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Analysis of President Obama's First Press Conference

Aired February 09, 2009 - 21:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: The president of the United States wrapping up a nearly one hour news conference.

He opened it up with six or seven minutes of an opening statement on the economy. Then he took 13 questions, although several of those questions had multiple questions involved. Eight questions on the economy, three on foreign policy, one on President Bush and whether there should be some sort of truth commission that Senator Patrick Leahy was recommending. It went on to Alex Rodriguez, the baseball star who's now admitted taking some steroids back in the early 2000s -- Anderson Cooper, I think it's fair to say that on the economy, this was the explainer-in-chief explaining some very sensitive and complex economic issues the best he could to the -- to the American public.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And without a doubt. He tried -- that was clearly one of the goals going in to this, trying to explain this extremely complicated economic stimulus plan -- something his critics say he really not done much of -- and particularly last week -- giving the American public a sense of exactly how things may change.

BLITZER: And he was blunt. He said this is not a run of the mill recession. And he said it's going to be rough all of this year. He doesn't really expect a lot of his improvements until next year, he said. And he painted a picture that if this economic stimulus package, which he's now trying to get through the Senate and the House, isn't passed, it's going to be a disaster for a long time to come.

COOPER: Also a lot of questions about bipartisanship and whether or not his efforts to reach some sort of accommodation with Republicans actually paid off. He said that part of it was about building up trust over time, not just some short-term solution.

He also had some tough words for Republicans, essentially saying that, you know, he -- he inherited this deficit, he inherited this economic crisis and that the Republicans don't have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility based on their actions over the last eight years.

BLITZER: And there were headlines on the foreign policy front, as well. On Iran, for example, he reiterated what he said during the campaign. He hopes to start a dialogue -- a direct U.S. dialogue with the Iranian government -- and he says in the coming months. He's hoping for some sort of reciprocity from the Iranian government.

And on Afghanistan and Iraq, while he welcomed the recent progress -- the elections in Iraq -- he basically said the situation in Afghanistan is about to get even more complicated and potentially even more dangerous for the U.S.

COOPER: We have a full complement of anchors and analysts who have been watching this press conference along with the rest of the United States.

Let's get some quick perceptions from them -- John King, your thoughts.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the first time, to see the president give a prime time news conference, I think we need to get used to long answers, number one.


KING: He was very professorial in some of his answers.

I thought it was very interesting that he -- actually, a stylistic point -- that he called on the Huffington Post -- not a mainstream media organization. That was quite interesting.

COOPER: A liberal blog site.

KING: Right. And he was not asked, in my view, sadly -- one of the biggest questions in Washington right now. A lot of questions about bipartisanship and about the stimulus plan.

The next big challenge for him is leaning on Democrats in the House of Representatives to come to an agreement with the Senate. They want to put a lot of money back in.

And the speaker of the House, the Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, just this weekend said why are so many people consumed by this process argument of bipartisanship?

She clearly has the votes to pass this in the House and she doesn't think it's all that important to reach out to Republicans right now.

And will he lean on her and twist arms in the House is a big question in Washington right now. And he talked a lot around those issues, but not directly to that.

COOPER: Soledad?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, you guys were talking about explaining it to the American people. But I actually got the sense that he was trying to explain the American people to Washington, D.C.

He started in Elkhart, talked about their devastating unemployment figures. He ended in Elkhart, saying -- sometimes you got the tone -- you don't get it. In Elkhart, they recognized how dire this is. You all in D.C. Do not get it. So I thought that that was kind of an interesting rhetorical play kind of trying to explain the issues of real people to the elected officials.

COOPER: And, Campbell, he's going to continue trying to reach out to the American people. He's going to Florida and elsewhere.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Right. And it's not -- it wasn't just, to me, simplifying it, but also trying to take ownership of this, in a way. Because that seemed to be one of the problems that he has had is it -- it wasn't clear that this is his plan, frankly, that they were driving the bus over at the White House. And that, in fact, Democrats were. And they were able to do a lot of things that caused a lot of problems getting to this point.

And then the way he talked about it tonight, he sort of said, OK, this is my plan. And that's what he needed to do, given the support that he has. The support doesn't exist for Democrats in Congress. It does for him personally.

So if he can get -- take ownership of it, I think it's beneficial.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what's interesting is the president came across as a real pragmatist. A lot of folks have said during the campaign, this president is going to be a liberal.

What I heard tonight was somebody who kept saying, I can't afford to see Congress play the same usual political games. But the interesting fight that we're setting up here is whether the new president really understands the role -- or can cope with the role that ideology now plays in our politics today.

COOPER: I want to talk to all of our panelists ahead. And Roland Martin, especially, and Alex Castellanos, who we haven't talked to yet.

But we have a lot of correspondents also standing by.

We also have more polls that Campbell Brown is going to have in a moment.

But first, let's go to back to Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Anderson.

We have our correspondents who are out there working this story.

Ed Henry is over in the East Room. You saw him at the news conference.

Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill.

