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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Obama Revealed: The Man, The President
Aired September 15, 2012 - 21:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama --
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A candidate of hope.
OBAMA: On this date, we have chosen hope over fear.
YELLIN: Inherits a nation in crisis.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The briefing was absolutely chilling.
OBAMA: My first job when I first came into office was making sure we didn't get into a Great Depression.
YELLIN: A leader driven to make history.
OBAMA: Health care reform cannot wait.
DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY: He doesn't want to just be another president. He wanted to be a great president.
YELLIN: Cool under pressure.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It was a huge risk that the president took.
OBAMA: The United States killed Osama bin Laden.
YELLIN: His presidency marked by political division.
Speaker Boehner, he says you flinched.
OBAMA: I'm sure that's his version of events.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the biggest failure is the president's unwillingness to listen to the American people.
YELLIN: A man whose style would both help him and hurt him as a leader.
OBAMA: When I'm making decisions, I try to not get caught up in the emotions of the moment.
YELLIN: OBAMA REVEALED, THE MAN, THE PRESIDENT. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't wait to tell my children about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch, belts, T-shirts.
YELLIN: It was an historic moment.
CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?
OBAMA: I am. I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.
YELLIN: A new day with towering expectations.
AXELROD: He looked at me and said, it's been an incredible ride, hasn't it? And I said yes. He said, it's just beginning.
OBAMA: On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear. Unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
YELLIN: For many, Barack Obama and his presidency symbolized much more than political change.
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I still cry. For the sons and daughters of the slaves, their offspring, for people who have build a capital. It means so much to every human being that live in this country.
OBAMA: May God bless the United States of America. Hope is what led me here today.
YELLIN: Candidate Obama ran on a message of hope and change.
It's not just the size of the crowds but there's something different. People come and wait for hours for him. Sometimes they start crying when he talks.
OPRAH WINFREY, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Barack Obama.
OBAMA: I need you to stand up.
CROWD: We want change. We want change. We want change.
YELLIN: Do you think people saw in him what they wanted to?
AXELROD: There was some projection on to him perhaps more than anybody could ever live up to.
YELLIN: The country needed help and in a hurry.
OBAMA: Today, we learned that our economy shrank in the last three months of 2008. That's the worst contraction in close to three decades.
YELLIN: Rahm Emanuel would be the president's chief of staff.
RAHM EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Slightly like rolling thunder because you could have taken the economy, you could have taken the auto, you could have taken the financial, you could have taken Afghanistan, you could have taken Iraq. Usually, when you have a series of things it's like that's an A, that's a B. You start -- there's like, what happens when all five are A's?
AXELROD: It was basically awful.
YELLIN: In the months leading up to inauguration. Economic adviser Austan Goolsbee watched in horror as the stock market dropped more than 500 points in a day.
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: There was a bottle of bourbon sitting there in the campaign. And I said, man, if there ever was a day to have a drink of this emergency bourbon it' s today.
YELLIN: And then it got worse.
GOOLSBEE: The next day, dropped another 500 points. And then late in the campaign, it happens again and somebody says, where's the Bourbon? I said, the bottle's empty.
YELLIN: The emergency bourbon was gone and the economy was in dire shape. One month before his inauguration, Barack Obama called an urgent meeting during a Chicago blizzard.
LARRY SUMMERS, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: The president meets for the first time with all his economic advisers as a group for four hours. Everybody is in the room is struck with the gravity of the situation.
CHRISTINA ROMER, FORMER CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: I said, Mr. President, this is your holy bleep moment. You are facing the worst downturn since the Great Depression. We're going to have to hit this with everything we have.
SUMMERS: The president is very clear. We need to act. We need to make our mistakes on the side of pulling the band aid off fast. That was the phrase he used. He made the decision that day to go for a massive stimulus program.
GOOLSBEE: When briefing's over, I go up to the president-elect and I say, you know, that's got to be the worst briefing that the president- elect had at least since 1932 and maybe since Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And the president says, Goolsbee, that's not even my worse briefing this week.
OBAMA: My first job when I came into office was making sure we didn't get into a Great Depression and the economy could start growing again.
YELLIN: Also high on the president's agenda, his campaign promise to heal the nation's bitter partisan divide.
OBAMA: We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We're the United States of America.
YELLIN: After a month in office, a whopping 76 percent of Americans approved of the new president's job performance. Though he was only just beginning.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: You could create whatever you wanted out of him. He was folklore figure right out of the gate.
YELLIN: What do you think he was expected to do ?
BRINKLEY: I think people didn't know that -- the problem with change is change for what.
YELLIN: The passionate speaker who electrified crowds on the campaign trail --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States. The First Lady Michelle Obama.
YELLIN: -- would become a calm, cool leader once in office.
A lot of people describe you as cool. That cuts both ways. Fair description?
OBAMA: People who know me well and people on the campaign trail, I don't think they describe me that way. I am in a lot of ways an extrovert when it comes to folks outside the beltway. I'm not sure it's hurt. Except maybe for some of my relations I think inside of the beltway here in Washington.
MARANISS: He's not easily categorized in any way. He wants it all. He's rationale, first of all. He's a little bit deliberative and cautious. But then once in a while, he'll go for the bold stroke because he wants something larger.
