tv Washington Journal Jodi Cantor Discusses President Obama and First Lady... CSPAN January 15, 2017 8:01am-8:48am EST
in a moment goes from a very strong powerful man of one party to another very strong powerful man of another party, that cadence and tradition of america allowing power to change like that is sacred. so he's kept that pretty much. of course he has his finger print on what bible, what verses. who is there to help him. >> and the announcer. no hard feelings. >> i don't think there's any hard feelings anywhere. everybody would like to be close to the president and president-elect. i think there's a spot for everybody. of course he needs to put his own signature on the things important to him. >> who did he choose? >> i don't know. we'll find out. >> "washington journal" continues. host: joining us from new york jody canter. the book called the obamas now out in paperback. thank you very much for being
with us. we appreciate it. guest: thank you for having me. host: your book begins with a story of michelle obama shortly after the election traveling to a park with her zaurts and talking to a friend as to whether or not she wants to move to the white house right away or whether she should stay in chicago. i mention that because that's exactly the same conversation mill ania trump has been having. she will reportedly be spending time in new york as her son completes fourth grade. guest: the parallel is really strong. i wrote this book in part because i had covered the obamas for a number of years. when they started their time in the white house what i really began to understand is that becoming president and first lady is not something that takes place in one moment on inauguration day when the new president takes the oath of office. it's really a process that happens behind the scenes. and sometimes a very difficult one. and part of that is what it means to live in the white
house. in my book, the white house is prackically a character in the book because the question of sort of how to have a life there, so dominates the obama's early time in the white house. by the way, i think it has substantive implications as well because one of the things we saw president obama dealing with and donald trump may deal with is the white house cuts you off from the world in which you are used to moving. and that can have serious implications for a president. anyway, michelle obama really questioned whether she should move to the white house immediately. over the course of my reporting i began to think she was not at ll crazy to ask that question. barren trump is about the same age as the obama girls were. and what the obamas found is that the white house has so much grandeur and so much history, and living there is such a special opportunity. and yet the day to day questions of how you have a life there are really tough.
i'll give you an example which is that during the obama administration, there was a point at which a bullet bounced off the back of the white house. well, that's the area where the obama girls play. that is really terrifying. the obamas don't speak in public of course about their worst fears about protecting their children. but that was a moment when we could sort of see what there really they're up against. the family don't have a private entrance or exit. so every time they come and go, they sort of do so in public. because there are a lot of garden tours and other events happening, you always have to check whether you can go outside. if you do, you may be photographed. which may or may not be a big deal. but as we know, michelle -- michelle obama has taken great pains to put forward this really polished image of what it meengs to be first lady.
and she told staff privately one bad picture is all it takes. and she was especially concerned about some stereo types of african american women. and even if there was one unkement photo of her she was worried that it could lead to a really negative reaction or bad publicity. and i think the trumps will have to confront that as well. the flip side, however, which is also in the book, is that staying home or coming home is not easy. i tell the story of what happened when the obamas tried to go home to chicago the first time. initially they very much like the trumps had the idea that they could still kind of maintain their home base. the president thought they on a go home to chicago regular basis. help them capture the texture of normal existence which is so easy to lose. it turns out to be a kind of logistical nightmare. they tried to go home for a weekend early in the
presidency, and there were so many issues that came up even with like who would prepare the food in their home because there are security rules governing what the president and first lady can put in their mouths because of poisoning concerns. they ended up tying up traffic in chicago which was really not something they wanted to do. they didn't want to inconvenience other people. as we know, tying up traffic is also a very bad thing to do politically. it really annoys people. the question of whether they could go out to a restaurant. even the question of the press pool. president-elect trump as we know has tried to disregard the press pool which has earned a really strong reaction of concerns from reporters like me, because of the implications for covering the presidency. but it's also true that having a press pool does make it harder for a president to sort of move around in the world more easily. another thing to understand about any first family is that practically every member of the
family has a different security situation. so imagine your own family growing up for a second, imagine if dad could barely go anywhere and his motorcade was something like 21 vehicles. mom had a little more freedom of movement but still got recognized all the time and would tie up traffic or create logistical concerns with her security. and then the kids had much more freedom of movement. so how would you plan family events? could you go out for a family dinner at a rest raupt? how would you attend your child's sporting events if they weren't at your home school? you beginning to see the kind of minute-to-minute complexity of living as the first family. >> there's a lot of discussion as to whether or not donald trump will be spending his weekend in new york. as we look at the entrance, you mentioned it's really a backdrop to your story, it is
