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THE SITUATION ROOM
Barack Obama Prepares to Become 44th President
Aired January 19, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up this hour, it's -- something extraordinary is going to be happening. The president-elect is going to be participating in a dinner honoring, among others, his rival for the presidency, John McCain. We are going to have coverage of that. Stand by for that.
And we are also learning that this inauguration will not only be the largest ever. It will probably be the most expensive as well.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Less than 18 hours now before Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States. We're watching every step of the way. There are activities going on this hour and in the hours to come. Don't leave CNN. We have got it all covered. You will see everything from an excellent vantage point.
Gloria Borger is here watching all of this, as is Don Lemon. We're happy to have both of you stand by.
But Elaine Quijano, she is down there on the National Mall right now.
What a day it has been, this day before the inauguration, Elaine.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And president-elect Barack Obama actually began the day with a private visit to wounded troops at Walter Reed. But then riding the momentum heading into Inauguration Day, the president-elect quickly turned the focus to serving the nation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome president-elect Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
QUIJANO (voice-over): President-elect Barack Obama said Americans will have to roll up their sleeves to improve the state of the union.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Given the crisis that we're in and the hardships that so many people are going through, we can't allow any idle hands. Don't want to drip it.
QUIJANO: The president-elect and his team choreographed a day filled with images designed to drive home that message, Mr. Obama painting at a shelter for homeless teens, vice president-elect Joe Biden working on a Habitat for Humanity project, and their spouses, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, putting together care packages for the troops.
OBAMA: On a day where we remember not just a dreamer, but a doer.
QUIJANO: But it was also a day to pay tribute through volunteer work to the legacy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're volunteering and we're making blankets. We're sending video messages to the troops.
QUIJANO: At a community service event in Washington, 9-year-old volunteer Amani Haskell (ph) met the president-elect. Amani (ph) explained what the inauguration will mean to him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes me feel different, more full, more full of myself now. I can do more things.
QUIJANO: So, the president-elect's overall message, that, while he is committed to improving government, government alone cannot fix things, the president-elect looking to capitalize on the energy of the crowds who have gathered in our nation's capital, trying to drive that something home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, you can feel the energy in Washington, D.C., indeed around the country. Elaine, thanks very much.
Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill getting ready for the inauguration. But, this hour, Dana, there is going to be something extraordinary. On the evening before the inauguration of the next president of the United States, Barack Obama will be honoring his rival, among others, John McCain. What is going on?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is extraordinary. And it's not something I can remember ever happening before. And, you know, the fact that Barack Obama has decided to attend this dinner honoring John McCain I think speaks to the fact that both of them are determined at least at this stage to put their money where their mouth is, in terms of getting the election behind them and working forward and working on issues together.
And from the perspective of John McCain, I obviously covered him in the campaign, but I have been following him around the Senate over the past several weeks, since Congress has been in session, and he has really not said a word.
He politely declines to say much more than a hello when you try to ask him a question in the hallway. But I am told that that is likely to change very soon, and that he is really moving to sit on some important and probably a high number of key committees, so he can deal with some of the issues that are going to be facing Barack Obama.
For example, he is pushing to get on potentially the Energy Committee, so he can work on something that they actually agree on, which is climate change. But, also, I'm told that he is probably going to be on the Health Committee. Why? So that he can work with the Democrat Ted Kennedy potentially on health care reform compromise.
That is very interesting, since one of the most stark differences between John McCain and Barack Obama during the campaign was their prescription for health care reform. So, those are just some examples, I am told, from sources close to John McCain that he is working towards.
So, we haven't heard a lot at all from Senator McCain over the past several weeks, but probably that is going to change in the near future -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He's still going to have a significant role in the United States Senate. And I assume he is going to be working closely at least on some of these issues that you point out with Barack Obama.
We will stand by to hear exactly what Barack Obama's about to say. We are going to watch and listen.
Gloria Borger, do you remember a time when the about-to-be president sat down the night before with the rival going into the presidential contest?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. No. In fact, I was thinking back to George W. Bush and John Kerry. And George W. Bush didn't meet with John Kerry until he actually had to as a result of legislation or something occurring at the White House or in the Senate. So, this is...
BLITZER: And certainly he didn't meet with Al Gore after the contentious battle in 2000.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: But there's something to be said about what the Reverend Al Sharpton said when those Republicans showing up at his meeting. George Bush helping out Barack Obama has been very instrumental in the transition and then tonight the two rivals...
