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American Morning

Obama Heads To Captiol Hill To Discuss Remaining $350 Billion With Senate Democrats; Obama To Possibly Close Gitmo Through Executive Order; Crisis In American Schools

Aired January 13, 2009 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: It's coming up now one minute to the top of the hour.
Here are this morning's top stories.

President-elect Barack Obama heads to Capitol Hill today with a meeting with Senate Democrats. He's making his case on how he wants to spend the remaining $350 billion from the financial industry bailout and to push his economic stimulus package.

Roland Burris, take a seat. In a major about face, the Senate's two top Democrats clear the way for Burris to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. They say Burris' paper work now complies with Senate rules. Majority leader Harry Reid initially vowed to block anyone appointed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. He was accused of trying to sell that seat, faces impeachment. Burris is looking forward to coming to Washington.


BURRIS: I ask for your support and prayers so that I may work with you. My Senate colleagues and our new president to succeed at the challenges which face our state and our country.


ROBERTS: And Roland Burris is going to join us live on AMERICAN MORNING in about 10 minutes' time.

The Associated Press says North Korea refuses to give up its nuclear weapons as long as the U.S. backs South Korea with its atomic arsenal. A statement from Pyongyang says it won't need its own arsenal once "the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea is gone."

Just seven days now until the transition of power is complete. Barack Obama is already acting like the commander-in-chief. Obama is getting ready to issue an executive order, his first week in office. Perhaps as early as his first day, to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live at the White House for us this morning.

Suzanne, what's the president-elect looking to accomplish by closing Guantanamo Bay and how long might it take? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, one of the things that Barack Obama said during the campaign is he says, I will follow the constitution, because I know the constitution. I used to teach the constitution. He used to teach constitutional law.

Essentially, he feels that President Bush has overreached, overstepped his own powers when it comes to holding those detainees at Guantanamo Bay. This is a campaign promise that he made a long time ago, along with ending this Iraq war.

This is really about satisfying people, his very early supporters who had been calling for this. He said that he really felt that this was a moral issue. This was something that was important to do. So there's all kinds of aspects to this. It's a tough, tough job to do. But there's a political aspect to it. There is a moral aspect to it.

We asked President Bush yesterday whether or not he thought it was a stain, if you will, on the Bush administration. President Bush still defending Guantanamo Bay, but, obviously, very controversial. And Barack Obama wants to make a statement from day one, from week one, that he is going to be a different kind of president and have a different kind of administration.

John --

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux live for us at the White House this morning. Suzanne, thanks.

All this week, by the way, we're looking at the top challenges that Barack Obama will face as president. We're breaking them down with our expert panels. Coming up, the education challenges that Obama will inherit. If you've got a question that you would like to ask our panel, and we've got a very good one this morning, go to and send it to us.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, like Suzanne was reporting, Barack Obama may issue the order closing Gitmo on day one of his presidency. Logistically, though, it could take up to a year or more to shut down.

CNN's Barbara Starr has that part of the story live at the Pentagon. And explain the hurdles that go into this, not only logistics but legal to closing down Gitmo.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A lot of legal hurdles, Kiran. One of the things that experts tell us is the big question is, of course, what do you do with the detainees? If you bring them to the United States, for the first time, then they could theoretically be tried in the U.S. criminal court system.

What does that mean in terms of their rights to a trial? The rules of evidence that would be offered for this kind of trial proceeding, could evidence obtained under coercive interrogation methods back at Guantanamo Bay actually be used in a trial in the United States? No one is very clear or certain about any of this. Could you hold detainees in the U.S. indefinitely? The worst of the worst, if you will, who the U.S. never wants to see released. What would happen to those people?

There are also security issues. Where exactly in the U.S. would you bring them? Who wants to have them in their community? The two sites that are the most talked about are Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

Lawmakers in both of those states are already on the record opposed to having the detainees at Gitmo in their states. They believe they would then be a target for terrorists. All of this remains to be worked out. It is going to take months, and it's a real sort of lesson for everyone.

The promises you make on the campaign trail are a lot easier than figuring out how to do them once you get in the Oval Office.

Kiran --

CHETRY: That's right. It seems that he does want to send a message, though, from day one if that is his intent, even though it might take a little bit longer to actually happen. Barbara Starr for us this morning, thanks.

ROBERTS: Four minutes after the hour now. Have a look at this picture. Old man winter is having quite a blast in the Midwest in the plain states. Chicago experiencing blizzard conditions overnight into this morning with subzero temperatures. Hundreds of flights at the airport were canceled at both airports -- Midway and O'Hare. And those are people, who are having to spend the night there on cots at the airport.

Rob Marciano tracking the extreme weather for us. He's at the weather center in Atlanta. How bad is it going to be there in the upper plains of the Midwest, Rob?


