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CNN PRESENTS

Interview with The Obama

Aired December 24, 2008 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: I'm Zain Verjee in Washington.
Ahead the Obamas -- Suzanne Malveaux's one-on-one interviews with Barack and Michelle Obama.

First, though, the headlines.

It's a tragic Christmas Eve for the families of two snowmobilers who were killed today in an avalanche in Utah. It happened this morning on Logan Peak, north of Salt Lake City. Sheriff's officials tell us someone using a satellite phone alerted them that the victims were trapped. Their bodies have now been recovered. The area was off limits to snowmobilers, but the public was warned about the danger after a recent snowstorm.

More than 30 people are recovering after a mishap at Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport. Fumes from a deicer seeped into an Alaska Airlines plane today. The plane was getting ready for takeoff to Burbank, California when passengers started complaining that their eyes were irritated from strong fumes. It's unclear how the deicing solution got into the plane's cabin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once the ventilation system, it circulates through the cabin pretty quickly. And so what the pilot has to do is to make sure that that ventilation system is shut down before you deice.

However, it may not necessarily be pilot error if there was a faulty valve. One of the air inlets -- if for some reason it could not be shut down or it was stuck open or had a problem. So it can be a mechanical problem, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Seven crew members were taken to a hospital with minor problems, including dizziness and nausea. Another 25 people on the plane were treated at the scene.

Last minute shoppers are heading to stores and malls on this Christmas Eve. But the year's holiday shopping season is expected to be the worst in decades. In past years, the retail industry relied on a surge of shoppers before and after Christmas. But this year, the outlook is dismal. Merchants offering huge discounts in an attempt to lure shoppers. Prices are expected to drop even more after -- the day after Christmas.

Japan's considering plans to help protect ships from pirates in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia. That's what a top Japanese cabinet official told reporters today. He noted that U.S. and European nations have dispatched vessels to the coast of Somalia and that China is planning to do so, too. He said Japan should consider sending ships to the region as soon as possible.

That's a check of the headlines.

And now the Obamas.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

This hour, an in-depth and very personal conversation with President-Elect Barack Obama.

In our one-on-one interview, Mr. Obama talks candidly about his family, his upbringing, his struggles with race and much more.

I also sat down with Michelle Obama for her insights into her husband and their life together.

It's a remarkable journey that on January 20th will take the Obamas to the pinnacle of power inside the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Let's start off talking about Michelle and your first impressions.

When I talked to her, she told me at first she thought you were going to be weird, a little nerdy.

What did you think of her?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Oh, I thought she was gorgeous. I had actually spoken to her on the phone. And she was very corporate and very proper on the phone, trying to explain to me how the summer program at Sidley and Austin was going to go.

When I saw her, she was very crisp and professionally dressed and beautiful. And what I noticed, though, was that as we spent the morning chatting and going around to -- as she showed me the office, I noticed that she had a good sense of humor, that there was a certain, you know, wit to her and mischievous to her that appealed to me a lot.

And I knew right then that she was somebody that I was going -- I was going to enjoy getting to know.

MALVEAUX: And she told me that you tried to ask her out a couple of times. She didn't -- she didn't go along with it at first...

B. OBAMA: This is...

MALVEAUX: ...but you were persistent.

B. OBAMA: This is true. No, no. This is true. She -- she thought -- first of all, she thought it was inappropriate to have any interoffice dating, even though I was only there for the summer. Then she had, I think, given up on men. She was going to be focusing just on work at that point in her life.

She had all these theories. And I basically knocked them down one after the other until finally -- I think it was about a month into me working at the firm that we went to a firm picnic and she -- we came back together. And I offered to buy her ice cream. And we sat on the curb right in front of Baskin-Robins. And at that point I thought, OK, I think I got something going here.

MALVEAUX: And then the first date, I understand you took her to a Spike Lee movie, as well?

B. OBAMA: I did. I went to -- first I took her to the art museum -- the Chicago Art Institute, to try to show her that I was a cultured kind of guy.

(LAUGHTER)

B. OBAMA: And then -- and then we took a long walk and we went to "Do the Right Thing," which was a great film.

And so when I saw Spike Lee at Martha's Vineyard a couple of years back, I told him that he was responsible for helping me make my play on Michelle.