BLITZER: And it fits, Don, in with what Barack Obama has been doing over these past few days. He went out there to George Will, a conservative columnist. He went to his house, had dinner with him and some other conservative commentators.
BLITZER: He's reaching out. He's trying, Gloria, to do the best he can to see if there's an opportunity to work together. BORGER: He is. You know, in many ways, Wolf, John McCain can become a great ally to this president, because, on an issue, for example, like immigration reform, where they may actually agree more than they disagree.
But don't forget, also, John McCain disagrees with lots of folks in the Republican Party. And as the Republican Party now searches for a new leader, the question is, will it head in the John McCain direction or will he become the outlier and will there be a whole new generation of Republicans that are even more conservative than John McCain, who don't want to work with Barack Obama? We are going to have to see. And McCain may well be the fault line here.
LEMON: And there's that question that's out there, whether or not John McCain might become an adviser to Barack Obama. And if that happens, that will certainly be even more interesting than what's going on, what's happening tonight.
BLITZER: When I interviewed him just a few days before the election, John McCain was absolutely clear that, if Barack Obama wins, he would be more than happy to help him in any way he possibly can.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Barack Obama hosting the party of a lifetime and it seems there's no penny-pinching going on, in spite of our recession.
Estimates are -- pay attention, boys and girls -- estimates are the total cost for Obama's inauguration could reach $160 million. Obama's raised an estimated $41 million to help cover the costs of the things like the train ride from Philadelphia to Washington on Saturday and that star-studded concert with U2 and Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen and others yesterday.
There is also the actual swearing-in ceremony tomorrow. That's pretty cheap by comparison, about $1.25 million for that. There are 10 official inaugural balls, not to mention the cost of all the security, and, of course, those 5,000 port-a-potties.
Four years ago, Democrats warned President Bush about an extravagant inauguration, calling it inappropriate during a time of war. Well, now it's four years later. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. The unemployment rate is the worst since 1945, consumer confidence down, stock market down, companies announcing daily they're laying off people, closing stores or going out of business altogether, but not a peep out of the Democrats about the costs of Obama's inauguration. See, he's one of theirs.
And if you want to lose your appetite for dinner, consider this. The biggest donors for the inaugural festivities? The recently bailed out Wall Streeters. Is this a great country, or what?
Here's the question: In light of the sour economy, does an extravagant inauguration celebration send the wrong message? Go to the address on your screen. There's sirens somewhere. I hear them.
BLITZER: All right, thanks, Jack, very much. Stand by. We are going to follow up on that. We are also going to have more on the cost of this inauguration of Barack Obama -- the celebratory moment continuing here in the nation's capital.
Earlier today, just a little while ago, the Bidens -- we're talking about Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden -- they let something slip out that presumably they didn't necessarily want to be known by all of us. We are going to share that moment with you when we continue our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We're covering the inauguration of Barack Obama.
I want to go right down to the National Mall, where lots of people have gathered. They just want to watch and listen.
Chris Lawrence is there for us.
Chris, you're talking to some of these folks. What are they saying?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it is just amazing. These are folks who don't necessarily have tickets to the big fancy balls or are going to be sitting close to the president- elect. But they just want to be part of it.
Shalon (ph) here is a seventh-grader from Atlanta. He just got here from Atlanta.
What has it been like to walk around and see all these people out here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's been amazing. I really liked it.
I have seen the Capitol and I have seen -- I'm going to see the other stuff, the events and everything. And I'm standing here taking pictures at the White House. It's just amazing to me.
LAWRENCE: Yes, just amazing, yes.
That's the feeling we have been getting all over.
Jessica, you came all the way from Chicago. What has it been like to see the people from all over the country and even all over the world come out here with you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, it's just awe-inspiring that such a man has instilled in us a desire to come here to support him and just to take part of his victory. Like he says, we are one. And this is our time. So, we all came to show America this is sure our time.
LAWRENCE: All right, thanks so much.
Again, Wolf, fancy tickets to the big ball sitting up close near the presidential viewing stand, none of that matters. People just want to be out here rubbing shoulders with each other, really feeling like they're a part of something even bigger than themselves -- back to you.
BLITZER: All right, thanks, Chris. We can't blame them. It's pretty exciting for so many folks.
Brian Todd is down there as well, and he's taking a closer look at how much this is all going to cost.
