January 5th, 2009
01:00 PM ET
9 years ago

Reporter's Notebook: For Obama, emotions give way to reality


President-elect Obama flew on a U.S. military aircraft for the first time for his trip to Washington Sunday night and was greeted with the trappings of his upcoming status as the country's next commander-in-chief. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (CNN) - He arrived here for his new job feeling a bit melancholy about the move from Chicago, but President-elect Barack Obama has little time to mull over his emotions - he's been immediately hit with the sobering realities of the task ahead.

There's the still-unfolding war in Gaza, a fresh reminder of the monumental national security crises ahead. And then the political challenges here at home, starting with two so-called "pay-to-play" scandals - Bill Richardson out as the Secretary of Commerce nominee, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich still causing heartburn with his selection of Roland Burris to replace the President-elect in the Senate.

In other words, the candidate of "change" is dealing with unexpected change that keeps popping up, threatening to throw him off stride. But he signaled Monday in the first of a series of meetings on Capitol Hill that he intends to stay focused on his economic recovery plan, with aides signaling that he plans to sweeten it with a bigger-than-expected tax cut for individuals and businesses in the neighborhood of $300 billion.

"The reason we're here today is the peoples' business can't wait," Obama said. "We have an extraordinary economic challenge ahead of us."

That poise stands in stark contrast to the emotional Obama I got an up-close look at while flying on his plane from Chicago to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Sunday evening. It was bitter cold on the tarmac at Midway Airport, but he did not seem to be in any rush to board the plane. He was lingering with friends, hugging and saying his good-byes.

Related: 'I choked up,' Obama said

But then the President-elect looked up and saw a massive Air Force jet from the presidential fleet waiting for him, with a crew wearing jackets that say "Air Force One" in script on the front.

As a reporter, it's one of those little moments that can signify a big shift. In this case, it was a sign of just how close the President-elect is to formally taking the reigns of power in one of the most dramatic transfers of power America has ever seen. So long to the chartered jets from United Airlines that took the President-elect to Hawaii - or the commercial flights the rest of us endure - for the next four years he'll be riding that big bird known simply as Air Force One.

Technically it's never called "Air Force One" unless the sitting leader is flying on it, but top Obama aides acknowledged that the enormity of it all was finally sinking in as they flew aboard the jet. "It's a little clearer now," incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, looking around the grand interior of the Air Force jet with a smile. "Nice digs."

The President-elect finally ran up the steps of the plane and peeked back at us on the tarmac. "See you in DC!" he shouted, which seemed like a signal that he would not be coming to the back of the plane later to visit with the press corps during the flight.

But then as we took our seats, the President-elect appeared in the press cabin to talk briefly about how he got "choked up a little bit" as he walked through his Chicago home one last time Sunday afternoon before heading to Washington. His wife Michelle and two daughters, Sasha and Malia, had already made it to the nation's capital so the house must have been eerily empty.

"What happened was Malia's friend dropped off an album of the two of them together," he said. "They've been friends since pre-school and I just looked through the pages. And the house was empty. It was a little tough. It got me."

But the flight itself was pretty enjoyable for the President-elect. Aides said he ordered a cheeseburger and fries - he can apparently afford to do that after all those visits to the gym to workout. And then he watched the football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.

A little down time before before tackling the looming challenges ahead.

soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Deb

    Well written article which captures the attention

    January 5, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  2. J.P..

    What, you mean one can't run an entire nation and solve all of the world's woes with simple vaccuous mantras (hope and change, anyone?) and "pritty" flowery speeches? I am shocked...

    January 5, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  3. No Hillary = No Obama

    Let's "hope" Obama can get past his self-indulgences and put his actions where his Yes We Can talk got him.

    January 5, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  4. naqib

    Big change for him...
    In Illionis he just used the "Machine" to fix elections and do nothing.
    In the Senate he could just vote present (if he was there).
    In the campaign he could just deny, deny, deny, deny.

    Yea... he might actually have to make a choice now... but then again he hired enough ex-Clintonians or Clinton's themselves to make the choices for him.

    January 5, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  5. Ann

    I have just one question I would like to ask in that you announced on the opening page Obama will give a big speech on the economy tomorrow. Now why is CNN allowing Obama to say "there is only one President at a time and that is Bush still" when asked about the conflict in Gaza or other matters, yet you salivate over pronouncements like this as if he is already the President? Can we expect some stability and honesty from your reporting please or will this be 4 years of excuses for him we look forward to? If he is not the President yet then please stop acting as if he is.