MALVEAUX: So it helped?

B. OBAMA: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: He helped.

Now, Michelle told me, as well, there was a little bit of back and forth over whether or not you were going to pop the question.

Why were you being so coy?

B. OBAMA: Oh, I wasn't being coy. I don't know how she remembers this. You know, Michelle, once she makes a decision, she thinks that it should proceed in a certain sequence. I wanted to make sure that I was finished with law school before I proposed to her. And I think it was two or -- it must have been maybe two months after I had gotten out of law school, while I was still studying for the bar, that I popped the question. I also had to afford buying this ring. As somebody who had been a community organizer, it's not like I was in the money.

MALVEAUX: Was it an expensive ring and was she happy?

B. OBAMA: She was happy. No, it was -- it was not as big as some of the rocks I see on some people these days. So it was modest. But hopefully it was the -- the love behind it that mattered to her. MALVEAUX: You talk about needing or seeking the stability that -- that was lacking in your own family experience, reaching out to Michelle and her family.

B. OBAMA: Um-hmm.

MALVEAUX: Tell me what you were looking for -- what you were searching for and whether or not you found that.

B. OBAMA: Well, you know, I traveled extensively when I was young. I didn't have a father in the house. I grew up in places as diverse as Hawaii and Indonesia.

So in many ways, it was a wonderful childhood, because I got to know so many different parts of the world. And so many different cultures. But it also meant that I never felt that I had a place -- a community that was mine.

And Michelle had the complete opposite upbringing. She was -- I always say, you know, she had a "Ozzie and Harriet," you know, a "Leave It To Beaver" childhood. You know, she had the mom and the dad. And mom was at home and the brother. All they were missing, I think, was the dog.

And, you know, they were in one place all of her childhood. And so one of the things that she had was a stability and a sense of place. And that, I think, was very complementary to my traveling everywhere.

And it's that stability that we've been able to provide to our daughters that's been very important to me, as well.

MALVEAUX: How did that make you feel, becoming a part of her family and a part of that community in Chicago?

B. OBAMA: Well, the community that she grew up in Chicago had become my community -- my adopted community, because I had worked there before I even went to law school and knew Michelle. And so the South Side of Chicago was my home at that point.

But there's no doubt that having her uncles and cousins everywhere -- you'd meet them on the streets. They'd come over and you'd have these big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners and people are telling stories and little kids are running around. You know, it really gave me a sense that our children would be able to grow up in this embracing family that I think can be so powerful. And so important.

MALVEAUX: How did they receive you?

How did you interact with her family when you first met?

B. OBAMA: You know, we...

MALVEAUX: How these families came together? B. OBAMA: I mean we got along surprisingly well. As different as my upbringing was, it was very mid-Western. And I think Michelle's family is very mid-Western. And so, you know, the first time we got together -- this was during -- right before the wedding, the families came together -- although we had met each other's families separately. You know, they immediately took to each other. They ate the same foods, they laughed at the same jokes. And so it was a really good fit.

And I loved Michelle's dad, who passed away before the wedding. He was just a wonderful man. Here's a guy who for, you know, 20, 25 years went to work every day, never got a college education, had multiple sclerosis and yet supported his family, gave great love to his children. He was really a wonderful, wonderful person.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: Barack Obama says it took him a long time to become comfortable in his own skin. Ahead, the president-elect opens up about the struggle with his bi-racial heritage.

And later, Michelle Obama reveals what most people don't know about her husband.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Barack Obama's family and upbringing helped him to get to where he is today and no doubt will help shape the presidency.

Now, back to my interview with the president-elect.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: You said before the best in you has come from your mother, Ann. Tell us a little bit about her.

What was she like?

B. OBAMA: Oh, she was just -- she was spectacular. She was an only child. You know, she had traveled a lot growing up. You know, she was born in Wichita, Kansas. My grandparents were from small towns in Kansas.

I think because she was an only child, she was a voracious reader and really ended up having this amazing imagination and always, I think, was looking to the larger world beyond where she was living. And that's partly how she came to marry my father, how she came to marry my stepfather and we ended up moving to Indonesia.