What are you picking up, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, to get a scope of this, just take a look at the broad expanse of the Mall behind me. Tens of thousands of people are here. They have been here all day. You have seen them.
From managing this crowd to the security to all the services provided, it's costing a lot of money. And this year, the costs are breaking all sorts of records.
TODD (voice-over): The concerts, the crowds, the swearing-in, the security, all will likely hit historic marks on Tuesday, and they add up to one other piece of history, likely the most expensive inauguration ever.
Just look at how many millions the local governments in Washington, Maryland and Virginia say they're spending.
ADRIAN FENTY (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: I think the total for all three is about 75. And, obviously, there's a lot being spent by the federal government.
TODD: Federal and state money, plus private funds the president- elect's inaugural committee is raising, could add up to more than $160 million, easily shattering records.
Steve Ellis of the group Taxpayers For Common Sense says a lot of that is justified, given the security and crowd control costs for handling up to two million people expected to come to Washington. He says it's the celebrations surrounding the event that may not strike the right tone, when the rest of the country is hurting financially.
STEVE ELLIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: That's really going to be the real measure is, is that does this come across as a Marie Antoinette moment, or does this come across as a civic lesson and a civic engagement and that the real work is beginning on January 21? TODD: Linda Douglass of the president-elect's inaugural committee says the costs are higher partly because they're making so many concerts and balls accessible to the public.
LINDA DOUGLASS, OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: I think that when you see all those folks for free on the Lincoln Memorial, when you see our military personnel who have gone to a free ball, and people from Washington, D.C. and the grassroots who have gone to an essentially free ball, you will realize that this was really a moment of pulling people together.
TODD: Now, some counter that that only applies to people who are here in Washington for this inauguration.
But Linda Douglass points to one way that they're trying to make people outside this town feel that they are part of this event, and that is president-elect Obama's call to public service, calling on people all over the country to engage in some kind of public service during the inauguration and beyond. They think that this is a way to make people feel that this is a more inclusive event, Wolf, but it's a real balancing act.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much -- Brian Todd down there with all the folks on the National Mall.
We will take another quick break.
When we come back, a lot of folks, they are coming to Washington and they're going to extreme lengths just to be part of this historic moment. We will show you what's going on.
And Joe Biden and Jill Biden, his wife, they were on "Oprah" earlier today, and she said something that they are scrambling now to fix, perhaps. Was there another job he was offered in addition to becoming vice president?
Stick around. We will tell you what we know right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: So many people want to come to Washington to participate in this historic event.
And CNN's Mary Snow has a closer look at one group in an inner city that took unusual and extraordinary steps to reach this milestone.
TYRONE BROWN, DIRECTOR, BROOKLYN STEPPERS: Singing, two, three, and...
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They strive for the perfect pitch. But director Tyrone Brown says it's the story behind the Brooklyn Steppers of Bedford-Stuyvesant that make this hip-hop marching band stand out. He was a member as a kid.
BROWN: We joined this band to save our lives. These kids come to the program daily so they can stay off the streets, so they can stay away from gangs.
SNOW: Dilson Gibbs (ph) has been playing drums for nine years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gives us something to look forward to. It gives us a future.
SNOW: These kids have one eye on the future and one on the past.
CHIONESO BAKR, BROOKLYN STEPPERS: I'm walking legacies right now. When I march, when I play my horn, I'm playing for making history.
TAYZAH PEEPLES, BROOKLYN STEPPERS: I can't wait to be able to tell my future children about this. And I'm just so happy to be there for our first African-American president's inauguration.
SNOW: Joseph Esponda, spent part of his Saturday polishing his trombone and fellow band members' instruments. While he hopes to hit the right notes, he's more focused on taking his next cue from Barack Obama.
JOSEPH ESPONDA, BROOKLYN STEPPERS: It makes you think, like, I can do it, too. I have the odds are against me, but I can still succeed in whatever I want to do.
SNOW: Mary snow, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: And let's go down to the National Mall right now.
Kate Bolduan is there watching what's going on.
Kate, what are you seeing, what are you hearing only, what, less than 18 hours away from the swearing-in ceremony.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And you know we have been having fun with this all day because the crowds have been a lot of fun. Let's show you what we're still looking at just hours away from this historic swearing-in.
You have got the crowd here, the crowds way over there. As you come over this way, you will see the preparations are still continuing, lots of people here. I am going to cut right through here. They're still setting up tents, lights, audio equipment, Wolf.
