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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. Susan

    Another awesome interview Anderson. You are terrific! The President was terrific too.
    Why do other journalists have to point fingers and always look for something negative?
    We as Americans have had our share of negative in the past 8 years...now we need to be positive and supportive.
    The American people need to come together so we can all move forward.
    The choices made by the President were made
    because others did research on the candidates...the research was not complete. Ok we found the errors now lets just move on and appoint someone else...what does going over it 500 times change? People love to point fingers!

    There is substance out there to report on- they need to find it and stop with the juvenile reporting!

    February 4, 2009 at 7:26 am |
  2. Adriana R M Atlanta,Ga

    Way to go Anderson Cooper ! And Mr President you did pretty good yourself.

    February 4, 2009 at 7:24 am |
  3. Susana

    I am very unsure about this urgency to lend money to businesses. I own a small business and you know why I need a loan from the bank? To pay off my debt, close down said business and go out to look for a job (yes, that in itself should be fun – NOT).

    Let's face it. Businesses need consumers. If you're going to borrow more money but no one is buying your product, then I think it's pretty obvious that you'll just end up with more debt.

    Unless they figure a way of making the money reach the basis of the economy (the consumer) fast, we're not going to see a why out of this anytime soon.

    February 4, 2009 at 7:17 am |
  4. Jennifer - Michigan

    Hi Anderson,
    Great interview yesterday. I caught it this morning 5a, I'm usually a day behind you. It must have been such a great experience for you. Very cool! Great job – thank you for all your hard work.
    Try not to bite your nails, if you can. But I'm no one to talk; I'm one of those that give nail biting a bad name, it's terrible – my one and only vise. Not sure I'll ever quit, it's horribly enjoyable.
    Anyway, hope your day is a good one today. Thanks again for everything you do, we appreciate you.

    February 4, 2009 at 6:55 am |
  5. Terry Washington State

    Anderson, A fine interview. Since I stumbled on AC360 several years ago, I tune to CNN for my news. You do good interview, man. I believe you asked and followed questions in your mind and ones I wanted to listen to and felt good with the answers. The more I listen to the man, the more I feel confident he is the President for the time.

    I very much give you credit for having mentioned you political consultants in prep for your interview. May I just add, David Gergen ROCKS. The man is fair, poised and informed. It helped you went to the panel as you played your interview.

    You get A+'s from me. Anyone that has Erica Hill as part of their program ROCKS... keep her!! Wellness to you and yours.

    February 4, 2009 at 6:20 am |
  6. Mariam

    Anderson did a great job! 2 of my favorite men in one room...I would have loved to be there! I don't think President Obama is to blame for Others Tax problems. I am sure he has better things to do then do back checks on the ppl he nominates for certain positions.

    February 4, 2009 at 5:28 am |
  7. lali

    i got to watch the interview and i'm glad that i read the blog because anderson's interview felt like there were fewer questions thanfrom what i saw of matt lauer's but i can never compare right? the blog explained everything. it was overall a great insightful interview.

    one other thing, ac 360 is a 2-hour show right? well from what i read anyway since i haven't been to the states in almost 4 years. i only get to watch 1 hour of ac 360 here in southeast asia, in the philippines specifically.

    February 4, 2009 at 4:52 am |
  8. R. Cohen

    The President Barack Obama is working with great passion.
    There are lot problems for the populations in war theatre. A Big Expert of International Humanitarian Law says to the President Obama to give a more great diffusion of Knowledge for Human and Humanitarian Law. In this direction the civilians will have a base for self safety and they 'll have the possibility to asq justice for war crimes.
    Marco Pizzorno one of the most important Istructors of Armed Conflict Law , Military Analist,Leg.Adv etc..trusts in President Obama's work .

