.
February 3rd, 2009
08:16 PM ET

What keeps Barack Obama up at night? – and other questions I asked the President today

President Barack Obama is interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama is interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.

Editor's Note: See Anderson's full interview with President Obama tonight on AC360° at 10PM ET.

Anderson Cooper

The Oval Office is smaller than I thought it would be. Maybe it’s just because it was filled with lights and some of the furniture was moved around for the cameras, but it was more intimate than I had imagined. I’d heard President Obama likes to keep the Oval Office warm, but I was still surprised to feel the heat emanating from the open door. Katie Couric was just finishing her interview when I got there, “Wow, it really is hot in there,” I mentioned to David Axelrod who was standing nearby. “They’ve actually cooled it down a bit,” he said.

I’d met then-candidate Obama a couple times over the course of the campaign. I moderated the YouTube debate that he took part in, and I spent a day with him on the campaign trail, but this was my first time talking with him as President. I never interviewed President Bush. I’m not sure if it was my coverage of Hurricane Katrina or what, but the Bush White House never seemed to respond to our requests for interviews. Go figure.

Today, like all the other network anchors, we were told we only had ten minutes to interview President Obama, so I stayed up late last night and spent most of today whittling down a long list of questions. I also consulted with a number of our great political correspondents to see if they had questions they would want asked. I went into the interview with eighteen questions written down, but the truth is once the conversation started I found myself asking things I hadn’t planned on, and ignoring other questions I was sure I was going to ask. I think the best interviews are genuine conversations, and with the President I tried to just listen, and then respond based on things he brought up. Sometimes I watch interviews on tv and I feel like the questioner has a list of topics to cover and is simply checking them off as they go along.

In addition to asking him about Tom Daschle, and the economic stimulus plan, I also wanted to hear him talk about some subjects he hasn’t discussed lately. I asked him what if anything keeps him up at night, and was surprised by his candid response, a response he actually came back to later in the interview to talk more about. It’s rare for a President to ever say he made a mistake. President Obama not only said that today, he said, “I screwed up” when talking about the Daschle nomination. That surprised me. Though it was clearly a tough day for him politically, the President, in person, is remarkably poised. “Cool” is the term often used, and it does apply. The other words I found myself thinking about to describe him were, “calm,” “sharp,” “on point.” He was dressed neatly, and his nails trimmed. I still occasionally bite my nails, and long-term nail-biters like me tend to notice when someone else doesn’t.

When you interview the President someone stands in your line of sight and gives you hand cues counting down the minutes. It can be distracting. At times as you are listening to the President respond, you want to ask him to hurry it up so you can get in a few more questions, but thankfully I resisted the impulse. At the end I wanted to make sure to save a few minutes to ask him some lighter more personal questions. I called it a lightning round, and he was nice to play along. I asked him about the dog search, what he likes most about his new high tech car, and whether or not he’s had a cigarette since becoming President. I think you will be interested to hear his answer to those and many other questions tonite on 360 at 10pm.

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Filed under: Anderson Cooper • Barack Obama • Raw Politics
soundoff (387 Responses)
  1. Rita Cristina, Lucerne Switserland

    Dear Anderson,
    I took the time to read all the above comments.
    I'm Italian,so, my English will certanly disappoint someone.
    First: Great interview. You gave me the idea you were there In the living room talking with THE PRESIDENT. Two great personalities !!!! ( that's the reason why I do not watch LK ).
    Second:Mr. President lost 20 points in two weeks? I can't believe it. Are the U.S. Citizens.....? Do you remember Berlin last summer? I don't.
    Are the U.S. Citizens aware of the problems The PRESIDENT has to solve? What do U.S. Citizens DO to solve their problems? " aks yourselves what you can do for your Country and not what the Country can do for you ".Are they aware it will take at least 2 years to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
    Do they remember where ALL these problems started?.
    Personally: for the first time in years I watch the President speak and I LEARN how pleasent it can be.I listen to the President _ Human Beeing who has no problems to apologize. I'm glad he can be himself and undress his "uniform " once in a while.
    Change,trasparency. I do not understand why jornalists refer to him as Mr. Obama. TV must also be education. Respect is always present in your interviews no matter to whom you are talking to.
    Anderson I wish you'll be there when your President meets PM Berlusconi to ask him about his remarks on your President. ( ask Alessio about them !!).
    Yolanda Alcorn,Singleton thank you.
    Unfortunately I have to get up at 04.00 CET to watch your programm.
    could you air it at a decent time?
    It has been a pleasure.until next time.ciao.Rita Cristina