Everyone -- we could be looking at record crowds here for this swearing-in. As you can see, people I have been talking to say, they have been here all day. They know it's going to be early, but they're coming back tomorrow morning bright and early to do this one more time. People are very excited. And we have been having a lot of fun with it all day, Wolf, as you can see.
BLITZER: As I can see. Say hi to all your new friends over there.
Kate, thanks very much.
Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at the magic map for us.
Tom, I know we have been offering all sorts of estimates, how many people could actually show up between the U.S. Capitol, beyond the Washington Monument, all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, but you have got some scientific evidence to try to assess what's going to happen.
All right, hold on one second. We're going to fix Tom Foreman's audio and make sure we can hear him.
Stand by, Tom. We're not hearing you.
But we are hearing Gloria Borger. She's here. Don Lemon is here.
And I'm really anxious to hear Tom Foreman's report, because some people say a million. Some people say two million. We have heard as many as three or four million.
BORGER: We may never know.
LEMON: It's crazy. And all you have to do is walk around. And it's still not the day yet. It's not the morning of. These people, I have been here since Friday. And people -- every day, I notice the crowds get bigger and bigger. And we can walk faster than we can get around.
BLITZER: Walking is good.
BORGER: It's a mall.
But we in Washington are used to motorcades.
BORGER: We have motorcades all the time. But we're not used to this kind of gridlock. And don't forget, today was a holiday. Tomorrow, most people in Washington are not going to be going to work because their offices are closed. And so this will become one big National Mall -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, let's see if Tom Foreman, if we can hear him.
Tom, we were talking about how they're going to assess how many people will actually show up. Show us what you know.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Well, Wolf, it used to be that when you tried to figure out how many people were here at the Capitol, down the Mall, to the Lincoln Monument and beyond, it used to be that the National Park Service was the group that was in charge of that.
But people got so upset, particularly protest groups, saying they felt like their numbers weren't being adequately represented, that the Park Service doesn't do it anymore. So, how do you figure out, when you look at a big, big crowd like this, how many people are there? It's a daunting, daunting task.
But People for the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University have come up with a formula. And their formula is really quite direct. They say that the simple way to do it is this. For every meter of space, which is about half the size of this board, a little bit less, six people can comfortably stand there, even packed together. That's really a dense crowd.
So, we have got that as our baseline here, six people for that area. I will get rid of this picture altogether. Now let's look at the amount of space we're talking about. We're talking about down here in front of the Capitol. This is the area that has been designated as the secure zone.
This area down here, if you apply that formula of each square meter equals six people, you can get about 280,000 people here. That is the actual estimate they put in for that part of this area.
The question is what goes on beyond that. When you move past this area and we go on to look at a bigger part of it -- I am going to get out of my annotation here, so I can move past here and show you the Mall. What happens when you get down into this area? What happens when you have to start talking about an area like this or an area beyond that?
Each Mall square, if you apply that formula to it, is about 75,000 people to each one of those. But what are you going to count? Just this, or will you also count all this area out here in the trees and into the roads and down other roads that traditionally have not been -- have been open, so you couldn't go stand there? Now you have got a lot more space involved.
Then each square may, in fact, add up to on that formula as many as 250,000 people crowding into each square. So, the big question everybody has is, at what point in this formula will you actually reach a million people? Earlier on, when we were looking at it, we thought that, based on this formula, you might actually reach that point right about here, which isn't that far down the Mall.
You can see, if we had this area here, this area and all of these, that adds up to a lot of space and a lot of people. And we thought you might reach a million people there.
But the folks up at Boston University, who do this study, say they don't think so. They actually believe that you're going to have to go further down and that, when you reach this point all the way down here at the start of the Washington Monument, that's where they say they believe, right here, you will have one million people, and then we will see how many more show up beyond that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We thought that crowd he attracted in Berlin, a couple hundred thousand, was huge. That's nothing compared to what's going to be here tomorrow.
Tom, thanks very much.
We will take another quick break. When we come back, we will continue our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama. Our John King went out. He spoke to one young man. He told a fascinating story about how, only a few years ago, it would have been Michael Jordan when asked, who's your hero? Now it's Barack Obama. Stand by. John is going to be here with us.
And both Bidens, Joe Biden and Jill Biden, they were on "Oprah" earlier today. And she said something she probably should not have said. We will tell you what is going on when we come back.
