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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Inaugural Parade; Crowds Gather For Public Inauguration; The Presidential Inauguration; Making History; Obama's Presidency And King's Legacy; Ruling On Affirmative Action

Aired January 21, 2013 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Brianna Keilar is at St. John's Episcopal Church this morning. Suzanne Malveaux is along the parade route. Now the turnout is not expected to match the 1.8 million spectators from back in 2009. Estimates are roughly half somewhere around 800,000 people.

But as Christi Paul says, that's nothing to sneeze at. It will be the president taking the oath for a second time in 24 hours, the fourth time as president of the United States. The first time around, it's the president, his wife, and his two daughters looking on.

It's making good on a constitutional requirement, he has to be sworn in on January 20th. The Vice President Joe Biden did too. He was sworn in by the Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She made history as the first Latina to swear in a vice president.

Here is looking ahead to what's happening today. The first family starts the day with a service at St. John's Episcopal Church at 8:45. The president will then publicly be sworn a few hours later in 11:55 Eastern Time, by the way.

He'll give the presidential address at noon and then later at afternoon at 2:35, he will lead the inaugural parade from the U.S. capital down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and then the balls and all the partying begin.

So we begin though with John King. He's got a look at what else is happening today. Hi, John.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, Soledad. The balls and partying begin after the ceremonies. It is a bit of a break before we get to party. President Obama and Vice President Biden, they have the traditional congressional lunch with congressional leaders.

That allows them to say hello and have a meal. It allows the people in the mall to get out to the parade route and then it's time for the big parade right down Pennsylvania Avenue. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux will take us through the parade route. Good morning, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We have prime real estate here. We are at Ninth and Pennsylvania. As you know, you know this is about a mile stretch or so where the capitol is, where he takes the oath of office and then down to the White House. This is the place really where there's going to be a lot of excitement and anticipation.

Because this is the place where very likely the president, the vice president, their wives will get out of motorcade and actually greet people along with presidential route here and so there is a lot of anticipation, people who get these spots are very lucky folks, they have been out here, I can tell you since 5:00 in the morning.

One of the security checkpoints, we had a chance to see a lot of folks gathering about 500 or so. Think about TSA, airport, getting through. That's the kind of security you have to get through to get this close. What are we talking about?

We are talking about at least 8,800 people who are going to be following the president, the vice president and their motorcade down here. We've got floats, talking about things like the Hawaii state float.

Of course, the birthplace of the president, there will be representation of a big volcano on that float. You've got the Illinois state float in honor of the first lady, Michelle Obama, as well as the Pennsylvania float, MLK float, you name it.

And they have 200 animals we're told will be on the route, military bands, kids on unicycles, John, you name it, you are going to see it. Already a lot of people very excited, trying to get through to this location. Be patient. It's going to take a while, but at least it is not as cold as four years ago and not as many people -- John.

KING: Everybody seems hung up on that. It's not as cold as it was four years ago. I like the cold, but it was cold four years ago. Suzanne, enjoy the parade. We'll check back in with you later.

MALVEAUX: A balmy 33.

KING: At the moment -- balmy 33. A lot of people will make their way to the parade right now are trying to get prime locations on the National Mall. That's where our Christi Paul is. Christi, people are gathering, as we've been noting throughout the morning. You can tell by being here. More people out at this point four years ago, a smaller crowd but still a happy crowd, right?

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My gosh, yes, and look at the sunrise. It looks like the sky is on fire. We've got people out here who have been dancing away because you can hear the music. People carrying flags around and then we've got Tommie Williams here. He is one of our service members with the Marine Corps. We thank you so much for your service first of all.

TOMMIE WILLIAMS, MARINE CORPS: Thank you, Christi.

PAUL: Tell me what made you want to come down here and experience this first hand for yourself?

WILLIAMS: Well, the reason why is because I am local in the area now. I wanted to make sure that my wife and I were able to partake in the festivities of the inauguration. PAUL: Well, you know, there's one -- a thing on our web site, and I want you to finish the headline for us because the headline on this particular page is second term I hope Obama -- so you finish it. Second term, what do you hope Obama does?

WILLIAMS: I hope President Obama, my commander in chief, is able to get to the second part of his agenda during his first term, he wasn't able to execute all of it. That's all I hope for, for my commander in chief.