ROBERTS: Lovely day in Minneapolis. Rob, thanks so much for that. We'll check back in with you later on.

And now let's sort of sneak around here behind Rob, and what do we find over there? It's Kiran.

CHETRY: You can't be moving the studio monitors around. Dangerous stuff.

ROBERTS: They're on tracks. You can move them all over the place.

CHETRY: It is.

MARCIANO: Come on, John, stop it!

ROBERTS: I'd love to have a room like this in my basement to watch football.

CHETRY: Yes, exactly. I'm going to borrow that on Super Bowl Sunday. I bring it right back Monday morning.

ROBERTS: (INAUDIBLE) on this big wall.

CHETRY: Well, meanwhile, an Indiana judge freezing the assets of a pilot who investigators say faked his own death. They believe that Marcus Schrenker parachuted out of his plane over Alabama before it eventually crashed in Florida. Schrenker businesses are currently under investigation.

And our Brooke Baldwin is live in Harpersville, Alabama, this morning. So we are learning new details this morning about his escape plan this morning. What's the latest in the investigation, Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kiran, good morning. Here is the latest twist in the tale, if you will. We're learning this morning that Marcus Schrenker might have stashed a motorcycle in a storage unit here at Harpersville, Alabama, one day before his disappearance.

That is according to Birmingham News. They are also reporting that when authorities went looking for that motorcycle last night, it was gone. But let's back up. Go back to Sunday night. That is when this whole story started with what police are calling a fake distress call.

Schrenker was flying from Anderson, Indiana down to Destin, Florida. There were some sort of distress call, his plane on auto pilot, they have later discovered crashed into the swampy area of the Florida Panhandle.

Where was Schrenker? Apparently, 200 miles away here in Alabama. He checked in late Sunday night, according to police, to this motel here in Harpersville. Paid in cash, faked his name, was last seen running off into the woods.

Now Tom Britt is a colleague of Schrenker's from Indiana. I talked to him on the phone. He told me that Schrenker, to some, is very affable, very cordial but, to others, he is threatening. Here is his reaction to the news of his missing friend.


TOM BRITT, SCHRENKER'S COLLEAGUE: Why someone would jump out of an airplane, leave it on autopilot with his training and his background is beyond me. There's just no reason for him to do that, other than trying to stage something.


BALDWIN: The Associated Press is reporting this morning that Schrenker e-mailed Brit, just last night. And in that e-mail, he claimed that the accident was a -- rather, that the plane crash was an accident. He also alluded to some suicide. But, Kiran, Brit has of course turned that e-mail over to authorities. And that's the latest as far as what we might be hearing from Schrenker's whereabouts.

CHETRY: All right, Brooke, thank you so much for the latest details on that. We'll be following it throughout the morning as well. Thanks.

John --

ROBERTS: His nomination seemed to be doomed from the get-go, but now Roland Burris is headed to Washington. The man who will replace the next president in the Senate joins us live coming up next.

And with the economy in crisis, America's already under-funded public schools need cash more than ever. We're looking at the education challenges facing Barack Obama. Interesting conversation ahead. It's nine minutes after the hour.



ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS SENATOR-DESIGNEE: I'm truly humbled and honored to learn that later this week, I will officially be sworn into the United States Senate as the Illinois junior senator.


ROBERTS: Well, Roland Burris' fight is over. The man appointed by the embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will be sworn in and take his seat in the Senate probably happen later on this week. Right now, he is live in Chicago.

I guess we should probably call you Mr. Senator-designee at this point. You haven't been sworn in yet. As we said that's probably coming later this week. And I'm wondering how do you feel that the same people who swore that you would never be seated in the United States Senate are now calling you Senator Burris? How are you feeling about all of that?

BURRIS: Well, naturally, I feel great, and I can understand what their positions were. They were concerned about the rules and the regulations (INAUDIBLE), and who comes to that body. That person must come with the right and proper credentials, because that is the most exclusive body in the nation and probably one of the most powerful bodies in the world. So I understand what --


ROBERTS: Right. Let's take a moment just to remind people of what was said by Democratic leaders in a joint statement. They said, quote, "Anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich cannot be an effective people of the Illinois, and as we have said will not be seated by the Democratic caucus."

You know, you outfoxed them all, Mr. Burris, simply by sticking to your guns. You know, even risking public embarrassment when you went there and they said, no, we are not going to swear you in. We're not going to seat you back there on January 6th. What was it that gave you the strength to continue this fight?

BURRIS: Well, number one, I knew, as a former Attorney General of my state that my appointment was legal, and it meant all constitutional and statutory requirements to be seated. And based on that, I certainly pushed forward.

