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February 3rd, 2009
08:16 PM ET

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

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/03/obama.daschle/art.obama.ac.cnn.jpg caption="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. Jon Bell

    Andersen, you seemed to have the knack, talent, poise, and presence to bring out the best in President Obama. He is indeed a very complex man but, it figures, and is pleasing to know that you are just the type to bring it all out to comprise a commendable, and informative interview. Now, if only I knew how to convince CNN to allow you to interview everyone that I am interested in (that are in the news!)!! Thank you for a great interview!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:58 pm |
  2. Steven Salinas , San Antonio, TX

    I was lucky enough to remember to set my DVR to catch this, Anderson I think you truly did a superb job. If President Obama seemed cool, sharp, or on point, it was merely due to your relaxed personality and ability to execute an interview to please the American public all while appearing to simply have a private conversation, great selection on the questions! I think it was awesome!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:57 pm |
  3. alton

    Anderson:
    First time responder – ever !!! Your interview with President Obama was great and refreshing. Your questions were thoughtful, pointed and relavant. It was refreshing to hear President Obama respond so openly and candidly. I firmly believe in check and balance but why cant we (particulally those stunchly conservative republicans) simply give him a chance to implement his strategies and ideas. It certaintly can't be any worse than it is now or for the last eight years.

    I enjoy your program and am an avid "tuner-iner". Keep up the great work, you are a true professional.

    Alton
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    February 3, 2009 at 11:56 pm |
  4. jimmy

    hello Anderson !
    I think you are the best ! I frankly can't sleep with out watching your show. I fight with my girlfriend to watch your program because she only like to watch cartoons. Any way I love your intervew with the president .It is my first time to write comment for any blog. Anderson I also want to comment that if you please try to focus on issues going on in other counteries especially in Africa. There is so much going on on the rest of the world why we only have to here American histories!
    best regards !
    Sorry my english is not that good

    February 3, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  5. Bert

    Dear Anderson,

    Glad you got the interview – it's always good to see President Obama responding to questions. He is refreshingly informative as well as intelligent, competent, able to multi-task, and cool under pressure – to name but a few favorable attributes.

    I do suggest you keep working to focus on substantive questions and highlight the most important issues versus flashy items – examples: how many times and minutes did CNN have to flash the "I SCREWED UP" headline? We don't need to know if he gave up smoking yet – ask next year maybe. Also, he should be referred to as PRESIDENT Obama, not MR. Obama – the office should be respected.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  6. BRENT

    great job Anderson....Do you think he is still smoking>?

    February 3, 2009 at 11:49 pm |
  7. Maryann

    Did you think President Obama's answer to the cigarette smoking question was odd - he said he hadn't had a cigarette "on these grounds" - does that mean he has had one but just not at the White House?

    February 3, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  8. Peggy Pierce

    Cooper ... I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate this interview because it seemed so unbiased, fair, and comfortable. Thank you for good reporting. You seemed to enjoy and appreciate it too. I know it was a lot of pressure, but you handled it so well. I am a Democrat, and an Obama supporter, and I just want this country to be healed. Keep up the good work. Maybe you can interview our new President on a regular basis! Again, thank you.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:45 pm |
  9. Carole FL

    Good job Anderson, you asked the questions that most people wanted you to ask him. I was a little concerned about some of the projects added into the stimulus, but he did state that several were non-negotiable. They really need to work together on this stimulus, we have never seen anything like this before, and I'm affraid if democrats and republicans in the senate and congress, do not work together, something will get passed that will make things horrible worse.
    Keep some of the Republicans off your show, they are "Stuck on Stupid." Just an embarasment to our country.....
    Keep them honest Anderson.......You rocked today!!!!!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:45 pm |
  10. Susan Lemarie

    Excellent job on the interview. I love the personal topics you covered - it was certainly more interesting that the interviews other reports have had with President Obama. You are truly the BEST in the business!

