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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview with John McCain/Interview with Maureen Dowd

Aired January 22, 2009 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive -- Senator John McCain -- his first post-inaugural interview. Just wait until you hear how he made it to Barack Obama's swearing-in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I thought that was the best way to travel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How willing is he to pitch in with the new president?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: All of us, I think, have to commit to working with him, disagreeing when necessary.

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KING: And does he see Obama vs. Palin in 2012?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: In the future, I think she has a big role to play.

KING: The maverick's back -- John McCain, right now on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

A great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE maybe our most frequent guest in history, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

If I have to tell you who he is, you're on another planet.

What was Inauguration Day like for you?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it was a time of celebration and a historic moment for all the reasons that we've talked about over and over again. I thought the president's speech was excellent. I thought it was a moment where Americans obviously feel a coming together. You look out on the Mall and see, what, two million or whatever it was, and it's obviously an unforgettable sight and...

KING: Was there some pain, though?

I mean, you know, do you ever say -- you had to say to yourself, it could have been me.

MCCAIN: Well, I think I do from time to time, Larry. But the easiest thing I've found is to feel sorry for yourself. I enjoy it enormously. But with...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN: ...with the challenges that the country faces now -- two wars, all of the other national security challenges and then the economy -- I think this president faces greater challenges than perhaps -- you know, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to the presidency, it was economic challenges. We clearly faced the rise of Hitler and fascism. But early on, it was mainly domestic issues. And this president...

KING: There wasn't a war.

MCCAIN: Yes. This president faces the domestic challenges and the national security challenges. So he's got a big job. And all of us, I think, have to commit to working with him, disagreeing where necessary, but cooperating as much as possible.

That's what the Americans want us to do, too, by the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The retaking of the oath, what do you make of that?

MCCAIN: I think, you know, it's just one of those things that's -- that happened -- that's happened. But it's a one hour story.

KING: Yes. Maybe a half hour.

MCCAIN: Right.

KING: We're going over a lot of things.

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: Caroline Kennedy dropping out of the race.

MCCAIN: Yes?

KING: Are you surprised?

MCCAIN: I don't know that much about the inner workings of the Democratic Party politics. But I do know that Caroline Kennedy has been one of the foremost leaders in New York on the issue of education reform.

KING: She has.

MCCAIN: She's worked with Joel Klein, who has done a magnificent job in trying to reform the education system in New York City. And maybe in retrospect, we probably should -- those who supported her, I think, maybe could have done a better job of presenting some of the -- of her resume, which is pretty impressive.

KING: Now, hop, skipping and jumping ...

MCCAIN: Sure.

KING: Guantanamo. The president signed today they're going to close it within a year, change the way prisoners are treated. And I know you've been strong on torture.

What do you think of the closing?

MCCAIN: I think that it's a wise move. But I also think that we should have addressed this whole issue completely because it did not address the issue of those who we have in custody and can't -- and no country will take them back.

We should have addressed the issue of those who we know would pose a threat to the United States, but we don't have sufficient evidence to move forward.

We should have, in my view, continued these military commissions, which were finally -- after years of delay and obfuscation -- we were moving forward with the military commissions with some of these trials.

So the easy part, in all due respect, is to say we're going to close Guantanamo. Then we -- I think I would have said where they were going to be taken. Because you're going to run into a NIMBY problem here in the United States of America -- that nobody doesn't want them in their state.

KING: But maybe he doesn't know.

MCCAIN: Well, I would have made those decisions ...

KING: Already?

MCCAIN: ...and presented them or waited and then -- and made the decisions and presented them as an entire package.

KING: So he didn't have to announce it today, is what you're saying?

MCCAIN: I don't think so because the questions now that are unanswered -- those that I just articulated to you -- are going to have to be answered. And he has imposed a time frame here that -- these are going to be very difficult.

KING: How do you like...

MCCAIN: But we'll work with him. We'll work with him.

KING: He honored you at a dinner the other night in your honor?

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: He -- what do you make of...

MCCAIN: It was very generous.

KING: What do you make of him apparently going to be calling on you?

MCCAIN: Well, again, these are difficult times. And whatever way I can assist and work with the president of the United States, I want to do it. I mean you look at the...