Dan Lothian is on the North Lawn of the White House. He was in Elkhart, Indiana with the president earlier today -- Ed, you were inside there.

You saw the president for nearly an hour making a statement, answering questions.

What did you think?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he obviously had command of the room. As John King was saying, they were long answers. Some of us were wondering if there was going to be enough time to get called upon, frankly, because we were running out of time. They had billed only 40 to 45 minutes.

I think it was obvious that the economy was going to be the dominant issue. It's interesting that it ended there, with his mantra about how the people of Elkhart can't afford it -- you know, in action, the single mom can't afford it.

And it started with the economy. He got that very first question about whether he's talking the economy down by being -- sounding pessimistic, by talking about crisis, talking about catastrophe.

And it was interesting that he immediately stopped the reporter. He said no, no, no, no, no. I'm trying to be straightforward. I'm telling you what the economists are saying about how dire the situation is.

What White House aides say is behind statements like that is that this president feels that his predecessor lost a lot of credibility by having rosy scenarios for so long about the economy. They feel they need to be frank with the American people about how bad it is. That's why he's taking so many opportunities to talk in these kinds of forums like this, on the road and here at the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Ed.

We're going to get back to you.

I want to walk over to Dana Bash, our senior Congressional correspondent -- Dana, he made the pitch for bipartisan support. So far, out of all of the members -- Republican members in the House and the Senate, he's got three Republicans who basically are going along with him.

How is this likely to play tomorrow in the Senate and then during these negotiations leading toward a New Deal between the House and the Senate over this economic plan?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly not likely that he's going to get more Republican support in the Senate in the short-term. And John is exactly right. I think beyond the bipartisan question right now is the question about his own party.

As we speak, President Obama is really facing the reality that although he has Democratic control of Congress, getting his priorities passed and passed fast the way that you need to do it in order to pass Congress is not easy. And passing Congress means compromising.

And what I mean by that is that House Democrats are right now meeting to try to figure out if they can go along with some of the spending cuts and their priorities -- things like education and health care -- in order to get this through Congress.

And President Obama is going to have to lean on those House Democrats hard in order to get that compromise.

And it was interesting, and, frankly, surprising, that he didn't make that pitch here, in his press conference, saying don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, as he's said in the past.

BLITZER: Yes, he keeps referring to that, but he didn't say that tonight.

All right, Dana.

Stand by -- Dan Lothian, the president was clearly influenced by what he saw in Elkhart, Indiana earlier today. You were there with them. And it's a sad story, seeing what's happening in this town in Indiana.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is a sad story, Wolf. Over the last year, they saw their unemployment rate spike from 4.7 percent to more than 15 percent. And you really got the sense that the president went to Indiana to get exhibit number one for his news conference tonight.

As you heard, throughout the entire news conference, Elkhart, Indiana was the example that he kept pointing to. And what he's trying to do is really put pressure on Congress and say, listen, if you don't do anything -- if you don't pass the stimulus bill, then this is what you will see more of. You will see towns like Elkhart, that will find an entire industry of R.V.s there -- 75 percent of R.V.s across the country made in Elkhart. You will see towns like that will be just wiped out economically.

And so these are the kinds of places. And you'll see him go to Fort Myers, Florida tomorrow again, where he will say to Congress and to the American people, these are the places that can use this money in order to turn their economy around.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, stand by.

We have a lot more coming up, including some new poll numbers -- how are the American people reacting?

What do they think about President Obama?

What do they think about the economic stimulus package?

Campbell Brown with the poll numbers coming up.

The best political team on television has got a lot of analysis over what we just heard over the last hour or so. Remember, you can always go to and get more information on what is happening -- a critical moment right now as far as the U.S. economy is concerned.

Our coverage of the first prime time presidential news conference from the White House will continue right after this.


COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of President Obama's first prime time news conference while in office. You've got some new poll numbers -- Campbell.

BROWN: That's right. And we told people this number a little bit earlier, which is how many people favor the stimulus package -- the Senate bill that we've been talking about. And it's 54 percent favor to 45 percent who are opposed. And, as you can imagine, more Democrats in favor of it than Republicans.

But here's where it gets a little tricky, I think, politically, for the president -- and not from -- or not for the president, rather, but for Republicans, which is that you look at these numbers -- is Obama doing enough to cooperate with Republicans?

Seventy-four percent say, yes, he is. They're giving him huge points for that.

But are Republicans doing enough to cooperate with President Obama?

Only 39 percent say yes. Sixty percent say no.

So, you know, you talk about this

bipartisanship that he's striving for and he's getting points for it and they are beginning, at least, you know, in terms of public perception, to look like obstructionists.

Where that, you know, may benefit -- or John King, I know you were talking about this earlier -- or, you know, is -- are they still going to win this battle, I guess, in the long run, Republicans, by playing the role they're currently playing.

COOPER: There are a lot of liberals out there saying why are we all talking about bipartisanship?

Just do what you can if you have the votes and get it done. And to a degree, they're right. If Democrats have the votes and want to advance policies, they have every right and reason to do that.