    Susan Lemarie
    Fairfax, VA

    February 3, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  11. Sarah

    I disagree. I found that aspect of the interview to be quite interesting. The president not only admits to having this "vice" but also publically displays his efforts to rid himself of it. He could have avoided the question entirely but chose to answer it openly and honestly. Not only has my respect for the president sky-rocketed but my admiration for him has as well.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm |
  12. Kolette

    I noticed tonight your guest stated there will only be a 1% of money not used for the stimulus package. Could you please clear up where the rest of the money is being spent. I also heard that illegal immigrants will be entitled to the same money as American citizens is this correct? I would like a response.

    Thank you
    Kolette

    February 3, 2009 at 11:41 pm |
  13. Virginia Villalobos

    Anderson,

    It would be nice if you could do a report on how many more Congress Members didn't pay their taxes or pay them late or etc.

    And to change the subject a bit ~
    I'd also like to see a special report on how many Congress Members use private planes when they could take their car or a train or even public transportation.

    Love your show!!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  14. Kathy, Chicago

    It's sad, but I'm never surprised by a tainted politician. It seems to go with a job in Washington. I don't think that anyone really blames Obama for his picks that have failed. Congress is viewed at an all time low, and padding this stimulas package didn't help. We all want to help the country, but at what cost. With all of the economic geniuses hard at work, I hope that we can come up with a plan that speeds up recovery, but doesn't bankrupt us all. So what was the White House really like, AC? I always wanted to take a tour, but didn't take advantage of my time in DC. I don't think that you can tour anymore. Hope you get invited back soon-nice job!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:36 pm |
  15. Julia Graney

    Nice depiction of your interview :)! Thanks for being so personable ...

    February 3, 2009 at 11:35 pm |
  16. Gee

    The Government should have paid off all mortgages under 250K and give low interest rates to first time home buyers who purchased a foreclosed home. This would free up spendable cash, jump start the economy and probably cheaper, than the current stimulus...

    February 3, 2009 at 11:34 pm |
  17. marat

    I really do not buy Obama's lame "apology." Consider: a whopping total of THREE individuals were nominated by him in succession over the past few weeks, EACH one of which had serious tax evasion issues. There is absolutely NO WAY even a rookie politician doesn't delve into every aspect of a nominee's past. Particularly for the Obama handlers, who ran him on an almost angelic/saintly squeaky clean image. No. This was a slap in the face of the millions who got suckered into the "whole new way of doing business in Washington" shtick. And I have EVERY reason to believe it will continue. Two of his tax evaders 'fessed up only when presented with the prospect of being nominated. Obama only 'fessed up today–when a large New York Times editorial expressed extreme displeasure with this hypocritical act that one would expect from a political hack rather than Obama, whose whole campaign was carefully crafted on the rhetoric of "elevation." Yet we have at least one person here who is "happy" because Obama "accepted responsibility." Duh...that isn't the point–he was aware of their tax evasion when he nominated them. Business as usual in the Oval Office. This guy's guile is going to wear thin over time in my opinion.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm |
  18. senegalese-girl, PA

    Hello Mr. A.C.,

    You should not have mentioned the president’s nails…i find myself checking them out instead of listening. On a more serious note, I hope in your next interview with the President, you have enough time to ask if he has any plans to make college education more affordable for all, including international students. Thank you and COngratulations on you interview.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm |
  19. kalkrish

    moderator, dont be too smart to cover anderson, he is a man, he need to see all the blogger message. Anderson, I think you will be a good fit to be Mr president Press secretary, because all you need for that job is some think which you can speak without any sense. also hope anderson who wrote the edge of disaster is still alive(human not biased).as a journalist you need to understand that pen is mighter than sword, plese use your pen and brain(if you have) to speak unbiased truth.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm |
  20. Tim Ayalin, IL

    Hey Anderson! So I really enjoyed your interview, with President Obama. However, I noticed that CNN cut to a clip as you were talking with The Panel, a clip of President Obama, scratching, then picking his nose! I tried to comment on the live blog, but my comment was not approved! What happen to accountability Anderson?!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:32 pm |
  21. warnetta williams

    Nice interview Anderson, It takes a real man to admit this mistakes

    February 3, 2009 at 11:30 pm |
  22. Patrick Hennessy

    Anderson,

    Great interview. I agree on the commonly used term "cool" for the President but nobody ever mentions that he is philosophical, which I think he is. His background as outlined in his books demonstrate that he faced up to deep existenial questions and thought them through. I believe he has thought through issues like the meaning of life, suicide, love , etc. When you live through these questions as they apply to your life with feeling and reflection no question is a shock and you come across as 'cool".