It's also my interest and desire to be a public servant. As a young kid growing up in a small southern Illinois town, I set two goals at the age of 16. One was to be a lawyer, and the other goal was to be a statewide elected official of Illinois. And I had that opportunity to serve.

That is my whole purpose in life as I see it is to be a public servant. And the opportunity presented itself again after having been out of office for a few years, I had an opportunity to get back into the service of my state, and I certainly look forward to doing that.

ROBERTS: What was the turning point, Mr. Burris? Was it when Senator Dianne Feinstein said you have every right to be seated in the Senate or was it when Governor Blagojevich's people leaked this idea that there had been a telephone call between Governor Blagojevich and Senate Leader Harry Reid in which he had turned down three other African-American candidates as being too weak.

And it just so happen that that was one of the phone calls that was supposedly wire-tapped?

BURRIS: I don't really know too much about that background. I think the turning point came when people began to see my credentials, and they, you know, saw me and my desire to serve. I think that's when the public opinion, by the way, a lot of persons who, you know, think that I was wrong by not doing that, but we've gotten, you know, just hundreds and hundreds of calls from all over the country, you know, encouraging me to, you know, just stick to my principles and to, you know, continue to seek to be seated. So I got a lot of encouragement from friends and family and, of course, when my wife encourages me to do that, I know what I'm doing is right.

ROBERTS: There is just one other important question that I want to ask you briefly here. Will you run -- will you stand for re- election in 2010 or stand for election, I guess, it would be your first time.

BURRIS: We can't answer -- yes, I can't answer that question now. I have to get my Senate legs under me and, you know, get the rules and regulations down, and we'll make that decision in due course.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, we'll be watching closely and looking forward to your swearing in. Mr. Senator-Designate Roland Burris, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks for being with us.

BURRIS: Thank you very much, John. I really appreciate the opportunity.

ROBERTS: We'll see lots more of you, I'm sure. CHETRY: Well, at home and abroad, there's a slew of problems waiting for Barack Obama on his oval office desk. We're counting down the top five challenges today. We're talking education. We have a great panel ahead to talk a little bit more about some of the biggest challenges when it comes to educating America. It's 16 minutes after the hour.

ROBERTS: Lines for the history books.


FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask not what your country can do for you.


ROBERTS: Now Barack Obama prepares to make his mark on the inaugural stage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll have school children reading this speech hundreds of years from now.


ROBERTS: Inside into the speech the world will be watching, ahead on the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: That's John Legend singing at the Democratic National Convention. He is also going to be part of the star-studded lineup to help kick off Barack Obama's inaugural in Washington. Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, U2, James Taylor, they are all among those set to perform at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. The event is called "We Are One: The Obama Inauguration Celebration." It will be heavy on music and history. It's going to be shown exclusively on HBO.

And there's also great anticipation about Barack Obama's inaugural address. Many expect it to stand with some of the greatest ever presidential inaugural speeches. It's of course a tall order even for a gifted speaker like Barack Obama.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live for us in Washington with more on of course the expectation and what exactly he is going to say when he takes the oath of office.

Hi there, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kiran. That's right. To say that Barack Obama gives good speeches is sort of like saying Brett Favre throws touchdowns. The guy's got game and he is going to prove it here about a week from now. And he's got some big shoes to fill, roughly the size of those shoes up on the Lincoln Memorial. And Barack Obama's inaugural address may be more than just the speech of his lifetime. Historians and speech writers say it could be one for the ages if he could just rise to the occasion.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America.

ACOSTA (voice over): Barack Obama's path to the presidency started with a speech, ended in triumph.

OBAMA: Change has come to America.

ACOSTA: Now the stage is being set for an address that's destined for the history books.

ANDREI CHERNY, FORMER SPEECHWRITER: There's a pretty good certainty that you'll have schoolchildren reading this speech hundreds of years from now because of this moment in American history.

ACOSTA: Former Clinton-Gore speechwriter Andrei Cherny expects to hear echoes of FDR --

ROOSEVELT: That the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

ACOSTA: Who also waged an epic economic battle against the Great Depression. Cherny gave the young man, who's helping craft Mr. Obama's inaugural address, Jon Favreau, his first speechwriting gig.

CHERNY: I think you are going to hear hope, but it's going to be a hope that is tempered by the reality of the situation, and that's actually a more honest kind of hope.

ACOSTA: The incoming president has also studied his Lincoln.

OBAMA: There's a genius to Lincoln that is not going to be matched. People then point to Kennedy's inauguration speech.

KENNEDY: The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

ACOSTA: Kennedy, to many, the gold standard of the television age.

KENNEDY: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

LARRY SABATO, PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLAR: In all of American history, we probably have a dozen lines that are remembered from all those addresses by all those presidents.