The bipartisanship question almost doesn't matter until we get to the 2010 midterm elections, when either the Democrats or the Republicans will win or lose based on the condition of the economy.

If Obama had a significant number of Republicans voting yes on this economic plan, it would be much harder for the Republican Party -- two years from now -- to run an election saying they promised to create all these jobs, instead they spent all this money on the stimulus bill, all this money on the bailout bill and they haven't created the jobs. It's the same old liberal big spending Democratic Party.

Now that's -- that's counting on a dire economy. And the Republicans will say oh, we're not betting on that. But that is the campaign. By voting no, they are setting themselves up to do that, just like Republicans did against Bill Clinton in voting no against a lot of his budget issues -- the health care proposal from Senator Clinton -- so that in the next election, they can say, we told you they were liberals and they proved it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But the other way of looking at that is that what Obama has to worry about right now is the substance of improving the economy. That's what matters more than the bipartisanship, because his presidency and his party is going to be evaluated on whether the economy gets better. And whether he does it with or without Republican votes, I don't think matters much.


BROWN: ...before the mid-term elections. I mean what's the time frame?

BORGER: Well, yes. I mean...

KING: Not for him.


KING: Not for him.


BORGER: Right. Not for him. But that's the way the Republicans are going to be -- are going to be judged in the midterm elections. And they're -- you know, they're -- they're taking a risk.

But as Ed Rollins said earlier, look, this is a way to unify their base -- to unify their party. They're not playing to the general public out there who wants bipartisanship. They're playing to -- to the Republican base to say yes, you know, we do stand for something.

BROWN: Today.

COOPER: But for...

BORGER: Today. Absolutely.

BROWN: Well, yes.

COOPER: Let's talk to some of our analysts back here -- Roland Martin, we haven't heard from you.

How did you think -- in terms of the news conference -- Barack Obama did -- President Obama did?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, really, his opening statement spoke to exactly what he was trying to achieve. Also, in the critical words that he used. He explained in detail who was impacted by the stimulus package. He was very specific.

I loved the story when he mentioned the firefighters in Miami and later talked to, again, firefighters, police officers, teachers -- a $2,500 tax credit for those who are having problems affording college.

That's stuff people get. When you talk about becoming energy- efficient and weaning ourselves from oil, I mean, that's sort of pie in the sky. You get it when you say I've got a problem when it comes to paying for my child to go to college.

And so that's where they are trying to get people to understand, this is how this impacts you right now.

Overall, I think it will be fairly good in terms of -- now, granted, his answers were long. But his answers were long during many of the debates. And that's how he answers questions. He is a thoughtful president.

But, again, I think what he has to do is continue to tell the average person, this is how this impacts you -- not bankers, not folks in D.C. , but you in Columbus, in Dayton, in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Tennessee -- those small towns, those big cities.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos, Republican strategist, if the Republicans won the message war last week, is the president winning it back today?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I didn't think he was particularly effective tonight in talking to the people. I thought Soledad was right. He wasn't speaking to the American public. He was speaking to Congress and Democrats and telling them -- he was tough. He was daddy bear tonight.

I mean he went to Elkhart today, where people are fed...

COOPER: Daddy bear.

CASTELLANOS: Yes. He was strong, tough. They were...


CASTELLANOS: This was guys, get in line.

MARTIN: ...he said the Republicans were daddies.

CASTELLANOS: Get in line.


CASTELLANOS: Get in line, Democrats in the House. That's really all he needs to get his job done here. But he -- he went to Elkhart today, where people are losing their jobs. And we didn't see an emotional connection from this guy tonight. He was professorial. He was bright. He was articulate. He was very sharp. But he didn't really make you feel anybody's pain. It does -- a lot of Republicans are wondering, though, if we can get somebody in the White House who can give short crisp answers like Joe Biden, maybe.

COOPER: Paul Begala is standing by Los Angeles, as well as David Gergen, who's in Boston -- Paul Begala, Democratic strategist, did the president do what he needed to do?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do. I do. You won't be surprised to hear I disagree with Alex.

I thought that his message was pointed directly at middle America. And this is the challenge. You know, his job now is not to try to explain the ways of the Washington sausage machine to middle America. It is, in fact, instead, to take middle America's pain and bring it back to Washington.

I lost count of how many times he mentioned Elkhart. If there was a bumper sticker from this press conference, it would be "I heart Elkhart."

I almost expected him to bring it up when he was talking about Pakistan -- you know, that northwest frontier border is not at all like Elkhart, Indiana.

BEGALA: Yes, it was...


BEGALA: And I think that's very useful because he's trying to show America that he's still our guy, that we sent him there to do a job and he has not become captive of the Washington process.

I think it's instructive that there were no questions about the process stumbles that his government has had in the first few weeks -- different nominees who had different problems with taxes and nannies and so forth. There was none of that.

It was a very serious press conference about serious issues. And I give him very high marks.

Yes, he talked a little long, but, you know, what a relief. You know, after George W. Bush -- you know, watching Bush complete a sentence is like watching a fat drunk guy cross an icy road. You know, he just knew he wasn't going to make it. And this guy has some...