    January 5, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  6. Lisa in Florida

    We can all only imagine what Mr. Obama must be feeling as he leaves Chicago for the last time as a Senator/citizen. It is very telling that his reflection on this is so sobering and emotional for him. He knows life as he and his beautifl family know it is no more. Their whole world is about to change. And isn't it telling how seriously and profoundly he takes his new position. It really shows that he realizes the complexity and vastness of it all and how prepared he is to face his challenges. Right or wrong, left or right, agree or disagree, I for one will sleep better at night knowing this man will be in charge and truly sees the vision and understands what is at task. I for one pray everyday for him and his family and some nut job out there in the world will not take this outstanding citizen of the world from us and allow him to do the job he so valiantly won. I support him and all his efforts, as all of us should do. He certainly has a mess to clean up.

    January 5, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  7. Proud American

    Poor guy thanks to Idiot republicans he will have his work cut of for him. America your getting real leadership this time.

    January 5, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  8. demwit

    I sure hope Obama is not just now suddenly realising what it takes to be President of the United States of America..

    January 5, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  9. obama-mama


    I know it has to be scary leaving home and going to a new home where you will be scrutinized and constantly crticized but Mr. PE, you have a lot of people that have faith in you. For the folks that didn't vote for you and wish you ill-will, they should realize that if you fail, so will they....You have a lot on your plate but I know you will do your best

    January 5, 2009 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  10. Franky

    The world ain't that bad, I like to think we had it worse but definitely no more worse than Michigan! LOL!! Too early for jokes??

    If our President can protect us and take care of our money, my boy will be fine and we'll be a dynasty in no time...I mean, a DY-NAS-TY! There's a difference, LOL!

    January 5, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  11. johnny

    He looks WONDERFUL!

    January 5, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  12. chuck


    January 5, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  13. Shane


    January 5, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  14. Al

    Good luck to Obama and all of us. And I wish democrats would not try too much to please republicans. Those morons already delivered our TAX money to wealthy crooks, funneled money through Iraq war and other dirty tricks. No reasons to please them anymore.

    January 5, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  15. demwit

    Bloggers notebook: CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry is not a hardcore liberal incapable of reporting unfiltered truth...

    January 5, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  16. Kim Young

    What a exciting time!!!

    January 5, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  17. Denise

    I do not envy the PE. He has a great burden thanks to Bush.

    January 5, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  18. george in alaska

    yes, the truth will set you free, and these colors don't run. we can't be intimidated with perverted opportunistic poilce state tactics because, quite frankly, we don't give a rat's behind about your propaganda. it's two in the bush vs a solid american constitutional bird in the hand.
    viva la liberty...viva la america!

    January 5, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  19. Emmanuel

    Wow! Obama you must have been really crazy going for this job with all the hate too. Wow!

    January 5, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  20. Jackie in Dallas

    Good luck, Mr. President Elect! I have no doubt you will stay focused and together when you hit the ground in D.C. And before all the hateful people comment, glad you got a taste of the good side of being President, since there's a large dose of the bad to swallow as soon as you are sworn in! Give your girls some hugs tonight as they come back from their first day at school, and remember that they are your anchor in days ahead!

    January 5, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  21. xcusme

    It's time. It's real. It's going to be different from this point on. Once he adjusts to the drama in DC he will be fine. Anything new and unknown can be scary. With the mess being left in Washington he will not have time to savor the moment.

    January 5, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  22. Gloria - Minnesota

    God Bless You, Barack Obama, our next President of the United States of America!

    January 5, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  23. Joyce

    Tears filled my eyes when I looked at that picture of President-Elect Obama alone exiting the plane. He has so much to deal with in the future. I give him my blessings and full support.

    January 5, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  24. Cynthia

    Still don't care.

    January 5, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  25. Patricia

    We have come so far to get to this day. No matter what nasty comments that wil be posted on this sight, they will not destroy the joy and pride that I feel at this moment. I am so excited to be going to the Inauguration. I am going for all of my ancestors that are not here to enjoy this. Some of them fought in Wars and died for this country but never thought they we would ever see the day that an African – American would become President of the United States of American.
    I pray for those who continue to hate this man who will be a great leader just because of the color of his skin. Love will always transcend hate and in the end love will always prevail.

    I pray that God will Bless and keep PE Obama and Family safe and that this great Nation will survive.

    January 5, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
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