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Hillary Clinton Versus Barack Obama; Interview With Charles Barkley

Aired February 21, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, the first knockdown, drag-out fight of the Democratic presidential race -- it's Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. Wait until you hear how a Hollywood producer's red hot remarks that set this grudge match in motion.

Also tonight, is the Bush administration softening its terms for talking with Iran? We have an exclusive interview with the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on relations with Tehran and the threat of war.

And from the basketball court to the political arena, could Charles Barkley get elected governor? The former NBA star sounds off about Democrats, Republicans, and whether America is ready for a black president.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The presidential race is not only starting early, it's getting ugly earlier. Tonight the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns have taken the gloves off, exchanging harsh and bitter words. A movie mogul and former Bill Clinton supporter triggered the smack down between the Democratic frontrunners.

David Geffen is backing Senator Obama. And he's voicing some Democrats' worst fears about Senator Clinton and her husband, essentially calling them both liars.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is standing by, but first let's get the latest from Hollywood. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider joining us from L.A.-- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, a battle has broken out here in Hollywood. And it has nothing do with the Oscars.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tuesday night David Geffen, a Hollywood mogul who used to be close to the Clintons, hosted a fund-raiser for Barack Obama that reportedly raised more than $1 million. It seems that didn't sit well with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

MARTIN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, NORMAN LEAR CENTER: And the word is that she was telling her friends, you can't give to everybody. You've got to give just to me. And that didn't go down so well. Because a number of people in Hollywood have said that it's a good thing for the Democratic Party to have a robust debate.

SCHNEIDER: That they're getting. Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times" quoted Geffen as saying I don't think that another polarizing figure no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton can bring the country together.

Geffen called Bill Clinton a reckless guy and said of the Clintons, everybody in politics lies. But they do it with such ease, it's troubling. The Clinton campaign shot back with a statement saying if Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.

The Obama campaign returned fire, saying it is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom. One Hollywood observer believes Clinton is in trouble here partly because of the way she's handling the Iraq issue.

HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ.COM: Hillary Clinton's Hollywood base is crumbling. It's crumbling partly because of what she's doing and partly because Barack Obama is magic in this town.

SCHNEIDER: On the other hand...

KAPLAN: Whatever people's reservations are about Senator Clinton, it's not going to stop them from giving money to her. It is going to stop them from giving exclusively to her. And certainly, they have in their own minds a number of issues about her. Elect- ability is one of them.


SCHNEIDER: Mr. Geffen says he has no formal role in the Obama campaign, quote, "nor will I, other than to continue to offer my strongest possible personal support to his candidacy. And he adds that his comments, quote, "which were quoted accurately by Maureen Dowd reflects solely my personal beliefs about the Clintons" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's caused quite an uproar. We're going to have a lot more on this coming up, Bill. Thanks very much.

Senator Clinton rubbed elbows with most of her Democratic presidential rivals in Nevada today. Senator Obama was not there. But tensions from their feud clearly were in the air.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is joining us now from the scene with more on this uproar -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Clinton campaign is not letting up tonight over the Obama campaign over David Geffen's remarks. In the words of one top Clinton aide quote, "it is wrong for Senator Obama to espouse the politics of hope while his surrogates and campaign are spouting the politics of trash."


BASH (voice-over): Today, it was all smiles with arrivals at the first Democratic candidate forum of the 2008 cycle. Yet, Hillary Clinton had some pointed words with the campaign of one opponent not there, Barack Obama.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Well, I want to run a very positive campaign. And I sure don't want the Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction.

BASH: Politics of personal destruction, a term Hillary Clinton often used to describe conservatives who went after her husband when he was president.

H. CLINTON: The ongoing politics of personal destruction that was so much a part of our country's life and certainly our time in the White House.

BASH: When asked by CNN if she was intentionally trying to suggest Obama fund-raiser David Geffen is using the same tactics as Republicans, she would only say her comments and those of her campaign speak for themselves. In his scathing "New York Times" interview, Geffen not only called Hillary Clinton polarizing saying she can't bring the country together, he also slammed the Clinton presidency, calling him reckless.