BEGALA: ...some command of the issues.

COOPER: David Gergen, you've advised presidents, Republican and Democrat.

What do you think president's staff is saying to him tonight?

What would you say to him tonight after this press conference? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well done. Pour it on.

Anderson, I thought it was a classic and shrewd exercise of presidential power. Only the president has the bully pulpit. And tonight, at a critical moment in his presidency, he seized that bully pulpit, dramatized the economy for the country, took his case to the people and I think put pressure on Congress to get it passed.

And I think it's going to work and work in the way the White House has clearly set this up. He goes to Elkhart. He brings Elkhart into the -- into the conversation tonight repeatedly in order to personalize it. But he -- by setting this up as a big test of power, in the next few days, he's going to win. He's going to get a bill through the Congress one way or the other.

There may not have been any Republicans, but he's going to get a bill. I think we all know that.

And about a week or 10 days from now, there's -- everybody in Washington is going to be talking about a major presidential victory, which he helped to set up with this press conference tonight. And people are going to -- and it's going to enhance his power to deal with these tough economic days ahead.

So I thought it was a good way to go on offense. And, also, I think it was a way to enhance his own power so he can get other things done well beyond this stimulus package.

COOPER: All right. We've got to take a quick break here.

Our coverage continues, though.

John King is going to be at the magic wall. And we're also going to talk to our strategists and some more poll numbers from Campbell -- Campbell Brown.

We'll be right back.



OBAMA: Look, I would love not to have to spend money right now. I'd love -- you know, this notion that somehow I came in here just ginned up to spend $800 billion, you know -- that -- that wasn't how I envisioned my presidency beginning. But we have to adapt to existing circumstances.


BLITZER: The president at the news conference just a little while ago, making it clear that he believes he has no choice but to get Congress to approve more than $800 billion to try to get this economic recovery going.

Let's go over to our chief national correspondent, John King.

It's only -- he said the first and most important test of success for his economic plan would be the creation of jobs, because unemployment is going up and up, especially in so many of these states.

KING: It certainly is, Wolf.

And let's use the map to demonstrate it.

Our viewers will remember this from the election -- red states, McCain states; blue states, Obama states.

Well, let's do this instead. This is a look at unemployment across the United States. And if a state is gold or yellow, that means it's in the top ten -- the highest unemployment rate.

Michigan, for example, at 10.6 percent.

Where the president was in Indiana today, it's more than 8 percent.

He's going down here in Florida -- the same thing, it's in the very high numbers.

So when he's looking at the map like this, at the jobless rate -- more than a million manufacturing jobs gone in the last year. But he talked about he didn't want to come to Washington to spend and why are so many Republicans saying, no, because look where they're there from.

Let's just, for an example, go down here. Here is the State of Kentucky. The unemployment rate in Kentucky is 7.8 percent. That is not low. It's not as high as some other states. But two Republican senators in Kentucky -- they will not vote for this plan. They don't support it.


Let's go back and look. John McCain won that state. It's a conservative state where they don't like spending.

Just to the South in Tennessee, again, the unemployment rate, 7.9 percent. You would think maybe those senators would feel some pressure to go along. But, again, it is a conservative state carried by John McCain. There's no pressure, when they go home, to support all this government spending.

The president is looking at this map, though. And this is where he was today. He talked about it repeatedly. He was up here in Elkhart County. He won Indiana just narrowly. This is a very conservative area, though. But the unemployment rate now 15 percent.

What a great place to go to sell to conservative, rural voters -- we need to spend all of this money. Normally, they would be against it. In a situation like this, because of the economic urgency, it has a much more receptive audience. And the gap we talked about earlier I just want to use this in Indiana. Here's what the president was trying to do in this press conference tonight. He personally has an approval rating of 76 percent. The stimulus plan -- the Senate version only is favored by a little more than half of the American people, 54 percent.

What the president was trying to do tonight, Wolf, is take this number -- the 76 -- and superimpose it up here, to try to boost the support here to get pressure on the Congress to act -- and, as the president said, act fast.

So when he looks at the map now, it's not so much about red and blue. That will be four years, when he runs for re-election. It is about this and the growing unemployment rate across the country, especially in these big industrial states and, again, in Indiana today; in Florida tomorrow.

BLITZER: And look at California out there. It helps explain why so many of the politicians in California -- that state is really hurting. The governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, making it clear that they simply can't pay the bills. Even some state refunds that are supposed to go out, they just don't have the money.

KING: I've been traveling in the last few weeks. California is one state. I Peoria, Illinois, where the president is going later in the week, as well.

Every time you pick up a local newspaper, mayors and governors talking about budget cuts.

Because when you have a high unemployment rate, when you have so many companies that are struggling, guess what happens?

Income taxes go down. Corporate taxes go down. Revenues to the states are shrinking. The budget crises in almost every state is growing.

And that's why Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican -- a moderate Republican -- he wants that money.

Charlie Crist, a moderate Republican down in Florida, he wants that money.

