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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. 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 11:31 pm |
  2. Gigi Glen Ellyn Illinois

    Dick Cheney has not been right in 8 years.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:30 pm |
  3. AK

    How is it that IBM can have a 16,000 employee layoff here in the US and it never make the news? Yep – IBM cut 16,000 jobs the week of January 19th and there has been nothing said. Mary Kay cuts 700 jobs and it is all over the news...IBM cuts 16,000 and no one hears about it?

    February 4, 2009 at 11:29 pm |
  4. Gigi Glen Ellyn Illinois

    Dick Cheney is cuckoo!

    February 4, 2009 at 11:27 pm |
  5. senegalese-girl, Pa

    I wished i was a journalist for a day just to be able to sit down and interview such a great man. Pres. Obama is respected and loved worldwide because he is wise enough to know that all great relationships are based on mutual respect and trust. Diplomacy is an art and he sures masters it.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  6. Colette

    I think limiting the compensation that people are paid when their companies have had to come to us (since it is our money that is being used) is appropriate. All this talk about losing "top talent" seems ludicrous. If they were such "top talent" then why would their companies need the bail outs? They can't blame everything on the economy when many of their institutions were considered the foundations of the economy. Let them get off their corporate jets and stand in the unemployment line with many of their former employees.

    We are lucky in that both my husband and I work full time. We had to so we could send our children to college, make house payments, buy groceries, etc. It is time that the people making millions of dollars get in touch with the reality of where our economy and country really is!

    February 4, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  7. James Beaudette

    Mr. Cooper,
    What planet do you live on? Do you really think that people making less then $20,000,000.00 and more a year can't manage major Wall Street Corporations. We know the executives making $20,000,000.00 and more can't so why not give the low income guy's a chance!

    February 4, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  8. Glenda

    Anderson is the best evening show. He is balanced, objective and neutral in his commentaries and stories.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:22 pm |
  9. CMYERS

    Some of Obama appointments are like putting a fox to guard the hen house. It is hard to believe there is so much dishonesty in Washington. My mom always said money is the root of all evil.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:21 pm |
  10. Glenda

    Republican policies have NOT worked? Where are all the jobs we should have from all the tax cuts Bush gave the 'wealth creators'? We need to try something new. I'll support the President over the reps anyday at this point. It does not matter if mortgage rates are 0% if we have no jobs.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:17 pm |
  11. AlexCalifornia

    There are two 2 things that were awe inspiring during your interview and one surprising. The two inspiring things are: one, how relaxed and flawless was President Obama. Two, he admitted mistake candidly. How often do you see that? Only great men are able to see error, admit it and promise not to do it again. Did you ever see President Bush do that? Not in your life time !
    The surprising thing was how direct was Mr. Cooper, right to the heart.

    February 4, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  12. Ernie

    Anderson, do us all a favor and take Allen/Ali out to pick up at least two new suits. The same old black/blue pin stripe vested suit is being worn a bit too often and needs a rest. He is a great presenter, the suit needs a rest. He can alternate in each week. whew...

    February 4, 2009 at 11:12 pm |
  13. TJG

    Why do the CEOes of the companies that received bailout money remind me of the Emperor with no clothes?

    February 4, 2009 at 11:05 pm |
  14. Gary

    Anderson: I noticed that you did not ask one question posed by any of the 360 bloggers. Why?

    February 4, 2009 at 11:03 pm |
  15. Miriam C

    Moreover if you reduce the CEO salary suddenly, who is going to pay for the remaining cost of the home? Unless you guys are planning to buy them from foreclosure !!!!

    February 4, 2009 at 10:59 pm |
  16. deborah s., oh

    Congrats on a great interview with the President. Your techniques are the essence of you, & keeps the conversation moving naturally. I truly believe you find out more the way you approach people.

    Anyhow, you are the way you are, & that's why we watch you. Again, you did a good job you should be proud of – !

    February 4, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  17. Brian M. Biggs

    Hi Anderson,

    Like many others I congratulate you and CNN for last night's interview with President Obama. I found it so refreshing to to hear a president talk in such frank and articulate terms. I thought you did an excellent job orchestrating the interview with tough questions up front and ending on a lighter ("fun") note (puppy and cigarettes). Keep up the good work. Brian

    February 4, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  18. Angela Durchholz

    I am ecouraged by the decisiveness and swiftness with which President Obama has performed. He has kept his word on health care for children, the furthering of education, and he has courageously put the greed amongst us into its' place. I will continue to follow the developments closely.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  19. Jim

    How about 'Joe the Plumber' on the GOP ticket with Sarah Palin in 2012 – is that a dream ticket or WHAT? Let's all move on.....