    February 5, 2009 at 6:59 am |
  2. Waymon

    as you can see,the job is not a easy one.with all the second guessing the news media is doing,you all make the united states look weak.let the young man work.anyone of you could have ran for the office.it only been three weeks

    February 5, 2009 at 6:14 am |
  3. ann holzheimer

    Has anyone asked President Obama what will happen if there is a major disaster like Katrina? (Freezing temps, earthquake etc.) Where will the money come from? Do we have an infinite supply of money? Are we about broke?

    February 5, 2009 at 5:44 am |
  4. Demarco Wilder

    What's up AC i think five hunderd stacks should be the most a ceo make's.The rest of that money should into a trust for the company and the works. People are making too much money this was bound to happen they suck the well dry. I mean you get paid millions for getting fired. I never got paid a dollar for getting fired and if they don't want the five hunderd stacks i do.

    February 5, 2009 at 5:33 am |
  5. McAndrew Williams, Rochester; New York

    here's what i have to say to the president
    "ACTIONS ARE LOUDER THAN WORDS"

    February 5, 2009 at 5:23 am |
  6. Mac Mewan

    HEY AC,
    thanks a million for the interview it really helped me a lot seeing that the president 'actually' cares more about the welfare of the people rather than the previous 'BUSH ADMINISTRATION' which was more into 'IRAQ'!!

    I hope the Stimulus package is able to stimulate the American economy

    Michelle and Obama make the perfect team leaders :)
    they're both so hardworking and committed to the country itself
    bless you both

    Once again thanks AC for doing job :)......
    hope there are more people like you

    February 5, 2009 at 5:13 am |
  7. Mae

    I always enjoy seeing President Obama whenever I can. Mr. Anderson your interview with the President was insightful, however I find your interviewing techniques to be very irritating. I maybe wrong in what I am about to say, but I sense that you are very jealous of President Obama. Most of your questions were designed to put the President down. You constantly referred to him as appearing "weak", etc. I have watched you interact with President Obama prior to him winning the presidency and you were rude and disrespectful then as well. Mr. Anderson, stop being so jealous and pray for our new leader.

    February 5, 2009 at 5:06 am |
  8. Larry Stroud

    I have been following the whole presidential campaign and all i here is how to create more jobs. I only have one major question. How many politicians, judges, people in power are over the age of 65. I am sure if you were to tally it up over all 50 states their would be thousands and thousands. Wy is it the average American has to retire at 65 and yet there seems to be a different standard for all the above mentioned. How many jobs could you create by letting new younger people replace them. It just seems there's always a double stand when it comes to politicians and people in government.
    And being a Canadian i feel it is just as bad over here. I was forced to retire after 35 years due to a major accident and was told don't call us were not letting people that are damaged goods back in.
    I'd also like to see some of these so called big CEO's live on a fixed income and with out all there perks and bonus's removed . Let them see how the rest of the American as well as Canadian people live.
    It just makes me sick how much greed there really is in both Countries. And yes i have always voted for the Democrates here in Canada. Yet we never get in.

    Yours Truly
    Larry From Ontario Canada

    February 5, 2009 at 3:06 am |
  9. Joe Negro

    I think the interview was ok, The presidents lengthy responses are likey ment to limit the amount of questions. I wish Anderson could've asked why the banks are holding on to that money they were given. It seem like they're balancing their books and not giving out loans. I think if it seems that Obama allowed to much "pork" in this stimulus package its because he understands that the bill will be revised in the Senate. I have to give AC credit he consistantly relates a personable and impartial (as much so as cnn can be hahaha) interview of our newly elected president. We should take a step back and realize its a little over two weeks in and we'll be lucky if the recession is over in two years. We should all stay infomed and remember that all of our elected officals have email adresses, if something (relavent) is on your mind you should let it be known.