Some other Republican governors have said we don't like this plan. Most of the governors, the budget crunch is so severe, they want that money and they want it fast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he says that his plan, he promises, can either save or create three million to four million jobs. And I'm not exactly clear on what he means by saving jobs as opposed to creating new jobs.

But explain what you understand he means by that, because he's very precise in using the words "save" and "create."

KING: "Save" and "create" because if state governments are laying off workers because they can't pay the bills, if they get an infusion of cash from health federal government and they keep those workers on the payroll, those are the jobs that are saved.

He's going out to Peoria, Illinois. Caterpillar just said they're laying off 22,000 workers globally. They may have to lay off more if they can't sell those big tractors -- those big earth movers.

So if they save those jobs, the president would count those, as well.

Local governments are laying people off in the construction industry. They're either laying more people off or there are hiring freezes in place. The president's calculation is you start spending this money, whether it's building schools, roads and bridges or just keeping people on state and local government payrolls for the infusion of cash -- that's a job saved, in his view.

BLITZER: Yes. It's going to be hard to determine how those saved jobs are quantified, but that's another matter that the economic statisticians will be able to go through.

John, stand by.

Our coverage is going to continue.

The president has now had his first prime time White House news conference. It went on for almost an hour. We have much more to digest.

Remember, -- you can go there and get a lot more information. Anderson Cooper, Campbell Brown, the best political team on television -- we're all standing by. And we also have our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll numbers. We're going to share more of that with you.

Our coverage continues right after this.



OBAMA: I don't remember exactly what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly. But let me try this out, I think what Joe may have been suggesting, although I wouldn't put numerical -- I wouldn't subscribe any numerical percentage to any of this -- is that given the magnitude of the challenges that we have, any single thing that we do is going to be part of the solution, not all of the solution. And as I said in my introductory remarks, not everything we do is going to work out exactly as we intended it to work out.


BROWN: That was President Obama speaking at his prime time press conference, first prime time press conference, a short time ago, responding to a question from a reporter: "what did Vice President Joe Biden mean when he said that we had a 30 percent chance that we might get it wrong?" This is related to a private conversation that Biden was supposedly referring to that he had between himself and the president. You heard the president's answer there.

So much of this news conference devoted to explaining, to selling the stimulus package, the stimulus plan. We have poll numbers to share with you from our new poll that demonstrates, I think, there's some selling and explaining that needs to happen. One of the questions that we had in this poll is would the Senate bill help the economy? Only 16 percent said a lot; 48 percent said some; 28 percent said not much; 16 percent not at all.

We also asked, will the economic stimulus bill spend, in your view, too much money, not enough or the right amount; 55 percent said too much money; 13 percent said not enough; 30 percent the right amount. Not overwhelming numbers, Anderson Cooper, in either direction. Of course, President Obama's most effective weapon is himself right now, his popularity and the bully pulpit that we has. He's going to Florida, taking this on the road to try to push this plan and sell it and go from here. We'll see if perhaps there are more TV interviews, another prime time news conference to get this message out.

COOPER: It was also interesting tonight to hear the president talk about what he has learned about this process. Towards the end of the conference, he said almost jokingly, he shouldn't have offered up any tax cuts, let the Republicans come up with them, and then they would have felt like they got a victory for it. What do you think the president should learn about -- out of this process?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The big thing he has to learn is -- I give Alex credit a little bit -- is that he's not the commander of a battleship now. He now has an entire fleet of ships he has to command. The entire Democratic party has to be part of how he communicates. I think what they're starting to figure out now is they have a lot of soldiers from the field. They can go ahead and talk to people and do it.

The Republicans were very good at finding some little pieces to nit pick at, and be able to use those little pieces to go out, day-by- day, and really kind of dismantle the president and the White House's effort. They've gotten back on their game. The full Ginsburg, around the horn TV interviews he did it last week; all that worked to get everybody back on the president's message. And now we're seeing it.

I'm hearing from some people, leadership in the House, friends of mine who were there, who are saying, this is going to get done by Friday. They pretty much believe by Friday. It may not be -- they're trying to figure out exactly how the construct works for the conference. But I think it's going to be done by the end of the week. And the president will have a victory.

COOPER: Ed, though, did House Democrats do this president any favors by, early on, with the first version of this bill?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, absolutely not. Democrats did what they always want to do. They've been looking forward to having a liberal president that would basically carry their agenda. They thought, this is a great opportunity to put a bunch of stuff in there. I think one thing the president said in his opening remark -- I want to make sure I read it correctly. He said, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt the economy back to life.

The federal government doesn't have the resources. We're going to have to go borrow the trillions of dollars, just as California would or you would, to pay off your credit cards and what have you. That's the mindset. The president, he was very verbal -- maybe too verbal in some of his answers. But he set some marks tonight. He said, I'm going to create or save four million jobs, never explained how. He basically said, I'm going to stimulate the economy. I'm going to bring people together. Didn't put time frames.