YELLIN: The president's next decisions would move the right to anger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better wake up, America.
YELLIN: The left to disappointment. And leave a nation more polarized than ever.
MARANISS: I think he came in sort of feeling his own exceptionalism. And then the realities of Washington smacked him in the head.
YELLIN: January 2009. The president's promises of hope and change would be put to the test by the worst financial crisis in modern history.
SUMMERS: You look at any important economic statistic. They were collapsing faster in the fall of 2008 than they had collapsed in the fall of 1929.
YELLIN: Eleven million Americans unemployed, 13 million homes in foreclosure. The president's chief economist saw an unprecedented hole opening in the economy.
ROMER: We were hanging on the edge of a cliff. And in fact, we were starting down that. Down into the abyss.
YELLIN: For once, most in Washington agreed. Something had to be done.
ROMER: Things were bad. It needed to be big. It need to be bold.
YELLIN: But there were vast disagreements on how bold. Some in the president's party wanted a rescue plan close to $2 trillion.
ROMER: It's a funny thing to say but every $100 million helped. And so by doing a bigger program than what had been on the table absolutely meant we were getting more job creation, more help for the economy.
YELLIN: Republicans balked at anything approaching even half that.
REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: I don't believe that our colleagues have a sense that another $800 billion will in fact solve the problem.
YELLIN: Ultimately, the president decided to try to rev the economy's engine with a $787 billion stimulus plan.
The president felt he needed bipartisan support so he met with Republican members of Congress. Before he took office, days after inauguration and on Super Bowl Sunday. He was pitching a bill that would give tax cuts to almost all Americans. Pay salaries for teachers and cops. Build roads and bridges and more. Republicans objected to the spending and to the president's tone.
BOEHNER: We outlined other ideas that we thought would help get the economy moving again and put people back to work. Those issues were rejected. And the president at that same meeting said, you have to understand that, you know, when we disagree, you have to remember, that I won.
YELLIN: A phrase like "I won" wasn't winning the president any friends. But the president says he was listening to Republicans.
OBAMA: If anything I think I received a lot of criticism from my own party for going out of my way to try to solicit Republican cooperation. And the fact of the matter was that politically there was a decision that was made fairly early on among some of their leadership that said working with the president is not good politics.
MARANISS: I think he came in sort of feeling his own exceptionalism. And then the realities of Washington smacked him in the head.
YELLIN: By the time the president went to sell the bill to Congress, Republicans seem to have made up their minds. OBAMA: On my trip up to the Hill, they released an e-mail saying, we're going to be voting against it before they'd even heard our presentation.
YELLIN: In a stinging rebuke, every House Republican voted no.
BOEHNER: The bill that was supposed to be about jobs, jobs, jobs, has turned into a bill that's all about spending, spending, and spending.
EMANUEL: Two months after the election, the Republicans said this is your problem. We're going to start planning for four years from now.
YELLIN: The president scrambled his team to the Hill to try to save the bill in the Senate. When the stimulus finally passed --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's it, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's it, that's it --
YELLIN: It came with the nearly $800 billion price tag and the support of only three Senate Republicans. One of them was Olympia Snowe.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: He just got off to a poor start. And unfortunately, the wrong foot. And set the tone for the remainder of his administration. Had only yet begun.
YELLIN: She believes the president missed a crucial opportunity to engage Republicans early on.
SNOWE: I'm not so sure that he truly understands the relationship and the interaction that occurs between the president and the legislative branch.
YELLIN: With hindsight, his closest aides admit room for improvement.
AXELROD: There wasn't a whole lot of time left over for sort of hand holding and schmoozing. Perhaps we should have made more time for it. But at the time it seemed like he was spending his waking hours doing what he was supposed to do.
YELLIN: Republicans howled the spending was too much. And when unemployment blew past the administration's 8 percent projection --
ROMER: I made a bad forecast.
YELLIN: Republicans slammed it as a failure.
ROMER: It turned out that the hole we were trying to dig ourselves out of was deeper than we had anticipated.
YELLIN: Years later the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office would find that the stimulus or Recovery Act saved or created more than three million jobs. But by then, the battle lines were drawn. In a clash of ideas that would dominate the president's term. BRINKLEY: Between the belief that government is going to solve your problems to belief that the era of big government is over.
YELLIN: The president had lost control of the message and the hopes for partnership with Republicans.
GOOLSBEE: They were kind of coming at it like the old East German judge at the Olympics where it doesn't matter what -- you know, the president could be doing a triple flip lutz and they're giving him a 2. The card's already filled out.
OBAMA: Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulation, Mr. President.
YELLIN: The first 100 days traditionally gives an incoming president a soft start.
EMANUEL: At the end of every day, we would either be in the oval office or we'd take a walk.
YELLIN: President Obama and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel kept close tabs on their to-do list.
EMANUEL: And then we made sure we had our -- he and I used this word interchangeably, our North Stars. You know, it's easy in these -- in these jobs day to day to get thrown off course. What's your North Star, what do you need to get done.
YELLIN: Did you expect there to be a honeymoon period?