By the time she was an adult, she was somebody who was fascinated by different kinds of people and different cultures. She became an anthropologist and worked specializing in micro lending -- you know, providing assistance to -- to women in villages all across Asia and Africa. And was, you know, one of the kindest, sweetest, most generous people I knew and really taught me compassion and empathy in a way that I still think carries over to the work I do today. MALVEAUX: If I can turn it just a little more personally, just give me a sense of what she was like as a mother, as a mom, the two of you together.

B. OBAMA: Well, I mean she was just a -- she was a really loving, sweet person. She was somebody who had very clear ideas about what was right and what was wrong. She had no patience for bigotry. She had no patience for intolerance. She had no patience for closed- mindedness. She had no patience for lies.

She was somebody who carried around what I consider to be the best of American values -- you know, honesty, kindness, hard work, decency.

MALVEAUX: Can you give me a story -- perhaps take us to a place. I know that there's a story about how she used to wake you up. I don't know if it was 4:30 or 5:30 in the morning, with the books in hand to teach you English.

B. OBAMA: Well, the -- I mean, you know...

MALVEAUX: What did she expect of you?

B. OBAMA: You know, it's interesting. She -- she had lived this very exotic life, living in Indonesia and traveling, lived in Pakistan for a time. But she always understood what a blessing it was to be an American. And so when were living in Indonesia when I was young, I was going to an Indonesian speaking school. We couldn't afford to send me to a fancy international school. So she made sure that I was getting my English lessons ahead of time.

So we had thousand correspondence course. And she would wake me up at 4:30 in the morning and drill into me, you know, the lessons. And I would be sleeping and nodding off. And she would say, listen, this is no bargain for me, either, buster -- because she was having to wake up and then go to work later.

And, you know, in retrospect, I realize how young she was at the time. I mean, she was not even 30. And yet she was able to make sure her son got a good education, work at the same time and absorb this new culture that she was in. She was remarkable and would do anything for her kids.

MALVEAUX: You lived apart for some time. She was overseas when she was studying in Indonesia.

Did you have a sense of longing for her as a child?

B. OBAMA: You know, I'm sure that, as important as she was in my world, that the times when I was still going to school in Hawaii and living with my grandparents while she was still back in Indonesia -- I'm sure that there were times where that had a deep impact on me.

When you're a kid, you don't necessarily recognize that immediately. But one of the things that I always knew was that I was the center of her world. And, you know, I've always believed that if kids know they're loved, if they know that in their parents' eyes, they are special, that can make up for a lot of instability and a lot of -- a lot of change. And that's what she was always able to transmit to me -- never doubting how I was the center of her world and my sister was the center of her world.

And I think we both grew up feeling that fierce love that she had for us.

MALVEAUX: You're a biracial child being raised by your white grandparents.

B. OBAMA: Um-hmm.

MALVEAUX: Not a typical American family.

B. OBAMA: Right.

MALVEAUX: How did you deal with that?

B. OBAMA: Well, it wasn't really an issue when I was young. At the time, when I went into high school -- or junior high school, I think -- you started to realize that this was an issue. Now, I was luckier, I think, than I might have been, because I was in Hawaii. And although there wasn't a large black population there, there was a multicultural environment there. And people were accustomed to marriages between the races. People were accustomed to kids who were brown and sort of nondescript and you couldn't tell exactly what they were.

But I didn't have any role models as -- or very few role models as an African-American teen growing up. And you know what happened -- and I've written about this extensively in my book -- is is that there was a period in my teenage years where I was rebellious. On the surface, I remained very polite and did fine in school. But, you know, there was a lot of turbulence there. And, you know, I experimented with drugs and I didn't apply myself in school.

And in some ways, I think it was conforming to some of the stereotypes of an African-American young man. And it was because of, partly, my mother's insistence that I knock it off, but also the values that she and my grandmothers and grandfather had instilled in me that reasserted themselves after high school, that eventually I was able to understand that the values they had given me were values that would carry me in good stead as an African-American. That they were fundamentally American values and that -- that I could feel comfortable in my own identity and my own skin, embracing that side of my family, while also embracing the fact of my race.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: At one point, Barack Obama was searching for his identity. You'll hear what helped him find himself.

And find out how Obama passed one critical test that pave the way for him to marry his wife, Michelle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Years before he launched his White House bid, Barack Obama wrote a book called "Dreams from My Father." Now on the brink of becoming president, Obama's dreams are coming true -- despite and because of the parent he barely knew.