    February 5, 2009 at 2:50 am |
  10. twosense!

    Sorry folks but this is the first time I have posted. I just had to let out my disgust and rage.

    Dick Cheney SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!

    If you love your country -SHUT UP!

    SHUT UP BECAUSE ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!!

    SHUT UP!

    Anybody got a big shoe out there, one with metal in the toe-industrial variety? Send it airmail to Cheney. PLEASE.

    We voted. We won. Obama has his turn now. The majority of Americans voted against you Cheney. You were a giant failure.

    YOU ARE OUT NOW! SO SHUT ALREADY!!!!!

    I hope you end up in jail. How about we disappear YOU to some undisclosed location and you get no writ of habeus corpus and we torture you with all those acceptable methods to get you to SHUT UP! Totally valid approach under your morality.

    YOU wouldn't like it much WOULD you? Human rights only mean something when someone has taken yours away, right?

    Lord deliver us from evil . . . . . .. .

    I need to take a shower. What a slime ball. DOESN'T HE JUST MAKE YOU SHUTTER AND PUKE.?

    February 5, 2009 at 2:37 am |
  11. Elie Balas

    Limiting salaries of the CEO's doesn't even begin to address the real problem. we should tie all compensations to top executives to company's profit. In small companies, bonuses are paid from profits not from loses. Congress should protect shareholders from this criminal behavior of public company's managements. Awarding bonuses when companies are loosing money is unethical and in an ethical society – would be nothing short of thievery.
    I believe that most shareholder would agree to award 10% -20% of NET profit to employees/executives, based on personal and company performance.

    Elie Balas
    Los Angeles

    February 5, 2009 at 2:34 am |
  12. Michelle Morgan

    Dear Mr. President,
    ARE YOU OKAY WITH LEAVING THIS DEFICIT TO OUR CHILDREN?? I'm 20 years your junior, but our children – my Kayleigh and Kevin are only 7 years younger your Sasha and Malia! I SURE DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE THIS DEFICIT to my generation or ANY OF THEIR GENERATION. It's a sad Barrel of Democratic Pork covered in a "stimulus package" name. At best, this Dear-Santa-Wishlist of projects wouldn't stimulate until MONTHS down the road, if it even has any effect at all!!! If we're going to dump money into this tough economy, we need to be fiscally responsible and make sure that it has a quick effect without being greedy with our kids' financial futures! We can't pass on the fiscally irresponsible choices made by generations before us in the credit market by making the same irresponsible choices in the national deficit we're leaving my generation and our children's generation to dig out of! -M Morgan

    February 5, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  13. Saad, NJ

    With all due respect to all the druggies of the world including Rush Limbaugh, Bill, and Shawn, I hope President Obama succeeds. He is the man chosen by our democratic system and it is indeed in the best interest of our country that he can put our country back on track. The track that we lost in the last 8 years of who we are, why we are and why we are because of who we are!

    February 5, 2009 at 2:11 am |
  14. Derrick Levingston

    "Whether You Say It or Not!"

    Following the inauguration of President Obama I have been shocked at the number of political television personalties and pundits alike who suddenly find it so difficult to refer to our President as such. Maybe it's the down home, personal manner in which he seems to speak to us that has relaxed us to the point where we feel like such "good buddies" that a single name or a mister suffices. I am not so reverent about politics myself but I do feel that a certain level of respect is due to the President of the United States. Specifically, referring to the President as such when you are reporting, editorializing or otherwise hawking his every move and hanging on his every word.

    For me, the "double whammy" occurred this week when I heard two of my favorite personalities refer to President Obama as Mr. Obama. One did so twice on consecutive shows/days. What's more ridiculous is that in the next segment a story was run about Dick Cheney and, sure enough, he received the "proper" reference, Vice President, oh well I can't even write it but you know what I mean. What's even more ridiculous than that is the two personalties (2 of my favorites??) I'm referring to are John Stewart and Anderson "AC 360" Cooper.