EMANUEL: I don't remember walking the halls saying, should we get a honeymoon? I don't really -- we got problems to solve. I don't have the luxury of looking at oil paintings and talking to them.
YELLIN: Even as the stimulus fight was at fever pitch, the auto industry was falling fatally ill.
EMANUEL: Literally, they were talking about two weeks and bust. There was not two years. There was not, we have a problem here. We think we can keep it alive for two weeks.
SUMMERS: If General Motors and Chrysler had been liquidated, in all likelihood, other automobile companies would have collapsed. An entire supplier network. The consequences would have been felt in every community in the country.
YELLIN: The car companies had squandered their first cash infusion from President Bush. Months later when GM and Chrysler asked for more taxpayer money, Congress refused. So the president did it on his own.
OBAMA: We cannot and must not and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish.
EMANUEL: And he went against the advice of his own -- some cases, his own advisers.
YELLIN: He bailed out the auto industry anyway in a wildly unpopular move opposed by nearly three quarters of Americans. As well as his future Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
At first the restructuring of the industry cost thousands their jobs.
OBAMA: You know, when you look at everything from the auto bailout which was very unpopular at the time. And if I'd been leading with emotions or had my political hat on, we might not have done, but saved a million jobs.
YELLIN: Ultimately, the bailout saved jobs and it provided the industry a safety net. But the president was not effective at selling it.
MARANISS: It would be great if you were sitting down for an hour-long lecture in a classroom but not necessarily trying to sell it to the public. He doesn't think in sound bites.
YELLIN: While the president pushed forward on his agenda, his critics reacted to what they saw as one liberal program after another. Stimulus. Auto rescue. Homeowner relief.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.
YELLIN: Then in February 2009 a defining attack on CNBC that tapped into a rich vein of rage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they're driving '54 Chevys. We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party.
YELLIN: The Tea Party was born. Conservatives would see each new program as an ominous sign of the encroachment of big government.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The economy's terrible because I think President Obama is practicing a lost decade economics. More borrowing. More demand side economics. A massive amount of uncertainty on regulation, on taxes, on interest rates.
YELLIN: The president had angered the right. But he also riled the left when he asked for another $300 billion for the Wall Street banks.
CROWD: Bailout working families. Bailout working families.
YELLIN: Then staggering news. Failing insurance giant AIG had received $170 billion taxpayer dollars. Now it paid millions in bonuses to the very executives who wrecked the place.
REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: What happened with these bonuses was a mugging on Wall Street.
YELLIN: Privately, advisers say the president was outraged.
AXELROD: And I think it offended people's values and it offended his values.
YELLIN: But publicly the president was slow to respond.
OBAMA: I think people are right to be angry. I'm angry.
YELLIN: The administration let the bonuses stand. And the president missed an opening to champion the change he had promised.
BRINKLEY: You get out of this president a lot of butter knife routines. You know, these some abusers on Wall Street. Who? Name the names. He doesn't want to do that because he doesn't like conflict.
YELLIN: Aides say it's just not his style.
REGGIE LOVE, FORMER PERSONAL AIDE: Is he going to, like, get up on the sofa and yell and, you know, scream and stomp his feet? I don't think so. I think people misconceive the expression of emotion with the idea of having emotion.
YELLIN: Ten months later, when more Wall Street bonuses were revealed, the president finally channeled his inner rage during an interview on "60 Minutes."
OBAMA: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat cat bankers on Wall Street.
YELLIN: The bank bailout helped keep Wall Street alive and credit flowing. Eventually the government recouped that $300 billion plus a profit. And the president got his Wall Street reform through Congress. But before his first 100 days were over, he had upset constituencies across the spectrum.
EMANUEL: Well, he's either called the golden mean or the brass mean. Either one. Because he -- you're right, the heads of the banks hate him. A lot of other people think all he's done is protect them. He's both a socialist and an advocate for the 1 percent. Go figure how you are. Both a socialist and advocate for the 1 percent simultaneously.
GOOLSBEE: I thought that would be hard work but that proved remarkably easy to find ways to make everybody mad.
YELLIN: Out of the gate, the president seemed disconnected from the president and ready to tackle his own agenda.
OBAMA: All the work we did with the Recovery Act, giving people tax cuts and saving the auto industry, all were designed to make sure that we righted the ship. But as I reminded my staff, we ran in 2008 not only to get back to the pre-crisis situation but also to solve problems that had been, you know, hurting middle class families for a decade or more.
YELLIN: In other words, the president wanted to get on with the work he went to the White House to do. And that meant the biggest battle of his presidency.
OBAMA: So let there be no doubt, health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait and it will not wait another year.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Back in January 2008, the hottest place for politics was in one of the coldest places in the country. A crowd of presidential hopefuls was in Iowa.
OBAMA: Fired up. Ready to go.
YELLIN: Including the junior senator from Illinois.
OBAMA: Let's go change the world.
YELLIN: We sat down on the CNN bus to talk for our first interview.
(on camera): When you're sitting in the oval office and you're the decider, how can you still be the change agent from that position?
OBAMA: Let's take the issue of health care reform. The way we're going to overcome the drug and insurance companies and HMOs who may block reform is not by name calling and yelling at them. It's going to be to mobilize the American people so that they know it's in their interests.