Let's return to my one-on-one interview with the president-elect.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Your father was largely absent.

How did that impact you?

B. OBAMA: Well, you know, I think it had a profound impact, although more as an object lesson of -- of what it's like growing up without a father in the house. You know, he -- my father had a reputation as being this larger than life figure -- charismatic and very smart and very engaging. And all those things were true. He was part of that first generation of Africans who moved West to get an education and then intended to go back to develop their country.

And he -- he made a great impression on people. But he also was a tragic figure, not only because he didn't stay with my mother and me, but, you know, he generally had trouble providing stability for his other children and his -- his subsequent wives.

And he -- he was somebody who was incredibly brilliant, but also, because of the tensions of leaping from a small African village to Harvard and being part of this modern world, he never resolved those tensions. He'd be -- he fought, when he got back to Kenya, against tribalism and nepotism, but ultimately was consumed by it, black- balled from the government, ended up having a serious drinking problem, was in a severe car accident, ended up dying a tragic and bitter man.

And so when I think about his impact on me, I mean, there are some superficial things. He went to take me, when I was 10 years old, to see a jazz concert. And I became a real jazz buff after that -- or he gave me my first basketball.

And it was only later that I realized that that had been the case and might have been part of the reason I became so obsessed with playing basketball.

But for the most part, what I understood from him was an absence. And I vowed that when I became a father that one of the most important things I could do is be a presence in my children's lives.

MALVEAUX: That visit when you were 10 years old, at that time, was there anything in your 10-year-old mind that you thought maybe I can do to keep him to stay?

B. OBAMA: No, I don't think that's how 10-year-olds think. If you've got this person who suddenly shows up and says I'm your father and I'm going to tell you what to do and you don't have any sense of who this person is and you don't necessarily have a deep bond of trust with them, I don't think your reaction is how do I get them to stay. I think the reaction may be, you know, what's this guy doing here and who does he think he is?

And so it was only during the course of that month -- by the end of that month that I think I started to open myself up to -- to understanding who he was. But then he was gone and I never saw him again. That was the last time I saw him.

He would write to me occasionally. He wrote me letters and would -- we would talk on the phone intermittently. But -- but it was not until I traveled to Kenya and heard from relatives of who he had been and the story that he had lived that, I think, that I fully was able to understand him and, obviously, in some ways, understand myself.

MALVEAUX: "You said every man is trying to live up to his father's expectations or make up for his mistakes. In my case, both may be true."

Can you explain?

B. OBAMA: Well, if you don't have a father there, it means that you're always grappling against this -- this image that you don't fully understand. I mean, if you've got a father in the house, you're going to have arguments. There's going to be tensions. You're going to see his flaws, but you're also going to see his -- his good qualities. And so there's something very concrete against which you can learn from and match up to.

In my case, you had this some -- this person who was almost a myth in our family -- about how smart he was and how well he had he done in school and how well-spoken he was. And so forth. So that was something to live up to -- high expectations.

On the other hand, here's somebody who wasn't there and that, you know, I would come to learn was an alcoholic and somebody who had not treated his family well. And so that was something that you felt you had to make up for.

And I think that, you know, certainly in the early part of my life, grappling with that legacy was part of who I was and still -- is still part of who I am.

MALVEAUX: Can you tell a little about -- about the epiphany that you had. Obviously, you talk a little bit about this aimlessness in high school, wondering and experimenting with drugs, that type of thing.

B. OBAMA: Right.

MALVEAUX: But your life did change.

B. OBAMA: Yes. MALVEAUX: You did find your purpose, so to speak.

Was that a moment?

B. OBAMA: You know, I'm...

MALVEAUX: Can you explain when that happened?

B. OBAMA: I'm not sure it's a particular moment. I mean I wrote about this in my first book how -- my first two years of college, I was continuing some bad habits from high school, but I was starting to become more aware of the world. I became active in the anti-apartheid movement on campus at Occidental College. I started reading more seriously and more deeply about social issues and became more engaged, I think, with -- with issues of economic justice.

And so there was a point in time when I think I just became much more aware that I was frittering my life away and that if I really wanted to make my mark, it wasn't going to be because I was pursuing my own selfish aims. That there was going to be something that I connected up to that was larger than myself.