    February 4, 2009 at 4:36 am |
  9. jennifer lisbey

    i have watched your shows very avidly from my little space in the caribbean. you bring the issues to the fore with sincerity. you try to keep it honest and make us aware of the frailties of mankind but always you highlight the positives. i know you are not looking for the fame as you come across as candid and human. your interviews are natural, the discussions pertinent delivered in superb AC style. laugh more often it is extremely alluring

    February 4, 2009 at 4:27 am |
  10. anne,nfld,canada

    Anderson:

    I really am not surprised that George Bush was not too fussy about talking to you,actually.
    You would have tried to Keep Him Honest,especially regarding Katrina,and it seems that even at the end,he was STILL in denial about that,and the "hell of a job" they did.

    Great job on on the interview with President Obama.
    Take care.

    February 4, 2009 at 4:20 am |
  11. Lisa L

    Dear Anderson,

    I enjoyed your interview with President Barack Obama, and have more of an understanding of what is happening with the global stimulus packages.

    You did a great job keeping me informed. Well done.

    Sincerely,

    Lisa L
    Sydney, Australia

    February 4, 2009 at 4:15 am |
  12. LisaL - Canada

    hi anderson.
    with so many contributing opinions, suggestions and questions, i hope you had an opportunity to ask some of your own questions.

    by the way, nice perspective in the commentary – the experience of being there. and all those "your time is up" signals blocking your line of sight must have been so distracting! i would have found them very annoying! i thought you handled it very professionally.

    keep doing what you do. great show!

    February 4, 2009 at 4:00 am |
  13. rike

    It is almost unbelievable by now to be able to listen to an American President who talks and sounds like a normal human being.
    Now I think we in Europe also don´t miss the knitted brows, the ranting against all the world and the I am the President and I don´t have to tell you anything – attitude.
    And for heaven´s sake, if he smokes a cigarette now and then, it´s really his business. Obsessiveness with health is very unhealthy, too. Unfortunately the EU has taken over the US attitude of meddling with private lives under the guise of health issues.

    February 4, 2009 at 3:20 am |
  14. Peter A.

    Anderson, Regarding the stimulus package – if the Republicans believe that investment in Education, Health, the Environment, the Arts, Roads, Bridges, Housing, Energy are all categories of wasteful spending, can you you please ask their spokesmen to enumerate the areas they believe are worth investing in? Can you please ask them to explain how government projects that employ people of all skill and training levels will generate fewer jobs than tax cuts (for those who are fortunate enough to be taxed on their income). They have been allowed to get away with indefensible slogans. No one tests their logic. That's why we're in the mess we're in.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:57 am |
  15. Gina

    Even you, Anderson, who are always so calm, sharp, and on-point seemed a bit nervous walking into the oval office to meet President Obama. Maybe it was the heat in the room? You were great with the questioning and listening. Love your style...you are the best!

    February 4, 2009 at 2:54 am |
  16. Jacqueline

    P.S.: As well, what about the F.B.I. and C.I.A., the internal Revenue? The president's vetting team? Are they the same people from his campaign? How is it they are fouling so when they seemed to have done a much better job before he became president? What's going on? Are there enemies within?

    February 4, 2009 at 2:42 am |
  17. Jacqueline

    Hm... the conspiracy theorist in me is at work again. I wonder if these nominees accepted the offers as cabinets members while willfully withholding damaging information was some kind of intentional, sordid, sleazy attempt to disgrace and shame president Obama. Hm...

    February 4, 2009 at 2:28 am |
  18. Sheila

    As usual AC you did extensive research prior to interviewing the President. It was very nice of you to acknowledge your team who helped with the research. Would like to honor you at our Valentine's Day Event for your extensive and yet comprehensive, timely and honest coverage of the news and its educational value.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:27 am |
  19. Wayne

    Anderson,
    I was with you all the way on your interview with President Obama, until you asked about his smoking. I wish he would have said It was none of your business. And who cares. I didn't see you asking President Bush if he had a drink before leaving the White House. If anyone has a reason to have a cigarette every now and then it is the President. Look what he was left with. As far as the "screw up with Dachel" . If you remember President Obama did say their may be some false starts. He is doing great considering all that was dumped in his lap. At least this President communicates with the people of this nation

    February 4, 2009 at 2:26 am |
  20. Karen Schaefer

    Its nice to hear that President Obama is just as cool, on point, and sharp in person as he seems to be to us watching him every step of the way during the campaign and since. If there's anyone as cool, sharp, and on point as he is, its you, Anderson. That's why AC360 is the only news show I watch every night. Mahalo nui loa, Anderson (that's thank you very much in Hawaiian.....I live where President Obama vacations!)