ACOSTA: Presidential scholar Larry Sabato says Barack Obama's challenge is to measure up to the moment, the nation's first African- American president in the midst of a national crisis.

SABATO: When you consider it's the day after Martin Luther King Day, that inevitably, he will echo John F. Kennedy, that it's almost impossible for Obama to fail.


ACOSTA: One question is whether Mr. Obama will use the occasion to detail a laundry list of proposals for the nation. But historians caution, inaugurals are meant to inspire even during difficult times and there will be plenty of time for detail in the State of the Union.

And, Kiran, when we're out there one week from today, it will be interesting to note, and I talked about this with Larry Sabato yesterday, when Barack Obama stands up there and gives that inaugural address, he will be looking right at Abraham Lincoln, who, in his second inaugural address, vowed to bind up the nation's wounds, and Barack Obama faces a similar challenge now.

CHETRY: It is amazing. The symbolism will certainly not be lost on historians and those of us alike. But, you know, the other interesting thing that Larry Sabato talked was the fact that there are only a dozen quotable lines, you know...

ACOSTA: That's right.

CHETRY: throughout our history, and Barack Obama had one of his own where he said we're not a black America or a white America, we're the United States of America, when he gave that speech at the DNC, so...

ACOSTA: That's right. That speech is what got his career started essentially. That was what got him on this meteoric rise. And -- and you're right. He is going to have this huge occasion here to really crystallize where the nation is at this moment, and we're all sort of waiting in anticipation as to what he is going to say.

I have to say, I tried in vain yesterday to reach out to some of Obama people to find out, you know, can we get any hints here? I got to tell you, I got nothing, Kiran.

CHETRY: Yes, they don't want to give it away. Of course, not.


CHETRY: Jim Acosta, good to see you this morning. Thanks.

You can watch the inauguration with your laptop as is teaming up with Facebook for special in-depth coverage. You can be part of history by logging on to

ROBERTS: Well, as power gets ready to change hands in Washington, the talk isn't all about Barack Obama and President Bush. So, why all of the love for Abraham Lincoln ahead of Barack Obama's history-making inauguration? We'll explain. And it's a rare opportunity for homeowners to dramatically reduce their mortgage costs. Gerri Willis will tell us how you can do it in the first installment of her "Housing Survival Guide."

It's 25 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning."

With mortgage rates way down, homeowners have a unique opportunity to dramatically reduce their housing costs. Those of you with mortgages, listening? CNN's Gerri Willis has details in the first installment of her "Housing Survival Guide."

Good morning to you.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey, good morning, John. Good to see you. I love coming here with good news and that's what I'm doing today.

Mortgage rates at their lowest levels in 31 years. That means money is cheaper out there. If you have a mortgage for your house, you definitely want to check this out. 30-year fixed rates, according to Freddie Mac, at 5.01 percent. Fantastic. 15-year even lower at 4.62 percent.

Now listen up. The devil's in the details here. You really want to know what's going on with these rates. It makes sense to re-fi if you already have the house right now, if you don't owe more than the property is worth. Think about it.

If you owe more than the property is worth, you're going to have to make up the difference at the closing table. That could be tens of thousands of dollars. If you plan to stay in the house for the long term, it makes sense to re-fi because you can amortize those costs for a long period time.

You can lock in a rate that is at least half a percentage lower than what you're paying right now. And for a lot of you, an adjustable rate mortgages out there. This is definitely going to be a possibility because your rates have reset higher and higher.

So, it's really a good opportunity for folks out there to rethink that mortgage they have right now. Of course, it's not free. It's going to cost $2,000 to $3,000 to do this for most folks out there, maybe even more if you have a larger mortgage.

And, one thing to think about here. 30-year fixed rates for conforming loans. Those are the average value loans out there, are cheap, at 5.01 percent, but if you have a jumbo out there, a jumbo mortgage, a really big one, you're going to pay almost two percentage points higher, almost 7 percent.

So what a lot of really smart folks are doing out there, John, is they're taking on two loans instead of just one to lock in that lower rate.

ROBERTS: Or if they've got some investment money they're hanging around, you could take that, pay down the rate. But, you know, you talked about closing costs, points, things, like that. But -- you know, I was talking to a friend of mine who was thinking about re-fi the other day about this. When you have a fixed rate loan, you're front-loaded with interest rates, right?

WILLIS: Right.

ROBERTS: So let's say, you're five or six years into a 30-year fixed, even paying mostly interest. So, you refinance that, you're front-loading with interest yet again.

WILLIS: That's right. And you have to be careful about this. If you're pretty far into that mortgage, you don't want to get a new loan because you'll just be paying more interest costs over time. But so many people are stuck in loans right now with such exorbitantly high interest rates. And you know who I'm talking about out there. If you have an adjustable rate mortgage, you could be paying a whole lot right now. But they're just eager to get out of those loans. But again, you can't re-fi if you're 10, 15 years into a loan. It probably doesn't make sense.