H. CLINTON: You know, I believe Bill Clinton was a good president.


H. CLINTON: I'm very proud of the record of his two terms.


BASH: The Obama campaign wasn't the only one taking shots at Hillary Clinton. John Edwards took a few thinly veiled jabs at her, too, for refusing to call her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war a mistake.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a leader who will be open and honest with you and with the American people, who will tell the truth, who will tell the truth when they've made a mistake.

BASH: All of this led New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to renew his call for all Democrats to pledge not to attack each other.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Democratic Party too often has been negative. Let's be positive. Let's -- the president is wrong here. But this is what we would do. And these little name- callings, these little -- don't help. So let's get over that.


BASH: Governor Richardson and former Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa both here said that they did think that David Geffen should apologize for his remarks, but interestingly when Hillary Clinton was asked point blank if she thought Senator Obama should denounce these comments, she said -- she deferred. She simply wouldn't answer, simply saying that she'll leave that to the other campaign to decide -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you're speaking with officials from the Obama campaign. What else are they saying to you, Dana?

BASH: Well, they're as defined as the Clinton campaign, Wolf. They're simply saying that we should not expect Senator Obama or anybody on his staff to apologize or denounce the remarks of David Geffen, Senator Obama was caught by an Associated Press reporter in Iowa today where he said how can you expect me to apologize for somebody else's remarks. But he also said, according to an aide who was there, that he wants to make clear that he has always said that he has the utmost respect for Senator Hillary Clinton and he still does. But do not expect at least in the near future for Senator Obama to do what Hillary Clinton's campaign is saying, so the fireworks are going to continue.

BLITZER: All right Dana. Thanks very much.

And this additional note, David Geffen didn't only have harsh words for the Clintons, he also singled out our own James Carville. James and Donna Brazile will respond do that. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session".

In Iraq, meanwhile is the coalition of the willing -- wilting? As the Bush administration beefs up its troop presence in Iraq, today Britain announced it's pulling back; 1,600 British troops will soon be pulled out in and near the southern Iraqi port city of Basra. And today, the British prime minister used some very explicit words to explain why what's happening in Basra cannot yet happen in Baghdad. Listen to this.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is the capital of Iraq. Its strategic importance is fundamental. There has been an orgy of terrorism unleashed upon it in order to crush any possibility of it functioning. It doesn't much matter if elsewhere in the Iraq, not least in Basra, change is happening. If Baghdad cannot be secured, the future of the country is in peril.


BLITZER: (inaudible) the prime minister says, might Basra be a model for what many hope Baghdad will become? CNN's Arwa Damon is in the Iraqi capital -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this drawdown of British troops will be hailed by many as being a sign of success that the Iraqi security forces can finally take control and responsibility on their own. But what troops are facing in southern Iraq is drastically different than anything they face in the rest of the country.


DAMON (voice-over): What does exist here is a war of a different nature. Here, it's a power struggle between Shia factions, many of them supported by Iran. And in the past when British troops have moved on or shifted position, the power struggle fully manifested itself in the streets.


DAMON: Take for example, ala Amara (ph) close by the Iranian border. Last summer British troops based their disperse into the desert after their main base came under a barrage of mortar fire, handing the city over to the Iraqis.


DAMON: It took more less than two months for clashes to break out between the militia-controlled Iraqi police and gunmen loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Iraqi security forces eventually restored calm described by the British military as being a delicate balance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a balance of militias and there's a balance of politics going on.

DAMON: And that balance was also aggravated by the presence of British troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were a constant reminder of everything that the locals had decided was bad about the British.

DAMON: The Iraqi population here has increasingly decided there's a lot bad about the British. And now with the British pullout looming, there is concern that handing control of southern Iraq over to the largely militia-dominated Iraqi security forces might open the door wider to Iranian influence.