And I talk about, you know, in those first early years, the irresponsibility -- the carelessness of youth. And I think, you know, partly, because of the intervention of some professors -- some wonderful teachers who scolded me a little bit -- and some friends who scolded me a little bit about, you know, you're just wasting your potential, that I started to think to myself, I've got to -- I've got to, you know, buckle down here a little bit.

So I transferred. I went to Columbia in New York City. And I -- for about two years, I lived sort of the life almost like a monk. I was -- all I was doing was going to classes and reading and writing and thinking and never went out. And, in retrospect, you know, it's a -- it's a pretty sober way to spend your junior and senior years in college.

(LAUGHTER)

B. OBAMA: But that was what I felt was needed for me at that time. And that was an enormous period of growth for me, because I really think I started to get a clear sense of -- of what was important to me.

MALVEAUX: You said there was -- was there one person that you can point to who helped mold you or shape you during that time that you were kind of searching for your identity?

I know you talk about Martin Luther King.

Is there anybody who kind of really either you were reading about them or touched you in a way that helped you make that turn?

B. OBAMA: Well, you know, the -- I tell you, the civil rights movement had an enormous impact on -- on my imagination. I had been too young, obviously, to participate in that movement. But when I started reading about the history of young people who were at that time not much older than me who had gotten on the freedom rides and had knocked on doors and gone to jail and suffered beatings, in order to liberate a people and give life to America's ideals, I thought, there's something powerful about that.

There was something that moved me deeply. Because it not only did it help America become what it could be, but I thought to myself, you know, this is how you can forge a community for yourself by working in that community and making sacrifices on behalf of that community. There was a sense that it was a way for me to link my story to this larger story. And I really think that that was what then triggered my interest in becoming a community organizer and what ultimately led to where I am today.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And up next, Michelle Obama, my one-on-one interview with the next first lady. We talk about her and her husband juggling high-profile careers. And later, whether or not her husband really is an open book.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You've just heard from Barack Obama. Now his wife talks to me one-on-one. Michelle Obama opens up about one of her roles in the Obama household. And the struggle she and her husband have had.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: What is the most difficult thing that you've gone through as a couple?

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: You know, I think that's another thing he writes about. It's the point in life where you're trying to meld two separate individuals' careers and beliefs together as a family when kids come.

Because Barack during that time when we first started having kids and the kids were small, Barack was in the state Senate. He was in Springfield. I was -- spent a lot of those years, you know, without him by my side even though when he was there, he was very there. But you know, you've got a spouse who's traveling back and forth to Springfield, is you know, home on the weekends, not there most of the week.

You know, that created stress and tension that I think a lot of couples find themselves in. And we had to really work through that time in our lives and figure out, I had to figure out how I got the sort of support that I needed without getting it from him because he couldn't be there.

He had to find out how the could he be the kind of father and husband that he wanted to be but still, you know, pursue what he believes was an important career in with helping other people. And it took us some time. It took us a few years to sort of figure out how to strike that balance and then move on together. But I'm happy to say we reached the other side of that.

MALVEAUX: What did you talk about?

M. OBAMA: That journey.

MALVEAUX: Can you talk a little bit about the discussion that the two of you had to try to work that out and get over that hurdle?

M. OBAMA: You know, I think a lot of it was what kind of support do you need as a young couple and how do you get that?

MALVEAUX: What did you say to him? Can you give us an example?

M. OBAMA: You know, I don't think it was as much as what I said to him but a lot of the conversations I had was with myself. You know, what did I need as a young mother that would give me the kind of support and reduce the stress and the anxiety that I was feeling at the time?

And you know, so I think a lot of the conversations that we had were about, you know, our views and our vision about life and what was important to us and how could we make accommodations to provide each other the support that we needed? Where was the compromise going to come from?

And I think Barack, you know, found that he was taking more of his own personal time in making sure that he was a part of the family and you know that, we had good weekends together and we developed some pretty hard and fast traditions as a result of that.

Weekends are very sacred for us. And we always have to find a time during the week no matter what's going on that is sacred to family. And whether that's a Sunday or a Saturday or Wednesday evening, there are just some traditions that we just don't let go of. And I think a lot of those things came out of that time.