BLITZER: What a beautiful shot this is from the Lincoln Memorial looking up toward the Washington Monument. And you see right behind it the U.S. Capitol, where Barack Obama will be sworn in as the next president of the United States.
And we anticipate that tomorrow morning, virtually that entire mall area -- if not all of it -- will be jam-packed with people who've come in from not only around the United States, but, indeed, from around the world.
Earlier today, the president-elect went out to a local high school here in Washington, D.C. . He spoke with some students about the importance of community service on this Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday.
OBAMA: I am not going to make a long speech. I've got to save all my best lines for tomorrow. The main reason Michelle. And I wanted to come here today is just to say thank you. You know, both of us participated in service this morning.
And on a day where we remember not just a dreamer, but a doer, an actor, somebody who dedicated his life to working at the grassroots level on behalf of change, on behalf of making communities better, on behalf of bringing about justice and equality, it is fitting that all of you and hundreds of thousands -- maybe more than a million people, through 11,000 service projects all across the country -- today commemorated Dr. King and got involved in this process of remaking America.
Now, I am making a commitment to you, as your next president, that we are going to make government work. And...
OBAMA: And we're going to make sure that government is listening to you and focused on you and making sure that people have health care and that kids can go to college and that people can pay their bills and folks are able to stay in their homes and get good jobs that pay a living wage. That's my job.
But I can't do it by myself. Michelle can't do it by herself. Government can only do so much. And if we're just waiting around for somebody else to do it for us, if we're waiting around for somebody else to clean up the vacant lot or waiting for somebody else to get involved in tutoring a child, if we're waiting for somebody else to do something, it never gets done.
We're going to have to take responsibility -- all of us. And so this isn't just a one day affair. Through USAservice.org -- www.service -- USAservice.org -- we are going to make sure that there are service opportunities for people all throughout the year. And I hope that you were sufficiently inspired and had enough fun and made some friends that you decide you want to keep on doing this for many years to come.
We're going to be doing it right alongside with you.
So thank you, everybody, for your great work.
Michelle, anything you want to add?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And he asked Michelle Obama if she wanted to add anything. She said not right now.
All right, John King is with us here at the Nuseum, watching what's going on -- John, you had an opportunity to go out there and speak to a young man who's been so influenced, as so many millions have been, by Barack Obama.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we did it, Wolf, because that's one of the big questions. We know Barack Obama is going to try to change Washington, try to break from the Bush administration on so many policies.
But when the nation gets its first African-American president, how will it change the lives of young African-Americans who, for the most part, turn to sports heroes or the music industry for their heroes?
KING (voice-over): Melvin Thomas is last off the bus -- like most 14-year-olds, in no rush to get to school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Melvin, what do you got?
KING: Science is his favorite class. But he prefers the hallway banter and lunch with his buddies.
(on camera): What do the kids at school say about Barack Obama about to become president of the United States?
MELVIN THOMAS: Sometimes, out of random, somebody yells out, "Obama!" out in the hallway.
KING (voice-over): Melvin is relaxed in the game room -- much more shy in front of the camera. But this soft-spoken young man has a story of change that could be as important as anything that Barack Obama does in Washington.
(on camera): If I were here a couple years ago and say you were 10 or 11, 12, And I said, you know, who do you -- who do you most admire, who's your role model, who do you say I want to be like that?
THOMAS: Michael Jordan.
KING: And if I asked you today, what's your answer?
Who do you most admire?
THOMAS: Barack Obama.
KING (voice-over): Melvin thinks that President Obama will mean more jobs and less of something else.
THOMAS: The hate against black people.
KING: He prefers video games to the news, but got a glimpse of Obama early on and got excited.
THOMAS: I thought it was cool that the first African-American president was running.
KING: He playfully teased his mom when she backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and later took a break from video games with younger brother, Kyle, to watch the Obama/McCain debates.
THOMAS: To be honest, I didn't -- I didn't get most of it. I got some of it.
BLITZER: We're going to have to wait until more votes come in and then we'll be able to make a projection.
KING: Bed by 10:00 on election night was frustrating. But rules are rules -- until they are broken.
THOMAS: Well, I had to go to sleep. And my mom, she -- when I woke up, she was crying. And I said, "Mom, why are you crying?
Did somebody -- did somebody pass away?"
And she said, "No, Barack Obama won."
KING (on camera): And what did you feel then?
THOMAS: I felt really happy and I hugged her.