    February 4, 2009 at 2:25 am |
  21. Sheila

    Stress affects sleep, and lack of sleep creates stress. Our President's sleep has already been affected.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:21 am |
  22. Amanda

    I'm so proud that we have a competent and caring president that knows what he's talking about and admits when he's wrong. If he can admit this I know that he would be able to admit whenever he's wrong. Something that Bush never did! Of course you never got an interview with Bush, not surprised at all. Their administration didn't thrive on transparency. I still heavily support President Obama and he knows exactly what he needs to do which puts me at ease. Well done Anderson, with your cute self!!!;-)

    February 4, 2009 at 2:13 am |
  23. Kristie

    Hi Anderson, I absolutely love president Obama because he's cool and he knows what the american people needs. He's on a path to making a big impact in this world. He's destined for greatness. I have confidence in him because as I pay attention to him I can see he's confident in himself. I know no one isn't perfect but as we move forward we are all learning from the mistakes that still affects our lives daily. God always knows what he doing when he do it. I truly believe it!!!

    February 4, 2009 at 2:00 am |
  24. Alex (Aliso Viejo)

    One of a kind interview although you really don't need it to hear from me. The incorporation of personal questions alongside with a very issue-focused Q&A has TV watchers (which includes me) feel as if I am actually there asking the questions that are relevant to me. It also reminded me how human President Obama is just like any everyday American. The only difference is his name is preceded by President. Hands and heart down to you, Mr. Cooper and the CNN crew. Thank you!

    February 4, 2009 at 1:51 am |
  25. Jeff

    Anderson,
    Nice job on the Interview. I thought you had him caught with the smoking question, but he calmly said "not on these grounds." Did you notice smoker breath on the president? Next time can we try and get the interview in the $40 million Presidential Limo? I dare you to push a button.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:51 am |
  26. Lur

    I wish journalists would be a little more serious and stop acting star struck like some college kid. They both came across as very self absorbed people who just think they are way too cool.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:50 am |
  27. Mike

    Yeah he admitted he screwed up....what else could he do? You would think they he would have done some research before making this choice. So why isnt the media tearing him a new one? Are all his decisions going to be like this? ...no thought or research

    February 4, 2009 at 1:45 am |
  28. sophie lifanda

    "People in glass houses should not throw stones. " I don't see why President Obama should regret his choice. Mr. dashchle should be the one apologizing to the president. He knew he had some crocodiles in his closet and pretend not knowing. I bet if majority politicians are investigated concerning their taxes, this country wii be in trouble. We will have very few leaders Please Washington clean -up your mess. Greed is what will bring this country to its knees.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:32 am |
  29. don

    The problem with most of the nay sayers on this thread is that they all think in blank and white terms when it comes to solutions. President Obama was trying to roll out a recovery package in stages. First the stimulus, next help homeowners and middle class, next healthcare. But no, no one can have patience it has to be the Repugs way or no way. I say, tell the republicans to sit in the corner, don't even let them come to the table. If they try to filibuster, let them know that you remember the nuclear option and either help us get this economy going or be left sitting in the station while the train moves on. They lost, they have no good ideas, they are bankrupt.

    Now they want to take credit for helping homeowners. I seem to remember a few months ago the Democrats wanted to do that and all these Bush hacks fought it to steal our money for the rich bank barons.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:25 am |
  30. Tom Q

    Yes we can! Yes we can screw up the country worse than it already is!
    Wow, if this was Bush, or even McCain, he would have been thrown under the bus on Day 1. President Obama gets a pass on everything. Take your heads out of his behind and realize he has made bad judgement after bad judgement after bad judgement. Then I get on here and people say how proud they are that he said "I screwed up". Our society has become brain washed by the media. Unbelievable. Look, I really like President Obama and his approach and his professionalism. He is very likable. Let's call it like it is, he has been awful since making appointments. McCain kept referring to ppork spending and spreading the wealth in Obama's plan. Where is the transperency we were promised. Why all the sneaky, behind the scene cover ups and agenda? Why has this terrible stimulus plan gone this far. Why are people who don"t even pay federal taxes getting free money? My Money!!!! Can you say welfare and food stamps? Why all the AWFUL appointees. Not only Hillary{plain old power hungry (typical Clinton)}who bashed the heck out of him. Then to appoint 3 Tax Evaders. I don't get it. Why is there no outrage? Why is there a double standard?