    In this regard I suspect his faith is much more nuanced than came across in the campaign. I mean one cannot elected in the US without believing in God and being very black and white about it. But I cannot imagine this man being black and white about such a deep and complex issue. In this regard I think his choice of Lincoln as hero rather than any of the 20th century Presidents who put God up front and center is significant.

    I hope one day to hear him talk more openly about the big philosophical questions that have been there throughout the ages. When he moves on to his post Presidency we should look forward to such contributions. Right now he has other stuff on his plate.

    But bottom line : he is the most philosophical President I have seen over the past 60 years. Hence he is "cool"

    Patrick Hennessy
    Bangkok

    February 3, 2009 at 11:28 pm |
  23. Sherri

    Thanks for the great interview with President Obama! I'm glad he's a real person and isn't afraid to own up to mistakes he may make. I think he is doing a great job so far! He's very transparent which I think is missing from politics in general...especially in Canada where I'm from. President Obama is an inspiration to us all!

    Thanks too, for telling us about the interview and what it was like for you. I really like watching every weeknight as I appreciate your honesty and genuine desire to bring us unbiased news and giving us a taste of who you are also. You're real. I appreciate that! Thanks!!!

    Sherri, Ontario, Canada

    February 3, 2009 at 11:28 pm |
  24. Dee - Rochester, NY

    Anderson,

    Just saw your interview and I thought it went well and, of course, too short. You and he seemed both respectful of each other which is very important to me. Glad you did not take a "gotcha" stance. I think he'll call you back for another interview.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:28 pm |
  25. GWC

    President Obama did the right thing. Bush and Cheney have still not admitted to their mistakes on the economy, the war, the environment, etc. There perfect decisions have gotten us here is this mess and they have not taken any ownership. PS: Smoking is his business.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:28 pm |
  26. Feraz Shere

    Hey Anderson,

    Great interview. Enjoyed it and enjoyed the questions – very pointed and relevant.

    I know this is not a direct reply to this post, but if you have a chance you might enjoy my Obama impression for your show... you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/feraztheman

    Take a look – I've been told it's SNL worthy!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:23 pm |
  27. charles

    Finally i got a chance to comment on issues of president obama , i live in helsinki finland and im a strong supporter of the president . i agree wih you anderson , he is calm , sharp and mostly honest president . i have a lil advice to senator john mccain " john mccain please stop all this stupid comments you make about obama's bailout plans . What u asked ur supporters to join you and do is purely selfish and i thought at your age and expericnce as u claim , u would have learnt alot by now ." president obama so far has tried to reach out to everybody irrespective of party still folks like mccain who lost wolfly cant appreciate it .

    February 3, 2009 at 11:21 pm |
  28. Dom Reyes

    Anderson, your questions to the president were very soft. By that I mean
    you did not ask him why he had nominated people to his cabinet without
    proper vetting. Three nominees had tax problems, one of whom was pushed through anyway even though he promised to change Washington from politics as usual. Which means to me that he is going
    to clean up the act and govern with honesty and integrity. Appointing
    tax cheats to government positions is not the way to do it. Secretary of
    the Treasury Geithner should not have been confirmed; he belongs in
    jail because as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, an ordinary citizen with similar tax problem would certainly be brought to justice and perhaps jailed.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:21 pm |
  29. xtina, chicago IL

    The facts are:

    This is a massive (30%) increase in spending . Nancy Pelosi (who is keeping a low profile) wrote this. NOT Obama. He doesn't have the experience. He doesn't know what he's doing.