PAUL: Thank you, again, Tommie Williams with the Marine Corps for you service. It's so good to have you with us. We appreciate it. You can see everybody congregating. They're all ready to go. Back to you, John King.

KING: A lot of great energy out there in the mall. Christi, thank you. Let's talk to the panel about the presidential expectations. You served the president in the first term. He has 18 months, two years, depending on other events. What is it that he needs to say today?

His biggest moment today is the speech and he's trying to move things in the building behind him, the capitol who is also trying to bring the American people with him. What is the singular goal today?

BILL BURTON, SENIOR STRATEGIST, "PRIORITIES ACTION USA": Well, the challenge for the president is that he has a divided government. But also that the country is more divided than historically is as the president enters the second term.

Even Harry Truman had a 69 percent approval rating, and the president is only at 52 percent. So I think his challenge, talking directly to the American people about the big things that we need to get done and dragging Congress along with him.

KING: Huge expectations for the president four years ago, making history, had a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate. And he campaigned as if that he could come and maybe he raised the expectations too high. Change Washington like that. Now what?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the challenge in a second inaugural address and any inaugural address is to not be too broad, to bring it in, to make it tight and concise. George W. Bush did this in his second inaugural address. Remember the headline from it was freedom agenda.

The headline from Bill Clinton's second inaugural address is bridge to the 21st Century. So we'll see what President Obama's headline is going to be, if he can make it tight and concise and not too broad so that it's not memorable.

KING: Recovery is still in a low gear. We have a lot of big question marks if you look around the world. Many of them centered in the Middle East and North Africa, but not all of them, are the expectations, high, low or we don't know? RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, after the last two years, keeping the government open would seem an accomplishment. Expectations are actually pretty low. But you know, the president I think does have some opportunity here, closely divided country and closely divided government.

But a Democratic Party that has won the popular vote five out of six times in the presidency with a consistent and cohesive coalition. And it creates some pressure on Republicans to move and he may have an opportunity to kind of exploit those fissures and get some things done.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You can see I'll be watching for today is a great irony, and Obama, ever since the 2004 convention speech, has been about presenting himself as the person who can bring Americans together.

I think finally he sort of recognize that that's not going to be his lasting achievement. His lasting achievement will be legislation. His lasting achievement will be his agenda, and I'll be interested to hear what he has to say about the divide in the country, the divide that has marked his time in office and is now deeper than it's ever been.

BROWNSTEIN: The country, the Democratic majority has solidified at the presidential level.

KING: But the tone, I think we all agree, but the tone of the speech probably more important than any one specific or two specific proposals. Let's turn things back over to John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Hi, John. You know, whether it's crowd control or the absolutely pristine blue carpet behind me where President Obama will take the oath of office later on today, nothing is left to chance when it comes to the inauguration and we got an inside look at the preparations that went into today -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. I am actually inside one of the key places that we will see a lot of the events. In fact, the VIPs will be walking. I'm in the capitol rotunda. This is one of the places where we will see a lot of the preparations take place behind the scenes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): No, that's not the president. It's a stand in, but this is the kind of exhaustive prep going on to make sure there are no mistakes. It's not just for the president. Chuck Schumer is the event's emcee.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER, INAUGURAL COMMITTEE CHAIR: Yes, I don't want to do what Chief Justice Roberts did. He's a brilliant man and he messed up.

BASH: Roberts messed up the oath four years ago. JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE: Faithfully the office of the president of the United States.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The office of the president of the United States faithfully.

BASH: He had to go to the White House for a do over.

(on camera): What are you afraid of messing up?

SCHUMER: Well, whatever, not getting up at the right time, introducing the wrong person, who knows?

BASH (voice-over): As chair of the Inaugural Committee, Schumer has been preparing for the day for more than a year.

SCHUMER: And we didn't know who the president would be, but together it's always done in a bipartisan way.

BASH: A central focus? Try to avoid problems that put a damper on the last Obama inauguration.

SCHUMER: Tens of thousands of people missed it. They came in from all over the country. So we have done symbolic things like get rid of those infamous purple tickets. But there was also a tunnel way that was closed off and thousands of were just stuck there and missed the whole inauguration. We closed that.

BASH: They've done other things to help the hordes of people coming to watch, like adding cell phone towers for better reception and port- a-potties, 505 to be exact. But behind the scenes, prepping for inauguration is also about preserving memorabilia for history. That's Diane Skvarla's job as Senate curator, she collects as much as she can from the event even the carpet that the president stands on.