YELLIN (voice-over): Reform health care, an ambitious promise from a candidate who hadn't yet won a single primary. A year later, it topped President Obama's to-do list.
OBAMA: So let there be no doubt, health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait and it will not wait another year.
YELLIN: Many in his inner circle felt he needed to tackle other issues first like creating jobs and growing the economy.
RAHM EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You're going to dedicate a minimum year of your presidency. And has real policy implications on what else can't get done in that year. Even when you do that, the chances of success given 80 years is like one out of a million.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER: He was advised and he knew going in that the politics of it weren't going to be very good.
OBAMA: The status quo is not working for you. YELLIN: But the president believed he could succeed where others before him had failed.
OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you.
DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY": With health care, I think it had to do with the fact that he doesn't want to be just another president. He wanted to be a great president.
YELLIN: The president launched his fight to reform health care and largely outsourced it to Congress. Members were left to hammer out details on their own.
OBAMA: I just want to make sure that I don't get in the way of all of you moving aggressively and rapidly.
YELLIN: And the president wanted bipartisan support.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This time, we will not fail.
YELLIN: The result? Total impasse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to show you a chart.
YELLIN: A deadlocked Congress produced nearly a half dozen plans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 1990 pages.
YELLING: And a growing swell of resistance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Poorly designed for a government takeover of our health care system.
OBAMA: The reforms -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. That's not true.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: You don't see Barack Obama brow beaten. He might say, those Republicans are unbelievable, but he somehow constantly feels he's a child of destiny. That self confidence is his strong suit. But it also can lead you to over thinking you can move mountains when mountains move very slowly.
YELLIN: As the bill sat in Congress -- rage exploded across the country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a vehicle to take us down a path of total socialism and totalitarianism.
YELLIN: When it came to explaining health care, the president seemed to play the role of professor in chief.
BRINKLEY: He seems to lack that emotional bit when he's talking about the politics. He's very wonkish, which surprises people because on the campaign trail, he seemed to be a different person.
YELLIN: In a final blow, a crucial Democratic seat passed into Republican hands.
LARRY KING: Ted Kennedy's seat in the U.S. Senate, which he had occupied for 46 years until his death last year, has been won by a Republican.
YELLIN: The president had lost the votes he needed to pass health care reform. His staff told him to scale back the bill or pause and return to it later.
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISER: One of his senior advisers said to him, you know, Mr. President, unless you're feeling lucky, I just don't think this is going to happen.
OBAMA: I was making a joke to him. I said, look, my name is Barack Obama and I'm not oval office, I've got to be lucky. You know, I felt that we still had an opportunity although it was going to be more difficult to try to get it done.
YELLIN: By all accounts, when the politics seemed lost --
OBAMA: It is the right thing to do and that's why I'm fighting so hard to get it done.
YELLIN: President Obama decided to double down on health care.
MARANISS: Caution, deliberation and then occasionally making this incredibly bolt mod move. That's just the way he operates.
OBAMA: Here's what I ask Congress though. Don't walk away from reform. Not now.
YELLIN: The president personally lobbied Democrats to back his plan. Then the bill was forced through the Senate with a procedural end-run.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The patient protection and affordable care act is passed.
YELLIN: When it was over, President Obama had accomplished something that had eluded Democratic presidents for 75 years.
BRINKLEY: It may have been a bloody road to success. He nevertheless had the political acumen to get this passed.
EMANUEL: Well, the president I believe is the ultimate three-point shooter with a second left on the clock. To his credit, he's got a lot to show for it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama.
YELLIN: In Vice President Biden's now infamous years --
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This is a big deal.
YELLIN: For the president, an ambition realized. OBAMA: Today, it becomes law in the United States of America.
When I think about all the seniors who are seeing more discounts on their prescription drugs and when I meet people who say, you know what, my brother, my uncle, my father, have a pre-existing condition, couldn't get health insurance, and now they feel more secure. Effort was worth it.
YELLIN: He got his historic victory, but at a tremendous cost. During the year the president was focused on health care, more jobs and homes were lost and frustration mounted. Even at town halls like this one on CNBC.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm one of your middle class Americans. And quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you.
OBAMA: We're done.
YELLIN: President Obama had won a hard-fought victory on health care, but the country was still hurting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some economists are predicting that the unemployment rate could go higher.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first time ever that repossessions have topped 100,000 in a single month.
OBAMA: As I've said from the start, there's no quick fix to the worst recession we've experienced since the great depression.
YELLIN: By the summer of his second year in office, even some supporters seemed to be losing patience. Like Velma Hart at this CNBC town hall.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm one of your middle class Americans. Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.
YELLIN (on camera): What made you ask the question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the time, it was a burning issue. I had conversations with friends, colleagues, family members, who were out of work. We were all talking about, you know, year and a half in, were we feeling the change we were all so excited about?
YELLIN (voice-over): Change wasn't coming fast enough. Not for Velma Hart. Not for those voters who swept the president into office and expected him to champion their causes. Latino voters were looking for the change candidate Obama had promised on the campaign trail. OBAMA: We will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting.