of course elegant, historic, and significant. but it is not terribly large on the second floor. guest: no. look, there have been jokes over the years about the white house being the crown jewel in the federal prison system. right? and there's a reason for that. michelle obama was giving one of her late-night appearances recently and the host asked what she was going to do when she left the white house. she gave a very funny look to the camera and she said, open a window. which i think she was joking about the degree to which presidents and first ladies are really inhibited from proving around. by the way, part -- what my book is really about is the obamas adjusting to the white house and to the roles of president and first lady. so the book is very much about what they wanted to do but it's also about the kind of
intersection between the personal and the political and how each of them defined these roles for themselves. so one of the things my book reports is that michelle obama had a much harder time initially as first lady than we saw in public. and it's also kind of the story of how she did find that footing in her role and go on to be the great success of first lady we see today. the point isn't that she struggled. every first lady has struggled. it's a very difficult role. but the way she was able to use this really difficult set of circumstances in some ways to her advantage and figure out kind of a meaningful path. so anyway, the story i was going to tell is that she of course saw the beautiful cherry blossoms in washington and wanted to go out and experience them. i think this was either her first or second spring. she repeatedly asked the secret service, i would really like to
just go out and wander amid the cherry blossoms. and initially they said no because they felt the scene was much too busy and gets crazy with tourists and spectators. they were really worried. she accepted the answer. but she really wanted to go. but they found a second location where there are cherry blossoms but in a less prominent location. she wore a hat so nobody would recognize her. but there's nothing more classic washington than seeing the cherry blossoms. and here she was the first lady supposedly one of the most powerful figures and there is this weird lack of power in doing things like that. host: the book the obamas joining us from new york, we'll get to your phone calls. robert from kentucky. good morning. caller: good morning.
my comment, i think that president obama and first lady michelle obama will go down in history as two of the most educated and articulate individuals to ever occupy the white house. michelle obama has conducted herself with the utmost of grace, dignity and decorum. president obama in the face of overwhelming racism and hatred has conducted himself with dignity and class. i think there has never been any two to occupy the white house with such dignity, grace, elegance and humility as michelle and barack obama. host: thank you. guest: what i think is interesting about the comment is i guess what i would say is that my reporting tried to explore the back story of how they did it and they're going o write their own memoirs. but so often during this administration we have seen them stand up with fortitude
and dignity and grace. i was interested in the question of what that costs them. and what was hard about that and what they were really facing behind the scenes. because there was so much we didn't know. and so often they had graceful reactions to really terrible things. if you think about gabby gifford, the arizona congresswoman who was shot, who the obamas actually knew and had a lovely relationship with, or about the newtown massacre or about any of the other terrible events they confronted as president and first lady. i wanted to understand more about how a president and first lady copes with those things and is able to respond to them in public. the other thing i think to remember about your comment is that both obamas have been so viciously attacked during this administration. washington is such a polarized place and really has been throughout their administration. one thing that struck me in the
last couple of weeks is that michelle obama right now in so many ways is at the height of public adulation. the good-byes to her as first lady have been so emotional. it's a -- the tribute you just paid to her. you're not alone in your feelings. and yet even as she feels all that public love she's subject to some really terrible attacks. i don't remember remember but trump's cocampaign chairman in new york recently unleashed a kind of breath-takingly vicious and pretty racist set of comments about the first lady. he compared her to a male ape. they were really so far from the kind of comments that are generally acceptable about a president and first lady of the united states. i was really struck having covered the obamas for this long about that discrepancy between the admiration that's i
guess even, as michelle obama is so admired, she is still so subject to blistering and very personle attacks. host: a quote from the book. what he looks forward to is the period following the presidency. he had this notion that he could go back to walking the streets and go to book stores which is totally unrealistic. he would be able to accomplish a lot because he would finally be free of politics. guest: so the way i came to the story is really as a biographer. in 2007 i wrote these stories about the president. and there's this theme that kept coming up then and i think is reemerging now, which is that barack obama is somebody who tends to set his sights on the next phase and say if i only attain such and such, then i'll be liberated.