    Obama PROMISED not to appoint or nominate anyone who lobbied for what they would do in Obama's administration. He broke that promise in Tom Daschle's nomination.

    I didn't occur to Dashcle or Obama that they might get caught in not paying fed. income tax.

    This administration is beginning waive the rules for each tax offender who wants to run this country with Obama. Shouldn't that bother people?

    February 3, 2009 at 11:20 pm |
  30. Ali, Illinois

    You did a wonderful job Anderson. Thanks for the blog!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:20 pm |
  31. Kimberly Chance

    Many people have commented on how courageous it was for President Obama to admit that he "screwed up". I think an important question is to ask him WHY he thinks he messed up. Is it because he truly believes that the vetting process was flawed with Daschle or is he simply sorry about the amount of heat he received over the nomination? I am still trying to understand what motivates President Obama. When you better understand what motivates someone it is easier to put the decisions they make into context. The one thing that your interview highlighted is that President Obama is a smooth, calm talker. There is more to man than his words. I am still waiting to see the "real" Obama.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:16 pm |
  32. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Anderson, I wish you had asked a follow-up on the war on terror question. Yes, we are at war with terrorist organizations. However those organizations can't exist without significant support of the populace and passive acceptance by the majority. We NEVER hear moderate Muslims condemn the acts of Al Queda or Hamas. Throughout history 'guerrilla' groups needed popular support to survive. How is Obama going to get the so called moderates to step up and denounce the terrorists. Because when they do that, and cut of their support, the battle is 90% over.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:15 pm |
  33. Andrea

    Anderson, amazing that you are conducting an interview in the oval office with the president and someone is just about in your face with a countdown! Both you and our president show grace under fire.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:15 pm |
  34. Jason- Kansas City

    Anderson..President Obama has to get the next pick right. We can't hold on much longer. I'm supporting him, we all should, but my family is running out of time.

    If the is economy doesn't change soon, I may not be able to afford cable TV or internet access to watch your show.

    Great job to all @ AC 360.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  35. Andrea

    Anderson, amazing that you are conducting an interview in the oval office with the president and someone is just about in your face with a countdown! Both you and our ores

    February 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  36. Patrick Tracy

    Good show. However, the short preview clip with Obama rubbing or picking at his nose really should have been vetted. It like Daschle shouldn't have gotten such play...

    February 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  37. Eleanor

    Absolutely amazing interview Anderson!!!
    I love how you come across as someone who doesnt seem to know all the answers and for this reason you made it seem relaxing and so informative!
    As you said above it all fell into place bc you as the interviewer LET it
    not bc you wanted to make points for yourself
    thats what I love most about your journalistic skills Anderson!
    It must have been awesome meeting and talking to President Obama
    I got the feeling you have developed a rapport with him on some level
    as an interviewer and I think this will be a plus in the future for you and AC360
    Great Job Anderson!!!
    sincerely Eleanor
    Canada

    February 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  38. EJ (USA)

    One question you forgot to ask him is - During his 1st couple of weeks as President, has there been anyone that he has wanted to tell to STFU?

    February 3, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  39. Mimi

    "Oh-oh, Anderson is nervous, his face is perspiring," I thought, at first. But, after watching the interview, I read your blog and now know the oval office was baking. How did President Obama stay so calm and dry?

    Anyway, loved the interview, you did a fantastic job! During the interview, I marveled at how different this president is from others past - he doesn't come across as defensive or as a politician trying to polish up his image. He's a "working president."

    David, Ed and Roland - are THE BEST. Could listen to them all night.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  40. Deepa Arun

    I watched the entire interview and thought it went very well. I like a responsive interview vs a prepared one where you just check off the list. This was very spontaneous and you kept it tight.
    You are right...he is cool as a cucumber. I just pray and hope that he succeeds in his mission...he is under such a microscope that soon he may even have his sneeze analyzed to death too!! Let us give him some room to beathe. This mess wasn't created in a day...let us at least give him 8 months if not 8 years to fix our nation's ills.
    In the meantime keep up the good work with your tough questions.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  41. Karen C

    The President isn't allowed to dress down on the weekends? Is he allowed to fart? Sheesh.