    Oh, well! I guess I'm gonna just hope for some change from Mr. O to get us out of this Bush....el!

    February 5, 2009 at 1:42 am |
  15. Jowel

    PLease carry our voices to the president to stick ONLY to jobs creation. Do not let the stimulus package burns you, just like the TARP was a failure because it was rushed in. Make the stimulus package Lean & Clean . Stop this mascared of porc. You will not have another chance Mr. President

    February 5, 2009 at 1:38 am |
  16. S. Grant

    For anyone in this country to be making millions a dollars a year is crazy. That is why we are in this mess now. The upper management is being paid more than the banks/major companies are bringing in a year. If everyone makine over $500,00 a year would get paid only that about in 2009, they would not need a stimulus package rom tax payer's money. Another thing who could possibly need that much money a year. It is the greed that has bought us to this point.

    February 5, 2009 at 1:29 am |
  17. T. Guindon

    Having been elected President doesn't mean that he can elect to be WRONG. It IS business as usual. Most of this package does NOT create long lasting jobs and is just a liberal's way of getting the left wing trash they want.

    The CEO's of these companies should receive no more than $100,000.00 like the CEO of Japan Airlines. Once again, the Japanese set the example.

    February 5, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  18. shameonU

    How is it that Dick Cheney is so sure that we are going to be under more attacks because President Obama is against human torture? He was probably just as sure about 9/11 as well! We didn't have war until he, Cheney, Rumsfeld and former President Bush came to the White House after all the illegal voting was done in 2000. Hmmm, something had to happen to take the minds of the American people off of the criminal activities of that time and well, 9/11 did it. We readily forgot about the crooked election and focused on something even more devastating. Hince, we were thrust into a time of fear, lies and eventually a war that never should have happened that has killed so many of our young men and women who deserved to live a little longer than they did. And yet, these terrorists of opportunity are allowed to just fly away, walk away and roll away without ever giving account of their deeds and efforts to bring America to their knees. For that, (bringing us to our KNEES and our NEEDS, I am truly grateful. We can begin to fight our way back to a great nation with honesty and integrity and Love for each other and for those in other countries who are far less fortunate than we are here in America.

    February 5, 2009 at 12:54 am |
  19. shameonU

    We in America don't have to worry so much about outside terrorism; we need to focus on the FINANCIAL TERRORISM that our own people are committing against us, the less fortunate ones who try to do the right thing and pay our taxes and exert integrity in our daily activities. You would hope that those who sit in HIGH places would have HIGH integrity, but it is just the opposite. President Obama should not put a cap on these FINANCIAL TERRORISTS, but a striped suit for what they have done. This is only the beginning of the end for those who think themselves more highly than they ought to think. I would love to have the job that Ms Sillfer refused today. You see, it is going to take someone who really has had to oversee every penny in their own budget to buy a house, buy cars, raise 3 adult children and 2 grandchildren and remain honest in their civic obligations to our country and our government. RICH people just don't "GET IT!" But, they will one day! "It will be easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle than for a RICH man to get into heaven". So, they will eventually "get it". It's not impossible for them to get to heaven, but highly unlikely because their "GOD" is their financial portfolio, bank accounty, and their Congressional position.

    February 5, 2009 at 12:35 am |
  20. Terry Stagman

    I think that a $500,000 cap on executive pay is much too high in many cases. If a company needs taxpayer money to remain solvent, then its employees are working for the taxpayer and should be paid at the rate of government employees.

    February 5, 2009 at 12:18 am |
  21. Debbie

    Even the Nobel winner in Economics rejects the "stimulus by tax cuts" pushed by the Republicans. It is unreasonable to expect Pres. Obama to give concessions when all that is being offered is failed policy. BTW, how are Americans who are hurting most – the unemployed – supposed to benefit from a tax cut? We need to put people to work and invest in our future – investment in infrastructure, health, energy, and education is what this country needs. Also those tax cuts will increase the deficit big-time, and what will there be to show for it? My guess is they won't create many jobs or long-lasting value.

