CNN Chief National Correspondent
It looks – and sounds – so different from the last time a president took this stage.
That president, of course, was George W. Bush. Over his shoulder sat Nancy Pelosi and Dick Cheney.
This time, it is Barack Obama. Pelosi remains, but she sure looks happier. And Joe Biden is in the chair reserved for the President of the Senate – one of the official duties of the vice president of the United States.
Last year, one of the big dramas on the House floor was the obvious coolness between then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clnton. This year, Secretary of State Clinton was introduced with the Obama Cabinet, and exchanged a kiss with her former rival as he made his way into the chamber, as president, for this first speech to a joint session of Congress.
Different from a policy perspective, too. After 9/11, the war on terror dominated any Bush speech to Congress. The economy was the overwhelming focus of this first speech by President Obama – technically not a State of the Union Address.
We are still learning much about the governing and leadership style of Mr. Obama, and in the speech there is a telling glimpse at his domestic policy strategy. He knows he has support at the moment for his efforts to revive the economy. And so he made a calculated choice in this speech to list two policy areas on which predecessors failed to make serious progress – health care and energy – and to tie them to the nation's urgent economic challenge.
By tying these challenges to the urgent economic crisis, Mr. Obama hopes to transfer to those debates the public support he maintains, at least at the moment, for his economic agenda.
Already, even some allies are wondering if the president is trying to do too much at once. He is well aware of that danger, but has come to the conclusion that waiting is a more risky strategy.
What do you think of Pres. Obama's address to the joint session of Congress? This is where you can share your thoughts on the speech and the GOP rebuttal by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Just scroll down and post your comments to "chat" with Anderson and Erica during the program.
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CNN Chief National Correspondent
When the waiter reached for the plate, President Obama shook his head and smiled as he asked for a few more minutes. He had been talking to his guests, and had barely taken a bite of his lunch.
The new president was keeping with a longstanding tradition on days when the commander in chief delivers an address to a joint session of Congress: Around the table Tuesday sat television anchors and the Sunday morning interview program hosts and two senior aides. The location was the dining room in the White House residence.
Program Note: Tune in to watch the full speech and hear expert analysis tonight on AC360°.
CNN Senior White House Correspondent
President Obama apparently buys into that old slogan about never letting 'em see you sweat.
Despite the pressure of his first speech to a joint session of Congress at a time of national crisis, two senior aides tell me the President quietly had only one full dress rehearsal with a teleprompter at about 6pm ET in the White House's historic map room.
The significance is that predecessors like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush used to go through at least a few - maybe even several depending on the situation - dress rehearsals for a speech like this to get it just right. Just one session suggests a man feeling pretty confident despite the intensity of the crisis.
As one senior aide told me, "This moment in time needs clarity and a sense of purpose."
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/19/art.dennisross.jpg caption="Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert receives the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute's report from Dennis Ross on January 6, 2008 in Jerusalem."]
CNN State Department Producer
On his second full day in office, President Barack Obama made a grand State Department speech to announce Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell as special envoys for South Asia and the Mideast, respectively. Even Todd Stern, Secretary of State Clinton's new envoy for climate change, got a Ben Franklin room ceremony.
But on Monday night, while many Americans were watching the Bachelor talk about his 23 'rejects,' the State Department finally rolled-out its long anticipated announcement about Dennis Ross' new role at the State Department dealing with Iran.
But Iran wasn't mentioned once in the 235-word memo.
Ross will be the Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for the Gulf and Southwest Asia. As we reported last week on this blog, Clinton's aides felt calling Ross a full-fledged "envoy" would set expectations too high for the first US engagement with Iran in 3 decades, and so his official title was left deliberately vague.
Last night, after the announcement, officials joked that any cartographer worth his salt knows Iran sits directly at the crossroads of Southwest Asia and the Gulf. The exchange below illustrates how far the State Department is stretching itself, some might say in ways reminiscent of Mongolian contortionists, to be as vague about Ross' mission as humanly possible.
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Senior White House Correspondent
In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama is planning to strike a more optimistic tone than he has in recent days by laying out a "game plan" to beat the financial crisis, according to a senior White House official.
The senior official said there will only be a light touch on foreign policy, with mentions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other threats around the world. Instead the speech will be dominated by four big issues that all relate to the President's broader economic message: financial stability and responsibility, education, energy independence and health care reform.
President Obama, Facebook and you
We're trying something new tonight, and I think you'll like it. We want to see what some of the 175 million Facebook users around the world think about President Obama's speech to a Joint Session of Congress tonight.
So we'll be posting questions on Facebook during the speech, and then we'll share the results in our two-hour edition of AC360 right after the President’s remarks. The questions will refer to specific issues raised during the President’s speech, and your answers will help us take the pulse of how the President did tonite.
We've never done this before, neither has Facebook - no one has. So, for us, this will be an exciting experiment.
What do you think we should ask? Post a comment below and let us know. You can check out the questions later tonite, during the speech on Facebook, and we’ll have the answers for you tonight on AC360 at 10PM ET.
See you then..
CNN Special Investigations Unit
On the same day the President called on the government to undergo fiscal restraint, Congress unveiled a bill revealing where all those earmarks have been hiding.
The pork-laden omnibus catch-all, held over from last year, contains no less than 8,570 earmarks. The pork projects are still being deciphered by various watchdog groups, and republicans are railing at the fact that the congressional leadership seems to have violated its transparency rules by jamming these all in a last minute bill, but a quick view has me scratching my head in disbelief at both parties.
After two years of criticism aimed at pork barrel spending, the defiant members of Congress are unabashedly asking for more. Republicans and democrats alike are looking for taxpayer dollars for projects no one could call necessary.