    Good interview, Anderson. Well done.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  42. EM-Fort Wayne, IN

    Good job on controlling your impulses during your interview...I loved the "nails were trimmed" comment. I'll catch you tomorrow...

    February 3, 2009 at 11:11 pm |
  43. EJ (USA)

    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.

    Good decision Anderson.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:09 pm |
  44. Deborah Abernathy-Smith

    President Obama,

    Please do not lose any sleep over the economy it is a long haul and Rome was not built in a day. You are an upstanding person with character, integrity, humanity, and honesty, most of your Cabinet can use half of what you are made of. Every morning and every night you give the United States issues to God for directions, do not become a doormat for the American People or to the World. You will make mistakes, and you will make some successes. We Americans have your back and front, we may not agree, but I do know you will promote dialogue among the people of the World. The Republicans will fight you all the way, because they had eight years of their failures, and so will the Democrats, because they agreed to the Republican failures. You won the seat they did not have the guts to run (except for H. Clinton, Kerry and McCain), and because of this it will bring jealousy for many of men. Please continue to be determined to help the little people, and continue to be a Husband, Father, Commander and Chief, and President, follow through with your plan, and keep dialogue between your enemies and your allies. You are an excellent public servant with the heart; do not forget that your family is #1 (First Lady Michelle Obama wonderful with the same qualities you have (equally yoked for sure)). Remember 90% of United States has your back and your front, we as serious Americans know the problems and have the patience to go through the worst to get to the prize. Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBC, NBC, and the tabloids cannot take your strengths from you, they can pick out the issues that seemed to be a failure in your 100 days, but can anyone say they made the effort to help the economy, the only Presidents and men with that record is Jesus Christ, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Martin Luther King (he is the President of Civil Rights) and Clinton (despite his mistakes). When it comes to helping the builders of the United States you will receive opposition from both ends, even your counter parts. Remember to say the Our Fathers prayer, take hold of your family and enjoy the ride. Also remember to view Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on DVD and watch it at least once a once a month. View this DVD, because you remind me of the Famous Jimmy Steward, or Henry Fonda (Ox Bow Incident), viewing these movies will allow you to remember, that these are the people you will have to deal with everyday. I have your first stimulus bill in a binder and will never forget that you and the House Democrats had a plan to make the world a better place for growth for the middle people. Continue to do Gods work and you will always shine.

    God Blessed You President Obama. for a reason.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:09 pm |
  45. Sal

    Anderson, please tell me why, in your interview with the President, he was wearing an ear-piece in his left ear? Who was feeding him info? I've never seen a President wear one during a TV interview.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:09 pm |
  46. Presley

    You did a great job Anderson!
    And it did NOT sound like the NBC interview I watched earlier this evening.
    And you gave it the AC360 edge with the light touch ending, well done.

    XXO ♥

    February 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm |
  47. sherry martin (maryland)

    it is mr president obama's business why he stays up late gosh let him have a life and take care of his family and do his job

    February 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm |
  48. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    PS: Thanks for giving us a little more of a behind the scenes look at the interview with your blog! 🙂

    February 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm |
  49. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    Wow, Anderson, I'm not sure if words can express how incredibly jealous I am that you got to do this interview and that you got to be in the Oval Office...it just sounds incredible! And it was an amazing interview. Your question were great and you are right the best interviews are the ones that are just a conversation. It almost sounds almost too rehearsed (if there is such a thing) when the interviewer is so stuck on the questions that they want to ask instead of just letting the interview go where it may! Wonderful job today, Coop! You are an incredible reporter!

    February 3, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  50. Joel Spray

    How in the world does Barack Obama expect the American public to accept Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary especially following the mea culpa and admission on the Tom Daschle "screw up". One would think Timothy Geithner would resign his post in shame, given what Barack Obama said during today's interviews with the network talking heads (including Anderson Cooper). If Timothy Geithner doesn't voluntarily go, Barack Obama should show him to the door.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
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