(on camera): So you saved the carpet that he stood on?

DIANE SKVARLA, SENATE CURATOR: Yes.

BASH: And the (inaudible). Where is it?

SKVARLA: It's actually at the national archives. In 200 year's time, somebody can say that's exactly the color, the make, we get all of the information about it. I mean, it sounds like -- a lot of detail for the average person.

SKVARLA: In 200 years, someone will say, great, I'm glad we have that for the record.

BASH: It's history in the making.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And I mentioned, I am in the capitol rotunda, traditionally presidents walk through here pretty soon after they take the oath. Other very interesting thing will go on behind here. That is statuary hall where the post inaugural lunch will be, the most exclusive ticket of all of the ceremonies, only 220 guests. Guess what? The president himself only gets to invite a little more than a dozen people -- John.

BERMAN: The president only gets a dozen people. Wow, amazing, all of the preparations that go down to the very small level. Dana Bash, thank you so much. I should say they're doing some work on the podium there behind me where the president will be speaking. All these preparations are going on until the very last minute. Now let's go down to Soledad O'Brien a few rows behind me.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I am. And today marks the second time that Martin Luther King Jr. Day Has intersected with the inauguration. I will speak with MLK's daughter, Bernice King about the tributes happening today for her father.

And she says she often felt like an alien growing up. We'll hear my conversation with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor about her path to the high court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our special inauguration coverage. For just the second time, the inauguration intersects with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A number of events commemorating the icon are today, of course.

Bernice King is the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She is with us this morning. It's nice to see you. Thank you for being with us. You know, I know that the bible, that was your family bible. Your father's personal bible is being used in the swearing in today, along with a bible that belonged to Abraham Lincoln. Tell me a little bit about the family bible, your father's bible.

BERNICE KING, DAUGHTER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Well, that bible is at least 59 years of age because in it are markings such as 5-10-54. That was the time period in which he accepted as pastor to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

So he was using this as a bible to meditate and pray and prepare himself for leadership in the church and ultimately we know for the movement. It's very tattered. We did a little repairing on it, restoration, so it wouldn't fall apart when the president places his hand on it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that would be a bad thing to happen in the middle of the inauguration ceremony. I know you are preparing to speak at Ebenezer Church today, because, of course, what a great coincidence of timing. Today, we also celebrate your father's legacy as well, on the same day we inaugurate a president. It's really a tremendous thing. What are you going to talk about? How do the two things intersect for you?

KING: Well, I think first and foremost, the fact that the president is using daddy's bible is heart warming for me. Because my father was first and foremost a preacher, pastor, it reminds people of that. That is one of the things I will stress today.

We must remember the pastor and preacher, Martin Luther King Jr. The second is my father was such a healing leader and so was Abraham Lincoln. And our president in these times because the nation is so divided.

He is in one of the interesting positions where we'll have to find a way to bring the nation together to heal the nation. So I will call for healing and reconciliation, in light of the gun discussions and discourse going on now, that we've got to really consider creating a more nonviolent society.

O'BRIEN: Bernice King with us this morning. It's nice to see you even if it's from a distance. Thanks for being with us.

KING: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet. You know, it's interesting to hear Bernice talk, and I've had lot of opportunities to chat with her over the years. You think back 50 years ago, people filling the mall, but of course, they were here for the march on Washington.

MAYOR CORY BOOKER, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Yes. Yes. You know, my mom was an organizer for the urban league for the march on Washington and tells me how powerful it was to have hundreds of thousands of people descend on the nation's capitol at that time.

But now you come and you have on the mall, you actually have a monument to Martin Luther King himself. So his spirit is really in many ways present today, an African-American president being sworn in, down the mall is a monument to Martin Luther King. It is on Martin Luther King Day.

O'BRIEN: With the bible, Daddy King's bible as she said.

BOOKER: An extraordinary feeling, and, you know, King did not march for black justice. He really marched for principles and ideals of America to be made true for everyone. It's nice to see universal principles resounding throughout the ceremonies today.

O'BRIEN: Speaking of those universal principals, we're going to tell the story of a woman who group in the projects, but then had a path that went to Princeton, Yale and then eventually right to the Supreme Court.