KING: Are you...

MCCAIN: And again, the American people are tired of the bitter partisanship. There will be open and honest disagreements that the president and I have. And -- but I hope that there are areas where -- I know there are areas where we can all work together.

The American people are demanding it and they deserve it and they haven't been getting it.

KING: Are you surprised at the openness to you?

MCCAIN: No. I think the president and I established a relationship of respect both in the Senate and during the campaign. There were rough times in the campaign. You know, you've observed so many of them. But at the same time, I think underlying the whole campaign was an environment of respect, which then allows you to -- to come together and work for the good of the country.

KING: OK. Economy the number one issue, obviously.

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: His first full day, he convened a meeting of the economic advisers. Still no Treasury secretary. The Finance Committee approved Mr. Geithner's nomination 18-5.

Do you think he'll be confirmed by the full Senate?

MCCAIN: I do and I thought it was...

KING: Will you vote for him?

MCCAIN: Yes. Most likely. But I -- I am, and a lot of Americans are concerned about this tax issue and also the role that he played in the TARP, the first $750 billion, which I believe was very badly mismanaged and priorities shifted. And the economy has certainly not benefited, at least up until now, by the expenditure of $350 billion and another 350 that's coming down the pike so.

But I always try to have -- and I think we should -- elections have consequences. The president should be appoint -- be able to appoint the president's team. And that's why I spoke out in favor of the confirmation of now secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday, to move it forward.

We shouldn't have wait -- we couldn't wait.

KING: Are you...

MCCAIN: Too many crises.

KING: Are you confident you're going to work this economic thing out?

MCCAIN: I don't know. What I've seen so far, it's is more of a spending package than a stimulus package. And I think we ought to cut the business tax cuts. We ought to -- I mean, the business taxes. We ought to cut them. We ought to, I think, maybe cut or eliminate payroll taxes for a while and let general revenues pick that up.

I think we should spend the money that we can immediately, but at the same time, if we have a couple of quarters of positive GDP growth, then let's start reducing and eliminating the huge, massive, unprecedented deficits that are going to accrue from these actions.

I worry about the long term deficits that -- and the impact they could have on the dollar, on our economy and on our children's futures.

KING: So you can't say you're confident?

MCCAIN: Well, it's going through the House, as you know. And the Senate is just beginning its considerations. I hope we can work together to, frankly, be a real stimulus package and not just a spending package that has every cat and dog that -- you know, and pet project that people have. Because the object of a stimulus package is to stimulate the economy, not to just spend more and run up the debt to our kids and our grandkids.

KING: More with John McCain right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Each of us in public life have the responsibility to your usher in a new season of cooperation built on those things that we hold in common -- not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans. And there are few American who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're touching bases with Senator John McCain, who -- I understand you drove to the inaugural?

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: With your own car, with your wife in the front seat, no limo, no nothing?

MCCAIN: I thought that was the best way to travel.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: OK. Other areas ...

MCCAIN: By the way, in full disclosure, the police were kind enough, thanks to a little placard that I had, that I was able to go across the bridge. And so it was a bit of a privilege that -- that I had.

KING: But you drove?

MCCAIN: Yes. Sure.

KING: Dick Cheney tells "The Weekly Standard" that President Bush should have pardoned Scooter Libby.

Should he have?

MCCAIN: I don't...

KING: He issued no pardons.

MCCAIN: Well, I think that -- I respect the president's judgment. But I would not have extended a pardon there. I just wouldn't have extended it...

KING: (INAUDIBLE) believe his theory that pardons are given to those with clout?

MCCAIN: Yes, I'm afraid that's been the case in some instances. But there's been other times when pardons have been warranted throughout history.

I think this president was very judicious in his use of the pardons. And I applaud him for that.

KING: Was it you that said to Hillary that Obama became a stronger candidate because of Hillary?

MCCAIN: I think he did. And I think he has said that, as well. It was a very stiff competition that they had. I know I was a better candidate for president as a result of the very vigorous primaries that we had in the Republican Party.

So I think one of the things that happens in these campaigns, you really have to study and learn the issues, because when you get in the debate, you'd better know what you're talking about. There's nothing more revealing. Listen, debates are precarious experiences. But they're good for America. And too many of them are not good -- but they really are -- you've really got to know your issues.