YELLIN: While the president got credit in the Latino community for appointing Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, he lost points for deporting more undocumented immigrants than any administration in history.
And for failing to pass the immigration reform he promised. When Republicans blocked a bill that would let the children of undocumented immigrants stay in the U.S., the president did not use his power to make them legal on his own.
MARANISS: I think a lot of people came in with that sort of narrower focus on what he would do for them. Not really understanding that he's more pragmatic perhaps than they expected.
YELLIN: For gay Americans, different issues, same response.
OBAMA: And we are --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell!"
OBAMA: Now, it's good to see you.
YELLIN: Candidate Obama had promised a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But as president, he asked gay Americans to wait patiently.
OBAMA: As commander in chief, in time of war, I do have a responsibility to see that this change is administered in a practical way and a way that takes over the long term.
JARRETT: He went through a process because he wanted to get by him. He didn't want to just repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," he wanted to make sure gays could serve in the military proudly, without being alienated or ostracized, and would have the support.
YELLIN: The repeal would pass Congress, but after almost two years. It was change on the president's time frame.
OBAMA: That's why I believe this is the right thing to do for our military. That's why I believe it is the right thing to do period.
JARRETT: I think that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," was one of his largest civil rights accomplishments. And the fact you haven't heard any stories about any problems is an indication that sometimes it's better to do it over a slower process than to do it expeditiously.
YELLIN: As the nation's first black president, Barack Obama has been expected to tackle race in ways other presidents have not. He told "Black Enterprise" magazine, quote, "I'm not the president of black America, I'm the president of the United States of America."
JARRETT: Everything he's done, both short, medium and long-term to get our economy back on track, all of that benefits the African- American community.
YELLIN: Harvard's Randall Kennedy has written about the president and race.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There have been some black Americans who have been quite critical of the president. The great masses of black Americans have been quite realistic and have understood the special burdens that Barack Obama faced.
OBAMA: I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that.
YELLIN: Early on, the president created an uproar by commenting on the arrest of black Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates Jr. by a white police officer outside his own home.
OBAMA: Number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Immediately, immediately, there were people who said, ah, this shows Barack Obama's resentfulness. This shows Barack Obama has a problem with white culture. This shows that Barack Obama doesn't like white people.
YELLIN: The president doused the controversy in the Rose Garden within Gates and the police officer at the so-called beer summit.
MARANISS: Well, he's trying to negotiate the dangerous shawls of race in America. It's not easy for any president. And it's particularly more sensitive and subtle for a black president.
YELLIN: Sensitive, both personally and politically.
MARANISS: His memoir's all about race. That's the lens through which he saw his life. So I think it's very deeply part of how he views the world and how he views himself. But I think that politically he doesn't want to get stuck there.
YELLIN (on camera): Does he make a conscious decision not to talk about race in office?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Periodically, he's spoken to it in ways that are very, very powerful. I don't think he sees that as the defining issue of our time. The defining issue of our time is how all Americans can live in a country where if they work hard, they can get ahead.
YELLIN (voice-over): But as the midterm elections approached, millions of Americans feared they'd never get ahead. And on November 2nd, 2010 --
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": CNN is now ready to make a major projection. The Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you hear us now!
YELLIN: Bolstered by the Tea Party, six Republicans claimed seats in the Senate and 63 swept into the House, giving the GOP the majority.
OBAMA: I'm not recommending for either future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night.
YELLIN: It seemed the American people were having buyer's remorse. Rejecting the president they'd embraced so warmly just two years earlier. The president would have to find a way to get back in the game.
AXELROD: When things get challenging, he's at his best.
YELLIN: Reggie Love knows the president as a strong midrange shooter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'll take his midrange jumper and he'll attack the basket. He'll knock down open shots when he's got them.
YELLIN: The kind of guy you want on your side. Love has been on the president's team since the campaign days.
(on camera): What's he like when he's just hanging out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's like a guy, you know. He likes the Bulls. He likes the Bears. He likes sports. Like most guys I know, which I think can sometimes be hard for some people. They're like, wait, he's just like me. He's the president.
YELLIN (voice-over): As his personal assistant and confidant, Love's seen the president as few others have.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's very much a person who enjoys the simple things in life. Enjoys watching a good game, enjoys a good cocktail, is competitive at everything he does if it's bowling or pool or shuffle board. There isn't anything I think he'd be OK losing at.
BLITZER: The Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives.
YELLIN: And even when he wasn't winning with his policies, the president seemed to score with his popularity.
BRINKLEY: Most Americans, polls show, like Barack Obama.
OBAMA: I'm so in love with you.
BRINKLEY: When he sings a little song and he acts a little cool or he shoots baskets or he tells a joke, people still swoon over him.
YELLIN: His cool demeanor plays as hip to some.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? YELLIN: Here on "Saturday Night Live."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I keep it cool. I take my kids to school. I don't lose my temper. It's my only rule. I keep it cool.
YELLIN: The president's biographer says it stems from the laid-back pace of a childhood in Hawaii.
(on camera): There's a terrific phrase you use. A bit of Hawaiian slang that describes his even-keeled temperament. What is it?
YELLIN: What does that mean?
MARANISS: It just means whenever's happening, don't be hot, be cool.