you know, from politics, from whatever forces he's sort of grappling with at the moment. so for a long time president obama i think has looked forward to the post presidency. which isn't to say that he didn't enjoy the presidency or at least certain aspects of it. but what people close to him said is that he saw the post presidency in the way i described it in the time he would be more personally flee to experience the world in a more natural way and also be liberated from the political forces he's been battling. i don't think that's necessarily true. the other moat tiff is when he gets to that next level he finds himself sort of coping with the same problems or forces he was often dealing with before, just at an even higher level. of course the sort of twist in the obama story that we've all been watching for the last few months is the election of
donald trump. had hillary clinton won the presidency, i think barack obama would have proceeded into the kind of post presidency i described and the book would have been a very valid victory period, the pressure would have been off, he would have been watching hillary clinton implement and continue a lot of what he did, the differences them are pretty minor in the scheme of things. however, as we know that's not what happened. and now the president i think has a very difficult choice on his hands. and friday we're all going to watch at inauguration. we know that the president will take a very dignified approach to this inauguration. he believes in a peaceful transfer of power. he talked about that a lot. however, once he's free. once the helicopter lifts the obamas away he's got a really tough decision about how he conducts himself. on the one hand he is really i think a believer in the post
presidential tradition of stepping back. he really appreciated the way the second george bush kind of disappeared in the beginning of his presidency. we didn't hear george bush weighting in on every decision, hovering, second guessing the new president. et cetera. on the other hand, barack obama is going to be living in donald trump's america and we know that he disagrees with pretty much every fiber of his being with a lot of what trump stands for. trump is also going to be actively undoing the obama legacy on health care and pretty much everything else. so the president has to figure out how to oppose i think and that is s legacy and going to be not not easy to do. the democrats are out of power in washington.
president obama still has a huge public voice. but it's not entirely clear the best way for him to use it in the post presidency. he is going to be the first post president of the social media age. so i don't think he would want to be in day to day twitter battles with donald trump but he will have that mega phone available to him any time he wants. so i will be watching closely. host: the full book title the obamas the partnership behind the presidency.
>> i want our young people to know that they matter. that they belong. so don't be afraid. do you hear me young people? don't be afraid. be focused. be determined. be hopeful. be empowered. empower yourself with a good education. then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless ability. lead by example with hope, never fear. and know that i will be with you. rooting for you and working to support you for the ress of my life. and that is true i know for every person who is here today and for educators and advocates all across this nation who get up every day and work their hearts out to lift up our young people. and i am so grateful to all of you for your passion and your
dedication, and all the hard work on behalf of our next generation. and i can think of no better way to end my time as first lady than celebrating with all of you. so i want to close today by simply saying thank you. thank you for everything you do for our kids and for our country. being your first lady has been the greatest honor of my life and i hope i've made you proud. [applause] host: as you hear michelle obama, your thoughts. est: i guess what i found so fascinating about that speech is the way it truly ends her journey as first lady in a way that viewers may not have even realized. michelle obama, the michelle obama who lived back in chicago
, the sort of pre2008 michelle in was a really -- public, was a really original distinctive figure in a way that i think did not come through 100% during most of her time as first lady. this is what i mean. mrs. obama is a harvard-trained lawyer. she is a social critic. she has a lot of original observations about life. she is warm but she is also really blunt. and when i was doing my kind of early years of obama biography, so is 2007, 2008, i was struck by her quotes because she was so not playing the role of the kind of demure, traditional first lady role. she really came across as -- a
lot of people who met michelle obama during those years thought that maybe she would be the run to president, not barack obama who seemed more like a sort of academic type. so what happened in 2008 is that mrs. obama had to edit hergs. she was attacked during the campaign. she misspoke slight sli and those words were further taken out of context to paint her in a really stereo typed way. it was a personal crisis. she felt she had been the a-plus student and done everything right her entire life and here the public image of her was not one that she recognized. she was cark that turd very badly. she was extremely worried about her and her husband's political prospects. the idea that she could be a detriment and not a net plus to the campaign was scary. so she editted herself. i don't think there was anything inauthentic about the
michelle obama we saw on the campaign trail at the end of the 2008 race or in the white house but it was only part of who she is. she calls herself the mom in chief. she got involved in pro veteran stuff, anti-childhood obesity efforts. these were all serious worthy efforts. they were designed to be very noncontroversial. they were things that almost no can agree with. her true observations she kept private. as a reporter i was trying to figure out where she were. so we had to beg sources to put them on the record to say that michelle obama joke or observation is so intregsing and rich and original. and of course they off would not. there was this protective part of aids and associates who never wanted to see her get in trouble for a comment that was -- that could be deemed just a little bit too interesting. and so she generally played it pretty safe as first lady.