He said, I'm going to reform the entitlement program, which he blamed on Republicans. The Republicans have not been entitlement programs. What does that mean? Where does he go from here? One good thing he said, which I've never said a Democrat ever say, is he's going to fire bad teachers, which I think is a very positive thing. I'm sure he'll be hearing from the teachers' union in the morning.

COOPER: Roland, where does the president go from here?

ROLAND MARTIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think, first of all, clearly, he needs to get this passed in the Senate and then obviously out in the House. Also, he has to remember, if you keep taking to the American people, you will have the buy-in -- Republicans did a very good job of making this a Washington, D.C. story. We got all caught up in the process, who's up, who's down, who's doing what, all kinds of stuff like that. If he constantly reminds people that I'm talking to you out there in the Midwest, the South, the Southeast, the West, the Northeast, all across the country, that I'm speaking for you -- if he gets caught up in the Washington, D.C. game, he loses.

Granted, he must get the votes of people in Congress. But he cannot play their game. He's got to force them to play his game.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos, Republican strategist, he said though he was trying to build up trust over time with Republicans and try to break, sort of, the -- I want to get the right word -- break out of ideological rigidity and grid lock. Do you think he really can continue to try to do that? Or is the lesson from this, look, a little bit of partisanship helps to get things pass?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's interesting, because tonight, it was actually a fairly polarizing speech. There wasn't much in there for Republicans. It was a pretty tough speech that says, hey, this is kind of the way it's going to be. There wasn't a lot of warm, fuzzy language. He could have stood up tonight, for example, and said, you know what, there is too much pork in this thing. Republicans, we're going to cut some of that. His numbers would have shot up 10 percent. He would have 80 percent favorable. He would have passed this thing in 24 hours.

MARTIN: The Republicans would have still voted against it.

CASTELLANOS: He didn't do that. MARTIN: There's something called reality here, Anderson. That's what this boils down to. He understands it's a game. I think, in terms of him reaching out, he's not sitting here really talking about the Republicans; he's dealing with the American people. He's saying, look, I came to D.C. I said I was going to do. I'm talking to you. I'm making the effort. If you don't want to be with me because of ideological terms, I get that. At some point, you have to move on. You can not continue to wait around for Republicans to come around, because they are not.

If he had 80 percent tax cuts, they still would have said, I'm not going to vote for it unless it's 100.

CASTELLANOS: Roland predicting what Republicans are doing.

MARTIN: I voted for -- coming from Texas, so I understand how Republicans think as well.

CASTELLANOS: If this kind of expansion worked so well, I would still be in Cuba, the worker's paradise, and the Soviet Union would be the most powerful economy in the world. This has been done before. Roosevelt did this when he ran for re-election in '36. It wasn't working. What he had to do the next year? Another huge input of government money to try to get --


ROLLINS: As Margaret Thatcher said best, the problem with socialism is, sooner or later, you run out of other people spending other people's money. The bottom line here is this is the ideological line that gives Republicans an opportunity to get back in. They've been fighting this same premise. They got compromised by Bush the last eight years. They now feel good fighting on these issues.

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it there. We're going to have more from Jamal Simmons and our other correspondents. A lot more ahead. Stay tuned. We'll be back.



OBAMA: What I've been concerned about is some of the language that's been used suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth. First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then I want them to not engage in revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now and the economic crisis that we have right now.


BLITZER: President of the United States at his news conference just a little while ago. He was referring to the fact that when former President Bush took office, the national debt was just more than five trillion dollars. It's now approaching more than 10 trillion dollars, moving towards 11 trillion dollars. And the president has inherited a budget deficit this year projected to be about one trillion dollars. That, of course, would be a record.

Let's go over to Campbell and the best political team on television. You're going to hear a lot, Campbell, from this president, look at the mess, the economic mess that I inherited. And I'm trying to do the best I can to get this economic recovery going and to start to create jobs, as opposed to losing hundreds of thousands of jobs.

BROWN: A fair point there, Wolf. We should also mention in the context of George W. Bush that his first prime time news conference wasn't until October 2001, which was nearly nine months into his presidency. So, I think as reporters, we like to give them credit for at least jumping in early and take questions.

BLITZER: I don't think anyone can complain that this president has not been very visible and accessible over these first three weeks.

BROWN: Certainly not, especially as, again, he tried to win support for the stimulus package. You were saying a moment ago that a question was raised -- Ed Rollins mentioned this as well -- about measures, particular measures. What standards will he be held to. You believe there are some.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I believe he answered the question. I believe ABC asked the question, how are we as the American people supposed to measure the success of this stimulus package? He sort of made three points about it. He said, whether you keep your job or we create a job for you, whether the credit markets start operating efficiently, and when the economy stops contracting.

Now, like Ed said, he didn't put the timetable on it. He didn't say it's going to would happen by next week. But I think if you asked Ed whether he would have advised the president to say it's going happen within the next three months, Ed would say, no, I would not have. But I do think he gave some very clear measures that the American public can now start to judge this president by and the economic stimulus and the bank bailout.