And I think, obviously, I think President Obama was helped by the fierce and very strong competition he got from the secretary of State -- now secretary of State.

KING: Speaking of her, you strongly supported her for secretary of State.

Do you think she'll be a good one?

MCCAIN: I'm sure she will. I'm sure she will. I've traveled with Secretary of State Clinton. I know her as to have been a student of national security issues and foreign policy.

There will be times when we disagree. Again, there was -- I had disagreements with her husband when he was president. But I -- it will not be because she doesn't know the issues. It will be because of fundamental differences of approaches. But she knows the issues.

KING: Do you like being known as someone who often challenges his own party?

MCCAIN: Well, I think we Republicans have got a lot of work to do. We just suffered a very serious defeat electorally, not just in my race but in the Congressional races. So I think we have to challenge all of our party to become an inclusive party and to broaden our base and to register voters and to, most of all, present policies and programs to the American people that are positive.

We can't just be in the position of saying no. We've got to present our own -- our own agenda for the future.

KING: (INAUDIBLE).

MCCAIN: And that's based on our fundamental, basically, right of center principles.

KING: Long ago, when Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight David Eisenhower, a lot of people said, you know, a losing candidate should have some place -- should be called upon somewhere, just for their value. And a lot of people voted for them.

Do you think that's proven true now?

Do you think you'll be called on a lot?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope a lot of Americans -- and I think this is true, it may sound a little self-serving -- respected the campaign that we ran and got to know me better.

Look, it's a great honor for me to continue to serve in the United States Senate. It's a great privilege and honor. And for me to betray any anger or bitterness at what I -- at losing this campaign would be -- it would be a disservice to America.

I have the opportunity to serve in the United States Senate, to continue to serve the people of Arizona and this country. And I can only tell you that every day I wake up I thank God that I've been able to serve.

KING: And if called on...

MCCAIN: ...as the president pointed out many times, for more than a half century.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: And if called upon by the president, you're there?

MCCAIN: Oh, of course. Of course. I already have been. Yes.

KING: And will continue to be?

MCCAIN: Absolutely.

KING: We've got some more with John McCain.

What about Sarah Palin?

Would John McCain support her for president in four years?

We'll ask in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with John McCain, the senator from Arizona.

What do you make of Sarah Palin, your running mate, apparently making -- not apparently -- making critical statements about the campaign?

MCCAIN: Listen, I think the world of Governor Palin and her husband Todd, her family. I'm honored that she would run with me. And there's -- look, whenever there's a losing campaign, there's always a little bit of back and forth that happens post-mortem.

Look, I'm so grateful to have her as a friend and I believe that she represents a lot to the Republican Party in the future. I think she has a big role to play.

KING: Are you stung by the criticism?

MCCAIN: Oh -- I'm not ...

KING: No?

MCCAIN: Listen, no, we -- look, we were very close friends. And I talk to her all the time and look forward to seeing her, I think, in a week or so. We're very close.

KING: Did you bring it up to her, why are you criticizing?

MCCAIN: Oh, look it, these things always happen in campaigns. She has my respect and my affection and that's undying.

KING: Rush Limbaugh said, I believe yesterday ...

MCCAIN: Yes.

KING: ... About this current administration, "I hope he fails."

What do you make of that?

MCCAIN: I can't really analyze Mr. Limbaugh's remarks, particularly since I don't know the context.

I think most Americans want this president and this country to get out of this ditch we're in. And the economic challenge, which is greater than any time in your or my lifetime; the challenges we face being in two wars. I think Americans want us to bring America back. And we have to. And if Mr. Limbaugh's remarks were in the context that...

KING: Well, I think he was saying...

MCCAIN: ... He doesn't agree with his philosophy...

KING: He doesn't want...

MCCAIN: ...I understand that.

KING: ... He doesn't want government to solve things. He wants private industry. Although, as someone said, private industry is the thing that got him into trouble in the first place.

MCCAIN: Well, what I hope is that we can have the kind of economic recovery that will restore business, free enterprise, et cetera. But I think we also know there has to be a definite upgrading of the oversight of our financial markets. I mean, it just has to be. We are back in regulatory bodies that were designed in the '30s and now we are in the 21st century.

