January 5th, 2009
01:47 PM ET

Aboard Obama's new plane: emotions give way to reality

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/05/art.obama.lands.dc.jpg caption="President Elect Barack Obama walks down the steps of an Air Force 757 on Sunday at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, upon arrival from Chicago."]

Ed Henry | BIO
CNN Senior White House Correspondent

He arrived here for his new job feeling a bit melancholy about the move from Chicago, but President-elect Barack Obama has little time to mull over his emotions - he's been immediately hit with the sobering realities of the task ahead.

There's the still-unfolding war in Gaza, a fresh reminder of the monumental national security crises ahead. And then the political challenges here at home, starting with two so-called "pay-to-play" scandals - Bill Richardson out as the Secretary of Commerce nominee, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich still causing heartburn with his selection of Roland Burris to replace the President-elect in the Senate.

In other words, the candidate of "change" is dealing with unexpected change that keeps popping up, threatening to throw him off stride. But he signaled Monday in the first of a series of meetings on Capitol Hill that he intends to stay focused on his economic recovery plan, with aides signaling that he plans to sweeten it with a bigger-than-expected tax cut for individuals and businesses in the neighborhood of $300 billion.

"The reason we're here today is the peoples' business can't wait," Obama said. "We have an extraordinary economic challenge ahead of us."

That poise stands in stark contrast to the emotional Obama I got an up-close look at while flying on his plane from Chicago to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Sunday evening. It was bitter cold on the tarmac at Midway Airport, but he did not seem to be in any rush to board the plane. He was lingering with friends, hugging and saying his good-byes.

But then the President-elect looked up and saw a massive Air Force jet from the presidential fleet waiting for him, with a crew wearing jackets that say "Air Force One" in script on the front.

As a reporter, it's one of those little moments that can signify a big shift. In this case, it was a sign of just how close the President-elect is to formally taking the reins of power in one of the most dramatic transfers of power America has ever seen. So long to the chartered jets from United Airlines that took the President-elect to Hawaii - or the commercial flights the rest of us endure - for the next four years he'll be riding that big bird known simply as Air Force One.

Technically it's never called "Air Force One" unless the sitting leader is flying on it, but top Obama aides acknowledged that the enormity of it all was finally sinking in as they flew aboard the jet. "It's a little clearer now," incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, looking around the grand interior of the Air Force jet with a smile. "Nice digs."

The President-elect finally ran up the steps of the plane and peeked back at us on the tarmac. "See you in DC!" he shouted, which seemed like a signal that he would not be coming to the back of the plane later to visit with the press corps during the flight.

But then as we took our seats, the President-elect appeared in the press cabin to talk briefly about how he got "choked up a little bit" as he walked through his Chicago home one last time Sunday afternoon before heading to Washington. His wife Michelle and two daughters, Sasha and Malia, had already made it to the nation's capital so the house must have been eerily empty.

"What happened was Malia's friend dropped off an album of the two of them together," he said. "They've been friends since pre-school and I just looked through the pages. And the house was empty. It was a little tough. It got me."

But the flight itself was pretty enjoyable for the President-elect. Aides said he ordered a cheeseburger and fries - he can apparently afford to do that after all those visits to the gym to workout. And then he watched the football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.

A little down time before before tackling the looming challenges ahead.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Ed Henry
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Phil

    He will do just fine. This is a man who loves larger than normal challenges!

    He feeds on it.... A rare quality that is a blessing for America! I think?

    No, I know!

    January 5, 2009 at 6:40 pm |
  2. Ikoro from minneapolis

    Good luck to him, now he has a lot to prove after all his promises.

    January 5, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
  3. jeffn

    Here is one black dude.Riding on AF 1.
    Who could have believed that?
    I have more respect for black dudes now more than ever before.
    Whatever you say, a black dude is our prez. There is something cool about that.

    January 5, 2009 at 6:17 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    Its always sad to leave a house that you and your family has regarded as home. The memories almost seem to walk with you as you take that last walk through the house. In 8 years Obama will make a similar walk through the White House for one last time, hopefully the memories will be as sweet for him and our country on that walk.

    January 5, 2009 at 6:07 pm |
  5. Carlos

    When I read this stories all I can think about is what a tremendous leader Obama is. He is a person to look up to and whom the nation will better off by admiring. As the great man he is, he will show the nation that it takes an intelligent man to take the US in the right direction. His leadership will be tested but his genuity will win everybody's heart and make our nation a stronger and more united one. I look forward to his leadership, as now I can say with pride that I'm an American.

    January 5, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  6. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    Regardless of whom the family is transitions are never easy.

    May God bless, guide and protect the Obama family!

    Hope won!

    January 5, 2009 at 4:20 pm |
  7. Marilyn

    President-elect Obama is such a young man to have all this responsibility on his shoulders. We should all be praying for him as a Nation, because we're all in this together! I always enjoy your reports Mr. Henry, and hope we'll be hearing from you alot during this administration.

    January 5, 2009 at 4:00 pm |
  8. Sharon Kitchen

    A move for any family is difficult.
    I dont' think anyone can imagine all the emotions and thoughts Obama has.
    My prayers to the Obama family.

    January 5, 2009 at 2:04 pm |