KING: And if you think Melvin felt lucky, Wolf, the morning after the election, imagine how he feels now. Melvin Thomas, because of his role in a student leadership organization, will be right here tomorrow to watch Barack Obama inaugurated as the first African- American president. He's bringing along a camera. He said his mother had one piece of advice -- Melvin, take 400 pictures.
BLITZER: It sounds like this kid could grow up to be John King or a Don Lemon. There's no doubt about it.
BLITZER: We're going to watch Melvin as he grows up.
LEMON: Absolutely. Yes.
BLITZER: Don't go away.
We've got a lot to talk about.
We -- specifically, Joe Biden and Jill Biden, his wife. They were on "Oprah" earlier today and she said something she probably shouldn't have said. We'll tell you what that was.
Also, the first President Bush looking a bit nostalgic as he toured parts of the White House today. We'll show you the video and more , when we come back.
BLITZER: I love this shot of the Washington Monument here in the nation's capital at the National Mall. There are some people walking around right now. They're getting ready for tomorrow. It's going to be jam-packed.
We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching the extraordinary developments that are unfolding -- these historic developments unfolding before our eyes.
Earlier today, Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president-elect, and Joe Biden -- they were on Oprah's show, which was being televised from Washington, D.C. over at the Kennedy Center and Jill Biden said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF VICE-PRESIDENT ELECT JOE BIDEN: Joe had the choice to be secretary of State or vice president. And I said Joe...
BIDEN: Oh, well...
BIDEN: OK. He did. So...
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": So Joe...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Wow! That was news that she presumably inadvertently made.
Let's talk about it.
Gloria's still here.
Don is still here.
John is still here.
April Ryan is joining us from American Urban Radio Networks.
And David Gergen joins us, as well.
I'll start with you, David.
What do you think?
BLITZER: She said he had a choice -- he could have been Secretary of State, a job Hillary Clinton's about to get -- or vice president. He picked vice president.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Wolf, there's so much traffic out here. She just never got the talking points.
GERGEN: She went off script.
You know, what can you say?
I think it -- I think it humanizes her. I think it givers...
GERGEN: Well, I think it gives Hillary a good reason to say sometime down the road, you know, you decided not to be secretary of State. Adios, buster, I'll take care of this. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: April, what do you think?
APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: A major slip. I would love to be a fly on the wall at their home.
But, you know, it brings back the situation of if Hillary Clinton were vice president or vice president-elect at this time, it would bring into the issue of Bill Clinton again and Bill Clinton running, possibly, the Obama administration.
BLITZER: Let me read to you the statement...
BLITZER: ...that Biden's press secretary put out, John, and then we'll discuss: "Like anyone who followed the presidential campaign this summer, Dr. Jill Biden knew there was a chance that President- Elect Obama might ask her husband to serve in some capacity and that given his background, the positions of vice president and secretary of State were possibilities."
BLITZER: "Dr. Biden's point to Oprah today was that being vice president would be a better fit for their family --"
BLITZER: " -- because they would get to see him more and get to participate in serving more. To be clear, President-Elect Obama offered Vice President-Elect Biden one job only -- to be his running mate. And the vice president-elect was thrilled to accept the offer."
LEMON: And once again...
KING: Finally, my 20 years in Washington has paid off. When a statement is that long, you can boil it all down to what she meant to say was.
KING: Look, she messed up. You're not supposed to talk about these things publicly. Joe Biden said himself, after the election, in a magazine interview, that when he had his first conversation with Barack Obama, what he might you do in the administration, Obama said, what do you think?
You know, you're qualified. You could be secretary of State, maybe you could be vice president -- this was back on the campaign before the pick was made -- you know, what do want?
What do you think you'd like?
A conditional conversation. She sounded like it was more definitive -- you pick, Joe. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle or closer to the what would you like?
But you don't want to talk about this. You're getting off to a new start in the administration. This is a little drama. It's meaningless going forward.
KING: But it's -- you know, this is not what -- you don't want to...
BLITZER: All right...
KING: These little detours hurt a new administration.
BLITZER: Let's move on to something a little bit more important, the whole theme of responsibility that we're hearing from Barack Obama. We've heard it, though, from other presidents, as well.
I'm going to play a few clips for all of us and then we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Each and every one of us, in our own way must assume personal responsibility -- not only for ourselves and our families, but for our neighbors and our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America at its best is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected. Encouraging responsibility is not a search for scapegoats, it is a call to conscience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Gloria, we've heard the lines before.
