.
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. Jacqueline, NY

    Anderson,

    I realize you were not able to get in all the questions you wanted, but thanks for trying.

    Many thought you were going there to interview the president and put him in the hot-seat. Turns out, it was you in the hot seat, literally. LOL! What? Weren't you able to catch a little breeze from "His Coolness?" LOL! Sorry for laughing Actually, I would have been quite comfortable in the room. I love heat. Not to go racial or anything, but I think most black folks do. LOL!

    About the nails, thanks for clarifying why you were looking at his nails. I was thinking maybe you wanted to bite his since yours were already gone from gnawing at them. LOL!

    Have a good show tonight. See you on the blog.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
  2. Sue D

    Wow, what a change in government....I'm love'n it.
    Admitting mistakes (did someone say transparency).
    The communication from the President is unparalleled, he is human but taking responsibility for his decisions right from the get-go and doing it publicly..."I screwed up"....talking my language.

    Anderson, thank-you so much for the thoughts from the human side; I've always wondered how journalists go into an interview with a person of power....you gave us insight..

    Now, if only I could figure out the current concept of "journalism"...is it alive and well or re-grouping for a new era....the watch dog, pulse taker of the population....don't know yet...but watching.

    Sue D
    Kennewick, WA

    Sue D.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  3. xtina, chicago IL

    teresa has a good point. People shouldn't give Obama a pass because he admitted it. If Blagojevich admitted it, should we say , "Well, we'll keep him around – at least he admitted he screwed up !" You have to look at WHAT THE MISTAKE IS. He almost put ANOTHER tax cheat in a Cabinet position, but GOT CAUGHT!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  4. Maureen T, Mississauga, Canada

    Anderson,
    Thanks for insight into your interview with President Obama! I can't wait for the full interview on AC360 tonight! The humaness of the President is what I love! President Obama is truly like you and me.
    I'm quite happy that President Obama realizes that honesty is the best policy, no matter what! Anderson, you too are cool and calm and I tip my hat to your professionalism. I must go now, the interview is only minutes away and I don't want to miss anything!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:56 pm |
  5. Terry Marvin

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009–8:49 pm CST

    Hey

    I agree with one person. I'm getting tired of the Republicans making
    Obama look bad. I'm also tired of certain Media people and some
    people making Obama look bad.
    Obama and his team are doing all they can to take of the Econemy.

    Sincerely,

    Terry

    February 3, 2009 at 9:53 pm |
  6. robyn caffrey keyser'' west virginia

    att : anderson'

    maybe he cant get know sleep ( because ) he's having a withdraw , as no cigarette. ( maybe )

    February 3, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  7. Lauren--NY

    Congratulations again on getting the interview! I'm sure you did a fantastic job and I can't wait to watch. I admire your approach and I have always enjoyed that your interviews sound like conversations. I also love reading your blog entries–it always reads like a friend wrote it. You strike a great balance between being casual and friendly while still sounding incredibly professional. I feel your pain about the nail-biting–I did it pretty regularly as a kid and I have managed to curb it to the point where I only do it when one of them breaks and I try to make it even...shades of OCD, I guess. Anyway, I'll stop rambling–congrats! Get home safely and soon!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:51 pm |
  8. kazport

    Oh please, now that he said I screwed up its okay. Is that going to be the new mantra. He doesnt' do ad open press conference. he still goes on the softball Liberal talk shows. Eww I made a mistake. Forgive me. Please everyone grow up this is the big leagues

    February 3, 2009 at 9:47 pm |
  9. Megan Dresslar - Shoreline, WA

    Anderson,
    That will good show! I can't wait see you taking interview Pres. Obama tonight!!!! Congrats Anderson....... That will be cool to ask a question for him! Yes Anderson, I agree with your comment, I am thinking if he will answer for you....... Great job for interview our Pres. Obama!!
    Thanks for posting or sharing with me!! See you soon on Live Blog and program! Good Luck Anderson!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm |
  10. Paula, Colorado

    Anderson,
    It's great to see your blog writing this evening. Thanks for the extra insights on interviewing President Obama. From the excerpts I've seen of the interview tonight, you've chosen questions I would have been inclined to seek answers to. I'm looking forward to the entirety in your program later.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:43 pm |
  11. Pati Mc

    What a fascinating inside look at interviewing the President. Extraordinary post; thanks Anderson.