DAMON: A power vacuum filled by Iran or by Iranian-backed militias may not necessarily mean more violence in the south. But it could create a gateway to transport fighters and Iranian weapons to other parts of the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, thank you for that. Let's take a closer look at the current force levels in Iraq from a variety of nations. The bulk of the troops, of course are U.S., 91 percent of the coalition. The next largest contingent comes from Britain making up just five percent of the force level. After that, all the other countries combined make up only four percent of the troops in Iraq, even with South Korea's 2,300 troops on the scene. Jack Cafferty is off today. Coming up a CNN exclusive, the secretary of state says the Bush administration might do what it's been trying to avoid doing, concerns Iran and a major "what if". Our Zain Verjee explains in an exclusive interview she had with the secretary.

Also, the Constitution allows for U.S. citizens to vote, but should that right also be given to non-citizens?

And a test flight gone wrong -- a helicopter made for the U.S. Army makes a hard landing. We're going to tell you what happened.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We have a CNN exclusive for you. The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the U.S. would be happy to talk to Iran, but under one major condition and it's a critical condition in fact.

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee got some details in an exclusive interview with the secretary in Berlin -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in an exclusive interview to CNN, a message to Iran from the secretary of state. Come out of the cold.


VERJEE (voice-over): Softening on another member of the so- called axis of evil, Iran. Condoleezza Rice offered Iran an olive branch; take us up on talks, anytime, anyplace. But stop enriching uranium first.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: We can talk about anything. That's an offer that I would renew today. We have, in fact, even under the circumstances, we've cooperated some in Afghanistan. And I think that was useful. So there is a different path.

VERJEE: Rice was referring to Iranian support of the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan. Since then, relations have gone sour. U.S. warships nearby in the Gulf, the U.S. is going after Iranian agents in Iraq and is now beefing up missile defense shields in Europe in case of Iranian attacks.

(on camera): Is there a danger that in this kind of atmosphere that a lack of direct communication that could be missteps on either side that could trigger an accidental war?

RICE: Let me just say here, publicly, the United States has no desire for confrontation with Iran, none.

VERJEE (voice-over): This week's U.N. deadline for Iran to quit enriching uranium could ratchet up the war of words and lead to more sanctions. But Iran's president defiantly insists Iran's nuclear program is going ahead full steam. Rice appeared to be signaling to Iran's leaders, impatient with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that she hears them.

RICE: The option that we have is to continue to try to convince those who are reasonable in Iran that the course that they're on is destructive.


VERJEE: But Wolf, if Iran proceeds with its nuclear program, Secretary Rice says the international community will continue to play hardball -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain. Thanks very much -- Zain on the scene for us in Berlin with the secretary of state.

Meanwhile here at home, there's a very controversial proposal moving forward in New York City tonight that would extend the right to vote to millions of non-citizens.

Our Carol Costello is in New York. She's following this story -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Wolf, it's not the most popular idea these days, but one New York City lawmaker is determined to make it happen.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Imagine 10 million green card holders suddenly able to cast a ballot for mayor, for the U.S. Congress, for president of the United States. The catch -- none of them would be U.S. citizens, but legal immigrants living in the United States. It's New York City Councilman Charles Barron's big dream.

CHARLES BARRON (D), NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: Everybody is an immigrant, so why not? Why not allow everybody that's paying taxes, can die in the war, why not let them participate in electing their representatives?

COSTELLO: Right now Barron is taking his fight to New York City Hall, introducing a bill that would allow legal immigrants the right to vote in city elections. Appalling to some who feel it not only cheapens U.S. citizenship but say it's a political ploy.

DAN STEIN, FED. FOR AMER. IMMIGRATION REFORM: This is a naked power grab by partisan folks who think that these non-citizens are going to vote more for one party than the other. Otherwise, there would be no reason not to wait until these people became U.S. citizens.

COSTELLO (on camera): If they really wanted to vote, why not just become a citizen of the United States?

BARRON: They are trying. If it was that simple, they would do it. COSTELLO (voice-over): Simple? No? But that's by design. According to the U.S. Citizenship in Immigration Services it usually takes five years of learning how to become part of the American fabric to become a citizen. Among the rewards, the right to vote.


COSTELLO: Now, it is against the U.S. Constitution for a non- citizen to vote in a federal election. You know, like for president. But the Constitution does allow for local governments to decide whether non-citizens can vote in local elections. And, yes, there is one place non-citizens can vote and that would be Takoma Park, Maryland -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's right outside Washington, D.C., a suburb, a close in suburb in fact. Carol thank you very much, good report.

Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a basketball legend ready to get into the political game.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of politicians are corrupt. And it's about time we put some people in there who are going to look out for the majority of the people instead of the rich people.


BLITZER: I'll ask the former NBA superstar, Charles Barkley, about his own political ambitions. You're going to be surprised when he tells you what's going on.

And does a cancer vaccine encourage young girls to have sex -- new developments and a heated debate in the culture wars tonight.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Check back with Carol, she's monitoring stories coming in from around the world. What's crossing the wires now, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, a maiden flight goes awry for an armed reconnaissance helicopter being developed for the U.S. Army. The chopper lost power about 30 minutes into the test flight and crashed onto a golf course in Mansfield, Texas. A pilot from the maker, Bell Helicopter and one from the U.S. Army, both were onboard. Nobody was hurt. They're doing OK tonight.

A lawsuit has been filed in connection with a suspected salmonella poisoning linked to Peter Pan peanut butter. A Pennsylvania family is suing Conagra Foods after the death of a woman whose husband and daughter also got sick. A Seattle firm is seeking class action status for a suit against Conagra, which launched a peanut butter recall last week. A Florida circuit judge says he will make a decision on Friday as to who will decide where to bury Anna Nicole Smith. Smith's estranged mother testified today. She is struggling for possession of the body against Smith's attorney and companion, Howard K. Stern.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Carol. Thanks very much.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Hollywood, the front line in a growing battle between the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We're going to have details of the increasingly sharp war of words. James Carville and Donna Brazile -- they're in our "Strategy Session". You're going to want to hear this.

Plus, we followed the campaign money trail to tinsel town. We're going to show you how much the entertainment industry is giving and to whom.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, in Iraq, an American helicopter apparently blasted and brought done by grenades and gunfire. A Blackhawk chopper came under a fiery attack today northwest of Baghdad. That's what the U.S. military's chief spokesman in Baghdad told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier. The aircraft landed safely. The nine soldiers onboard are safe.

Has Iran stopped enriching uranium? The U.N.'s nuclear chief is expected to release a report on Iran's nuclear program tomorrow. That's according to an official with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

And in the CIA leak trial, Lewis "Scooter" Libby's fate now rests with 12 men and women. The jurors began deliberating the case today. They'll decide if Libby intentionally lied about learning the name of a former CIA operative, Valerie Plame.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the midst of a major feud between the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama presidential camps, a prominent Democrat is taking sides tonight. Let's go to CNN's Brianna Keilar. She's here in Washington. She has details -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Tonight the former Democratic leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle, has thrown his support to Senator Obama's presidential campaign. At one point Daschle was considering running for the White House himself in 2008 but he opted out. He may -- pardon me -- he lost his own Senate seat in South Dakota back in 2004, as you may recall, after being targeted by Republicans, and now Daschle clearly is impressed with Obama's star power. Back in December he told The AP, Wolf, that Obama is one of those rare individuals who has almost unlimited potential.

BLITZER: The endorsements coming in quickly this early in the campaign. Thank you, Brianna, for that.

Sniping breaks out between the rival campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The spark -- comments made about the Clintons by the Hollywood mogul David Geffen, as he hosted an event to raise funds for Obama last night in Beverly Hills.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session" two Democrats -- Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile and Democratic strategist James Carville -- he's also a CNN contributor.

We wanted two Democrats to discuss this Democratic feud that's under way right now. Maureen Dowd wrote a column this morning that everybody is reading in "The New York Times". Among other things, she writes this.

I don't think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden, Bill Clinton has become a different person, David Geffen says, adding that if Republicans are digging up dirt, they'll wait until Hillary is the nominee to use it. Geffen goes on to say in an on-the-record interview with Maureen Dowd I think they believe she's the easiest to defeat.