KING: You have no other course.

You have to do this?

MCCAIN: Absolutely.

KING: It's strange to hope he fails.

MCCAIN: But we also believe that the free enterprise system and capitalism is still the way America should be. And that means it's still, to us, that the more we can give to free enterprise and capitalism and small businesspeople, the better off we are.

KING: A couple of other things.

Are you -- have you really become friendly with the president?

MCCAIN: Sure. It -- you know...

KING: Because I know that you were -- in the Senate sometimes, you had your moments.

MCCAIN: But we worked together on a number of issues. Look, it's hard to say that you are friends with a president of the United States. I think that I had a good relationship with President Reagan. I think I had a good relationship with President Bush -- both President Bushes.

But, you know, what I believe is that I have established a relationship with the president, that we can work together. And I think that's about...

KING: OK...

MCCAIN: ...what you expect in a relationship with the president of the United States.

KING: Oh, by the way, if she ran -- Palin -- you would support her?

MCCAIN: Well, look, I don't...

KING: Or you don't get involved in the primaries?

MCCAIN: Yes. I think it would be -- I don't know who's running, for one thing, because, for example, my friend Jon Kyl, my colleague from Arizona. So it would be improper...

KING: He might run.

MCCAIN: ...to -- now, wait a minute. Jon would be astonished to hear that I said that.

KING: Let's (INAUDIBLE).

MCCAIN: But he's a great leader in the Republicans in the Senate.

KING: Yes.

MCCAIN: But let me just say, I don't know who's running and all that, but I will always be grateful to Sarah Palin for her friendship and her strong principles and leadership.

KING: Do you have bitterness?

Do you carry any bitterness toward Vietnam?

MCCAIN: No. None. None. None. I want them to improve. I want them to eliminate the corruption that they have. And they're going through a tough economic time.

But, you know, the Vietnamese have proven those who came here to the United States of America about how wonderful a people they are.

KING: OK. And one other thing and we'll let you go.

Your wife, "Dancing With the Stars," what about that?

MCCAIN: Well, we discussed it and we -- but we decided it just was not a good idea. You know, Cindy's on her second knee. She's had it replaced.

KING: Oh, really?

MCCAIN: Yes. And I think it would have been -- it would have been very challenging. But I'm proud of her work and charity around the world, Operation Smile, a number of other organizations -- humanitarian efforts that she's involved in and is continuing to be involved in.

KING: And how's your health?

MCCAIN: Excellent, my friend. Excellent. Excellent. I enjoy every day.

KING: You keep on keeping on.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Senator...

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on again.

KING: Oh, always, for the nine thousandth time.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Senator John McCain.

Are the expectations for Obama too high? We'll asked famed "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We now welcome Maureen Dowd, the Pulitzer-Prize winning op- ed columnist and best-selling author.

Lots to talk about with this terrific lady.

But first, let's take a look at President Obama on day three.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I've given you an early gift -- Hillary Clinton. You...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: In her, you will have a secretary of State who has my full confidence. The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defense of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States.

And that's why, in this twilight struggle, we need a durable framework. The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause and that we, the people, will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security.

Once again, America's moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership. We did not ask for the burden that history has asked us to bear. But Americans will bear it. We must bear it.

Progress will not come quickly or easily. Nor can we promise to right every single wrong around the world. But we can pledge to use all elements of American power to protect our people and to promote our interests and ideals, starting with principled, focused and sustained American diplomacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: When we come back, we'll get Maureen's insight on Obama and McCain and Hillary and Caroline and all the rest.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's always a pleasure to welcome -- and she's not here often enough -- Maureen Dowd, the Pulitzer-Prize winning op-ed columnist, best-selling author of "The New York Times."

Thanks for coming.

We had a great party in your house.

MAUREEN DOWD, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": I know. It was good.

KING: The world's smallest house.

DOWD: You were a great guest, Larry.

KING: That's a tin-type (ph) house. It's the kaliddle (ph). It's like a doll house.

Anyway, John McCain, obviously going to be used a lot in this campaign.