YELLIN: Have you seen that attitude play out in his presidency?
MARANISS: Very much so. Yes, I mean, I think that's one of the elements that plays out for better and worse.
AXELROD: There's no doubt he's cool under fire. When things get challenging, he's at his best. He's at his coolest. So that coolness is a great quality in a leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's basically got the sensibility of a writer or of an anthropologist. You know, he's sort of a partisan observer. Observing himself being president.
YELLIN (voice-over): Cool but does that mean disconnected?
AXELROD: I hear that suggestion that he has trouble connecting but I just don't see it. I think a lot of people have trouble connecting with people in Washington.
MARANISS: The politician has to be sort of imbalanced. Bill Clinton was imbalanced. He needed those strangers. So he would spend the hours between 6:00 and 9:00 talking to people in Congress whereas president Obama's basically with his family during those hours, you know, which is a sort of balanced thing to do, but not necessarily good for a president.
OBAMA: When we're in town here in Washington, in the evenings, 6:30, we want to be at the dinner table with our kids and I want to be helping with their homework. I think that's sometimes interpreted as me not wanting to, you know, be out there slapping back, and wheeling and dealing. It really is more to do with the stage we are in our lives.
YELLIN (on camera): If you're re-elected, your girls will be older. They'll probably have their own weekend plans. They might not want to hang out with mom and dad.
OBAMA: It's already starting to happen, yes.
YELLIN: Do you think you might do more outreach, what you call back slapping, with members of Congress?
OBAMA: My hope is that getting past this election, people will have an opportunity to maybe step back and say, you know what, the differences that divide us aren't as important as the common bonds we have as Americans. Some of that I'm sure will require additional effort on my part. Hopefully, we'll see more effort on the other side as well.
YELLIN (voice-over): Though being a family man isn't always an asset in office, it is a priority for the president.
JARRETT: Well, you have to remember, this is someone who grew up raised by a single mom and his grant parents whose family abandoned him and he's lived with that kind of missing piece in him. And at a very young age, he decided he wasn't going to be the kind of father he had. He wanted to be a present father.
YELLIN: And a present husband.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a guy who really loves his wife. She's obviously a great source of personal strength to him.
OBAMA: She keeps me straight every single day. She is the best mom in the world and she's cute.
BRINKLEY: Michelle Obama's role has been to keep him grounded. To make sure his ego isn't a Macy's float that takes off.
YELLIN: Those who know him best say the president is a fierce competitor at any level.
(on camera): You coach your daughter's basketball team.
OBAMA: There you go. That's Sasha's team, the Vipers. This has been so much fun. I don't coach them full time. I'm sort of like an assistant coach/adviser.
YELLIN: So what does the president's own game say about his leadership style?
LOVE: He's a competitor. You know, sometimes, you know, you get a bad call but you can't extend or overextend too much emotion worrying about what just happened. From efficiency standpoint, you know, you can cry about the call or you can look to the next play.
YELLIN: Calm and cool. Assets that would prove invaluable when facing high stakes, high risks and the nation's greatest enemy.
OBAMA: My fellow Americans.
YELLIN: Saturday, April 30th, 2011.
YELLIN: President Obama was doing stand up at the White House Correspondents Dinner. As halfway around the world, a group of Navy SEALs was moving into position to target the world's most wanted terrorist.
OBAMA: Some people now suggest that I'm too professorial. And I'd like to address that head on.
YELLIN: If he was anxious, he didn't show it.
OBAMA: By assigning all of you some reading that will help you draw your own conclusions.
YELLIN: The planning had started in secret months before.
How involved then was the president in the planning of this attack?
DAVID SANGER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: He went through the plans at great length and ordered that they bring in more helicopters and land those helicopters inside Pakistani territory so they could come in fairly quickly as a backup team. And in the end, that turned out to be a pretty crucial decision.
CLINTON: He asked each and every one of us in the small group of the National Security Council what our opinion was. And there was disagreement. So it came down, as it does in these situations, with the hard decision, having to go to the president.
OBAMA: When I'm making decisions, I try to pull back a little bit and take the long view.
YELLIN: There were easier options. And the plan on the table risked hostages or casualties.
OBAMA: I think for me to be able to step back and say, all right, what's best for the country, and not get caught up in the immediate fears, risks, concerns that -- and pressures that you're feeling right then has probably been helpful.
YELLIN: The president gave the order.
MARANISS: He wanted to go for it. You know, he has that self- confidence. He has a sense of luck being on his side.
YELLIN: The next day, the president and his national security team watched as Navy SEALs raided the compound where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding.
CLINTON: We were following it in real time. So it was a rollercoaster of emotions that we were living through.
YELLIN: The president described it as the longest 40 minutes of his life. Then came the news.
CLINTON: We got the word "Geronimo." And what that meant is, we got him, we saw him, it is bin Laden. But we had to get our guys out. So I'm not sure any of us breathed until we got word that they had crossed back into Afghanistan.
YELLIN: The president normally known for his caution had chosen the riskiest course possible and it paid off.
OBAMA: I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda.
CROWD: USA. USA. USA.