Powerful words and that's only just the beginning what this Hollywood mogul, David Geffen, says about Bill and Hillary Clinton. Donna, what is going on in the Democratic Party?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well look, it's too early to press the self-destruct button, but Mr. Geffen was speaking for himself. He was not speaking for Senator Obama and perhaps he doesn't know that since leaving office, Bill Clinton has become one of the most popular presidents and he's also popular, not just here, but across the globe. So, I don't know what got in Mr. Geffen's coffee, but clearly he's stirring up a lot of conversation.

BLITZER: All right, James, what do you think?

CARVILLE: Well, look, a guy like David Geffen, every Democrat knows with some Hollywood guy like that you try to get him to open his wallet and shut his mouth because inevitably, if he gets around Maureen Dowd, he's going to make a fool of himself.

Now, what's the big deal of another Hollywood guy making a political fool of himself? The deal is is that he runs amuck and he starts this thing and Obama's trying to take, ostensibly saying, "I'm going to take the high road and we're not going to get into this." And then they start this back and forth.

Geffen is a guy that -- as much as he knows about politics -- he's knows that little about Hollywood, he knows that little about politics. And he would have done well to host a fund-raiser, it was $1.3 million. And as opposed to getting into Maureen's column, he should have let Obama get in there. BLITZER: Here's what Howard Wolfson, a Clinton adviser, said in reacting to his comments to Maureen Dowd: "If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money."

What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I would keep his money. But clearly, Mr. Geffen has no role in the Obama campaign. He's not the campaign chair. He's not the finance chair. He's a private citizen who, you know, perhaps spoke out of turn. But clearly, Senator Obama has every right to get back on message and to talk about what he hopes to about accomplish. And hopefully Senator Clinton will be able to do the same.

DOBBS: Let me just read to you what Obama spokesperson Robert Gibbs says.

"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between and the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom."

CARVILLE: Again, whoever this gentleman is in Mr. Obama's -- Senator Obama's campaign, somebody has to say, "Hey, Bill Clinton has a 95 percent favorable among Democrats." This Geffen-led strategy of attacking Bill Clinton to win a nomination is indicative of Mr. Geffen's political stupidity.

BLITZER: But doesn't it speak to this concern that, you know, some Democrats: while they love the Clintons, and they love Hillary Clinton, they're concerned she can't win a general election, given the history, the baggage or whatever?

CARVILLE: Well, in the same -- it's interesting in the same interview, he says whoever the Democrat is is going to win. But that doesn't matter.

The problem is is that when you're hosting a fundraiser at your house, it's bad manners to interject yourself into a story when it's trying to be about Obama. This a man that can't keep his mouth shut. Now, anybody with a whit of political sense would say, "You have him here. You want this to be Obama's night."

What this has turned into is a kind of back and forth, where it looks like Barack Obama's people are attacking the Bill Clinton. That's not a win situation under any circumstances.

And again, the problem with these guys is -- is you want their money. You just don't want their mouth.

BLITZER: Here's how Senator Clinton responded in a question out in Nevada earlier today.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: I want to run a very positive campaign. And I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction. I think we should stay focused on what we're going to do for America.

And, you know, I believe Bill Clinton was a good president.


BLITZER: I was struck, though, how quickly the Clinton campaign, Harold Wolfson and others responded to this David Geffen interview with Maureen Dowd. I suppose they could have just said, "You know what? Forget about it" and move on. But they came out tough. And they made a challenge to Obama's campaign, "Distance yourself from this guy, return the money."

They didn't waste any time in upping the ante, if you will.

BRAZILE: If you recall last week, when Senator Ford (ph) down in South Carolina made disparaging remarks about Senator Obama, the Clinton campaign was quick to distance themselves from Senator Ford's remarks. I think Senator Clinton's campaign made the right decision to get on top of this and to completely say, "Hey, let's elevate this conversation. Let's not get into personal mudslinging. We have too many issues at stake in this election. Let's talk about the future."

CARVILLE: Yes. Wolf, you get an opportunity, you take the opportunity. And if they wouldn't have responded, then somebody would come and question it. But this is at most a day and a half story, we should remember. But it probably -- I think the Obama people are going to rethink the attack Bill Clinton strategy.