and to great effect. and i think part of what my book is about is about her discovering this kind of contradiction about being first lady. which is the less overtly political you appear the more politically effective you are. so partly because michelle obama held back and did not sound like just another mud-slinging partisan is what enabled her to have those effective moments at convention speeches and otherwise, because during such an ugly time in american politics she came across as a figure who was above it all. debate in this presidency though, late in the presidency, i felt we began to hear more of the fusion of michelle obama's old original voice and her kind of newer voice as first lady. and the first time i heard it was when she made that speech early this fall about donald trump and about the groping
incidents. about -- then the republican nominee for president. and she gave a very impassioned speech speaking out about the groping incidents and she said, i just can't get up here and give another campaign speech like nothing has happened because these comments are so incredibly offensive. the idea that a candidate for president could be talking about women this way is really something we have to talk about. so on the one hand she was serving as a very effective democratic surrogate. the clintons had a limited ability to talk about those comments because president clinton's past hisry so michelle obama was the best person to speak to them. but it felt like more speech than werd heard than a direct political matter. it was pretty rare for the presidency that she would weigh
in on the topic of the hour and this was an exception. and then the speech you played as first lady i think was another time she very effectively melded that lofty first lady about it all voice ith her sort of true impassioned honest opinion when she said to young people don't be afraid, don't be afraid. she was really speaking so deeply to the trump moment. there was another phrase that really caught my attention. it was a very uplifting message but some critique there. she's saying a lot of what's happening now in this country is not worthy of who we are. host: in a piece available on line, jody has written this opinion section. article. which michelle obama will we get when she leaves the white
house? back to your phone calls. walter republican line. thank you for waiting. caller: thank you for taking my call. sitting here listening to your guest i did get a tingle but i realized it was falling asleep from what she was saying. when you look at president obama, if you look back at his history who he was with wright and the weather underground, when you realize that michelle obama when she said for the first time -- this is a grown woman, educated in the finest schools, came from the best. she turns around and says for the first time in america i'm a proud american. really? well, identify been a proud american my whole life. here's the legacy of what mr. obama did. when you don't do consensus, when you don't get approval from the house and the senate and pass a bill. when you use executive order. remember he says i have a magic pen. and all the fools clapped. and you implement laws that the country doesn't want and you
don't get the proper votes and make it, all of that is going to be unraveled. for the first time in american histrirks average american citizens were forced to purchase a product they didn't want. that is socialism aka done deal. and all of these -- i remember when he was talking about race. the great unifier. it's not a black america, it's not a white america. it's the united states of america. i wished that would have happened. but i remember the first time there was an opportunity with the professor up in i believe boston where he came out before the information and said, the police acted stupidly. and he used trayvon martin and the guy brown and all this. he was the biggest divider of race. and i've got to say for a president to leave office where there's 40 million people on food stamps, unemployment rates are fake numbers where there's so many millions of people that left the work ranks not to be counted any more. when average americans -- i have to pay 1400 a year in
penalties because i don't want insurance. host: let me jump in. you put some issues on the table. thank you so much for the call and for weighing in. guest: you know, so i think instead of -- i think what the caller said is both interesting because i think it was actually a great summary of the way a lot of conservatives and republicans do feel about barack obama. i think some of what the caller said is -- is more rooted in fact and some is less rooted in fact. for example, the president ehr's is with bill way overplayed. some of the republican allegations about that relationship has been way off base. in terms of the president's i rd i actually think -- think actually one strensdz of president obama as a politician is that he has cared more and