SANGER: To those on the left who watched how the Obama presidency played out, the surprise was his aggressiveness. To those on the right, the surprise was his aggressiveness. They kept thinking that he was a community organizer from Chicago who had no concept of how to use American power.
CLINTON: It would be hard to argue that any president has a duty higher than the ones that President Obama has exercised.
YELLIN: Long before the bin Laden raid, President Obama had promised a change in American foreign policy.
SANGER: He came in on the platform of being the anti-Bush. He said he would engage the rest of the world.
YELLIN: And that promise brought the president the Nobel Peace Prize just 10 months after taking office.
SANGER: He gave a speech that left the Peace Prize Committee extraordinarily uncomfortable.
OBAMA: I, like any head of state, reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation.
YELLIN: Since then, President Obama has pulled troops from Iraq. Created a plan to leave Afghanistan. Is believed to have unleashed a covert cyber war against Iran's nuclear program. And drastically expanded the use of armed drones to target terrorists.
BRINKLEY: He may be known as the drone president. The president who relied on technology to do the business of troops.
YELLIN: It is a topic the president has addressed only once before. But he discussed it with us.
OBAMA: My most sacred duty as president and commander in chief is to keep the American people safe. Drones are one tool that we use.
YELLIN: Even if the target is an American. In 2011, one of those targeted for death was Anwar al-Awlaki. An al Qaeda leader living in Yemen and also an American citizen.
Are the standards different when the target's an American?
OBAMA: When an American has made a decision to affiliate itself with al Qaeda and target fellow Americans, that there is a legal justification for us to try to stop them from carrying out plots.
SANGER: Many of his supporters are quite concerned because they view this as basically a form of targeted assassination.
YELLIN: Do you struggle with this policy?
OBAMA: Oh, absolutely. If you don't, then it's very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means.
YELLIN: When America's threatened, the president doesn't hesitate to act on his own.
CLINTON: Where he determined that we would act unilaterally, it was all about those people, those groups, that threaten us.
YELLIN: But in a humanitarian crisis like Libya's, the president prefers company. And until he has it, he won't act.
CLINTON: Syria has created great outrage and terrible humanitarian anguish but we don't have any international consensus about the way forward.
YELLIN: It all adds up to what some call the Obama doctrine. Though critics call the president reluctant to lead.
SANGER: The Obama doctrine is less blood, less pressure, less intervention of a lengthy kind.
YELLIN: As commander in chief, the president can fly solo. To solve the country's domestic problems, he needs a partner.
BOEHNER: The president was going to have to deliver half the Democrats, I was going to have to deliver half the Republicans. I was confident that I could do that.
YELLIN: A gorgeous June day. The nation's capital. But this is no ordinary golf game. For President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, this is a chance to be partners rather than political foes.
By June 2011, it had been eight months since the Republicans won control of the House and the Senate's top Republican declared --
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.
YELLIN: Eight months since the midterms when a chastened president promised a new way forward.
OBAMA: We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things got done.
YELLIN: And eight months since a bipartisan debt commission offered a host of painful solutions. Solutions Washington ignored. By the time both men hit the links, the looming crisis over the debt ceiling threatened to make a bad economy even worse. GOOLSBEE: It would be two to three times worse of a recession than the one that we were facing as the president comes into office.
YELLIN: The stakes were high. And the Republicans emboldened by their midterm victories.
SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you, Pennsylvania.
GOOLSBEE: The Republicans were essentially saying, ha, ha, the president will get nothing and like it.
YELLIN: So the president looked to a new partner.
BOEHNER: The president and I like each other. I mean, we actually do get along.
BRINKLEY: I think he felt like Boehner of Ohio, that he would be able to deal with him. That he was a Kiwanis Club Republican, that I could do business with a guy like that. I think President Obama saw him as the great hope.
YELLIN: The president and Speaker Boehner began fervid meetings with their parties world apart. Republicans wanted to cut spending.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MINORITY LEADER: We got to stop growing government, hoping to grow jobs, and instead we got to start cutting the federal deficit.
YELLIN: Democrats wanted to limit tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: What we've heard from our Republican colleagues is they're not willing to close one special interest tax loophole.
YELLIN: The president and Speaker Boehner came up with an ambitious solution. They'd craft a grand bargain to raise the debt ceiling. It would also include changes to Social Security, Medicare, tax policy and defense spending. For both sides, it meant lots of pain. But for the nation, it could mean lots of gain.
AXELROD: I think he genuinely thought that there was an opportunity to do something big and meaningful to deal with our long-term debt and had what he considered productive discussions with John Boehner.
ALI VELSHI, HOST, CNN'S MONEY: New urgency this morning.
YELLIN: The clock ticks.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST, CNN'S YOUR BOTTOM LINE: We've been here before but not quite this close to default.
YELLIN: Was there ever a time in that meeting when he said we have a deal?
BOEHNER: Yes, ma'am. About a week before the debt ceiling was to expire, the president asked Mr. Cantor and I to come in the Oval Office where we basically sealed the deal.
YELLIN: It seemed the president had bridged the partisan divide and could count reining in the deficit as part of his legacy. But then in the final moments, the so-called grand bargain collapsed.
BOEHNER: I have offered ideas --
YELLIN: And finger-pointing began.