What do you make of that in this -- that the administration is going to call on him?

DOWD: Well, I think that Obama is getting a huge and deserved amount of credit for doing things that are normal things, but have not been done in politics here for a long time. The first thing he did was meet with ex-presidents, including George Bush Sr. As he was leaving, W was still explaining why he had never asked the advice of George Bush Sr., even though they went to war against the same guy in Iraq.

Then he's wooing -- in Washington, if you give the opposition and journalists a little flattery, that can get you a long way.

KING: That's all you need.

DOWD: That's all you need. And Obama understand that.

KING: If he sees you --

DOWD: Remember Bob Strauss, he told George Bush Sr., just have some people for cocktails on the Truman Balcony. They will do whatever you want. They will help you get your tax plan passed and everything.

KING: What do you make of the Caroline Kennedy withdrawal?

DOWD: Well, I'm very disappointed, because I think she's really smart and is very -- had the nerve to endorse Obama, and she can push back against pressure. And I think the Senate could have used someone like that, because too often they don't have profiles in courage. They have profiles in conventional wisdom. I think she would have been great.

KING: You really praised her in the column?

DOWD: Yes, I think she's smart. She has passion and interest, like the new Senator from Colorado, Michael Bennett, who is very interested in education. And Caroline knows a lot about culture. Obviously, this is a Senate that got pushed around by Blago. Compared to who wouldn't she have been good?

KING: Good point. Expectations, are they too high for Obama? Can anyone reach this status, 80 percent approval rating?

DOWD: Well, I think you felt that in his speech. Not that he seemed daunted. He kept using the word "our." This is our shared responsibility. He was trying to knock down the idea that he is the divinity or the one, and say, I'm just a man and we got to do this together.

But what was striking about the "New York Times" poll the other day is that the American people are going to have a lot of patience with him, and they are not expecting everything all at once. When you think of those four million eyes staring up at him with hope, I'm sure he was a little bit daunted. But on the other hand, after eight years of watching W and Cheney kind of trash the Constitution and the economy and the environment, I think they know it's going to take a while for this guy to turn that around.

KING: The -- you wrote a column comparing the mood in Washington to the mood in New York after 9/11. That was a tragedy. DOWD: Well, only in the sense -- I only meant in the since that people were being nice to each other. And it was an amazing day in Washington. I grew up in a black neighborhood in Washington. And I have never seen this city fully integrated until that day, where blacks and whites were together. And, you know, it was just this wonderful mood everywhere. And I went to Starbucks and Burger King and situations where people would usually be biting each other's heads off in line, if they got the wrong coffee or the wrong Whopper; they were just being very loving.

Of course, that's not going to last forever. But as a native Washingtonian, I was really moved to see the difference in how people were treating each other.

KING: What is it that he has?

DOWD: Well, I think that -- you know, it's interesting, because Bush and Cheney had this huge social engineering scheme, where they were going to change the psyche of Americans, and make us less afraid of using force overseas after Vietnam. And they were going to change the psyche of the Middle East and make them scared to death of us.

But Obama also has a social engineering scheme. He said the other day he wants kids to have different priorities about service. He wants neighbors to have different priorities about how they treat each other. He wants to integrate the city of Washington with the political Oz of Washington, because in -- in the past, Washington has been a place where there's a high crime rate and a lot of poverty, and it all happens in the shadow of the Capital and the White House. And no one has ever treated it like a real city. And he's doing that right off the bat.

KING: He's special by being special?

DOWD: Exactly.

KING: Maureen wrote yesterday, "when President Bush departed DC, the people on the ground weren't waving hello. They were waving good- bye." Maureen's thoughts on Bush 43 when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: History will be the judge of my decisions, but when I walked out of the Oval Office this morning, I left with the same values that I took to Washington eight years ago.

When I get home tonight, and look in the mirror, I'm not going to regret what I see.

(END VIDEO CLIP

KING: We're back with Maureen Dowd. George W., you had a lot of fun with him. Where is he going to be historically? DOWD: I know he's been reading a lot of history, hoping that the long view will treat him more nicely. But I think not, because, unfortunately, he biked through a lot of catastrophes. He and Condi could have seen 9/11 coming. He biked through the drowning of New Orleans. And that's why people are cutting Obama a lot of slack, became he's trying. He's working hard. He's paying attention. It's a curious and inquisitive mind. And George Bush will go down in history as a president who wasn't curious enough.