    February 4, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  20. gary / oklahoma

    It became apperent today that when the president put the squeeze
    on the ceo's hip pocket the screaming started in ernest. It stand's to reason that a man should be paid for his performance at his job. but
    not for a job underperformed

    February 4, 2009 at 10:37 pm |
  21. Janice Brown

    isn't it amazing how much Dick Cheney in his wheelchair resembles Lionel Barrymore in "Its A Wonderful Life" – Check it out. Both hated, dishonest men –

    February 4, 2009 at 10:35 pm |
  22. Miriam C

    I dont know whether we need to say 'terrorist' going forward – all of us are terrorist as home !!! If you ask the kids they are sure the say they have the worst nightmarish parents at home !!!! Neither do we want to say we can sweet talk anyone, Anderson. I am sure we can break the ice – I dont think there is a 'terrorist' in this world? Nobody is born a terrorist, nor a democrat , nor a republican. I guess situation has made them so – some where the communication link fell – The only way to resolve these issues is to talk to the boss – the leader of the team !!!! Just like how we have team-leads and CEO, we need to talk to the leader of these packs of wolves !!!!
    Do you remember the days when our parents represented us for school punishment !

    February 4, 2009 at 10:34 pm |
  23. craig

    Hi Anderson here is my question what top talent is the fat cats on wall street and all these other companies talking about is this the top talent that did such a poor job that they ran these companies into the ground and they expect a bonus and big perks,someone needs to have guts to hand them a broom and dust pan so they can sweep up the huge mess they have made,2nd question why was all this tarp money given out like candy at a fair with out a single question asked no audits of the cooked books,and yet the people at the top keep there cushy jobs,the President should send them all to jail for a long time and not club fed,i watch your show every night but i am so mad i could screem the level of greed and coruption like we have never seen how much is enough

    February 4, 2009 at 10:32 pm |
  24. Miriam Sukanya

    Bonus – Will it suffice if we say –
    1. A percentage for mangerial cadres and CEO's.
    2. If it is a team work and there is money that has been saved by reducing consulting work, can that be divided between the team? Sometimes it might be too much , otherwise there really maynot be anything to split. But, that will be a nice way to keep employees satisfied. If the amount is too much, they can always roll it over to the next year budget.
    3. Laidoff, can we say we will be happy if we get twice the salary with the same procedure – for CEO's it can be twice and for the rest of us there has to be atleast minimum 3 months salary with medical.
    4. Laidoff – Minimum 4 hours to pack and leave on a worst scenario. Atleast 2 weeks notice and I dont understand why the HR can help the person find a job. But most definitely a minimum of 4 hours to pack !

    February 4, 2009 at 10:29 pm |
  25. cmsns

    Interviews like yours open Obama up for much criticism, but on second reading reveal great courage......to take such strong leadership on a very controversial bill that can easily fail.......is risking a lot. It is refreshing and I hope CNN will reflect such risk in kind, not daily obsessing about trivia and scandal, but encouraging and exploring new ideas and ways of doing things that will move this country forward again.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:25 pm |
  26. Philoan Tran - Houston

    Anderson – saw your interview of President Obama yesterday; it was good! There was a level of comfort and humor between interviewer and interviewee which makes for a better flow of answers. It makes viewers feel as if we were there with you. It takes a big man to admit that he has made a mistake!

    You won't loose any sleep on not being on Bush's list of favorite reporters.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  27. lila

    Humble people are low on arrogance, but high on true confidence. When you are comfortable in your own shoes, it's easier to compromise, stay strong when you need to, and there's absolutely no reason to disrespect or degrade others.

    Catholic texts view humility as annexed to the cardinal virtue of temperance.

    If Obama has one virtue that is noticed by all it is his temperance.

    Anderson and Gergen both seem to share a fair amount of temperance and grace themselves. They both have other individualistic strengths as well.. but sharing a virtue, in healthy amount with Obama leads to a nice chemistry. Anderson and Obama do very well together. Honest and friendly but still cleanly professional. And Gergen seems to be able to get a good read on Obama and give great insights.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  28. Gopinath Srinivasan

    I agree with salary cap for CEOs and top executives. The difference between the current salary of these executives and salary cap can be used to run payroll for those employees, who are on layoff lists. This may result in :

    1. lower unemplyment numbers
    2. more people on jobs
    3. consumer confidence
    4. consumer spending increase
    5. more & more