    I totally agree with you that it should be a "conversation" and not just a rapid firing of questions. When folks have a genuine chance to converse, much is gleaned about the person involved. Good deal.

    All throughout the day, I was thinking of your interview and how horribly nervous I would be, should I be fortunate enough to be in your shoes. It surely would be an incredible experience, but "up late" would have been the least of it. There is no way I would have been able to sleep. At all.

    Anxiously awaiting tonight's program. All The Best!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  12. Amanda-Ontario, Canada

    You nail bite...I pace.

    I was impressed with the interview when we caught a glimpse on The Situation Room but always looking forward to everything AC360 and the full monty

    Stay Safe

    February 3, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  13. James

    Well I guess if Obama thinks it's OK to keep the Oval Office so warm, then he won't dare ask Americans to lower their thermostats in the winter to "conserve" (Like he mentioned during the campaign).

    Just one more example of "Do as I say, not as I do" Democrat.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:41 pm |
  14. Jo Ann

    Anderson,

    I could tell by your post today that you got caught up in the moment of being in the Oval Office. I think the fact that it is “oval” makes it seem cozy, but I don’t think I ever heard anyone comment on the temperature. Since you keep the 360 studio chilly, I am sure you felt a bit uncomfortable in its warmth.

    Like George W. Bush, Obama seems to prefer to be interviewed by journalists who have been favorable to him in the past, and who he feels will be less likely to challenge him. I was impressed with some of what I saw of your interview on TSR tonight, but I will reserve my final judgment until after it is aired in its entirety.

    I agree that although journalists come in with a list of questions, they should be flexible. However, based on what you said in your post this evening it sounds like Obama used his “lengthy” responses to limit the amount of questions you could ask and to direct you away from any controversial or “negative” topics and questions, keeping you focused on where he wanted to lead you. The time limits they placed on the interview and the “countdown” distractions also put you at a disadvantage.

    Given the state of the union and the short period of time you had, I was surprised to hear that you used the time to ask him “lighter” questions, but I guess it is what some people want to hear.

    I will be interested in watching your interview tonight.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    February 3, 2009 at 9:41 pm |
  15. Isabel Abreu

    Anderson,
    Who lost was President Bush.
    He doesn't know anything.

    Good, we are in the Obama Era and you got your interview.

    Congratulations!

    And we see in a moment.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  16. Renee

    Cool can't wait to watch tonight. I wish you got to ask him how he feels about everybody attacking him for every little thing he does. Did you ask him if he thought about hiiring personal body guards to work with secret service to protect him and his family?

    February 3, 2009 at 9:34 pm |
  17. Teresa

    I can give you two mistakes that we should not overlook, no matter how small they seem...
    The President of the United States of America should NOT:
    1) Dress down on the weekends
    or
    2) Use the saying, "I screwed up."

    These things just are not professional. He is not a guy from the neighborhood...he is our President.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm |
  18. Alex

    I'm a journalist, too and I agree the best interviews are conversations. I rarely prepare notes – just let the questions flow back and forth based on the responses. (I probably would have made a few notes before going in to see Obama, though!) I hope Obama retains this openness with the media - and this candor. If Bush had said "I screwed up" 5-6 years ago, he might have left office with better feelings among the public. I like that Obama has returned to the old adage "The buck stops here." That makes him a good role model, regardless whether his decisions are successful or not.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm |
  19. David Burns

    I do not believe those who have lost their jobs recently, which caused their homes to go into foreclosure and now have to pull their child out of college, really care about a cabinet member tax problem. None of us are perfect by any means.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:27 pm |
  20. joy

    i love this president so much. nice interview Anderson. but let's face it i don't think i have ever hear any president say they screwed up. by the way i hope president Obama pass a law to audit all senator taxes u may be surprise how many of them don't pay taxes. see yr interview at 10pm.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:24 pm |
  21. renee, nashville, tn

    I so enjoy your approach to your interviews. You make it look easy, thanks for sharing the behind the scenes information.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:22 pm |
  22. Arthur

    Anderson,

    I must admit i did not vote for Obama.