KING: What do you make of Sarah Palin?

DOWD: Sarah Palin, that was interesting when you talked to McCain about Sarah Palin.

KING: He still remains strongly supportive.

DOWD: She has presence and I think she could make a comeback in politics, or she might get a show on Fox, competing against you, Larry. You never know.

KING: You never know. Hillary Clinton, secretary of state. Good? You have been critical of her too.

DOWD: I think she could be a superstar. She said something very critical today when she had her first meeting with employees. She said she welcomes people pushing back against her and she welcomes open debate. If that is true, she could have an amazing run. But her history is to confuse dissent with disloyalty and bad management. So it depends if she's learned lessons from that in the past. She could be amazing.

And maybe Obama is the guy she's always been looking for. He loves brainy kind of women who do their homework, and that is certainly Hillary.

KING: What role does Bill have?

DOWD: Well, you know, Bill in the Irish Peace process knew the names of streets in Ireland. That is how amazing he was on that. And he was great with the Middle East peace process. It just depends if he can -- what Obama is trying to do is an amazing thing. He's trying to separate the little bit of tackiness and all this foreign money that Clintons get from their amazing ability to be great public servants. And if he can do that, then I think he can use them both effectively. But that's never been done before.

KING: Give me a little insight into your writing process. Do you know where you're going when you start?

DOWD: Never. When I did columns out of New York, when the printing press was still at the "New York Times" building, it would be terrifying, because sometimes at 8:00 at night, I would hear the delivery trucks starting and I would have a blank screen. It takes a lot of adrenaline and fear to make me actually write.

KING: When it starts, does it flow? DOWD: No, I find writing -- what did Mary McGory (ph) used to quote? It is about going down into the marrow of your bones. I find it really hard and especially in the era of blogs, when so many people are giving opinions.

KING: Is it more fun to knock someone?

DOWD: Oh, god. I find having a column a very difficult form of journalism. I'm not a natural like Tom Friedman and Anna Quindlen.

KING: So it isn't more fun when you are going to give it to somebody?

DOWD: No. I feel like I owe it to the readers to try to pull back the veil and give them the honest version of what's going on. But it's not more fun. If Obama, as he does sometimes already, gets a little snippy with me about something I've written, you're thinking, oh God, the president of the United States is already annoyed with me.

KING: Has he called you?

DOWD: No, but we had a session with him the other day. He was trying to make clear that just because sometimes he doesn't react or whatever doesn't mean that he's weak. It just means that he has a very even temperament. So you should be careful how you characterize him.

KING: Did that make any weight with you?

DOWD: Yes. You know, I -- I will have to -- I'm going to try and keep him on his toes, but I also want to celebrate the moment of trying to obey the Constitution again. So I took some champagne to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn the other day, just for that purpose.

KING: He's going to invite you on the balcony.

DOWD: Let's hope so.

KING: Thanks Maureen.

DOWD: Thank you.

KING: A lot of firsts this week. We'll take a look at the White House press secretary's first dance with the press when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The White House press secretary, a grueling job, but they do have all the insight. Let's take a look at Robert Gibbs' first presser today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Don't clap yet. Out of an abundance of caution, the oath was readministered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not resign the executive orders, out of that same abundance of caution?

GIBBS: Because the council's office continues to believe that the president was sworn in appropriately and effectively.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why did you do it, if you don't -- that's what I'm trying to -- if you don't feel like you needed to do it --

GIBBS: Chuck, I think you know lawyers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who did the president talk to who disagreed with him?

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you say the executive order on Guantanamo Bay clearly made America safer today, when it doesn't seem like you really have a plan yet about where the detainees are going to go. Is the honeymoon over?

GIBBS: The president believes that we can change the way Washington works. The president believes that we can reach across party lines, and share ideas, and that all of that, as part of a process, will lead to what he hopes Congress will pass and he will sign by President's Day Recess, a plan to get this economy moving forward again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us a little bit of how the first family is settling in?