BLITZER: They've been powerful. They no doubt about be powerful tomorrow. We'll hear more about that from Barack Obama, as well.
What, if anything, is going to be different?
BORGER: Well, what he has to do in this speech, when he talks about responsibility, as he will in one way or another, is assure people that he can do things differently. He has to bolster their faith in him that after all these presidents talking about shared responsibility, talking about a grand bargain, both from the top and the bottom, that he is the person who can actually change Washington and the way we do business in Washington. He has to give people the sense that he can do that. And that's tough.
BLITZER: And he can, Don, inspire a lot of people just by the fact that he is who he is.
LEMON: He certainly can. And especially if you're looking at the African-American community and you talk about black men, especially, and about having personal responsibility. It means just that much more coming from someone who looks like them, coming from Barack Obama.
BLITZER: What do you think about tomorrow, April?
You've been covering the White House for a long time.
RYAN: Twelve years.
BLITZER: When I was covering the White House...
BLITZER: ...when John King was covering the White House...
RYAN: Oh my goodness.
BLITZER: ...you were there, as well. You're about to get...
RYAN: And I want to be there.
BLITZER: And you're about to get a new president to cover.
RYAN: Well, you know, tomorrow is about soaring optimism. You know, we're going to see a president who is facing a tough time -- a bad economy, one war is going badly and then another war he's trying to end. And the soaring optimism is something that -- it works well for him right now. And this is what got him into the position of being the 44th president of the United States of America.
Tomorrow, it's not going to be as much heavy on policy but really bringing the union together -- about responsibility, about working together -- government and people working together -- because there are a lot of tough cuts (INAUDIBLE) soon.
BLITZER: Can he deliver, David?
GERGEN: On the soaring rhetoric?
BLITZER: Can he -- can he deliver -- the expectations are so enormous right now... GERGEN: Yes.
BLITZER: ...is there any way he can satisfy those expectations?
GERGEN: You know, I think that the expectations are that he's going to start moving us in the direction of change. Right now, people are pretty patient -- at least that's what they're telling us in polls -- that he's got a couple of years, even four years, in some areas; but especially a couple years on the economy, which is very important.
Now, the issue that John King has raised on several occasions is, is whether that patience will wear out -- you know, whether as unemployment rises, people become more and more frustrated and think the stimulus plan didn't work, for example -- just like the early TARP money didn't work. That, I think, is a very serious danger for him.
At the moment, he's perfectly poised for a couple of years. But you don't know what's going to happen six or eight months down the road.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. I want to continue this conversation. I want to continue our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama.
This is the last full day of President Bush in the White House. He did something that all presidents usually do -- he issued some orders for pardons and commutations -- one of them very, very dramatic. We'll tell you what he did, when we come back.
BLITZER: This is President Bush's last full day in the White House. And he did something that a lot of people had been urging him to do.
Dan Lothian is watching this story for us, our White House correspondent.
What did he do as far as a commutation is concerned -- Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, Wolf, we had been waiting to perhaps hear some high profile commutations or pardons. We did not hear any pardons, which essentially meant that your -- your slate would be wiped clean.
But there were some commutations of two former Border Patrol agents who had been convicted of shooting a suspected drug trafficker who was in this country illegally and headed back to Mexico.
The two agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. They had been spending 11 and to 12 years behind bar in federal prison. They will be released from federal prison on March 20th.
Now, this is something that both Democrats and Republican Congressional leaders had really been pushing for. We are told by a senior administration official that President Bush had carefully looked over this case and ultimately decided that: "The sentences they received are too harsh and that they and their families have suffered enough for their crimes." He went on to say that: "Commuting their sentences does not diminish the seriousness of their crimes and this commutation gives them an opportunity to return to their families and communities" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Dan.
Thanks very much.
Dan Lothian is over at the White House.
Soledad O'Brien is down at the National Mall. She did an amazing -- a truly amazing job today on this Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday -- Soledad, I was telling you, I watched almost all of it. Tell our viewers what's coming up right at the top of the hour, because you're going to continue this coverage.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're really going to take a look at some of the biggest issues that face not only African-Americans, as the first African-American president comes into office, but all Americans.
What are the big challenges?
We know some of them -- economic. We know international challenges.
What can be done next?
The big focus -- what's next. And our special coverage continues -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Right at the top of the hour with Soledad.
We'll be watching that, as well.