ROBERTS: Yes, because by that time, your -- the portion of your payment that's interest is very small, and the portion that's principal is very large.

WILLIS: Absolutely right. And I want to mention one other thing. One strategy out there. If you're thinking about re- financing, if your mortgage is held by a conventional lender, call them up, ask for a loan modification. They may be willing to just change your loan without a lot of fees, without a lot of costs. Can be a cheaper way to go out there, and I think someone is maybe willing to do that because otherwise you're going to be shopping around. There is a lot of work to do when you get a new mortgage loan.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: So you have the leverage, right? Because the rates are going down. So you might not get the lowest rate but you may be able to convert?


ROBERTS: Interesting.

WILLIS: Yes, you definitely want to be out there on the phone with your banker right now. You know, it doesn't hurt you to pick up the telephone.

ROBERTS: Yes and make sure you run the numbers, too.


ROBERTS: Gerri, hanks so much for that.

WILLIS: My pleasure. ROBERTS: Gerri is going to back tomorrow, by the way, with part two of her housing survival guide. Tips on how to save your house if you are in the brink of foreclosure. Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. We're coming up on 8:30 here in New York. A look at the top stories this morning.

Israel's attack in Gaza City escalating today. Troops and tanks are pushing into the city of 400,000 from two directions. Residents hiding in bunkers and basement as helicopters attack from overhead. And Israel warships are firing on the city from the coast. U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon will be heading to the region today to step up diplomatic efforts.

And business that can't wait another week. Barack Obama heading to Capitol Hill today to ask for the second half of the $700 billion bailout. President Bush yesterday sent a request on behalf of the incoming president and administration for the same amount.

And confirmation hearings begin today for a number of Obama's cabinet choices, most notably, New York Senator Hillary Clinton as the next secretary of state.

Clinton will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations committee where she is expected to face some tough questions specifically about her husband and his foundation. Mrs. Clinton though is expected to be confirmed.

An Indiana judge freezing the assets of a pilot who investigators say faked his own death. They say Marcus Schrenker parachuted out of his plane out of his plane over Alabama before it eventually crashed in Florida. Schrenker's businesses are now under investigation. Police say they think he fled on a motorcycle stashed in a rented storage unit in Alabama.

Well this week, we're counting down to the five biggest issues facing the incoming president. And today's number four, an education system in crisis.

America is home to some of the world's best colleges and universities, while the country's public schools are filled with problems for students, in some cases and in some segments of the population, graduation rates at about 50, 55 percent like under funded budgets as well and also a shortage of teachers.

Joining me now is former education secretary Rod Page, this year's national teacher of the year Michael Geisen and also California superintendent of public instruction Jack O'Connell. Thanks to all of you for being with us.


CHETRY: I want to start with you, Secretary Paige. Because there's been a lot of critics of the No Child Left Behind Act. It's an act that you spearheaded the implementation of. Critics not only say that the testing can be too rigid that kids are memorizing facts, not necessarily learning in broader concepts but also that it's difficult to set these type of standards without taking into consideration and allowing for some of the factors that go into why certain schools and certain students under perform.

If you had to make any tweaks or adjustments, what do you think needs to change about No Child Left Behind?

ROD PAIGE, FMR. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Well I think a lot of things we could change to improve No Child Left Behind. One of the big things I think to do is to take a look at national standards. We have too many different moving parts and too many different standards.

Each state under No Child Left Behind Act presently sets its own standards and maybe we need to consider setting national standards, especially for math and for reading. There are many other things that we can do but I think that would be one of the big ones.

CHETRY: And also, you know, I'd like to talk to you, Michael. We got a number of e-mails. You are there in the classroom each day. What role parents actually have and the children themselves in making sure that they are getting their education, if they're learning properly. One e-mail, as "we spend so much time discussing the role and achievement of teachers.

What are the responsibilities of children and parents?" Maybe you can explain just how much of what goes on in home of a child factors into their success in the classroom.

MICHAEL GEISEN, 2008 NATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR: It's a great question. It's a huge, huge factor. The study shows and my experience shows as well that where a student comes from at home makes a bigger difference than just about anything else.

The reality is that parents are student's primary teachers and they should be. And I think that was one thing that Barack Obama said in his campaign that I took a lot of pride in, you know what? Teachers are teachers, but parents are teachers as well and they need to step up when they can and how they can to take advantage of the unique opportunity they have to teach their children.

CHETRY: Jack O'Connell, you believe the biggest challenge facing President-elect Obama is the achievement gap that we've been talking about minorities and some other students. We have a study from the APE, America's Promise Alliance that came out last spring and it shows some really disturbing statistics that we're going to show about high school graduation rates.

