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Obamas Back on Public Stage for Portrait Unveiling; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: -- we don't need to live like this. We don't need to be part of this white knuckled resistance where every day we wake up to some new headache. And it's a reminder that we can have a president and first lady that we as a country regardless of party are proud of and that carry themselves with grace and dignity and a sense of purpose.

So it's always refreshing to see them out there. They have purposely I think kept a low profile because they're not -- they're trying to abide by the president of letting the next person do the job. But I think some of the commentary there is unspoken with just the way they present themselves.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we will hear from former President Obama very shortly as we get to see his portrait for the first time, a very different type of artist in a very different take. We will see.

I think I've stretched the limits of our abilities as art critics here. So, Matt Viser, if I can, I'm going to shift back to politics for a moment to talk about where we are today. And we will hear from the current president, President Trump, very shortly as he unveils his infrastructure plan and holds a meeting. But this comes as there are growing questions from his own staff about the message that he's been sending the last few days about domestic abuse.

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It's sort of remarkable the different messages that we get. I mean, there is messages that he is concerned with John Kelly and his reaction to Rob Porter. But President Trump himself both on Friday, in comments and on Saturday in his tweets, was defending Rob Porter. You know, and his own reaction was similar to the one that John Kelly had had.

So I think that the fact that the story has dragged on for so long on a staffer who a week ago probably most Americans had not heard of is an indication of how the White House has mishandled this on a week where they want to start and get momentum on some of their other priorities with the Senate starting debate on immigration, with the president trying to unveil an immigration plan and the budget, all talk is still around Rob Porter, which is how mishandled the situation has been for the White House.

BERMAN: And, again, we're looking right now, this is the secretary of the Smithsonian who is introducing the portrait of President Obama that will be unveiled any second. As soon as President Obama stands up and walks over, we will take that for you and bring it to you live. I suppose let's stick on the Obamas for a second if we can.

Brian, let me just ask you quickly, you know, we are in 2018, the election season is more or less upon us. Maybe more rather than less given all these months in advance. How much do you see him being involved?

FALLON: Well, I think that the demand for him will be intense. The question will be, how much does he decide to put himself out there? Again I think he's always been a president that has a great sense of history. And I think his actions as president were always guided by trying to project into the future about how historians would judge his actions.

He was very proud of the fact that he didn't live by the day-to-day news cycles and make determinations based on those considerations. And I think in how he's conducting himself in this post-presidency, he's also doing so with an eye to history. And so I don't think that -- I don't think he's going to be out there as much as, say, Bill Clinton was.

Bill Clinton in his post-presidency was a permanent fixture. I think President Obama is finding a way to make a contributing contribution to the work of his foundation, he's certainly highly involved in the redistricting project that Eric Holder is standing up. But it remains to be seen exactly how much he'll take to the stump and be seen, put himself in the scenario where he could be seen as actively challenging and taking on Donald Trump. His success.

BERMAN: You know, Alice Stewart, from your perspective, from the Republican perspective, if you're running a campaign, you know, are you afraid when former President Obama comes to town?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it would be something that would be troubling because he is so well-liked. He is someone that people connect with, that is how he was elected president. That's how he was re-elected president. He's someone that people when it comes to -- the main thing that is the most important for any political candidate is their ability to connect, that is Barack Obama. And if he were able to go out in the stump for any Democrat candidate and throw his weight and support behind someone --

BERMAN: So, Alice, Alice --

STEWART: -- he's a good, credible candidate.

BERMAN: Let's take a look right now. This is the official portrait of President Obama.

Striking portrait, that's Kehinde Wiley, who's the artist there, known for his vibrant colors as you can see. Also known for drawing his subjects in sort of classic poses. Really very interesting to see with the lush background there as well. Let's listen.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning, everybody. [10:35:02] It is wonderful to see all of you. How about that? That's

pretty sharp. It is my great honor to be here. And I want to thank Secretary Skorton and Kim for your outstanding leadership at a couple of the crown jewels of American life and your extraordinary stewardship.

I want to thank everybody who is here. Michelle and I are so grateful for the friends and family and the former staff and current staff who have taken the time to be here and honor us in this way, and soak in the extraordinary art that we're seeing here. It means so much to us. And I hope you're aware of that. We miss you, guys. And --


OBAMA: We miss you, guys, and we miss the way those who worked with us on this incredible journey carried yourselves and worked so hard to make this country a better place.

Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness --


OBAMA: Of the woman that I love.


OBAMA: Special shout-out to my man, Joe Biden.


OBAMA: And even more special shout-out to my mother-in-law, who in addition -- who in addition to providing the hotness genes.


OBAMA: Also has been such an extraordinary rock and foundation stump for our family. And we are so, so grateful to her. We love her so much.


OBAMA: Like Michelle, I have never had a portrait done of myself. I mean, the Hope poster by Chef was cool but I didn't sit for it. Nobody in my family tree as far as I can tell had a portrait done. I do have my high school yearbook picture.


OBAMA: Which is no great shakes. And so when I heard that this was part of the tradition, I didn't quite know what to do. Michelle and I were somewhat confused, we were lucky to have some extraordinary friends and people with exquisite taste, Bill Allemann, Thelma Golden, and Michael Smith, who gave us the assist and helped us to consider a whole range of artists. And we had an immediate connection with the two artists that are sitting here today. I think it is fair to say that Kehinde and I bonded, maybe not in the

same way this whole sister girl, you know, thing.


OBAMA: We shook hands. We were, you know, we had a nice conversation. He and I make different sartorial decisions.


OBAMA: But what we did find was that we had certain things in common. Both of us had American mothers who raised us with extraordinary love and support. Both of us had African fathers who were absent from our lives and in some ways our journeys involved searching for them and figuring out what that meant.

[10:40:12] I ended up writing about that journey and channeling it into the work that I did because I cannot paint. I'm sure that Kehinde's journey reflected some of those feelings in his art.

But what I was always struck by whenever I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our conventional views of power and privilege. And the way that he would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognizing the beauty and the grace and the dignity of people who were so often invisible in our lives, and put them on a grand stage, on a grand scale. And force us to look and see them in ways that so often they were not.

The people that Michelle referred to, people in our families, people who helped to build this country. People who helped build this capital. People who to this day are making sure that this place is clean at night, and serving food, and taking out the garbage, and doing all the other stuff that makes this country work. So often out of sight and out of mind.

And Kehinde lifted them up. And gave them a platform. And said they belonged at the center of American life. And that was something that moved me deeply because in my small way, that's part of what I believe politics should be about, is not simply celebrating the high and the mighty, and expecting that the country unfolds from the top down, but rather that it comes from the bottom up.

Families all across America who are --


OBAMA: Who are working hard, and doing their best, and passing on the wisdom and the resilience and stories to their children in the hopes that their lives will be a little bit better. And so I was extraordinarily excited about working with Kehinde. And let's face it, Kehinde relative to Amy was working at a disadvantage because his subject was less becoming. Not as fly.


OBAMA: And I want to -- I want to say that it was -- although those -- Michelle always used to joke, I am not somebody who is a great subject. I don't like posing. I get impatient. I look at my watch, I think this must be done. One of those pictures must have worked, why is this taking so long? So it is pretty torturous trying to just take a picture of me, much less paint a portrait.

I will say that working with Kehinde was a great joy. And his -- he and his team made it easy. Kehinde, in the tradition of a lot of great artists, actually cared to hear how I thought about it before doing exactly what he intended to do.


OBAMA: There were a number of issues we're trying to negotiate. I tried to negotiate less gray hair. And Kehinde's artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked. I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.


OBAMA: Maybe the one area where there were some concessions was, as I said before, Kehinde's art often takes ordinary people and elevates them, lifts them up.

[10:45:11] And puts them in these fairly elaborate settings. And so his initial impulse maybe in the work was to also elevate me and put me in these settings with partridges and scepters and thrones and ship robes and --


OBAMA: Mounting me on horses. And I had to explain that I've got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon. We've got to bring it down just a touch.


OBAMA: And that's what he did. But, you know, it's hard, obviously, to judge something that is a portrait of you. But what I can say on unequivocally is that I am in awe of Kehinde's gifts and what he and Amy have given to this country and to the world and we are both very grateful to have been the subject of their attention for this brief moment.

So Mr. Kehinde Wiley.


