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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. Carol B., Virginia

    Hi Anderson. That was a great interview considering you all had 10 minutes, were sitting in a sauna and had someone flashing hand signals at you. It was also interesting to learn a few more things about the President & family, too.

    February 4, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  2. Barbara Crowley

    President Obama, says that Wall Street, and the Banking Industry,
    doesnt get it......well he right about that....however President Obama
    and the Democrat Congress still dont get it either !! The People
    want a Stimulus Bill, that deals only with Jobs and Lower Mortgage
    Rates..The President said today, that it would be disastrous for
    this Bill not to pass as it is.......The People know that it will be Disastrous, if it is passed..........The majority of it , More Waste.
    Seems as if the Change.......is Politics as Usual..!!

    February 4, 2009 at 3:32 pm |
  3. Jo Ann Schloe

    I loved the "interview". It actually seemed more like just two guys talking to one another. The President is very relaxed which should make the ones interviewing him, relax a bit more as well. Great job!

    February 4, 2009 at 3:31 pm |
  4. I.C.H.

    Congrats Anderson, this interview was very very good.
    In this interview you could see how sincere and humble President Obama is, by accepting his mistake.

    February 4, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  5. Samuel

    Is it proper etiquette to sit leg crossed in front of the president whether conducting interview or otherwise? I found it a little disrespectful.

    sam

    February 4, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
  6. Julia Sauve

    Hello from Cochrane in Northern Ontario, Canada.

    My comment from your recent interview with Pres. Obama is this: I wish our own Prime Minister Harper was as humble as your President. His lack of arrogance is decidedly refreshing.
    I believe such humility defines Mr. Obama as a good man who is willing to take responsibility and is accountable to his country. Bravo! I wonder how many others will pick up on the fact that the apparent faux pas about Tom Dashle was a mistake but recified very quickly by Mr. Obama. The Americans did well by giving this wonderful man a chance to make things right. Good luck to all and God Bless.

    Julia Sauve

    February 4, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  7. Dee Stevens

    You gave a very candid interview with President Obama on AC360, a job well done Anderson.

    February 4, 2009 at 3:23 pm |
  8. Ginika - Reading, England

    Hey AC,

    Congratulations on your interview with President Obama. It was an interesting one. Got me glued to my seat and eyes on the screen. I loved his poise, charms and most especially very eloquent way of speaking. He is human and very honest. I guess that was why he admitted making a mistake. No one is above mistake and thats what makes us human. I am very proud of him and admire his courage.
    Well done to you too for a successful interview. You displayed good professionalism in the way you presented yourself and asked the questions. Hope you will have the privilege to interview him on his 100th day in office. I look forward to that.

    Best wishes,
    Ginika

    February 4, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  9. RJ

    I enjoyed the interview you had with President Obama. You were both repectful of each other and you allowed him time to fully answer his question.
    I also think President Obama was refreshingly humble and honest. Thank God he has enough self confidence to admit when he has made a mistake and also to accurately express what the mistake was.
    I hope my Republican party gets their act together and get behind the President in stimulating the economy and reducing their rhetoric. I am really sick of the " Rush " and "Hannity" mentality of us against them. Aren't we all Americans? If the Obama presidency fails it will be because of the Republicans, but then it won't matter because there won't be much of a country at that point. The old saying, "Pride comes before a fall." needs to be preached to the Congress.

    February 4, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  10. Joyce

    Hi Anderson,
    I am with one of the other person who posted the comment about Obama's smoking. Your line of questioning should rise above all these things which are totally irrelevant to his capabilities as a president.

    February 4, 2009 at 3:07 pm |
  11. Joseph Ross

    Thank you ,Cheers
    I agree it is president Obama is his name, being honest, did not surprise me come in from this president, now if he can pull together they rest of the gang we can get this bill passed because time is running out, be honest

    February 4, 2009 at 3:03 pm |
  12. 2illforReal

    great interview!

    February 4, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  13. Manuela

    Certainly one of the BEST interviews.
    You actually allow people to provide a response. You and Campbell Brown are the best journalists together with Peter Mandsbrige, CBC Canada.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:56 pm |
  14. Don Burrell

    Everyone please take a deep breath and give Mr. President Obama a break!!!

    He’s only a couple of weeks into his administration and every idea, decision or out of the box thought has been and is being dissected to pieces and in most cases negatively attack with no regard for the good it will do.

    There are caveats associate with everything we do in life as anyone with sound judgment knows. Stop listening to “Mr. Rush Know Nothing” who has never been asked to face up to any of the mindless things he has uttered from his tongue with no rudder tie to it.

    Enough Already….