Among all students it's right about 70 percent but then you factor in African-American students, it's at 53.4. That's compared to 80 percent for Asians, Hispanic students at 57.8 and white students at 76.2. What are the biggest factors in that achievement gap as they call it and what are some of the solutions?

JACK O'CONNELL, CALIF. SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION: Well, Kiran, it really is the civil rights issue of this decade. The achievement gap for this nation is real, it's stark. It's persistent and absolutely must be addressed.

We have to break it down and work on it individually. And what might work for one particular subgroup, perhaps one subgroup of African-American students in the urban area may not necessarily be successful for an African-American group in a rural area.

So we really have to confront this, have high expectations, it really begins with preschool, universal preschool. That may be the place where we can address what we call the readiness gap even before students get to kindergarten.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to continue with our panel, Secretary of education, former secretary of education Rod Paige, as well as Michael Geisen, Jack O'Connell. A couple of other interesting things. The economic downturn and how that is going to impact education funding.

And also should we be paying students for doing the right thing? Could that work? Also, all this week, we're looking at other challenges of the president-elect as he heads into office. If you have a question that you want to ask, go to and send it to us. 36 minutes after the hour. We'll be right back.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

We're back with our panel looking at the education challenges that Barack Obama will inherit just one week from today when he is sworn in as president. I want as to start with you again, former education secretary Rod Paige.

If you had Barack Obama's ear for just a couple of minutes, what would you it tell him moving forward would be key to - to making the United States more successful when it comes to teaching our students?

PAIGE: Well, I'd say this. There is one thing we know for sure. If and when schools change, they will do so as a result of professionals inside the schools, the teachers and the principals, school board members, and other professionals in the schools.

So we've got to find a way to show more respect for and support of this important part of our education enterprise. So the policy making gap and policy and practice gap has to be closed and we got to find a way to support those that are inside the school, because that's really where the work is being done.

CHETRY: Right. This is not to knock any teachers that are out there because it is certainly an unbelievably difficult profession and our hats off to everyone there.

But I want to ask you Jack, if you had money to pay as a California state superintendent of public instruction huge, let's say, six-figure salaries, would you be getting a better crop of teachers? I mean would money make a difference? O'CONNELL: Money in and of itself, the answer is no. But with it, necessary reforms that we need to implement, the answer would be yes. It really is a parallel approach that we need. We do need additional funding, no question about it.

The fact we're able to see our test scores here in California continue to go up six years in a row is really a tribute to our hard- working professional educators but we do need to make that larger investment in order for us to remain economically competitive with not just other states, but in this hypercompetitive global economy.

CHETRY: And Michael, I'm interested in asking you about this - this program that's been floated and tried out in some places. In fact, New York City schools did it for a while. You have cash rewards for students who either take standardized tests or complete certain accomplishments. What do you think about the notion of paying of kids to perform better?

GEISEN: Well, I take the approach generally in my classroom that extrinsic rewards may be good in the short term but in the long term they do quite a bit of damage to students. And my motivation as a teacher is try to bring out the natural and inquisitiveness, the natural curiosity and inspire students to learn for learning's sake.

By having curriculum and activities that are relevant to the real world and inspiring the students. Because that's where real learning occurs, not by paying them.

CHETRY: And Secretary Paige, what are your thoughts on that?

PAIGE: Well, at first I was a little bit troubled by that. But we know for a fact now that we need new techniques to improve what we're doing. Many things we're doing are not working. So I'm willing to wait to see how this comes out.

We got some interesting experiments going on in some of our major cities right now. And so I want to see the results of that before I come to a firm conclusion.

CHETRY: And Jack, before we leave, Obama supports charter schools, not necessarily school vouchers though for students to attend public or parochial schools. How important do you think it is that parents and students can choose where they think their child will be best educated even if they can't pay for it?

O'CONNELL: Well, it is very important. I'm big time against vouchers as well and I know the president-elect is. But we need to have options. We need to have choices. Magnet schools, charter schools. We can learn best practices for many of these institutions. We need to have - create that environment so each student can learn to his or her maximum potential. And obviously, again, parents are a key part of that.

CHETRY: All right. We got to leave it there. Great panel discussion today. A lot of great insight from all of you. Rod Paige, former education secretary and Michael Geisen, 2008 National Teacher of the Year and congratulations by the way, and Jack O'Connell, who is the California state superintendent of public instruction. Thanks to everyone this morning.

GEISEN: Thank you.

O'CONNELL: Thank you.

PAIGE: Thank you.