done more for genuinely poor people than politicians normally do. poor people often don't vote. they certainly don't give campaign contributions. and throughout this career and especially through the presidency i do think barack obama has shown an unusual commitment to the people in the nation who have the least. but forget about that for a second because i almost wish the caller was still on the line because as a reporter of course what i want to do is ask him a question. and i think what i would really like to ask him is whether he found anything to admire about the obamas, about either of them. because we are at such a divided time in our nation's history. and yet we are about to enter into an inauguration period, which is traditionally a moment of unity and respect and dignity and appreciating and thanking the old president and greeting the new president, and it sounds like that is going to
be very hard for both sides this time around. i don't know if people like our caller feel like they can bid he obamas a sort of warm and thankful fair well even if they didn't agree with a lot of their policies, i would like the caller if he feels -- to ask the caller if he feels like he can do that. by the same token, i don't know if liberals and democrats can stand and applaud and give president-elect donald trump the sort of traditional welcome to washington that americans give. that's one of the things i'm going to be watching for during inauguration week. host: cheryl is next in los angeles with jody. her book, the >> good morning, steve. if you'll allow me to speak for just a moment. i have three things i want to
touch on for a moment. i'll answer the question, he would never acknowledge president obama for the simple fact of where his heart is and the rest who think like that. acknowledge his presidency by calling him obama. they never addressed him as president, because of his skin tone. secondly, i want to address when jody spoke about the helicopter, he couldn't come back and say anything, because he ran this country into the ground with all the money, and then his cabinet that he had it did the same. so, of course he couldn't come back and say anything. he wanted to hide, which he should have. thirdly, i wanted to say to you
-- i am thankful that you are doing that, but you said a lot things that they would not -- excuse me -- that they would not know about the obama's, which they will know when they publish their book. it will be more accurate. it is coming from their book, and not what someone is speculating on. host: thank you. about your observations of president bush, his approval ratings were very low. he had been mired in problems, the biggest one being the iraq war. there was a tremendous controversy about what yet done. i do think you're right that part of the reason he kept a was because he left on a less than triumphant note. president obama is popular, which is unusual at the end of
an administration. the fact that he is popular gives him more of a platform to speak out. i think you make a really important point, but i want to ,ake a distinction between irc which i have done, and autobiography, which is what the obama's will do. you are absolutely right that the obama's will want to tell their story themselves. i can't wait to read their book. as a reporter, you are constantly trying to figure out what your subject think. advisers political between you and the people you are covering. the president has been an exception. in the last week or two he has given a of interviews, in general, it is actually pretty hard to ask the president or the first lady of question. it is giving -- it is getting
even harder. spend -- independent accounts like mine, but really the whole tradition about writing about a president and first lady, i think it is really important, because it is independent. i understand you are a great admirer, but when they tell their own story, that is isferent from somebody who distinct standing back and looking at it. it is very important that my book doesn't say the very first same thing that the president and first lady would take. that is because it is an independent account written by an independent author. i wouldn't call it speculation. i interviewed the obama's. i interviewed hundreds of people
close to them. i fact checked my stories. i think the fascinating thing will be not just reading my book , but all of the books about the president and first lady side-by-side with their memoir, to say, how do these two accounts lineup. are there things that reporters got wrong? do the obama see things differently? host: you're right. had aama marriage has decades long debate about whether they can effect change. the flaws.ama's all he believed that running for create- office could progress. -- ideascy ideas got went nowhere, she believed.
let's go to cj in richfield minnesota. hello to america, and god bless america. when michelle obama made that statements about finally i am proud of my country, the same night when the president was being nominated, off the tv screen i was watching so many i ams coming in saying, finally proud of my country, too. you have to understand some americans be this country one way, and others view it another way. obama'slle opinion. i wanted to agree with her. thank you. we will get a response.