BOEHNER: Not one time, not one time, did the administration ever put any plan on the table.
OBAMA: It is hard to understand why Speaker Boehner would walk away from this kind of deal.
YELLIN: For Speaker Boehner, the problem was a last request to alter the deal.
BOEHNER: I said, Mr. President, you know I can't do this. We've been talking about this for months. I'm already out as far a limb as I can get. You know it. Why are you doing this? It's unfortunate. He basically blew up the deal.
YELLIN: Not true says the White House.
OBAMA: I think personally Speaker Boehner probably wanted to do something. He just couldn't control his caucus.
YELLIN: But the speaker says his people were never the problem.
BOEHNER: I got into some tough negotiations with Ted Kennedy. He didn't flinch. He didn't back away from the deal. He went straight forward. That's courage.
YELLIN: Speaker Boehner, he says you flinched.
OBAMA: Yes, well, I'm sure that's his version of events. I was prepared to make some cuts and some changes that were very unpopular in my base and among Democrats, if I got a little bit of compromise from the other side on revenue.
YELLIN: Both men seem burned by the experience.
BOEHNER: If I look back over the year and a half or so that I've been speaker, my greatest disappointment is the president and I couldn't come to an agreement on solving our debt crisis.
YELLIN: The final deal brokered by Vice President Biden was far smaller than the president wanted. For President Obama, it was a turning point.
BRINKLEY: It took him I think two years to the debt ceiling debate to understand that he was not going to be able to be the conciliatory president, the mediator in chief.
YELLIN: Now, more than a year after that golf game, the president says of Republicans --
OBAMA: Where I can work with them, I will. Where they don't want to compromise, I'll work around them.
YELLIN: And he set out on a path of go-for-the-jugular politics. He laid out his jobs plan, championed the popular payroll tax cut --
OBAMA: Tell Congress to pass this tax cut without drama, without delay.
YELLIN: And took executive actions without the support of Congress.
OBAMA: We can't simply wait for Congress to do its job.
YELLIN: The Republicans fired back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we have our own modern day great train robbery.
YELLIN: Probing the bankruptcy of the taxpayer funded solar firm Solyndra. And relentlessly pursuing "Fast and Furious," the anti-gun trafficking operation that cost a border agent his life. The bitter partisan divide was back out in the open.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're fired up. Ready to go.
YELLIN: Seared after losing the grand bargain, and his bid for bipartisanship, the president turned his attention to a new battle.
CROWD: Four more years. Four more years.
YELLIN: The election.
BRINKLEY: I think his naivete has been finally squashed. And I don't think you'll see that naive "yes, we can" man of 2008 ever again.
YELLIN: Barreling into 2012, he shifted focus from wooing the other side to winning back disappointing supporters. Chief among them, women voters.
OBAMA: Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health, period.
YELLIN: He stood by his controversial decision to make most health care plans cover contraception. And he often reminds women he acted early to protect equal pay.
OBAMA: Upholding the principle of equal pay for equal work was the first bill I signed into law. The Lily Ledbetter Act, first bill I signed.
YELLIN: Then gays and lesbians.
PROTESTERS: Hey, Obama, don't you know? Homophobia's got to go. YELLIN: The president said little on the topic of gay marriage for three years. Then on "Good Morning America."
OBAMA: For me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
BRINKLEY: He is not a person that likes to leave the box but when he does he's done it decisively. I mean I think his embracing of gay marriage was very old.
YELLIN: Next, Latinos, an essential voting bloc. He had failed to press immigration reform.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No more lies.
YELLIN: Then, this June --
VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISER: He said, OK, enough is enough. And now we're going to take administrative action.
YELLIN: His administration temporarily halted the deportation of the children of undocumented immigrants.
OBAMA: They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one. On paper.
YELLIN: Campaign 2012 had begun.
BRINKLEY: To be the transformational president he wants to be, you have to have two terms. You can't do it in one. So everything is riding on this election for Barack Obama.
YELLIN: Ultimately, it will be up to voters and historians to assess his term in office. Among his accomplishments, the death of Osama bin Laden. The passage of landmark but controversial health care reform. The restructuring of the American auto industry. Averting a great depression. And keeping his promise to withdraw from Iraq.
CLINTON: The last 3 1/2 years will probably be viewed as one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. Having that steady hand that the president has I think has really benefited our country.
YELLIN: On the other side of the ledger, millions of Americans remain unemployed. Millions of homes still under water. A ballooning national debt. A broken promise to close Guantanamo Bay. And a nation more divided than ever.
But isn't that what you ran on? You -- in 2008, promising to bridge the divides?
OBAMA: What I promised was that we were going to look out for the American people. And that I would do everything I could to break through some of the old ideological gridlock and just focus on what works. And that's actually what we did.
YELLIN: Despite the challenges, President Obama believes he can still do more.
OBAMA: What I hope is, is that post election, if I'm -- the American people are willing to see me here for another four years that members of Congress are going to remind themselves what they're sent here to do and that is ultimately to work for the people who sent us here.
YELLIN: For the president, it all boils down to the same advice he gives his daughter's basketball team.
OBAMA: Just always worry about doing your job, doing your best, getting better and thinking like a team.