CHETRY: Well as we continue counting down the top five challenges facing the president-elect, you can follow along online. We also welcome your questions. We use some of them today from our e- mailers, so thank you. Tomorrow's topic number three - Homeland Security. And we're going to have a new panel of experts. You can ask them your own questions. Go to and send it in. Again,

ROBERTS: Major news for your money breaking right now. The Fed chairman Ben Bernanke speaking in London talking about helping banks and helping you. Is another check on the way? Our Christine Romans will have the highlights for us coming up.


ROBERTS: 46 minutes after the hour. Breaking news this morning. The U.S. trade deficit plunged to its lowest level in five years and in addition to that a stark warning from the Fed chairman during a stop in London this morning.

Our Christine Romans is watching all of this. So good news and bad news with the trade deficit. It's good that the trade deficit is going lower -


ROBERTS: Unfortunately, it's going lower because the economy is -


ROMANS: Because of the oil. Oil prices really tanked and so oil prices down. That means the cost for imports goes down so that helps the trade deficit a little bit. And then Bernanke -

ROBERTS: It goes down because the economy is -

ROMANS: Right. Right. I mean, which is just another example of just how weak the global economy is and the American economy is as well. Well, Ben Bernanke, the Fed chief, he said that the global financial system is under extraordinary stress as he puts it.

We know that but he says that we're going to need government-led responses to fix things but he points out, he says about the Obama plan, he says, this could provide a significant boost to economic activity but he said it's unlikely to promote a lasting recovery unless this move the fiscal stimulus measures and the overall stimulus measures are accompanied by strong measures to further stabilize and strengthen the financial system.

There are economists, John, who have told me that we're getting a little complacent maybe on the idea that the financial system - look it hasn't fallen apart so everything must be fine. It's not fine. And a lot of work still needs to be done.

And you know, stimulus could keep the economy on track here but it can't come without keeping a close eye with what's happening in the banking system and Bernanke essentially is saying we might need more bailout. We might need to keep recapitalizing the - John, you're rolling your eyes. We might need more.

ROBERTS: When is it going to stop?

ROMANS: I have asked that question to so many of my sources and they say it's not the right question.

ROBERTS: Look at how far in the hole are we now? $3, #4 trillion?

ROMANS: Well, you could get all the way up to $7 trillion if you count all the other measures that we've done. I mean there are people who get all the way up into the multi-trillions but I ask people when does it stop, when is it over and they say Christine, that's a question that is a question for later in 2009. Right now, we're still talking where does it begin and this is just the beginning.

ROBERTS: This feels like open heart surgery with no anesthesia.

ROMANS: I know.

ROBERTS: Doesn't?

ROMANS: You know what, that is a perfect way to put it. It really does. And everyday it's a new kind of wrinkle and politics involved now. I mean, think of this Obama stimulus, the new administration stimulus. It is historic, complex. This is the biggest kind of thing we've ever tried to put together. You know how Washington works. I mean this is going to be ugly and interesting.

ROBERTS: Or it doesn't work.

ROMANS: Or it doesn't work.

ROBERTS: On occasion and nobody knows if this stimulus is going to work either. So -

ROMANS: And you know, there are some people who tell me that they know that parts of it are not going to work. They're going to bomb.

ROBERTS: Shake those eyes, roll them. Kiran, over to you.

CHETRY: Cue music. I think even our producers want to get out of this one.

ROBERTS: Seriously.

CHETRY: Well just one week until Barack Obama takes over for President Bush, is honest Abe stealing the show? Why both the president and president-elect can't seem to stop talking about our 16th president. It's 49 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. Well over and over one name seems to be on everyone's lips in Washington from the president to the president elect, there is a whole lot of love for Abraham Lincoln.

Our Carol Costello is live in Washington. Carol, you got to check this out today. This is the cover of the "New York Post." Make it a little closer. I don't think Barack Obama is going to be wearing that hat. OK. But certainly we've been talking a lot about this 16th president as we get ready to welcome Barack Obama to the White House.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Barack Obama might not be wearing the hat, Kiran but he certainly is channeling Abraham Lincoln because hey if you're a politician and you're in a tight spot, ask Abe. Lincoln seems to be the man with all the answers and not just for Barack Obama.


COSTELLO (voice-over): He's a rock star. No, not him. Him. The big man in the stove top hat is Washington's "it" man. Barack Obama reveres him. He is using Lincoln's bible at his inaugural, visiting Lincoln's Memorial on Saturday in D.C. and speaking of Lincoln's spirit often.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Abraham Lincoln did not simply win a war or hold the union together.

COSTELLO: Even George Bush in his last news conference as president spoke of a spiritual bond with Lincoln.

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I've been reading you know, a lot about Abraham Lincoln during my presidency and there's some pretty harsh discord when it came to the 16th president, just like there's been harsh discord for the 43rd president.