    February 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  15. Eva Jones

    Thanks Mr President, for admiting your 'mistake'. We love you the more.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm |
  16. Sandra Robertson, Ga.

    Anderson, you both were poised and totally together. Thanks for the great interview. Sorry I could not stay awake last night to watch, but did catch your wonderful interview this morning in the 360 newsroom at cnn.com. Hope to see more of your interviews with him in the near future.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  17. Paula Vergara, Boston, MA

    Anderson,

    Congrats on getting the interview with President Obama. I'm sure it's the first of many more interviews to come. I'm guessing you were a bit nervous? If you were, it didn't show.

    I absolutely agree with your method of approaching interview questions.
    I am a journalist as well, and always have more questions than I could possibly squeeze into 10 minutes. I always choose five "must-ask" questions prior to any interview, and agree that a conversational tone is best. I like that you didn't shy away from asking tough questions in this interview.

    Great job!

    February 4, 2009 at 2:35 pm |
  18. Sharon S

    Good interview but I wish you had more time for more questions but you only get what they give you!
    You looked great Mr Cooper!
    Amazing as always I couldn't stop looking at how blue your eyes seemed on this interview!

    I am not surprised the President admitted to making a mistake it makes him more human and I wish everyone would quit assuming he is some demi God! He is a man trying to do a job and he is doing the best he can but I think he should have taken control of the situation before the guy backed out it would have seemed more like Obama was in charge then just letting it all sort of happen the way it did!

    Anderson one more thing Yes you can stop biting your nails, I used to do it when I was younger but I stopped and started growing long nails but I'm a woman, not sure you want long nails!
    Your just an intense person thats all!

    Keep up the Good work Anderson!

    February 4, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  19. nadine

    Thanks for doing this great interview Anderson. President Obama is a doing a great job so far and deserves the chance to talk about what his goals for this administration are without interuption. I enjoyed President Obama's nod to AC360.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm |
  20. Gail

    As a strong supporter of President Obama I appreciated the interview. My only comment is the Republican Party continues with their divisive tactics and I am frankly sick of them. Instead of trying to solve the crisis in a spirit of cooperation, they have chosen to focus on 2012. I don't appreciate nitpicking and criticism from the very people who stood by during the last eight years of deregulation and greed.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:26 pm |
  21. Lilibeth

    Hi Anderson, I just want to say congratulations on a terrific job last night. I keep hearing from other folks that your questions (compared to other anchors’) were the most thoughtful and concentrated on the most important issues. All the research paid off. It goes to show that one can never be too prepared for these things. Kudos!

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    February 4, 2009 at 2:17 pm |
  22. Sharon, LA, CA

    I understand the anger of individuals who have lost value in their homes and due to the impact it is having on the economy will support whatever is deemed necessary to get the housing market back on track. That said, what is to be done for those of us who chose to invest in our 401ks that have now been cut in half, rather thatn buying a house we knew we could not afford. I don't see anyone jumping to help us – yet our loss is just a big since that, rahter than a house, was our savings for retirement.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  23. 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. Why do we never hear moderate Muslims condemn the acts of Al Queda or Hamas? I would have liked to see Obama say it's time for these moderates to step up.

    Five points to Obama for admitting his mistake. Minus twenty points for knowing about the issues with Geitner, Killefer, Daschle, and Richardson before nominating them but doing it anyway.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:10 pm |
  24. Cherisa

    Good interview. It showed a side of President Obama that the other two I watched didn't capture. You just have a way of making connections. That's why I watch.

    I also appreciate you giving credit to those behind the scenes.

    Hope there are more opportunities like this in the next four (or eight) years.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  25. niwat, Chicago

    Hi Anderson Cooper,

    So many questions with so little time.The most I enjoyed was the part when you mentioning Abraham Lincoln and President Obama eloquently simulated his economic situation in comparison to Lincoln's civil war, He and he seeks answers by constant learning.

    Great job, Mr Cooper, nail-biter.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:00 pm |
  26. Sue Filutze

    Anderson I enjoyed the interview, but I have to ask, why the media seems to focused on what the "Republicans like, dislike, care about" etc. The media seems to care more about what the Republicans like and dislike regarding the Stimulas, how to govern etc., I guess you all didn't get the memo in November. People overwhelmingly voted for Obama and the Dems. Were sick to death of the Republicans and their views, their trickle down economic policies, their WAR, their feelings etc., Maybe if the media paid more attention to what the Dems are doing and how Obama is attempting to save this country from it's total demise then the Stimulas bill would stand a chance of passing. I blame the media for this mess. You all carried Bush and the GOP water for nearly eight years, well it's over, they lost, time to move on already! So give us a break, I for one don't give a crap what Mitch or Bohener think, their ideas as well as they are irrelevant!

