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. Roger

    Even though the challenges facing our nation are monumental, I am so glad to be alive at this critical turning point in history. The President-elect has an ulmost unimaginable task ahead of him, but if there was ever anyone up to the task, it is Barack Obama.

    God be with you Mr. President-elect and your entire family. You all will be in our prayers daily.

    January 5, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  2. carlo

    When I look at the situation our nation is faced with, it blows my mind to think that anyone would want this burden. Good luck and God bless Obama.

    January 5, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  3. Mickie

    Yes, unfortunately, the party is just about over for celebrating and now the hard work begins. I have been a strong supporter and my prayers will be with you and your family as you try to straighten out the mess that no leadership has left to us. I'm sure the republicans will be blaming Obama and the rest of the democrats for anything not glowing by 20012. They are already trying to blame the democratically controlled congress for the past 2 years even though Bush has either vetoed or threatened to veto anything they wanted to do to fix his/Cheney's messes. Haven't seen Cheney in quite a while and George wishes he had been able to hide as well. Hope they both decide to move to a different Country. Maybe Mexico will take them.

    January 5, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  4. TexAnnie *-*-*-*-*

    Folks, we're about to swear in a new President in 2 weeks. Whether this was the man you voted for or not, let's at least give him a chance. Let's see if he can make a difference. Our country is in a dire situation right now, and we need to ALL pull together to get her back on track. Hatred toward the President Elect just because he might not have been your candidate of choice only hurts our country and ultimately all of us. Let's try to be positive for right now and see if things can improve. Unless or until Obama proves otherwise, I think we need to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    There have been many times in my life where "my candidate" didn't win.... but once elected, it's only fair to give that person a chance to show you they either can or can't represent you to your satisfaction. I've never been a single party voter, so I've voted for both Democrats & Republicans. I think we need to look at what the "person" can do instead of just a party label. We've had too much hate & cynicism & mistrust these last many years– let's try to make 2009 a more positive year. It all begins with each of us individually.

    January 5, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  5. MAD

    Praying for the PE and his family everyday. I can't even imagine how they must be feeling. God's speed...

    January 5, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  6. Welcome, welcome and welcome

    goodness, it is the dawn of a new day, thank you for running Mr. Obama, roll up your sleeves and don't let us down, we hold you in high esteem

    January 5, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  7. Bell

    This is totally awesome. If it were anyone else coming to handle the nations problems I would worry. I have absolute confidence in our PE.

    January 5, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  8. setys

    God will guide and protect you Mr. President elect. We will pray and fast for you always.

    God bless you and family, your administration, USA and the world.

    January 5, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  9. Puff


    January 5, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  10. Monica

    Whew! A president of whom we can be really proud! We've waited a long time! But, I think Obama is one who will maintain his own personal balance although it may be a bit tipsy at first!

    January 5, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  11. NY republican

    To Denise – This job is most likely the biggest burden one could have no matter who your predecessor is. People were saying the same thing when Bush took over from Clinton, Reagan took over from Carter, Johnson from Kennedy, etc., etc. all the way back to the second President of the U.S.

    January 5, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  12. flybyshoeing

    I remember Hillary saying that after Bill was sworn in, they found out that things were much worse than they had been told before the inauguration. One that comes to mind is that the deficit was actually twice as much as Bush I had been telling the American people. I imagine the Jr.'s mess is worse than we know.

    January 5, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  13. Dieter Zerressen, Denver, CO

    What a great guy. So different from the one in there now who only gets choked up if he makes a bad shot on the golf course.

    January 5, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  14. dallas female

    deb, it really does i get watery eyed reading it.
    so much emotion for one heart.

    January 5, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  15. Janis

    God Speed to President Elect Obama, his family, our families and the entire world. May we all come out of this state of affairs with our heads held high and focusing on our dreams for the future.

    January 5, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  16. NY republican

    Sorry, I forgot to add my "Good Luck" wishes to President Obama (yeah, it's close enough for me to drop the "elect" part).

    January 5, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  17. change in America

    God Bless Obama and Family..........Chicago will truely miss you Obama.

    January 5, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  18. REG in AZ

    "We're guided by what works, not by any ideology or special interests," is a quote that Obama should be held to and that when anyone overtly or covertly, honestly or deceptively attempts to block or circumvent action consistent with that statement, they should then be publicly chastised and politically defeated. For the last eight years we have been given promising statements only to see corresponding action withheld, ignored and rationalized away with subterfuge arrogantly offered to justify focus on Special Interests, a select few and self-indulgence. We have seen what that results in and should be vehement about not accepting more of the same. It is long past time for our politicians to become honest and responsible representatives of the people.

    January 5, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  19. Perry

    Thank you for giving the U.S.A. hope again. You will be in our thoughts and prayers never to be forgotten.

    January 5, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  20. April

    Good luck Mr. President, You have a very tough job ahead of you wow! What a mess was left behind. I myself don't expect things to change in an instant one step at a time in took a while to make this mess it will take a while to get out of it. I am glad you had a good vacation and rest before you went to DC you are going to need it. I live in the DC area warm welcome to you and your family! God Bless you and God Bless America!

    January 5, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  21. Moonbeam

    Just sixteen days left. Can't wait!
    God bless President Obama!

    January 5, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  22. billy-bayou

    Have no fear, this clown and his Iranian buddies will make short work of Israel. What is of more concern is how that lowlife George bush still has not thrown guests from Blair House out on the street so the "great one" can move in and now Bush hasen't even turned Air Force One over to the "great one" ...boo hoo...what other indignities will he think of next?
    Great stuff Mr. President. Give it about six months and they will come begging for your help...Ignore the A..H....!

    January 5, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  23. Virginia

    Well, his house of cards is starting to fall. God help us all.

    January 5, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. j

    It doesnt matter who he is, or what he does...except to the Presidential Plate makers, who are making money hand over fist selling his face on TV.

    Obama doesnt matter. Even if he was the "Best Person Ever" to be president, he is stuck in a rotten system that ensures mediocrity at best...politics as usual at worst.

    Good Luck Mr PE Obama, you will need it.

    January 5, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  25. Get over it

    Obama is finally waking up to the reality that he is in way over his head.

    January 5, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
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