than it could be during the first four years.

I was really impressed with the inauguration's diversity. You know, a wide range of kinds of presentations for the prayers, for the songs. This was also very impressive.

And I think it was just kind of a good spirit today of -- not of excitement like it was four years ago when I was also here, not of excitement like I was here when it was 60 (ph) degrees and I was sworn in, but I think it was an element of anticipation of more stable and progressive, and I think more productive administration during these next four years. And I believe that there's going to be some immediate movement, for instance, on a long, overdue bill to deal with immigration and maybe also some elements of gun control, not very much.

BASH: You know, my understanding covering the White House is, there is kind of a secret society in former presidents and former living -- and former presidents who are living. How often do you talk to President Obama? CARTER: Not very often to him, but I've been very close to his secretary of state, Clinton. And usually when the Carter Center has programs in 70 countries around the world, 35 of them in Africa, so most of the things that we do don't relate as much to the White House as they do to the State Department. So I've stayed in contact with Secretary Clinton. And -- but not very much with the White House. But maybe this next year will be more --

BASH: Sir, hindsight is always 20/20. President Obama is a Democratic president that got a chance you didn't get, which is a second term.


BASH: Looking back, what would you have liked to have done, or maybe even let's look forward, what do you hope that President Obama can achieve that you didn't have an opportunity to because you had one term?

CARTER: Well, when I left the White House, there was peace between Israel and Egypt. There was a pledge of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And that issue has now gone into the back drawer. And my hope is it will be resurrected and we can move and have peace for Israel, which has been one of my prayers for more than 30 years. And peace for their neighbors as well.

I just got back from China, and my concern is that there's an element of antagonism that is building between the United States and China, which could degenerate into a very serious confrontation. I hope that will change because when I left office, we had just normalized diplomatic relations with China. And that's another concern.

I think there's going to be now a movement on immigration, which I just pointed out. I noticed he mentioned global warming and environment and that's another thing we need to move forward to attend to. So he has a big agenda ahead of him and very serious problems in several countries in the world. But I think his movement out of war, as he said, after ending a decade as a matter of fact, more than a decade of war into an element of peace, I hope that peace will prevail.

BASH: Thank you so much. Mr. President. Enjoy the lunch. I heard it's pretty tasty.


BASH: OK. Thank you so much.

CARTER: (INAUDIBLE), as a matter of fact. (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: That's right. Thank you.

Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: You see the Supreme Court Justice Scalia there. Now you see Senator John Kerry. We just saw President Barack Obama signing the papers for him to be nominated to secretary of state. Let's check in with Robin Meade who's down at the National Mall. Robin.

ROBIN MEADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. If you're on the National Mall, like these folks were, I wanted to see how the speech resonated with them. They want to get a cheer in first. And I told them they could as long as we can hear Stephanie Jessop (ph). She's from India, from Indianapolis. And you said there was a part of the speech that really resonated with you.