    February 4, 2009 at 1:56 pm |
  27. Patricia Spellman

    How many of us didn't hear or understand the meaning behind the many times President Obama said that the changes we hope for aren't just going to happen overnight? Have we forgotten that key aspect of his many speeches on the subject?

    Furthermore, I am more than puzzled as to why Tom Daschel's withdrawal is continually coined as an embarrassment for our president. I would venture to say that it is a great "disappointment" for President Obama. Shouldn't the embarrassment belong to Mr. Daschel and the so-called expert vetters that let our president down?

    I wonder if those who have changed their positive opinion about our president and now poll against him, were ever fully on his side to begin with.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:48 pm |
  28. martina ilstad germany

    Hey Anderson
    No sleepless in Germany,i missed your show last night,but just watching the video,shows me, how good you did your job.I belive there was more than a normal interview on both side,it looked that you both, go through a long way together,to sitt there where you are just now, to make change happen.I want to thank you Anderson and President Obama.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:28 pm |
  29. Isabel Abreu

    Anderson,

    The interview was great! Sensational!
    It was interesting, relaxed, while serious, diferent than that normally see.

    You were perfect, very safe and quiet (even if only in our eyes because interview the President must give a cold in the belly).

    I think your routine should be done in much sweat, study, dedication, and discipline. But worth it!

    Your work is admirable!

    February 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  30. michele redwood

    Anderson,

    That was a brilliant interview with President Obama. You should do this more often because yours was the best of ALL the five.

    And please, see if you can get your colleague DANA BASH, to start referring to the President as such. It should be President Obama or Mr President...

    Cheers.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  31. Dee

    Anderson you are the best. A President that admits he made a mistake !!! The quality of a good man/President that admits when he is wrong, Lord help him and US thru this mess. United we stand and divided we fall.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:16 pm |
  32. gwen

    to James on Feb 3rd commenting on Pres. Obama keeping the temperature too warm when asking us to conserve: The temperature is too warm because of the camera lights and keeping them on for 5 interviews – which hasn't happened in the white house for a while... but if that is the worst critisizm you can come up with, I think the "Democrat" in the white house is doing just fine.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  33. Quiana

    Good job Anderson!

    I saw the clips from 360 last night and just finished watching the full interview. As always you and President Obama were on point which made the entire interview very informative. I also like the personal questions at the end...very cool!

    I'll see you tonight on 360. Keep up the excellent work.

    Q.

    February 4, 2009 at 1:05 pm |
  34. Jill

    Hi Anderson,

    Good interview. I liked the overall mood of general, straightforward conversation. I think you learn much more about a person when you allow them to speak when they are at ease. I really liked this conversational interview.

    There might be one explaination of why you were allowed an interview with President Obama. He owes much of his political success to the young demographic which is your audience. So, if he wants to continue to use public support to put pressure on congress, then appearing on your show would give him some political leverage. It would be interesting to see if you would get such an interview when that political leverage was not needed. Perhaps that is being overly suspicious of me, but we are afterall dealing with a superb politician. My hope is that he just plain felt like talking!

    Maybe he keeps his office warm because he is undiagnosed with low thyroid, that would make him feel cold all the time! That might be why he is so calm too!

    February 4, 2009 at 1:03 pm |
  35. Huntrev

    Hi Anderson,

    I wish you would of mentiones to the President yesterday during your interview that perhaps he needs to have every member of the House, Senate,and Congress audited. I bet the trillion dollars that we need to stimulate this economy will be paid for!

    Best,

    Huntrev
    MI

    February 4, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  36. EJ (USA)

    What kind of deodorant do you wear Anderson? And did it hold up for your interview with the President yesterday?

    February 4, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  37. William Arvance

    As a completely heterosexual male, and not in the Ted Haggart sense, I love you and your ability to penetrate respectively such a high profile interviewee as our very own Pres. Kudos! I'm constantly impressed by our president's candor and attempts to fulfill his promises with integrity. Like you and our president, I am seeing a growing number of people in the main stream media 'keeping them honest' and being more honest. Good man!

    February 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
  38. Dee from CT

    Great interview – well executed and obviously well thought out. It was refreshing to see Anderson thank all the behind the scenes people who helped make this happen, and great to see a different President come through. I liked the lightening round, it made it all seem more amenable ... Ten minutes is obviously not long enough, but Anderson you made the most you could with it and the result was very noteworthy. Two smart men interacting with each other, exactly how it should be.