BROWN: Do you agree with that?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I do agree with that. He did lay a marker. We were joking about this off camera. I think essentially what he was saying was you'll know it when you see it. That's the Supreme Court test for pornography, you'll know it when you see it. I think that's essentially it, when consumer confidence goes up, when the economy stops contracting and jobs start creating.

But to one other point, he's also learning what every new president learns. He's absolutely right; he inherited all that debt from George W. Bush. He inherited this recession from George W. Bush. He inherited the financial institution bail out plan that's incredibly controversial from George W. Bush. We have a president in this country. His name is President Barack Obama. It's his economy now. Fair or unfair, every new president learns this. That's his inbox, his problem.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: What remains a little mysterious to me, even after listening to Obama today, is how precisely the plan will get that improvement.


TOOBIN: But, in fact, the time where I thought he was at his best, when he got a little feisty and he said, people talk about waste and pork barrel spending; why is it waste to winterize houses and schools because that does create jobs. It does decrease dependence on foreign oil. And it does help with global warming. That's a specific thing that will improve the economy, and theoretically improve the world. Other than that, it can get pretty vague when he doesn't talk about specifics.

BORGER: I think he was essentially saying, this is the new game in town. I am a new president. I don't believe that tax cuts are going to solve all of our economic problems. I believe that doing environmental work on federal buildings is going to help us create jobs. So he -- and he said, effectively, I'm the decider on this now. I do think he laid down the gauntlet here tonight and said, I'm going the look for bipartisan cooperation. But in the end, I'm the president.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: -- against the rap too. Is it a spending plan or a stimulus plan? I think he almost has to be bigger. He has to say, folks who are feeling the pain -- let's reference our folks in Elkhart, 15.3 unemployment -- folks who are feeling the pain, this is not a spending plan. It's a stimulus plan. That's a point he has to make.

TOOBIN: My guess is he has to stay away from that noun, the decider. I think that's associated with the other guy, yes.

KING: To Jeff's point about the specifics, winterizing buildings, building schools, some of the Democrats on Capital Hill, some of the Republicans complained, essentially said, look, we won. We won. Quiet down. We won the election. That's not the right answer. The way these spending bills will actually create jobs. The president, you said earlier, personalizing it, using his personal approval ratings to say, listen to what I'm talking about is a better political strategy.


O'BRIEN: When he talked about the lack of bipartisanship, he called it like a bad habit, almost like, I'm going to wait them out. Anybody who is not playing this game together, I can wait them out and eventually it will be reciprocated.

BROWN: Let me get the Republicans' take on this. Alex?

CASTELLANOS: I thought it was very combative. It was take it or leave it for Republicans. He's got the votes in the House. I think he's got Rahm Emanuel in a room somewhere, putting on the brass knuckles and sending him over to the House in the morning and get those guys in line and pass this thing. That's how close he is. He doesn't need bipartisanship right now.

But it's interesting to have a guy getting a very ideological plan, a huge, big spending expansion of government, then saying, I don't know why we're not doing this in a bipartisan way. It's a very partisan plan that he's put forward. It's the antithesis of what Republicans believe.

BROWN: Ed Rollins, do you agree with that?

ROLLINS: I totally agree with that. He's drawn the line where we like to fight. The truth of the matter is, his four years in the Senate, he wasn't a bipartisan. Joe Biden, in his decades in the Senate, has never been a bipartisan. So to ask us to cross the line -- the three people who crossed the lines have crossed the line historically. The two ladies from Maine have always voted the things they believe in. Specter has a tough re-election campaign. His biggest worry -- he's probably going to draw a primary opponent out of this. You'll find him on that side of the aisle many, many times in the next several months.

BROWN: Fair point, Ed Rollins. No surprises on that front. Wolf?

BLITZER: Campbell, I want to go back to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He was at the news conference. Ed, you asked a good question, although you got two part question in your one question, and you made news. You got him to make news, the president of the United States, on both Afghanistan and also if he would be willing to reverse the long standing Department of Defense policy of preventing news media coverage of coffins coming back to the United States.

Tell our viewers what you asked and if you were satisfied with the answers.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I asked that second part about Dover Air Force base because, as you know, this president has vowed that he would bring new openness and transparency to his government. That has been a very sore point, not just for the media, but for some military family who say that they want those ceremonies very solemn at Dover Air Force Base, they want them open to cameras, because they want the American people to see the sacrifice.

The president did make some news by saying that the policy is under review, the Pentagon policy preventing the media from covering the events. That is some news. But he didn't go as far, perhaps, as he could have. Now, on the other question I asked about Afghanistan, the reason I pressed him on that is the fact that I found it very interesting that out of the 13 questions, nobody asked about Iraq. That's a war that many people have sort of moved on from, even though we have well over 100,000 troops there.

What's fascinating about Afghanistan is there is about 34,000 US troops there. The president now reviewing plans where could -- I stress could -- send up to 30,000 more US troops. That would almost double our presence. I pressed him on whether he has a timetable to eventually bring those troops home. He was candid in saying he does not yet have a timetable. That's very interesting.