BERMAN: We've been listening to President Obama at the official unveiling of his portrait that will hang in the National Gallery. The artist there is Kehinde Wiley, who does, as the former president noted, like to elevate his subjects, paint people in more classic heroic settings, although with former President Obama he chose to paint him sitting in front of greenery, I should say.

President Obama did something that all husbands and sons-in-law perhaps should do, which is to remark openly and quickly about the hotness of his wife and his mother-in-law in the speech as he was commenting on former First Lady Michelle Obama's portrait.

I'm joined again by Brian Fallon, Matt Viser and Alice Stewart.

And Matt, I'm going to start with you only because of the outpouring on Twitter the last 10 minutes or so after the unveiling of the president's portraits. A lot of different interpretations of the former president sitting where he was in front of what he was. Your take, which I happen to read, sir.

VISER: Yes, I mean, it is unique. And there has been some commentary of this being the White Sox fan in front of Wrigley -- at Wrigley Field, you know, the green tapestry in the back of Wrigley. You know, it's different. It's unique. And I think the history of this being in that room, with all of the white presidents, you know, the history of having, we forget sometimes, you know, the first African-American president, and the portrait is unique and fitting as well.

So I mean I think it stands out. And it is something that the president and the first lady both seem to like their paintings, which is important.

BERMAN: I will note there will be official portraits that will hang inside the White House as well. Jeff Zeleny, our friend, White House reporter, points out that these may be more informal, the ones that will hang in the White House will almost surely be formal.

Alice, Brian, Matt, thanks so much for being with us. I know a little different take than we normally get here. And Brian, I will note, as a Democrat and former campaign official and Democratic official, your smile the whole time you're watching President Obama and the former first lady was notable in and of itself.

Matt, Alice, Brian, thanks so much.

STEWART: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right. We have a lot more to cover. Some breaking news on the North Korea situation. Perhaps a new White House stance towards negotiations. Stick around.


[10:53:16] BERMAN: Team USA dominating the snowboarding competition at the Olympics. While one figure skater did something no American woman has ever done on Olympic ice.

Coy Wire in Pyeongchang with the very latest -- Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hi, John. Sweet redemption for two American figure skaters who didn't make the cut for the last Olympic Games. Adam Rippon putting on a show, an inspiring skate. He and Gus Kenworthy became the USA's first openly gay men to compete in the Winter Games. And how about teammate Mariah Nagasu making history, too, landing the jaw-dropping triple axel, something no other American woman has ever done at the Olympics.

Those performances helped the U.S. take bronze in the team figure skating in back-to-back Olympic Games.

Now the dangerous winds postponed the start of the women's snowboard slope style competition. Imagine flying off a ramp, twisting into the sky, trying to know your landing but then you get blindsided by a 45- mile-per-hour gust of wind. That's what Team USA's Jamie Anderson was battling in addition to the competition. But she conquered both to repeat as Olympic champion in the event.

Seventeen-year-old snowboarding sensation Chloe Kim tweeted in between runs during half pipe qualifiers that she could go for some ice cream right now. Laid back California kid. The favorite for gold tonight. Chloe's mom and dad immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea, so it is insane she says to be competing in her first Olympics here. She's 5'2", 115 pounds, ruthless, seemingly fearless when she is shooting herself two stories high into the sky, spinning herself around. So we wondered if there is anything this girl's afraid of. Listen.


[10:55:01] CHLOE KIM, SPEEDSKATER: I feel like I'm scared a lot of the times, like when I'm dropping in, I'm, like, OK, this could happen, that could happen. I think I'm the most scared when I'm, like, learning a new trick and I don't know what to expect, or what I'm going to see. So usually that first trick is pretty scary. But after that, I don't really feel that much fear.


WIRE: Chloe could become the youngest American ever to win an Olympic medal in snowboarding.

John, I don't know about you, what you were doing in high school, but winning an Olympic gold, I don't know. One thing you were doing applying to Harvard. Chloe Kim is doing that, too. She's must-see TV later today.

BERMAN: She's way more qualified than I am. Not sure she understands what this whole being scared thing really means. I don't see it. She doesn't look scared at all.

Coy Wire, great to see you there in South Korea. Thanks so much.

All right. We could see President Trump in just a few minutes. He will appear publicly. Will he comment again about former White House aide Rob Porter and the domestic abuse allegations against him? Will he make any new comments about the domestic abuse at all? His own staff confused on where he stands.