    Moments like this, is what keeps me tuning in time and again.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
  39. Michelle Johnson, Lomita, CA

    Hi Anderson, Since you only had ten minutes, it would've been great if you had ditched all the questions, and just had a chat with the president from your heart, you know, forgetting you're a news guy. He is such a genuinely kind, affable person, and it looked like you were grilling him, maybe because you were so obviously nervous. He might've put you at ease if you weren't racing along in that CNN hardball style–never seems that's who you really are at all. Anyway, I enjoyed the interview; you are two of my favorite, and beautiful men.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  40. Danijela,BiH

    Hi Anderson,

    great interview!But what I like best is your observation about his nails.)))It is not often to get more informal picture of some event like interview with President. I like it very much!!! Can you tell me when we in Europe can watch it?

    All the best

    Danijela

    February 4, 2009 at 11:09 am |
  41. Anthony J Norris

    Hi Mr. Anderson Cooper and Producers,

    I admire your reporting techniques you always appear to be in the moment and present with the interview very conversational. Thanks!

    I am a big enthusiast of your show and the President in fact after posting your interview link on facebook the comment says, “Two people I'd love to have over for dinner"

    I went to the gym last night a little later just so I could spend my cool down time on the treadmill watching the interview. I understand you only have 10 minutes to talk, but I found myself wanting more continuous interview time and less production.

    I enjoyed watching the interview, but it comes off as if this man is still on the campaign trail. When do the media concede with the trial for office and proceed with respecting the President of the United States of America. Slow it down some. I understand it is CNN, which I love and watch faithfully. It is just that sometimes it moves like a game show rapid fire with no time to digest its content or sincerity; sure, you will blast it 20 more time in the next 5 minutes, programming the viewers mind to think he makes split second decisions. Lets be real he is not making split second decisions, yet the production of the interview plugs him like a minute man. Please producers a little respect for the President of the United States of America.

    Lots of Love,
    Anthony J Norris
    ajnorris2@gmail.com

    February 4, 2009 at 10:45 am |
  42. Michelle D. Fonthill,Ont

    Great job Anderson i really enjoyed your style of questiuoning . It seemed far more personable than other stogy interviewers . You are the best !

    February 4, 2009 at 10:45 am |
  43. MPalalay (California)

    My two brainy hunks in one room...WOW!

    While watching the interview, I was trying to figure out why you looked different. Could it be the lighting? Change of make-up artist? HD TV? Perhaps the heat from all the spot lights? OHHH, it's the heat at the Oval Office! Funny how Pres. Obama still looked his usual cool, calm, collected, and concise self in spite of the 10-minute ticking limit to your session with him. And I thought you were sweating from the pressure! LOL!

    Anyway, AC, I truly enjoyed watching your first interview with the president. For some reason, I feel very instinctively good about him. There is really something there...

    February 4, 2009 at 10:43 am |
  44. Anna, HK

    Hi Anderson,

    Caught bits of your interview with President Obama throughout the day. Good interview but enjoyed the lighthearted end the most. Always interesting enjoyable viewing.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:12 am |
  45. platinum

    keep up the good work president obama. the american people need to hear you speak as often as possible. i see more negative media reporting than positive and your appearances, the q&a’s with ac and others is reassuring even in the face of the negative tone of certain factions of the press.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:11 am |
  46. platinum

    keep up the good work president obama. the american people need to hear you speak as often as possible. i see more negative media reporting than positive and your appearances, the q&a's with ac and others is reassuring even in the face of the negative tone of certain factions of the press. i could use a job also.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  47. Tonisha a.k.a. momafortune

    We are about to witness the dawning of a New Age. Together we will bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. My prophecies are being fulfilled. President Obama is called by God to unite this Earth as One people. Get ready for the changes to come, for I have seen the End of this story book of life.

    Tonisha
    momafortune

    February 4, 2009 at 9:57 am |
  48. arlene Hayles

    Hi Anderson,
    Great interview and honest to the core. I think you are great journalist which shows your empathy to human side of a man who the people elect has a president. We are all praying for President Obama and Congress.

    Thanks for a sincere interview.

    February 4, 2009 at 9:52 am |
  49. dwimbush atlanta

    The best times of our lives are ahead of us as Americans. We have finally learn to save and not spend every penny we make. No matter how much money you give to the banks. I would not borrow a cent from them. For the most part , you can get a better interest rate from the Mob. The money would be better spend by giving the American taxpayer a cash gift say about $10,000. then you would see some immediate simulation of the economy. The President is already doi ng some very important- he's being honest with the people.

    February 4, 2009 at 8:31 am |
  50. Pamina

    Hi Anderson,
    What a great interview! It's nice to have a President who admits mistakes and takes responsibility. He was remarkably candid. I hope you get a chance to interview him again. Good job!

    February 4, 2009 at 8:02 am |
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