    February 4, 2009 at 10:22 pm |
  29. Al Roman

    Anderson; Dare to Post this.... Why don't you keep yourself honest first and take your camera crew to Gaza and see the real Holocaust? It is so hypocritical to ask others to be honest. Go and witness how 1.5 million people live under embargo (air, land, sea even underground!) for 2 years with no way of getting their food and water only through tunnels and daily killings by Israel! On top of all that they are accused of smuggling to survive or even to defend themselves against the F16’s and phosphor and depleted uranium bombs. Let’s be honest first and show America what we are doing with our tax money before we make 1000 of Bin Ladens. Take a chance; you don’t seem that person who cares about money or losing a job, just be honest first before you demand it from others. Peace for all man.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:21 pm |
  30. David

    I think what the problem we have here is that many of our leaders fail to realize that the average person had depleted most financial means. remember that we are the little man. At this point in the history of this country we need government to create opportunity. This will allow us to stand again.

    David

    February 4, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  31. Britt Sloan

    I would like to ask why it is that CNN and other news outlets are saying the Wells Fargo Las Vegas trip should not happen. the larg portion of the employees make well under 30,000 a year as low as 24,000. this is part of team members pay to have events simular to these. Today CNN was bragging that they made Wells Fargo cancel thier plans. What happened was a years worth of work was ripped out of the hands of alot of "little guyes" Why doesn't CNN and other news reporters investigate more before they report untrue things. in addition remember wells fago did not ask for or want the govt money. how then can they be done this way? Wells Fargo has been paying large returns to the tax payer on the money the Govt forced on Wells fargo

    February 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  32. Terry

    President Obama, has reached out to the republicans alot more than
    they would have done for the Democrats, had they won. Now it
    is time for President Obama, to take charge and follow his agenda.
    and lead. The republicans need to do there job and shut up for
    awhile. I am tired of hearing from them, beause they do nothing but
    complain. The republicans, got us in a mess that trial and error
    will get us out of. President Obama, has had 17 days and has done more than the republicans done in the last eight years. We will remain safe if our intelligence gives the US the correct information.
    We have a President that dosn't hide in the white house and takes
    responsibility for his actions. I wish the stimulas could be perfect
    but, i haven't seen anything perfect for years.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  33. fred from alberta

    anderson:: why is the CEO wage cap not recomanded back to the first 350billion package, those CEOs need to be pealized for their stealing of the tax payers money...

    maybe you can push this on AC360

    February 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm |
  34. Miriam Sukanya

    So, even CEO's will be able to afford only reasonable cost homes, so I am worried about the rest of hierarchy ? A normal upper-middle class can afford a 350K dollar home in the current salary range. So, does this mean the upper-middle class people will be able to buy only around 200K. I think 5 million sounds a max for all career oriented lines – as you gain experience your income is going to increase. We can leave entertainment/sports sector out of this as of now. But 500K doesnt make much of sense when we will gain experience as years pass by.

    February 4, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  35. Miriam Sukanya

    Is this cap going into effect for the next set of recruits as CEO? They already might have committments though they are earning quiet a good take home pay. Does this mean all over there will be a slash in salary. If the CEO is given 500K as salary then the homes they are going to buy is also going to reduce – does this mean there will be a change in the cost of living? If the CEO is going to get 500K, what about the VP and especially for IT industry developers?

    February 4, 2009 at 10:12 pm |
  36. David Gergen

    Hello everyone - So, is the President doing the right thing to limit the salaries of top executives at companies that get future government bailouts? And do you think he is on the right track with the stimulus plan?

    February 4, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  37. Ben

    This isn't what I wanted for when I voted for Obama. I don't want wasteful spending, wage setting, unionized nation, edging towards socialism. I wanted a tune-up, not an overhaul!

    February 4, 2009 at 10:03 pm |
  38. Britt Sloan

    Anderson, I would like to ask why it is that CNN and other news outlets are saying the Wells Fargo Las Vegas trip should not happen. the larg portion of the employees make well under 30,000 a year as low as 24,000. this is part of team members pay to have events simular to these. Today CNN was bragging that they made Wells Fargo cancel thier plans. What happened was a years worth of work was ripped out of the hands of alot of "little guyes" Why doesn't CNN and other news reporters investigate more before they report untrue things. in addition remember wells fago did not ask for or want the govt money. how then can they be done this way? Wells Fargo has been paying large returns to the tax payer on the money the Govt forced on Wells.

    February 4, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  39. Cessy, Chicago

    Good evening, everyone! Hi Anderson. It's refreshing to see you in a different suit! Since Erica always put you on the spot, why not ask her to dance (single ladies!) on the show and make her the " 360 Shot?"