    I disagree with his handling or his allowing the mishandling of the Pelosi/Reid stimulus bill. Its no stimulus its PORK if I've ever seen it.

    That having been said, his candor and honesty will go a long way with the American people. The fact that he will stand up and take the hit for his appointments and say hey "I messed up" shows a lot. To that, my hats off Mr. President...I wish you well..we are one America and I want you to succeed. If you succed we all do!

    Great Interview Anderson!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:21 pm |
  23. Mike

    Reading Anderson's blog I was expecting a political or news analysis of his interview with President Obama, but I have to say that I was delighted to read Anderson's more personal insights on the experience. There certainly can be too much of this kind of blogging. After all, the president is the news here, not Anderson Cooper. Yet in this case, I appreciated the opportunity to learn something about what it's like to sit down with a new president in the Oval Office and Anderson's impressions of the man himself. Thank you.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:19 pm |
  24. Lori from IL

    Anderson -

    Thanks for sharing the "behind the scences" of your Oval Office "experience." I have seen a bit of the interview on "The Situation Room" - and I'm looking forward to seeing the whole interview on 360 tonight. I loved the fact that he said, "I screwed up" - how many people are actually willing to admit that publicly, especially policitians?

    I like that you described your interview as more of a conversation - too often I feel that interviewers are not listening to responses, but rather worried about getting to the next question. I'm especially interested in what you referred to as the "lightening round" of questions. I think it's good to see the more personal side of our president. It helps us to remember that he's human. Apparently he really is "cool under pressure" as today could not have been a fun day for him –

    Good post - thanks for sharing your experience. Hope you got a souvenir photo, since it was your first visit to the Oval Office.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:17 pm |
  25. Pamela

    It doesn't surprise me, Anderson, that you got the chance to interview President Obama, or that you did so well, from what I hear. Your style, your honesty, and your gift of engaging an interviewee, asking just the right questions, has always been superior to the rest and right "on the money." It must have been an amazing experience for you!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:17 pm |
  26. Larry

    Obama is doing the 'I take the blame for my son having broken your window with a baseball'. That's about the seriousness of it. Let him say he made a mistake when its a national defense issue, something where people's lives are on the line.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm |
  27. JQQ -Brea California

    I do not understand why the Networks can not have all 5 journalist set together at one table and save our President a lot of time. It would save time and it would not be repetitive.

    Thank you.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:15 pm |
  28. Sohail

    This was the first one in first 100 days and you will keep counting them during next 4 years.
    Obama also said he need to figure out to fix banks problem, if he doesn't know how come he went for $700 billion bailout, what was that all about????
    Mr Beneficiery of Civil Rights Movement, This is not professional sport or Hollywood, This is real world with real problem, but seems like you don't have any idea nor you corrupt Dems corrupt lawmakers, how to put America Back to work.
    Honeymoon is Over... hahahaha

    February 3, 2009 at 9:15 pm |
  29. Debbie, Louisiana

    My management professor asked me during class last week if I think Obama is charismatic. I had to be careful with my answer so as not to infer that he is only charismatic and little else because I don't believe that charisma is always a good thing. But in President Obama's case, I believe he embodies everything that an effective leader should be-and his charisma is...well... as we Cajuns call it "lagniappe." His sincerity and honesy have impressed me immensely.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:15 pm |
  30. Jana, Indiana

    Anderson, Looking forward to your full interview tonight. What I have seen has been very good.

    I too, was surprised by his candor, admitting he had made a mistake and that things kept him up at night. I think that makes him a lot more human.

    Congrats on your interview with President Obama. I imagine you are right that you didn’t get an interview with President Bush because of your great, heartfelt coverage of Katrina.