She credits affirmative action with helping her get there. So when the issue comes before the Supreme Court, probably in March, how will she rule? We're going to talk about Justice Sonia Sotomayor that's straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everybody. From growing up in the projects to an alcoholic father to Princeton, where he was accepted thanks to a new affirmative action program at the time, Sonia Sotomayor's journey to the Supreme Court was not an easy one. She chronicles her life in her new book "My Beloved World." I had a chance to sit down and talk with her about her world and her past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Sonia Sotomayor grew up in the projects, known as Bronx Dale, 28 buildings made up of seven floors, eight apartments each. Her mother arrived in the United States from Puerto Rico as a member of the women's army corps. Knowing little English, she landed in New York, where she met Juli Sotomayor, fell in love, and got married.

Baby Sonia followed, and soon after her brother Junior. But it wasn't an easy life. Her father was loving but an alcoholic. Her mother worked six days a week as a practicing nurse. Sonia often found she had to fend for herself.

Despite setbacks like her father passing away when she was 9 years old, Sonia Sotomayor graduated valedictorian from Cardinal Spellman High School and landed at Princeton as part of the university's new affirmative action program.

(on camera): There are virtually no Latinos, no professors, no administrators, virtually no students -- what did that feel like to you?

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT: As if I had just landed in a different universe. I was an alien. Everyone around me was so totally different in looks and backgrounds from anything I had been exposed to in the tiny microcosm of my world in the Bronx.

So to land in a place like Princeton with its collegiate architecture, its grandeur bigger than anything I had ever experienced in the places that I lived. It is so foreign that you really feel like an alien.

O'BRIEN: Was it hostile too? You write this. "The daily Princetonian routinely published letters to the editor lamenting the presence on campus of affirmative action students, each one of whom had presumably displaced a far more deserving affluent white male and could rightly be expected to crash into the gutter built of her own unrealistic aspirations. They were vultures circling."

SOTOMAYOR: If I was the only woman, I was also the only minority in many classes. You can't avoid feeling different. It is a given and does everybody intentionally try to point out their differences? No.

O'BRIEN: If you've had an experience in affirmative action, your book is all about those experiences through your life, and now as a Supreme Court judge, you will rule on a case about affirmative action. There are people who say, how can you not come in with a preset opinion on it since this is your life experience?

SOTOMAYOR: Every judge has life experiences. We don't say to a judge who's had a physical illness, you can't judge a case about disabilities. We don't say to a judge who has felt betrayed or denied something because of affirmative action, you can't hear this case.

You trust -- and I think rightly -- in our system of rule of law in appreciating that judges are aware of the things that might influence them and understand that they have an obligation to ensure that their decisions are not based on their personal feelings, but based on the law.

O'BRIEN: What do you think Justice Clarence Thomas, who also has written about his experiences with affirmative action, and he uses the words "humiliating" when he describes his experience? It's the polar opposite of your experience. Why do you think he has a completely different experience?

SOTOMAYOR: Was it? I mean, my book talks about the negative aspects of affirmative action, the stereotypes, the feelings -- and I use the word in my book -- of being expected to feel shame.

O'BRIEN: And you engage people. You don't seem ashamed. You took them on. You explained, here is why you are wrong.

SOTOMAYOR: Well, that's because that's what I came out of the experience with, and I want people to understand that there's a flip side to shame.

O'BRIEN: Do you think you ask too many questions in the court? I mean, there are people who have said -- Justice Thomas is one -- that there's a lot of questioning, and he thinks it's distraction.

SOTOMAYOR: Well, I know that he has a different opinion than I do. He doesn't ask any questions and some say I ask to many. I think I'm finding a happy middle ground, and I think many of my questions make people think about the issues in a different way. And I don't ask my questions to forecast an outcome. I do it to ask each side what they think are the hardest questions so I can address those questions, and as I explained earlier, convince me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOOKER: This is amazing. This really to me is the hope of America. She symbolizes so much of the truth of what our country is about but also can be about. And the story today is, I think, perfect for her to make history as the first Latina to swear in a vice president. But more importantly, her ascendancy to the court really is more light to this extraordinary day.

O'BRIEN: She wants to be a role model. She talks about that a lot. Cory Booker, nice to have you this morning, certainly appreciate it.

BOOKER: Always glad to do it.

O'BRIEN: The president we're told is now just about 40 minutes from arriving at St. John's Church for the morning service there. It's the very first step in a series of inauguration day events. We're going to bring that to you live when we come back right after this short break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)