COSTELLO: Historian say Richard Nixon related to Lincoln, too. His sentiments playing out in the movie "Nixon." It's true, Nixon paid a midnight visit to Lincoln's Memorial at the height of the Vietnam war, searching for spiritual answers from a dead civil war president, but finding war protesters instead.

NIXON: Hi. I'm Dick Nixon.

COSTELLO: Some historians worry all of this Lincoln love is a bit much. Harold Holzer wrote "Lincoln, president-elect."

HAROLD HOLZER, AUTHOR "LINCOLN PRESIDENT-ELECT: I worry when presidents try to massage the lessons of history to fit the contours of their own problems and their own reactions.

COSTELLO: Holzer does not think Barack Obama is guilty of that, others do. Perhaps it began during the campaign when George McGovern introduced Obama in Illinois.

GEORGE MCGOVERN (D), 1972 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Illinois gave us Abraham Lincoln. That state may now have given us a second Abraham Lincoln.

COSTELLO: When artists started to morph Obama and Lincoln's faces, meet Linc-oma. Or when Obama said a portrait of Lincoln in his office asks him questions.

It prompted former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan to write in the "Wall Street Journal." I'm sure that Lincoln portrait asks 'Barack why are you such an egomaniac'? Or perhaps is it no longer possible in American politics to speak of another's greatness without suggesting your own?"

Other gives Obama and other Lincoln lovers the benefit of the doubt. Lincoln's history is so rich, so varied there is something about him we can all relate to.


COSTELLO: And we all certainly like him. I mean, Lincoln is America's favorite president by far. And I was looking on, Kiran, just because I was curious to know how many books are available about Lincoln. More than 1,000. I got tired of counting. Americans love to channel Lincoln, too.

CHETRY: Oh, I still remember being a little girl and walking up to that memorial and just looking like this and thinking, wow. Pretty cool.

COSTELLO: Help me, Lincoln. Give me answers, please. I'm sure you made that.

CHETRY: Maybe not that far. Carol, thanks so much.



ROBERTS (voice-over): The farewell tour.

BUSH: Obviously some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.

ROBERTS: President Bush opens up in his last news conference.

BUSH: Sometimes, you misunderestimated me.

ROBERTS: Jeanne Moos and a look back at some of his most famous Bush-isms.

BUSH: Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? ROBERTS: You're watching the most news in the morning.



ROBERTS: Three minutes to the top of the hour. Some breaking news here. Josh Bolton, the current White House chief of staff, outside the west wing there on the driveway. Appearing with Rahm Emanuel, the incoming chief of staff. let's listen in.


JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We started earlier than any transition in history. In fact, we started consulting with both campaigns way back in the summer and our close consultation with the Obama team began immediately after the election.

We've certified nearly a thousand members of the Obama transition team for access to information and briefings at nearly a hundred agencies around the government, and we've expedited clearances for key members of the national security team so that they are in position to hit the ground running.

In the post 9/11 world, this isn't just good man or good government. It's a national security responsibility. In keeping with that understanding of the national security responsibility, we are, today, undertaking an unprecedented Homeland Security exercise.

In a few minutes, key members of the incoming Obama cabinet and White House senior staff will be meeting in the downstairs here in the West Wing, in the Situation Room to get briefings on the continuity of government procedures and incident management procedures that are now in place. And then later this morning, that group will be joined by their counterparts in the current administration, key members of the cabinet and White House senior staff for an actual Homeland Security exercise.

We're going to work on a specific scenario. We may get to more than one. And talk about who does what, under what authorities, and with what coordination in the event of a Homeland Security incident. These things are never perfect, but they're a good learning exercises and I'm very pleased with the kind of cooperation we've had on both sides to pursue this important exercise.

This is just one piece of the ongoing effort that we have in place to meet the mandate of our bosses. I want to compliment especially John Podesta who has been heading the Obama transition effort and Rahm Emanuel, the incoming chief of staff, has done a terrific job in ensuring that the Obama team is fully engaged.


ROBERTS: So that's the current White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. He is also the leader of the president's transition council which was (INAUDIBLE) just before the election to help smooth the transition, saying they are going to engage in a Homeland Security exercise, one of the final phases here, power over to the Obama administration.

As you can imagine with so many moving pieces, the Department of Homeland Security and all that, they need to coordinate and they've been doing that, according to all historians we've talked to, a really, really good job at all of this.

CHETRY: Right. The Bush administration is certainly -- certainly earning rave reviews...


CHETRY: ... for helping make this transition as smooth as possible. So we're going to leave it there.

Thanks so much for being with us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

ROBERTS: Yes. Don't forget, we've got the Hillary Clinton confirmation hearings coming up with "CNN NEWSROOM" and Heidi Collins.

Hey, Heidi.