    February 5, 2009 at 12:17 am |
  22. shameonU

    Where was all this concern for the economy when former President Bush was stealing our children and grandchildren's future? Was anybody in Washington paying attention to anything!!! Oh, but now it is finally coming out about all the GREED, misconduct, lack of integrity on our elected officials part and I am GLAD about it. These people who we have elected don't think that they have to abide by the laws that they create; but they think that WE must abide or go to jail. Has the senator from Alaska gone to jail yet? Probably not! You don't hear about him anymore. What about these CEOs who have lined their pocketbooks and offshore accounts with "bailout" monies from the American people. They should be FIRED instead of REWARDED for their criminal acts. And, where is Hank Paulsen now! Somewhere in the CARRIBEANS with all of those bigshot friends of his and former president Bush spending their payoff monies received with no strings attached. I pray that within these 100 days President Obama will have time to bring these FINANCIAL TERRORISTS to justice!

    February 5, 2009 at 12:15 am |
  23. Jeanette Moris

    Let's solve this crises for everyone -
    How about if the government gives EVERY american $1,000,000.00 - this package can afford it (300,000,000+ Americans ?) -
    We would ALL go out and spend it! – which would move the economy...
    Talk about a stimulus plan....
    We could allll get behind this (except – maybe... the Fatcat bankers wouldn't like this idea).

    Where do I get in line for mine ?
    :)
    Jeanette

    February 5, 2009 at 12:12 am |
  24. Stella

    Hello Anderson,

    I just want to say I am extremely impressed with the interview you had with Pres. Obama. Overall, I am impressed with the President's ability to take responsibility for his actions. It really shows what kind of man he is in the ethical and moral sense. It is time we got a President that can share and understand the pains of the average American people. I love his passion for the job and the sencerity he holds. Never have I seen a President crack down on big (irresponsible) companies and their actions the way he did. He is indeed the right man for the job and I'm proud to support him 150%. He gives me confidence to hang on through this dificult economic crisis and to continue dreaming and hoping!

    February 5, 2009 at 12:08 am |
  25. Mark Rizzie

    Anderson & Ali,

    You're about to loose a loyal fan.

    If you splash pictures of Dick Kovacevich from Wells Fargo on 360 possibly you should get your facts correct first. When you place him next to the others and call it a bailout, you're also dead wrong. There is a distinction between the other banks and Wells Fargo. Other banks needed and asked the government for money, or those banks just failed. Wells Fargo tried to decline the funds the day all the chairman's and CEO's were asked to sit down with Hank Paulson in 2008 to take TARP money to ease the credit crisis. Dick stood up in that meeting and said "I don't need it and I don't want it". Hank gave him the God & country speech during that meeting and the rest is history. Wells Fargo didn't need the money – so much so – that they turned around and bought Wachovia with their own money. Then took Wachovia's bad debt, and bad loans off the hands of the treasury where it would have ended up. One could spin that and say Wells Fargo bailed out the treasury if there really was any bailout at all?

    You could also check to see that when the government gave Wells Fargo those forced funds for easing the countries credit crisis that it wasn't a "bailout". Wells Fargo was forced to issue 25 billion dollars in preferred stock with a 5% coupon and provide the US government with a 25 billion dollar equity position in their company. Wells Fargo has to pay the coupon payments to the treasury for money they didn't want. What about the Washington politicians wondering why more regulation with these banks wasn't done when funds were disbursed? It's called taking an equity position, and you own a piece of the company. If you buy a share of GE stock do you get to sit at headquarters and help run the company? Of course you can't have too much regulation with a fire sale of forced equity positions in public traded companies. This isn't a third world system. If financial institutes really needed the money to survive this crisis then limit the executives to a glass of water and a tooth pick until they get their houses in order, and make them work weekends as well.

