January 5th, 2009
01:00 PM ET
14 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. Patty in the CA mountains

    There is no doubt in my mind that Obama is an experienced "multi-tasker"....the question being asked re: which should be his first priority is moot...at this time in history there need to be several "first" priorities...PE Obama can and will shine at this task and I can't wait for him to be President Obama....

    January 5, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  2. ANGIE

    Good luck and God Bless you and your Family, the girls you and Michelle will do Just fine in DC, And you sir are gonna be a great President!

    January 5, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  3. 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 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  4. My POTUS!

    An Honorable man, a true gentleman, an intellectual, my President... been a while since I felt this way about leadership. I'll wear a U.S. Flag lapel pin from the day he takes office on.

    I'll work to be a good citizen.

    God Bless America!

    January 5, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  5. carol

    We are proud and honored for you to be our next President....cannot wait until Jan 20th to see Barack Obama become the first black President, what a moment in history and he will be a great one at that.

    January 5, 2009 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  6. Willy Brown

    Obama just realized that he's not experienced! He demands a recount

    January 5, 2009 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  7. Steve

    You seem to be forgetting President Bush worked with a Congress full of Dems and Republicans who had a separate agenda. Blame all not just him!

    January 5, 2009 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  8. Peg Pierce

    A number of months ago, I sent an e-mail to then Senator Obama saying that he would be elected as our next president. I, along with so many other Americans was thrilled when that happened! Altho I will not be in Washington on January 20th for his inaguration, I will be there in spirit and happy that I was one of many proud Americans who helped elect this extaordinary man to lead our country!! We did good!!

    Peg Pierce

    January 5, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  9. Dean

    Two comments on this one

    First one Mr. Obama some advice hold on to the handrails when coming down the airplane steps their slippery, we done need you slipping and looking foolish or getting hurt like prez Ford...

    Second... why are the AF folks saluting him, he's not yet commander in Chief... Just a thought

    January 5, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  10. YOLA

    I know this is frivolous but this picture is stunning! G-d bless America! G-d bless our President Elect!

    January 5, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  11. Sue

    Yup, Obama, it ain't Kansas no more, huh? And in your heart you know you can't handle what's about to happen to you. Wish you had kept your mouth shut about running? I do.

    January 5, 2009 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  12. Thomas


    I think the officer is saluting his CO, not Obama.

    Regardless, congratulations, Mr. President-elect! I'm thrilled for your victory, and excited to see what you can do to help save this country!

    January 5, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  13. strong

    Mr. Obama, remember your words to us last year during the primaries: Si, se puede.

    Now it is time for you to eat those words yourself. Chew slowly. Good luck, you WILL need it. Chins up.

    January 5, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  14. billy-bayou

    Peggy Pierce:

    It's easy to see from reading her comments she is another of those giggly girlie types that gets a tingly feeling all up her legs when she sees the" great one"

    January 5, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  15. Kevin B

    It has been quite awhile since the nation has truly been optomistic and excited about the direction we are headed in. I pray that Mr Obama will deliver in spite of the daunting challenges that lie ahead.

    It will take effort and sacrifice from Americans. It is not only all about what the president can or can not do, it is about all of us restoring the America we know is the greatest country on earth.

    I am confident we will turn around the mess we are currently being handed by the current administration

    Unfortunately, thier will always be negativity from the folks who wish the worst for the president elect and point fingers even in spite of themselves. It is those folks I pray for.

    Godspeed Mr Obama !!

    January 5, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  16. kcmookie

    I see george in alaska skipped his meds again. His statement is so incoherent I cannot tell if he is Pro Obama or against. I am guessing he is to the right, but am not real clear.

    Go Obama! Save us from the moronic populace that saw fit to vote in GW Bush not once, but twice. It took millions losing their jobs and/or house before they decided Roe v Wade, taxes, etc were no longer as important as having an intelligent President, I hope you folks have learned something. Rep or Dem, vote for the smart guy!

    January 5, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  17. pam Eugene OR

    It must have been a very bitter sweet moment for him. He is saying goodbye to his old life and his old home. He is facing an over whelming future. It sure would have given me a moments pause.
    Good luck PE Obama and may God be with you.
    Now you Secret Service folks, please protect the beloved man and his family. We need him now more than this country has ever needed new leadership.

    January 5, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  18. Karl

    Thank you Mr. President!

    January 5, 2009 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  19. Robin in SC

    Great article...felt like I was there. And this photo is chilling and awe-inspiring at once....so much emotion captured in this one moment in time. God Bless America.

    January 5, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  20. OBAMA 4 President

    Just remember, Barrack is a Harvard grad, an extremely smart guy. The press will second guess, scrutinize, etc, etc. However, somewhere deep in my guts I feel completely safe and have no worries. I completely trust this guy to fix things, just give him room to manuever.

    The unveiling of old politicians at their usual game is not a surprise to me and is actually a good thing. Baracks hands are tied, he must nominate a dog, a cat, and other sorts to please different constituencies. That these people are self destructing is great, Barack keeps his hand clean.

    You can pour new wine into old skin!

    January 5, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  21. Irma in North Carolina

    I am very thankful that Obama won the elction. If he cant turn the country around no one will ever be able to do it... I have complete confidence in the President elect that he will accomplish this. It was really scary out there with Sarah running with Mccain, knowing she was that close of getting in the white house. As Sarah would say it was a task from God not to to let them two get in there. All her hate rallys she had were a threat on Obamas life and neither her or John tried to stop it. It is a shame the way these two conducted them selfs and it really did a lot of damage the republican party.

    January 5, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
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