    February 4, 2009 at 1:24 am |
  31. AJ

    @Sohail: It is idiots like you that make me purely sick! Can you fix the Economy??? If you could, you wouldn't be making sarcastic remarks on a blog. You'd actually be in office trying to do something about it. You need a life!! How much debt are you in? Nobody held a gun to your head and made you get in debt. Do you have a job? Are you even a citizen? Be careful about throwing stones, they tend to boomarang and knock your brains out. Oh excuse me, too late, that has already happened!

    February 4, 2009 at 1:21 am |
  32. RAM

    Dear Anderson,
    I live in Vancouver,Canada.If it was not for Barrack Obama I would have never got hooked on to your AC360,you do a great job! Though once i felt that you were really rude &arrogant to President Obama when you suggested that he was pandering to you during his campaign,but lets move on,the President Obama is a great man,you Americans are so lucky to have him after that lame duck! Give him a chance,the way he is he will be a winner in the end.
    Ram

    February 4, 2009 at 1:20 am |
  33. Jamil in Nigeria

    hello anderson, i find that virtually everyone's soft on the new president. good or bad, i can't tell but i honestly don't expect much from leaders, that way if they end up makin good strides, it's more a pleasin surprise. just please don't get too carried away, he's good sure, but is that all that qualifies him as suitable?

    February 4, 2009 at 12:56 am |
  34. John T. Adams

    The interview with the President was very interesting. It's funny he stated staying up sleepless nights about the economy and probably takes a smoke somewhere.

    I'm thinking that our former President was never the same mentally after 911 and it's been overlooked by everyone. Blowing crapp up while under his Presidential watch had to be devastating with permanent mental inflictions.

    Has current President ever thought about temporarily raising minimum wages by $3.00 for several years to help the economy get going? Giving tax credit to those company's participating. That's better than just handing out rebates. The wage increase would come in handy with the fast food industry workers and many others. Maybe the unemployed would fine it more appealing to consider working at the places. Thanks For letting me comment.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:40 am |
  35. Brandi - bottom of the boot

    Anderson,

    I only got to see blips of the interview, but what I did see was great, I love that you dont stick to a scripted interview and follow your instincts. Yes, we want serious questions and answers, but our quirky curiosities must also be addressed. Great job.

    I'm a nail biter, I'm always looking at others to see if they do it too!!!
    However, I also hide my hands as much as possible after binging on them! lol

    February 4, 2009 at 12:37 am |
  36. Brenda

    Great interview Anderson! I appreciate the fact that President Obama is making himself so available and the more I see of the man he is the more confidence I have in him as our president. You truly helped bring out the best in him today. Thanks!

    February 4, 2009 at 12:34 am |
  37. Annie Thomas

    Hi Anderson congrats on doing such a fantastic job with the Obama interview. I have a request i am such a great fan of yours and unfortunatley the 360 is aired at 8.30 am India time when i am really rushing to go to work. Is there a repeat of the broadcast?

    February 4, 2009 at 12:29 am |
  38. Gordon Tait

    Perhaps the budget could be balanced if members of the Democratic Party simply paid all their taxes.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:28 am |
  39. Dan

    Anderson...you did great...way to go!

    Keep up the good work!!

    Cheers!

    February 4, 2009 at 12:27 am |
  40. Diane - IL

    Great interview Anderson! I was surprised to hear the president admit to being wrong, hopefully he won't be making any more mistakes like that.