    I'm keeping you honest Anderson & Ali, and when you decide for yourself that Wells Fargo is not one of the corrupt Wall Street crowd then you can apologize to me. Please do it by e-mail because I just changed the channel. I'm completely insulted by CNN, and I am one of your biggest fans. I started working for Wells Fargo in 1995, and if I thought I was wrong about what I just said than why am I not feeling ashamed that my company did something wrong and they should be accused? Why am I not worried and trying to find another company to work? If we are the type of company that you and others say we are, then why don't I feel the same as Lehman Brothers employees must have felt? I don't feel ashamed because of the truth. Why don't you ask Dick on your show and get your facts straight? You might just find one of the most patriotic companies in America. When you attack someone in my company and especially the chairmen who is forced to walk a fine line politically, a line I don't have to walk, then you're attacking me personally.

    Respectfully,

    Mark Rizzie

    February 5, 2009 at 12:05 am |
  26. John Ryan

    Anderson, you were brilliant as always! I enjoyed your interview with our new President very much and as for our old President, well I guess it was his loss that he chose not to hold an interview with you just like all his other losses during the past eight years. Here's to change my Friend and here's to you!

    February 5, 2009 at 12:04 am |
  27. Jim

    I am trying to be open minded here but these problems are not from Bush and I am afraid of this Stimulus package, it is more like a smoke at a Pig Roast. More Americans need to read the bill on line and see for themselves. Anderson I wish when you have the three stooges on they would speak clearly rather than talk in ciircles. Please explain to me why we need government intervention. I wish I had a vote on this bill along with my fellow Americans verses the circus in DC adding all this PORK to this Bill. Please do not put my 3 children in harms way with a larger deficit. Let their futures be finiancially bright!

    February 5, 2009 at 12:02 am |
  28. Judith

    We voted for President Obama and will continue to support him.All should give him credit when he said he admitted he screwed up.
    He's more up front than our past President Bush who was always in denial or making excuses for his and Cheney's failures.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:51 pm |
  29. Sen2- NC

    Love the interview Anderson!! My favorite anchorman and my favorite President....what a treat!! Cool on Cool...except for smoking not cool.

    The issues we have now are incredible and it will take the sum of all of us to stay above water. I say ..jump start from the bottom – up. Let's keep it real we have greedy, selfish people who don't care how many folks lose homes and are out of work.

    Stay up on your game AC and I am praying for you and our President!!

    Love Sen

    February 4, 2009 at 11:50 pm |
  30. Nancy

    You know what keeps middle class America up at night? It's trying to respect a Treasury Secretary who cheated on his taxes. Make sense of that for us. David Gergen is such a level headed man. Ask him to weigh in on this issue. Don't let us down, Anderson. You were a serious friend of the south after Katrina. Keep the responsible, fair journalism alive.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  31. James Smith

    The executive pay scheme by the Democrats demonstrates exactly why they haven't a clue about how prosperity is created in this country. The government creates no prosperity, they only take from one and give to another. Only private sector productivity – the manufacture and creation of goods will pull us out of this Jimmy Carter like malaise. Limiting pay in the private sector is lipstick on the government produced downturn. It achieves nothing and will probably be counterproductive -killing the golden goose. Do you think Barney Frank (of Fanny Mae fame) knows better how to run a large bank or do the directors and the executives there. Those banks would not be in such trouble if the feds had not threatened them for not loaning to the "POOR" then when they did and the loand defaulted once again the DEMS blame the banks for the poor judgement that was foisted upon them by legislation.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  32. Stephen

    Dear Anderson,
    I think it will be nice if you and your contributors, would give the President the respect due him by calling him President Obama instead of Barack Obama or simply Obama. He no longer a candidate.
    Thank you.
    Stephen

    February 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm |
  33. Andy

    As Cheny has intimated, if you disturb a nest of ants, the ants respond. It's simple. If you try to shake hands with the ants they will probably eat you since you do not belong

    February 4, 2009 at 11:37 pm |
  34. Hudson

    So Obama is a casual smoker? Huh. He's now that much cooler in my book! I don't blame him, having such a stressful job.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:37 pm |
  35. EJ (USA)

    Anderson, is your eye ok? Are you sure? You should tell us if there is an issue because we love you – unconditionally.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:35 pm |
  36. Gigi Glen Ellyn Illinois

    No one cares what
    Dick Cheney
    has to say.
    He is an evil little man!!!

    February 4, 2009 at 11:33 pm |
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