MALVEAUX: Friends have told me that you're the task master.

M. OBAMA: Yeah. You know, probably compared to some people, I may be. But I like order and I thrive in stability. So you know, we're pretty much in an out of control, unstable part of our lives so I try to keep some level of control over the things that I -- that I can.

And I find that my kids thrive in the same regard. So some of my task masterness is intended to protect them because when they can count on stuff, when they know mom's going to be here at this time, dad's going to be here at the next time, I know my parents are going to be at our parent/teacher conference and I know when my bedtime is and I know that when it's bedtime, we read. And I know in the morning, we get up and we cuddle and we can talk.

You know, when you have a busy life in order to fit all that stuff in, everything else has got to be pretty much in order, In order to fit those kind of fun things in with the kids that they expect and love. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Michelle Obama talks about what she learned on the campaign trail and she looks back to the days when her future husband won her family's seal of approval. That happens on the basketball court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You heard Barack Obama talk about the importance of family life. Now, Michelle Obama talks about the day they became parents and offers surprising insight on a few things you may not know about her and her husband. Michelle Obama, one-on-one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Let's talk about the kids, Sasha and Malia. Take me back to that moment when your first daughter was born, what that was like for you and Barack.

M. OBAMA: Our first daughter was born on the Fourth of July. So that was very unexpected because I knew that she wasn't going to be born on the Fourth of July. But there we were in labor.

And my labor was very relaxing, to the extent that labor can be relaxing. Barack was probably more nervous than he let me -- than he let me know because at one point, he said "I'm going to go out and get a breath of fresh air." And I had some friends there. So I was like great, go, he had been there for hours. Apparently he walked from the University of Chicago Hospital all the way to the lake, which is like 10 blocks and back. And he probably did it in 30 minutes.

So I think he was, you know, he probably had a few more nerves than he wanted me to know. But when she came out, it's like, oh, you know. You love this kid more than life itself. And I remember taking her home that first night we were nervous, Barack had to get the car seat in right and he was driving slowly just like, you know, you hear in the movies. He was driving really slowly getting us back home.

And he had decorated the house for me and Malia. Had balloons and you know, had cleaned the house and had made it all nice and neat. Done things he -- did the dishes and everything was all perfect. And there was a light that clicked on inside of both of us I think when she was born. And that's where we started to, you know, develop our rituals.

Barack was the nighttime parent because I got up early, he stayed up late. So for the first five months or so of her life, I really did get to sleep because I'd go to bed and he'd take over. And he would handle all her feedings, changing and all of that until about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and then I'd get up and we'd start again.

MALVEAUX: What do you think is the one thing that most people get wrong about you?

M. OBAMA: About me? Oh. Well, to the extent that people don't think I love my country. I don't think there could be anything further from the truth. You know, I care deeply about my country. And as Barack has said, you know, only in this country would our stories both he and mine be possible. You know?

Who would ever imagine that a girl from the south side of Chicago would have the opportunity to go to Princeton and Harvard and raise two beautiful daughters and perhaps be married to the next president of the United States? And it's because of this country, our strengths, that we're here.

But we also have room to grow as a nation. And hopefully, you know, with Barack as president we can begin to have those conversations, those honest conversations about direction and feelings and past and challenges.

And we can do it while giving one another the benefit of the doubt that even in the toughest times where we are critiquing one another in this country that we know that we still care. So to the extent that anybody walks away from any experience with me and doesn't understand that, I think that that's a big misconception or misperception I should say.

MALVEAUX: What do you think is the one thing that most people tend to get wrong about your husband?

M. OBAMA: You know, that's hard to say because I think people really know him now. You know, I think that Barack is one of the few politicians that is exactly who he appears to be.

And you know, he's written two best-selling books, talked very honestly and openly about his upbringing, his challenges, his triumphs, has talked very extensively about his values around religion and faith and race and politics and all of that is.

He's an open book in so many ways. And the one thing I can tell people is that the Barack Obama that I have known and fell in love with is the same man that I know today. He is so consistent. And his desire to use his skills and gifts to help others is real. It's not made up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Michelle Obama says she and her family learned a lot about her future husband by the way he plays basketball. Find out what the president-elect's moves on the court reveal.