    February 4, 2009 at 9:52 pm |
  40. Sarah in FL

    awesome interview. But ten minutes? wow. hardly enough time.

    February 4, 2009 at 9:50 pm |
  41. Mrs. Carolyn R. Solomon

    Hello, Ms. Amy Holmes-

    It would be deeply appreciated if you would be respectfull and refer to our new president as, "President Obama or President Barrack Obama" This level of courtesy is well deserved ,and we must lead the way in showing respect.

    I watch CNN each evening.

    Thanks,

    CSolomon

    February 4, 2009 at 9:49 pm |
  42. Carmen, Wisconsin

    Well! Well! Well!
    Honestly, I firmly believe that President Obama WANTS and IS doing the best he can to build the best team to help him lead this great country, so if something goes wrong like some nominations not turning out to be the best due to tax problems for example, I'm glad are resolved sooner rather than later, so well done anyways....

    What is keeping me thinking a lot is that we have seen more than one nomination resulting not the best because of TAX problems, and I can't help but think.....are there anymore BIG people out there with same little troubles????...is the IRS as tough as we suppously believe they are??? ....are more AUDITS in order????

    February 4, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  43. Cessy, Chicago

    I wish Anderson asked the President who is a big believer in public school education decided to send their children to a private school while in Chicago, then to Sidwell...another private school?

    February 4, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  44. Rikki, Fargo, ND

    That was an incredible interview Anderson...I think I feel a little twinge of jealousy for anyone who gets to enter the Oval Office! I'm sure it was amazing! Was this your first time in the President's office?...and I have to admit its that I'm not sure you missed much not interviewing President Bush...Congrats Coop!

    @Ashley, Anderson's book really is wonderful! I'm actually working through it for a 2nd time, I always like to read books more than once cuz you always miss something the first time through. Good luck with your interview!

    February 4, 2009 at 9:39 pm |
  45. http://TOPENTREPRENEUR.NET

    Bad wishes are not longer than that if he don't alow it to happend, he got the eyes of the world over him, if not "if the does right or wrong" everybody must wait for a change, a way it should be.

    February 4, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  46. Habtamu

    AC,

    I need an answer to this important question. I am very close to purchasing a property (townhouse, primary residence) but I don't want to miss out on any stimulus help in the form of lower interest rates or tax breaks. What are congress and the Obama administration doing to make sure those of us that are in the process of purchasing don't stop the process due to fear of missing out?

    I realize that the tax break ($7,500 or $15,000) is applicable to 2009 returns but I'm not sure about the govt backed 4% fixed rate that was being proposed. I think many people would like to know the answer to this because, while all the bickering is going on in Washington on whether the package should cost $1 trillion or $800 billion, more and more consumers even those of us that are ready to purchase are getting nervous.

    Thanks much
    Habtamu
    Seattle, WA

    February 4, 2009 at 9:37 pm |
  47. Lori from IL

    Anderson –

    Forgot to ask in my earlier post - did you get to see President Obama's new Blackberry?

    February 4, 2009 at 9:36 pm |
  48. roxi bateman

    Hello Anderson Cooper,

    President Obama looks back at historical events that helped the American people in times of crisis. What about the bonds that helped so much during wartime? Whenever there is a national disaster, many people step up and a higher order seems to take over. Maybe President Obama would sleep better, if he implemented a new "American Pie" sort of savings contribution/bond. If Americans had the opportunity to invest a small amount each month toward a bond (and donate a small fraction to the national deficit), it seems it would be a win win situation. The government would have money coming in- with time limits for the bonds to mature and a percentage as a fee to be donated/contributed. People, even the small guy, would have a sense of building toward a better future. I am living on a limited income, I would welcome the opportunity to save or invest , without having to put down a huge sum upfront., especially if it benefited my children. Heck, the government could even offer extra tax write-offs or maybe even matching funds after a substantial amount is saved. It seems everyone mentions spending, and I haven't heard anything about saving. We need to start somewhere- "brick by brick, my dear Romans".

    February 4, 2009 at 9:34 pm |
  49. Megan Dresslar - Shoreline, WA

    Anne Thomas........
    Yes, We can rebroadcast to watch Anderson and Pres. Obama for interview coming up soon.....

    February 4, 2009 at 9:31 pm |
  50. Sal

    Mr. Cooper, I'm surprised. You seemed a little nervous and weren't as tough as FOX was on Obama. You weren't yourself. It was like...your weight belt fell off again.

    February 4, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
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