GIBBS: Yes, I know that at the end of the first night, he had to ask somebody where he was supposed to go next. It's a -- it's a pretty big house. You know, I -- I've known the president a long time, and he looked very comfortable in his surroundings yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What's the toughest challenge the first week at the White House? Paul Begala and Dee Dee Myers are here to tell us, next.

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(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Two of the top political pros, Paul Begala, CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist, counselor to President Clinton, and Dee Dee Meyers, contributing editor of "Vanity Fair," best selling author of "Why Women Should Rule the World." She served as White House press secretary during Bill Clinton's first term. What is this like, first week?

DEE DEE MYERS, "VANITY FAIR": It's a lot of chaos. You know, you walk into the White House and not only have you never done your job, almost nobody that works there has ever done their job or a job similar. Only Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, has worked in the White House among the top, top aides. And so finding your way to the desk and the restroom and figuring out how to log-on to your computer and how to put out a press release all takes a lot of time.

And there's this incredibly intense interest right now in President Obama and what he's doing. So you feel like you are in the eye of the storm without much experience or protection.

KING: Make it doubly tough now, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It does, because there are real crises. People keep saying it, but it's right, you have to go back to FDR or maybe even Lincoln to find a president who has come in with a more full plate. Each thing on that plate -- the easy things are a crisis. The other things are catastrophe, like the economy.

So you set priorities and you hold to them. I was very impressed today. Gibbs announced that the president has a new policy. Every morning, in addition to the president's daily brief on security, he will have a daily brief on the economy. Good for you, Mr. President. That will help enforce the priorities that he wants to keep, which is keep the country safe, revive the economy.

KING: Does the personality of the president wind its way all the way through?

MYERS: There's no question, the tone is set at the top. So everything from how you approach the ceremonial aspects of the job to how serious you are about your work, to how you comport yourself. The whole culture of no-drama Obama is not just Obama's personal style, it's a mandate. Everybody else is supposed to conduct themselves similarly and so far they have.

KING: We've been asking this all week, what does he have?

BEGALA: Oh, gosh.

KING: What does he have?

BEGALA: He obviously has a great intellect. And he has a terrific capacity to persuade. Harry Truman said the president's most important is the power to persuade. This president has that in abundance. But what I think he has that's most important is the ability to integrate. This is what Bill Clinton had. His mother was a cultural anthropologist. Her whole professional life was learning about other people who were very different from her and understanding them and adopting -- So this is what he does, right?

His life has been unique, but now his appeal is universal. My grandfather wasn't a Kenyan goat herder. And yet, I relate to him, because my grandmother was an immigrant. She was a maid. All across America, he's found a way to integrate all of these experiences, because he can't know enough himself. He can't have lived enough himself. So he has to be able to integrate from all sides. That's probably his greatest strength.

MYERS: Paul makes an interesting point, which is irregardless of the fact that your life has been different than his, you feel like you can relate to him. I think he's almost indisputably the most famous living person ever on the face of the planet, because of technology partly, but because of this appeal that's really hard to put your finger on. What is it about him? Why are people all over the world, not just in the United States, turning out to see him sworn in? All over the globe paying attention to this. There's something about him that transcends this particular culture and this particular moment.

KING: The most famous person ever in the history --

MYERS: Living person.

KING: Living person.

BEGALA: You got Ali. President Clinton is still beloved. I was in Nigeria a week ago, and the street that the airport is on in Abuja, the capital, is named after Bill Clinton. You get to the end of Bill Clinton Avenue, there's the biggest billboard you ever say of Barack Obama and it says, "the whole world supports Obama." It made me so proud to be an American.

KING: What can Obama learn from the early Clinton White House days? That's next.

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KING: I'm back with Paul Begala and Dee Dee Myers. All right, can we compare it, Paul -- we'll start with you. The early days of Clinton to this?

MYERS: Well, the beginning of an administration is the beginning of an administration. I think there's has been a little smoother than that one 16 years ago. I think they learned a lot of lessons, positive and negative, from the Clinton transition. The first was -- there was certainly a deep bench of Clinton veterans who had lived through not just the administration, but the first months and years of a presidency. Rather than saying we don't need you, they brought those people in and helped them build a blueprint. They followed it, in their own way, of course. I think their transition was very smooth as a result.