    February 3, 2009 at 9:12 pm |
  31. Charles in Harbor Springs, Michigan

    Real discourse? Honest dialogue? A relationship where the press asks the tough questions and the President responds with pertinent answers? What a great beginning! It's hard to believe he has only been President for 14 days!

    February 3, 2009 at 9:03 pm |
  32. Keith

    Thanks Anderson. I look forward to the interview. I agree with your observation concerning your interviewing style. It 's like I can close my eyes and imagine you having a heart-to-heart or a heated discussion with a friend, over a beers. Your very professional and always well prepared. Keep up the good work on keeping them honest.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:54 pm |
  33. Jeaneen

    I am sick and tired of the media and the people in general trying to make our President and his decisons look bad. So what he chose people who had tax issues, they paid them and that is what matters. Should they had paid them before now, probably, but them paying their taxes has nothing to do with their ability to do the job. Suggestion, Mr. President, write and pass a bill tomorrow for every single Congressman/woman and Senator, to be audited for personal income taxes. I guarantee you, the government will find a whole bunch of overdue payments and penalities that will help offset some of the debt that we have. People in glass houses should not throw stones. Our President and First Family truly represent what America looks like and it's killing people so they are doing everything they can to try and discredit him. His choices just once again prove that people at all levels have problems. Heck, I'll work for Mr. President. No, I do not owe back taxes, but I have debt, am barely keeping my daughter in college, have another one to get in, and daily pray that I keep an income so that we don't end up out on the street. Does that make me a bad person or Mr. President wrong if he chose to give me a job under his administration. Open your eyes people, this is a "NEW" America.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:53 pm |
  34. Cindy

    Anderson,
    I saw a lot of your interview on Campbell's show and I was impressed! I thought you'd go easy on Obama but you kept on him about the question that you asked and kept him in line. Looking forward to seeing the rest.

    Well really what else is Obama going to say but that he was wrong about Daschle. I mean really. Plus that is nothing compared to a real major issue that Bush faced. Let's see if he still admits his mistakes when it really counts.

    Cindy..Ga.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:53 pm |
  35. Stacy

    Anderson,

    I was hoping you'd blog some behind-the-scenes interview tidbits and I am not disappointed. I initially found your noticing of Obama's trimmed nails a little odd, but on second thought, there's something strangely comforting in knowing our president's calmness even extends to his nail care.

    Isn't it refreshing to have a leader own up to his mistakes with no hesitation? Quite the change from that other guy. I look forward to seeing the rest of the interview.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:52 pm |
  36. Mary Jean Baxley from Columbia S.C.

    Anderson, Looking forward to seeing the interview. I know it was tough asking the right questions with only a 10 minute time frame. I had trouble with a 15 minute limit when I interviewed the late John West who had been Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and S.C. governor years ago.I applauad your ability to always end up with the best interviews because of the type questions you ask. Keep up the great job. MJ from SC

    February 3, 2009 at 8:49 pm |
  37. Isabel Abreu

    Yesterday, David Gewirtz, said: “Google’s behavior in this
    incident should be a role model for other companies – and, dare I say, our government as well. ”

    Will that President Obama is also a blogger’s AC360?
    He must have read and been inspired for the interview with Anderson Cooper.

    I like so much this!

    February 3, 2009 at 8:47 pm |
  38. Annie Kate

    Anderson

    Glad the interview went so well. I guess Bush never got back to you on an interview because of the "Keeping it Honest" theme of your show – he couldn't afford to let you come in!

    I was impressed by the clip you posted. I don't think I have ever heard a President say he was wrong or that he screwed up with no coercion behind it. Wish you had been able to have more than 10 minutes but I guess everyone wants to interview the President. He sounds like he lives up to his reputation the way you describe him – calm, poised, deliberate. I am looking forward to seeing your interview (I hope the whole thing) tonight. Should be a good show.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    February 3, 2009 at 8:46 pm |
  39. Marcia, Warren MI

    Anderson from the bit of your interview I saw on The Situation Room I thought it turned out great, at least President Obama answers questions instead of answering them with a laugh or a smirk. Can't wait to see the entire interview tonight.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:44 pm |
  40. Chris Sosa - Boston, MA

    Thanks for the "behind-the-scenes" look! I'll be glue to the screen, and my laptop, for the interview at 10.