    One thing that bothers me, it's a relatively minor issue, but why does Obama keep the Oval office so warm? Does he not realize how much more energy he is using? During the interview he talks about winterizing homes to save energy while creating more jobs. Obama needs to set an example for the rest of America by turning down the thermostat and save taxpayers the cost of his heating bills.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:24 am |
  41. Candis Dorsch

    If the president had to personally pay a heating bill of more than $600, perhaps he too would walk around like the rest of us layered in sweats, wool socks and anything else to stay warm while we keep the thermostat at 55 degrees!!!

    February 4, 2009 at 12:22 am |
  42. Linda Michael

    Enjoyed the interview especially when you both exchanged smiles. This man may in fact be the "real deal"despite some initial staffing probs. You are a great reporter,sincere and knowledgable. Thank you.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:18 am |
  43. Annie

    Great interview, fun to watch. Thank you!

    February 4, 2009 at 12:13 am |
  44. Linda

    I am a faithful fan of Anderson as always you do a great job on anything you take on, my biggest problem is the way that you refer to the president as Mr. Obama,he is no longer Mr Obama, or president elect he is now President Obama!!!!!!!

    February 4, 2009 at 12:13 am |
  45. Francesca Rossellini

    Anderson, I like how you gave thanks to the people who did research for you and how you note it is a team effort. I enjoy your notes on trim nails and the intimacy level in the Oval Office. I don't bite my nails, but I always notice little details. As soon as he said, "not on the grounds," I smiled and I was glad you brought that up, but didn't press him. Almost always you ask follow-up questions that I would ask and that's another reason why I thoroughly enjoy watching you.

    During this interview I noticed President Obama's comfort level. I thought about when he was running for President, and after he was elected, how frequently he said, "ummm..." Maybe he's just getting enough sleep now, as I am sure he was neglecting during the primaries; but probably, he is relaxing into his presidency, even with all of the pressure on him. He is making me proud as he epitomizes an intelligent, confident, kind, moral, thoughtful man (among many other things). I believe in him and his determination to change our country. I find it hard to believe that his popularity has reduced 20% since he has taken office.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  46. Mama Nila

    Awesome Job Anderson! Love our President and his candor...I'm certain this was just one of many interviews to come between you and him. Make sure you send him a follow-up hand written note.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:06 am |
  47. Sabra McMarr

    I disagree with mark. Its not a stupid question! I was interested in the answer as a former smoker and current avid gum chewer! My two favorite men (other than my wonderful husband and fabulous son), in the same room together almost made me need to smoke again. You know-one of those realy good ones just after a satiating meal or...what have you. 🙂 It was great seeing the interview and I hope there will be many more to come!

    February 4, 2009 at 12:05 am |
  48. Donna H

    Dressed down, dressed up has nothing to do with integrity nor ability but the outward appearance and ego. The President has already demonstrated his ability to handle himself and situations with tact. Using slang, "I screwed up". If you pinch him he's an human being. Lets let that be and again stay focused. However, Anderson we the Americans do not want the buckshot effect, we really want to know what's going on. I saw a few items today the Republicans said were wastes i.e. $1b to youth jobs, HUH!. Will they stop treating the American public like we are idiots and blowing smoke in our face. I watch CNN a lot recently especially over Fox News (they are soooo over the top) and find some remarks inflammatory. Please report the news and DO NOT be sensational like Fox. Murrow would roll with what some call journalism.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:03 am |
  49. Roy Zuuring

    Hey Anderson..

    Great interview. It's nice to see someone ask questions that are more interesting and engaging. You strike the perfect balance of toughness and lightness with ease. Well done! I think you were able to get him to relax even if was just a little.. Not an easy task.. and nice to know that he knows more about you than you probably realized?

    It would be very interesting to ask him about New Orleans and his plans for reconstruction, as well as NAFTA. Maybe a future interview?

    Many Canadians like me are very excited that he is coming here for a visit. I think his vision of the world is a breath of fresh air.. And I do hope that air will eventually be "fresh"......

    February 4, 2009 at 12:00 am |
  50. Phylipz

    Just one thing to James and his remark about heating... It was an 'on camera' interview... The lights make it hot !!! duh

    February 3, 2009 at 11:59 pm |
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