I also thought at one point he said, while I don't have a timetable, what I do know is that I'm not going to let al Qaeda and bin Laden -- the first time we've heard him as president specifically lay that out -- bin Laden, I'm not going to let them basically have these safe havens to launch terror attacks against the United States. So he was firm there, but he acknowledged that Afghanistan is going to be a major challenge for him as president, and acknowledged that he does not yet have a timetable the way he has a clear timetable for pulling troops out of Iraq. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Henry is our man at the White House. Ed, stand by. We're going to take another quick break. When we come back, we're going to go back to John King over at the magic map dissecting what we learned tonight and what it means politically in the coming days, as the president tries to wrap up this economic stimulus package, also setting the stage for tomorrow's announcement of part two of the financial sector bailout. The Treasury secretary getting ready for that announcement.

Remember, at the top of the hour, Anderson Cooper is back with "AC 360," a special edition. Much more of our coverage coming up right after this.



OBAMA: Tax cuts alone can't solve all of our economic problems, especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy, time and time again. And it's only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.


BLITZER: President of the United States making the case for his economic recovery plan, the stimulus package. It's in a do or die moment in the Senate, expected to be approved tomorrow. Then it's got to go back to the House of Representative, where a different version was passed earlier. They've got to work out their differences. Then it'll come up for votes in the House and the Senate one more time before the president can sign it into law.

The huge issue is unemployment right now, because almost 600,000 people lost their jobs in January. And the president was making it clear, he expects those numbers to continue for a good chunk of this year. So the measure will be how will unemployment go down and when will that start to happen?

KING: It has been a sober greeting at the White House for the president. Three months in a row, more than 500,000 jobs lost in each of those months. You noticed 600,000 jobs lost last month. We're learning a lot about the president, Wolf. In the first prime time news conference tonight, watch him as he sells this plan. He we learning about how he wants to personalize the issue.

I make the point this way, he was in Indiana today, as we told you. He was up in northern Indiana, up in here. The unemployment rate in this state is more than eight percent. He wanted to go there and he wanted to personalize it.

I'm going to switch maps for a minute just to show where he was. He carried this state, but where was he? He was up here in a conservative -- again, he knows people are skeptical about this spending. Why not sell it in a rural, conservative area, where traditionally they don't support a big government role.

Let's come back out again to the national map. I'm going to switch this. The Golden States, the yellow states, are the top ten highest unemployment rate. Michigan is the highest in the country at 10.6 percent. We're watching as the president travels. Indiana today, but Wolf, he's going to be in Florida tomorrow. The unemployment rate there, 8.1 percent. He wants to make the case in this key state that he needs this money.

I want to move that over there, because I want to switch back to the other map to make that same point again. He'll be down here in the Fort Myers area. Now, Barack Obama carried the state of Florida 51 to 49. But he lost down here. Once again, he's going to a conservative part of the state as he tries to sell this plan to make the case.

We know -- one more time, I want to show you -- we'll come back to the unemployment again. He'll be out here in the state of Illinois next week. This is his home state.

BLITZER: This Thursday.

KING: This Thursday in Peoria in Central Illinois. Caterpillar is headquartered there. They have announced they'll lay off more than 22,000 people worldwide in the first quarter of the year, 7.6 percent unemployment there. When the president talks about everything he hears, tells him the rate it will continue to inch up, that's because, in part, right here in his own home state, factory jobs are being lost. Again, a million manufacturing jobs just in the past year.

We're learning when this president wants to take his case to the American people, he's picking places where he can go and personalize the unemployment story, as he asks, again, the Congress to quickly come to an agreement on this deal. Again, it's a bleak picture when you look at it. The golden states have the very high unemployment, above nine percent. The yellow or gold, the unemployment rate is above nine percent. The blue states are the lowest unemployment states. We go as low as 3.4 percent. You see a lot of the purple shade. That's somewhere in the middle. Even that, Wolf, is six, seven percent unemployment.

BLITZER: Even in those states with the highest unemployment, whether Florida or California or Michigan, the Republican members of the House, they voted against this economic stimulus package. So they're running a risk right now. KING: They're running a bit of a risk, Wolf. But they don't see it quite that way. I want to give you an example. I am going to go back to Indiana. I was out in Indiana this past week doing some pieces for the weekend show. Again, he was up here in Elkhart. The unemployment rate is 15 percent.

If you come down here, one of the places we spent some time, Indianapolis, we spent time with blue-collar union auto workers. Barack Obama won this county. It's blue. We also spent time up here, the city of Caramel right here, just north of Indianapolis. Look at this, it's a blue county. John McCain with 60 percent of the vote. If you're the Congressman from this district, the people in this district don't want the government to spend all this money. So this Republican is safe in saying that. It depends on where you are in the country.

BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks very much. Stand by. We're going to continue our coverage. Much more coming up. We're only getting started. A special edition, in fact, of "Anderson Cooper 360" is about to begin. Anderson has a full two hours of live coverage coming up right here on CNN. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Let's go to Anderson right now.