    (And glad you resisted the impulse to rush President Obama. Probably wouldn't have turned out well for you. ;-) )

    February 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm |
  41. Jeaneen

    I am so sick and tired of the media and the other party attacking our president and his decisions for his cabinet picks. He chose and continues to choose "true america" to represent government. Okay there are those who failed to pay their taxes on time or whatever the media wants to call it. I say take every single person in Congress and the Senate and audit them and I guarantee you their are others who owe taxes as well. May them pay what's owed to the government and help to offset some of this debt. People in glass houses should not throw stones. Heck, I represent a true picture of America, I work every day, am barely keeping my d

    February 3, 2009 at 8:40 pm |
  42. Noella Maehl

    Goodness... how many people in Political Office pay their taxes? After three of Obama's selections for office, all three had a problem with their taxes. IRS should investigate the can of worms that has been opened.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:39 pm |
  43. Hana

    wow..the interview sounds really interesting and exciting ...it looks like you covered President Obama both politically and personally...and also...i do not think you missed out on anything for not interviewing Pres. Bush...there's was nothing positive you could talk about....

    Regardless,.i am hoping, in the near future, i could hear about the issues of how our immigration problem could help our economic problem, Middle East Peace, College Education, and Health Care.

    always tuned in,

    Hana

    February 3, 2009 at 8:38 pm |
  44. Lora

    Sounds great, Anderson. I wish all TV reporters were more like you. As it is, you and Rachel Maddow are the only people I can actually stand to watch!

    February 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm |
  45. bcdavis

    Fix housing. 4% mortgages for qualified borrowers. Americans will not return to spending while their home values erode. One foreclosure affects tens of homeowners. How can the sum total of political leadership in this country miss this?

    I campaigned for Obama. But the Republicans are way ahead on what is needed here.

    Take the $800 billion, guranantee mortgages and buy up forclosures holding them at a sale price that reflects good confidence in that neighborhood. That will get this economy back on track. And anything else you do that doesn't fix housing WILL NOT WORK.

    Paraphrasing Carville and at the risk of not seeing this post: it's the housing market, stupid.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm |
  46. Jana, Indiana

    Anderson, Looking forward to your full interview tonight. What I have seen has been very good.

    I too, was surprised by his candor, admitting he had made a mistake and that things kept him up at night. I think that makes him a lot more human.

    Congrats on your interview with President Obama. I imagine you are right that you didn't get an interview with President Bush because of your great, heartfelt coverage of Katrina.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:35 pm |
  47. Rebecca Rosen

    I'm glad that President Obama is accepting interviews from all news networks. It shows us the American people that he is willing to actually talk to us and not down upon us. Thank you Anderson for interviewing him (your my favorite anchor!). Keep up the amazing work!

    February 3, 2009 at 8:35 pm |
  48. Dee F

    I too was impressed when he emphatically stated "I screwed up!"
    Very impressive, nice to know he will to accept responsability for his actions and the actions of his team.

    Nice start Mr. President.

    Will definately watch the interview tonite can't wait to see the lightning round.

    February 3, 2009 at 8:32 pm |
  49. Lilibeth

    Hi Anderson, I’m glad that you got to interview Pres. Obama after his first two weeks in office. I hope that this will be one of many, recurring interviews because he said that one of the keys to his success, especially in solving the economic crisis, is frequent and open communications by him and his administration. I’m also glad that you got to ask him lighter questions in the end. After all, he does have other things going on in his life besides leading the country. Sounds like you both had a great conversation. I look forward to seeing it tonight.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    February 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm |
  50. Junipurr

    What would I prefer???? $20.00 a month in my paycheck... or my mortgage at 4%. Hummm Now that this option is voiced ...My hands are firmly in my pockets,waiting for a mortgage rate reduction. I do not think the economy will improve til we get this...No one will buy or refinance with this carrot pending!!!! Thats the way to get the housing market turned around!!! not more spending!!!

    February 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm |
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