Jack Cafferty is joining us right now with The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Question this hour -- in light of the sour economy, does an extravagant inauguration celebration, to the tune of an estimated $160 million, send the wrong message?
Claudia writes: "An extravagant inauguration sends a message around the world that we may be down, but don't count is out."
Dawn in Pennsylvania: "extravagant, yes, but well worth the effort. It's a glorious event I never thought would come to pass. As a black woman, I've noticed since the morning after the election there's been a subtle change in our society. People actually speak to each other. I can't tell you how many people make a point to have eye contact, say good morning or good afternoon. The message that's being sent is a new beginning for our country. The world is envious and I am proud."
Gigi writes: "It makes me sad. With our government and economy in such a mess, with American children going to bed hungry and cold, it does seem outrageous to me. This weekend, we complied food boxes for our poor. It reminded me of France when the royalty dared to dance -- even sing. When Queen Marie was told the people had no bread, she said, 'Then let them eat cake.'"
John in Colorado writes: "Barack Obama's grand, elaborate inauguration festivities are a positive way to capture public attention and set the stage for the implementation of his new agenda for our country. I feel it's fitting to have a brief holiday from all the dire news, economic and otherwise, and enjoy the festivities and celebrate this moment in history. It's money well spent. Early Wednesday morning, the hard work will begin."
Karl in San Francisco says: "After eight years of the Bush administration, this is not an extravagant inauguration. It's intense mental health therapy for a few days and we need it."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much.
It is, indeed, very, very exciting stuff.
We'll continue our coverage of the inauguration of Barack Obama. That's coming up.
But first, CNN's Jeanne Moos with a "Moost Unusual" look at the inauguration festivities.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We have proof that not everyone...
MOOS: ...at the inauguration is breathless with excitement.
MOOS: There she was -- Barack Obama's niece, out like a light.
MOOS: Out despite all the shouting. She definitely needs somebody.
MOOS: The only problem was, she showed up in every shot of President-Elect Obama. It wasn't until Garth Brooks finished his set more than an hour into the concert that she woke up scratching an itch. We're told the crowd cheered when they saw her awake on the JumboTron. And then, once again, she stole the show from...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama.
MOOS: With all those funny faces, she had tongues wagging -- including her own.
MOOS: I'm Jeanne Moos with inaugural antics.
BLITZER: Coming up on 17 hours until the inaugural swearing-in ceremony.
David Gergen, you're going to be watching, like all of us -- and listening.
You want to hear something really specific in that speech?
GERGEN: I want to hear about mountaintops. I don't want to hear about the path up the mountain. I want to see what the vision is.
Where are we going?
BLITZER: And, John, we can hear all the specifics in his State of the Union address.
KING: Exactly. We use words like historic and big change too often in our business. This is historic. And George W. Bush yielding way to Barack Obama -- that's change. This is a dramatic change for the country. It will be fascinating to watch history made tomorrow and fascinating to watch what comes next.
BLITZER: This could be the largest viewing audience we've ever had.
Who knows how many millions and millions of people, not only in the United States, but around the world, Don, will be watching?
LEMON: I want to see him honor the people who came before all those people we saw -- the civil rights icons on our air -- and inspire the young people that we talked about today, like in John's piece. That's what I want to hear.
BLITZER: They'll be inspired, Gloria, just by his very presence there -- the fact that he's going to be the next president.
BORGER: Right. And I'm thinking about people around the world watching this speech tomorrow, because it is a new face of America that we're presenting to the world. And I want him to not only speak to us, but to speak to everyone.
BLITZER: And you -- you've been to a lot of inaugurations, David. This one will be unique.
GERGEN: Absolutely. And you can just sense it. As you walk around now, the people who are on the streets are just -- they're thick out there. It was already -- it was almost impossible just to walk here today.
But they're just -- they're just -- their faces are wreathed with smiles.
LEMON: I got an e-mail from a viewer that said oh my god, it looks like a greeting card for Barack Obama. Well, come here and you'll see all the people. And it's really not just about him.
BLITZER: And we will have, of course, complete coverage every step of the way.
I'll be back tomorrow with Anderson Cooper, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Our special coverage will continue. "AMERICAN MORNING" starts at a special time -- 5:00 a.m. Eastern. And then, of course, THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow -- 4:00 p.m. Eastern.
We'll be here all day and all night. We're not going anywhere.
Thanks very much for joining us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Soledad O'Brien picks up our coverage right now.