I think that they have a very clear agenda in these first weeks, which is also really important. They've managed to avoid the kind of crisis -- the self-inflicted wounds that we had in the early days of Clinton administration, particularly gays in the military and the failure of Clinton's first nomination as attorney general.

KING: What would you add?

BEGALA: Yes, this point about learning from the mistakes of others. He's been able to learn from that. In every new presidency -- when you win a presidential election -- believe me, I don't think I was unique, but I figured I was the first guy ever to win an election. I was the first guy ever to get lucky. I invented fire.

The arrogance that you get is real. When two million people show up to watch you sworn in, that can feed the ego. So they have guarded against that really carefully, in part by learning from my mistakes, the mistakes of others. I have been very impressed with how they started out.

MYERS: I think President Obama is so clear that this is about the work. He understands the symbolism. I think he's done a phenomenal job of inhabiting the presidency and looking presidential and carrying both a sense of purpose and optimism, which I think the country has really related to. He's not struck by all that, in spite of how he can turn your head to be president. He's looking ahead to the work.

KING: What does it do, do you think, for black/white relations?

BEGALA: It won't end racism in America. We're not yet at Dr. King's dream. But he spoke at the mall, Dr. King did, about a promissory note and how it was returned insufficient funds. Well, it's been returned at least with some payment. It's so impressive. I was wandering around the mall for about an hour and a half, trying to get to CNN's bureau at the Newseum, and it was extraordinary, it really was, the sense -- there were all people, all cultures.

It won't end everything, but, by golly, it makes everybody feel good to be American.

MYERS: An African-American friend of mine said, you know, I didn't realize until this happened that I always felt like I was on the outside. Now, for the first time, I feel like I'm on the inside. And I'm seeing this from a completely different perspective. I always thought it was about white people relating to black people. But I realize that it's not. It's about black people reaching out to white people.

KING: And, as you mentioned, no tougher entrance, other than maybe Roosevelt, maybe Lincoln. Is he going to equal to it?

BEGALA: We have no choice. He does have a remarkable set of skills. He's got as good a team as any president has ever had. And, most important, he has the support of the American people. The question is, will we hang in there over time? This is my biggest worry. Will we lift our sights to match his vision, or will we just -- we're used to "American Idol" takes ten weeks and that's our idea of a long-term commitment in this culture.

Will we hang in there? It will take -- he's so candid about telling us, it will take a year, two years, three years, maybe four years. We have to hang in there with him. If we don't stay the course with this new president, he can't succeed.

MYERS: I also think part of Obama's genius has been that he's asked people to do more than just going shopping or put a bumper sticker on their car. What he understands and what great leaders understand is that by investing people and asking them to contribute their time and their talent and their energy and their love, that they become invested. It honors people to ask them to do more than just, you know, cast a vote or give some money. And I think that will pay huge dividends as people stay invested. KING: Will he be an accessible president?

BEGALA: Yes, this is why we were talking before we came on the air about the Blackberry. I wrote a column for CNN.com saying, keep your Blackberry, Mr. President. I know there are legal problems. There are even security problems. They can be fixed. He needs to stay in touch. This was, at least I thought, Bill Clinton's biggest concern going into the presidency, was -- he said to me -- my knees kind of buckled the first time I went in the Oval Office. He put his arm around, said, be careful. Paul, this is the crown jewel of the federal penal system. He did not want to be imprisoned by the office.

MYERS: It was silly to say he can't have his Blackberry. These technological questions are going to get bigger and more complicated. They're not going to go away. To say don't have your Blackberry, we can't figure out how to integrate that with the Presidential Records Act; that's ridiculous.

KING: I would ban them. What do I know? Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, thank you both so much. Before we go, we have a great webs exclusive for you, an interview with Donald Trump Jr. He's organized a mixed martial arts competition called A Day of Reckoning. Trump says it's boxing at the next level. The interview is at CNN.com/LarryKing, along with the blog and all other web features.

Joy Behar is with us tomorrow night. Send her an email at CNN.com./LarryKing. Right now it's Anderson Cooper and "AC 360.' Anderson?

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