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MALVEAUX: You have heard Barack Obama talk about meeting and courting the woman who would become his wife. Well now let's hear Michelle Obama's side of that story. She was hooked, but the man who would one day be elected president had to pass muster with his family.

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MALVEAUX: Now your brother, Craig, has a really funny story, because he says he thought that basically Barack was going to be tossed out like the other guys, because you were a tough cookie at that time, and he was not sure if he was going to make it. But he was a keeper. Why was he a keeper?

M. OBAMA: You know, I think because he just blended in. He was a regular guy. I hear my mother talk about him, as she is being interviewed more and more and she says that she found that he never talked about himself. He was always focused on who was around him. He felt, you know, he was somebody that shared the values of our family. He believed in honesty, treated people with respect and kindness, no matter who they were. And that was another thing that drew me to Barack, was his work as a community organizer.

I talk about that a lot as well, because that is one of the things or one of the ways that he introduced me to himself. He took me to this church basement where he was doing a training with some of the community residents that he worked with before he went to law school.

And it was a training designed to help folks in that community find their own power. And try to address some of the issues that were confronting them, you know, joblessness, folks who didn't have good schools. You know, it was a typically working class south side neighborhood. The steel plants that had provided jobs had closed down. He had worked in the communities for years with churches and community groups.

MALVEAUX: Tell me that story, Michelle, because Craig, really, he throws it out there really well how they had to go through a test, and Barack was no different in picking up on the basketball court?

M. OBAMA: Oh, you are talking about the basketball thing. Well, you know, they went out and played basketball, because one of the things that my father always taught us was that you could tell the character of somebody by how they played team sports. And that was something that we always talked about is how somebody acted on the court or in a team environment gave you a true sense of who they were.

So, he took him out to play, and he passed the test. As my brother said, he -- I don't remember this conversation as well as he does, you'd have to ask him about it, because it is really his story, his memory more than mine.

But he says that, you know, essentially, he found Barack to be somebody who was selfless. That he passed the ball, which is critical in basketball. He wasn't somebody that would shoot just because he had an opportunity to shoot. He was very conscious of the other people in the game. And he played hard and he wasn't intimidated by other good athletes. And all of that boded well for my brother who thought this is a solid guy. So that was helpful.

MALVEAUX: He got the seal of approval?

M. OBAMA: Yeah.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: You can see more of my interviews with Michelle and Barack Obama in a two-hour CNN special called "Obama Revealed." You will also hear from friends and colleagues closest to him as we trace Obama's journey from Chicago politics to the national stage. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks for joining us.

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VERJEE: I'm Zain Verjee in Washington. Ahead, "TRANSITION TO POWER," a one-hour look at President-elect Obama and his team as they prepare to take office. First though, the headlines. Pardon, my apologies.

There's some unexpected bright news about the housing market near a record low interest rates sent the mortgage applications soaring last week. The mortgage banking association says that its overall market composite index shot up by 48 percent. That index is a measure of the mortgage loan application volume. Despite this development, housing stocks and building permits now stand at record-low levels. Now a quick check of the holiday forecast, here's CNN's Chad Myers in Atlanta. Hi, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Zain. You know we really, we have been talking about the airport delays in the Northeast and how they are longer and longer. Now up to four hours at JFK and Newark. That means if you are trying to leave for those airports from Atlanta or Miami, you are sitting there looking at the time your plane is leaving and it is not getting any closer. It just keeps getting farther and farther away.

But I do promise that planes are getting in the air now. Still 4,000 planes in the sky. I mean, they are everywhere. Good news is they're not that big. But 4,000 planes still in the sky at this hour, and they are getting to places, just a little bit slower than maybe you had hoped.

There is also a chance of severe weather tonight across the southeast. It is very warm here in Atlanta, very warm all the way and across Mississippi and Alabama. A couple of warnings going on here, and that one pink one right there, that's a tornado warning for Perry County in Mississippi. And also there's one down there and then up into Alabama as well. We will keep watching it for you as the night goes on. I don't expect this to be any kind of an outbreak.

The big story is how much snow you're going to get in the West. There are warnings all over the place. At least a foot of snow in most of the mountain areas. The "Transition to Power" with Suzanne Malveaux starts right now - Zain?

VERJEE: All right, let's go to it. Thanks, Chad.

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