i think you are giving us so much perspective in the dilemmas of being michelle obama. let me give you a little context on that comment. early on, in the early presidential campaign, michelle obama didn't even have a speech writer. remember barack obama's presidential campaign was a really this work in progress that got very quickly off the ground. he made the decision to run at pretty much the last minute. they talked about kind of like timeg an airplane the same you're building it. there were a lot of details that they didn't attend to. one of them was it really michelle obama's operation. she didn't have a lot of resources. she didn't get the daily talking point. that was in part because in some ways she didn't need to. very early on she connected well with the voters. she had the same charisma that she does now, even if she had
less experience than she does now. she would get up at those podiums and say what she thought. as a reporter, it was a great experience covering it, right? she seemed so much less edited some -- bute than some of what she said that her in trouble, because a, like as the first time i am proud of my country can be seen in many different views. she was accused of being unpatriotic. she felt very mischaracterized by that. then there is your point of view, which i think is a very and the feeling that obama did represent a new and fresh hope, and was a counter to a lot of depressing things that had happened in the country. she never got a chance to defend that comment, and explain what
she means. we don't know whether she considers it a slip of the t maybe something she was trying to capture that she didn't find the right words for. yourlly appreciate comments, because you're getting to the complexity of the .tatement here i steve: caller, you are next. good morning. good morning. have been a democrat for 30 years. i am 53 years old. cancer patient,
breast cancer, late stage. i'm doing ok. guest: i am sorry to get that. caller: it is what it is. there is a plan for all of us. over the years -- and i'm going , i'mto hillary clinton talking to all right now, democrats, the indiana's -- i who spoke earlier to you. i for one welcome up in and in late -- early -- right before november, and i could no longer, as a democrat, and as an american, turn up my blinders on any longer. -- and you brought this
subject up, this cancer. . i want to bring up something about miss clinton, it did not involve her, but it did involve her. there were other indiscretions. her man. for and you brought this up, so i'm going to bring it up. indiscretionse and what america has finally woken up to, along with the .russia's leaks 53 million americans across the ford, whatever they stand finally -- and if you are on
--ebook, which i am a lot really pay attention this time, because i have a three-year-old granddaughter who is hispanic, a , and i am nota --ist steve: we are going to have to let you go, because you have a really long comment. caller: we are going to have to --nd up to your point about the clintons, i think it helps us understand part of the obama's conduct in office, and part of what the americans
really like about them. the obama's have presented in impeccable image of their family to the public. we know that part of why they ofted barack obama -- part why barack obama decided to run, y his wifef wha supported him, they wanted america to see an intact black family to counter all of the negative stereotypes. i think that also put them under a tremendous amount of personal pressure. being a role model under that kind of glare when everybody is waiting for you to do something wrong, it's really hard. part of what my book is about is how they coped with that in private. even the obama's are really the history of
presidential children for not having the misstep on the stage. those kids have been in the spotlight for a really long time , and the fact that we haven't seen an embarrassing moment or slipup from them -- for anyone that has kids, kids behave in unpredictable ways, and the --the obama girls have really done that. steve: thank you very much for being with us. we appreciate it. ms. kantor: thank you for having me at. coming up, the book is called "the great equalizer." we are going to talk about what we can expect from the start of the trump presidency c. first, we sit down with steny hoyer, the minority whip. during the interview, a question
whether the democrats can find any common ground with the president-elect. >> on issues like trade, infrastructure, and a couple of financial regulatory issues, that there could be common ground where trump will have more agreement with a democrat than republicans. on what you have seen from trump, are you still hopeful in those areas? hoyer: president-elect trump does not seem to have an operating philosophy as opposed to a transactional approach as to dealing with those issues. by that i mean, what works. builder, that has been his life experience. how do i get this job done, as opposed to philosophically
saying, this is where i stand, and i'm not going to move whether it works or not. that gives us some hope, some may presents themselves where we can work together coming in. i agree with you. he has stated disagreement with the republican leadership in the congress of the united states, and very frankly, paul ryan has pointed that out.