Barack Obama: Full Interview

CBS News anchor Katie Couric interviews President-elect Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. in anticipation of his inauguration on the primetime special "CHANGE & CHALLENGE: THE INAUGURATION OF BARACK OBAMA" Tuesday January 20 (9 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: CBS CBS

On Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009, Katie Couric interviewed then-President-elect Barack Obama at his transition team headquarters in Washington, D.C.



KATIE COURIC: So, President-elect Obama, which you'll be president when this airs,, by the way because this is gonna be for a primetime special on next Tuesday night, are you starting to realize the enormity of your new job?

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: Well yeah. Over the last several weeks we've been working on a whole bunch of stuff having to do with the economy, putting people back to work. So in some ways, this transition's been so unusual. We've had to do so much work on the front end that I think January 21st is not gonna feel that different from January 19th or January 17th. We also put our team together very quickly. So yeah, we're really just moving offices. But having said that, I think when you're sitting in the Oval Office, you're very clear that these decisions count. And I think the magnitude of it is humbling. And I'm sure I'll have trouble sleeping the night before.

COURIC: It's Tuesday and you're on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Millions of people are watching you, all over the world, being sworn in as President of the United States.

OBAMA: Right.

COURIC: What is going through your mind?

OBAMA: Well, the first thing is what the temperatures are like, 'cause I get cold very easily. (LAUGHTER) So making sure I've got my long underwear in case it's cold that day. Yeah, I think what I'll be reflecting on is all the struggles and sacrifices of earlier generations. You know, down at the other end of the Mall there's a monument to a guy named Lincoln who had something to do with me being able to stand there and be sworn in. And, you know, what I hope to be able to do is to remind the American people and the world of this extraordinary tradition, this extraordinary experiment in democracy what it means so for so many of us and that that should give us confidence in our ability to meet the challenges that we're facing now.

COURIC: The extraordinary tradition of democracy and yet this extraordinary new chapter -- in our nation's history.

OBAMA: Yeah. It's a powerful thing. It sinks home most when I speak to people of an earlier generation. You know, when you talk to grandparents - African-American or white - who grew up in the '40s or the '50s. And to see how emotional they are about it, it is a powerful thing. It speaks to this country's capacity to change in remarkable ways. There's no other country on Earth that can undergo these kinds of transformations with the same speed and yet still stay stable and still stay true to its core traditions.

COURIC: People like the Tuskegee Airmen.

OBAMA: Yeah. Absolutely. That's gonna be a lot of fun seeing them there. I mean, you think about what they went through. And obviously they're an important chapter in this. You know, African-American servicemen in World War II, under Truman's order, started showing people that for all the tragic history that had faced the African-American people, they were patriots. They wanted to serve. And that helped to create the opening for the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act that obviously leads to a direct path to my inauguration.

COURIC: And despite their courage, they still were not treated equally.

OBAMA: Absolutely. They would come back and still sit at the back of the bus. You had German POWs that, in some cases, were treated with more respect than these men in America's uniform. So it's a powerful moment. But I think that as much as we look backward, I wanna make sure that coming out of this inauguration we're looking forward and that we understand our best days are ahead of us. But we've got a set of challenges right now that are daunting. And everybody's gonna have to contribute. Everybody's gonna have to pitch in in order for us to deal with it.

COURIC: In fact, two wars, a tough economy, healthcare, Social Security -- education reform. You have a lot -- in your in-box.

OBAMA: (LAUGHTER) Yes, I do.

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