BLITZER: Here's what David Geffen, James, said about you in the column. "Obama is inspirational, and he's not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I'm tired of hearing James Carville on television."

BRAZILE: Well, let me take this because I've known James for a long time. He is a good Democrat. He's a fighter for the party. He stands up for the people. And I'm proud that James Carville is on television.

CARVILLE: Yes, that sentence is truly remarkable. People would say, as annoying as I may be, how are you equating me with people dying in a war?

I mean, it goes to show -- again, it just goes to show you that this guy lives in some world that is -- how do you tell 3,100 widows that James Carville being on TV is -- that it was...

BRAZILE: He might be jealous, James. He's jealous.

CARVILLE: I tell you what, Mr. Geffen. You can have my TV time. I'll take your money. BLITZER: Let just wrap up this strategy session with a statement that David Geffen issued. We invited him to come on the program. He declined. But this the is statement they released.

"Despite reports to the contrary, I am not the campaign finance chair and have no formal role in the Obama campaign, nor will I, other than to continue to offer my strongest possible personal support for his candidacy. My comments, which were quoted accurately by Maureen Dowd, reflect solely my personal beliefs regarding the Clintons. Thank you."

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, David Geffen, to his credit, has been a strong asset to the Democratic Party. He's raised so many dollars for important causes like AIDS. I don't want to in any way say anything negative about Mr. Geffen.

But clearly, Senator Obama needs to elevate this conversation and get back on the issues.

BLITZER: But I think you'll agree -- we're out of time -- the republicans are looking at this feud between Obama and Clinton. And they're saying, "This is great."

CARVILLE: Don't host a $1.3 million fundraiser at your house and give Maureen Dowd an interview if you don't want to get caught up in this thing. That's ridiculous and he should have had better sense than that.

BRAZILE: Republicans are not just looking on, that was Joe Biden and Chris Dodd also.

BLITZER: Good point, as usual.

Guys, thanks very much.

Here's the bottom line, by the way, on Hollywood's political influence. The Nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics reports the movie, TV and recording industries gave $33.1 million to federal candidates and parties in the 2004 election. The Center it also reports 69 percent of those entertainment industry dollars went to Democrats in 2004. 31 percent went to Republicans.

Still ahead tonight here in the SITUATION ROOM, a basketball great is throwing elbows in the court of politics.


CHARLES BARKLEY, NBA FALL OF FAMER: I think the Republicans have took the country in a terrible situation. And let's get one thing straight about the last election. The Democrats did not win.


BLITZER: Charles Barkley: he has little love for either party. Will he channel that frustration into a run for political office? I'll go one on one with the Hall of Famer. And cancer and the culture wars. A drug company steps back from its promotion of a controversial vaccine. But the Texas governor won't back down from ordering young girls to get the shots.

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Uncovering America. CNN goes in-depth to report on issues affecting minority groups, including African-Americans.

Now, one of the biggest names in basketball weighs a future as a politician and names his pick for the White House in '08. I spoke to him earlier from Las Vegas.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the NBA legend, Charles Barkley.

Charles, what's all of this talk about you wanting to be a politician?

CHARLES BARKLEY, FMR. BASKETBALL PLAYER: Well, I want to be a politician. I think I understand how the system works. I think a lot of politicians are corrupt. And it's about time we put some people in there who are going to look out for the majority of the people instead of the rich people.

BLITZER: All right. So when are you going to run for office? What are you eying right now?

BARKLEY: Well, I just bought a house before the end of the year in Alabama. You have to live there for seven years. So hopefully in 2014, I can run for governor of Alabama.

BLITZER: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

BARKLEY: I'm an Independent. I think the Republicans are terrible and the Democrats are not much better. So I'm really an Independent.

BLITZER: But you used to be a Republican. Correct me if I'm wrong.

BARKLEY: I said one time I was rich like a Republican. And I still am, I might add. But I think the Republicans have took the country in a terrible situation.

And let's get one thing straight about the last elections. The Democrats did not win. They won because the other team wasn't any good. They've got to get their act together, because this country right now is in serious, serious turmoil.

BLITZER: Charles, a lot of candidates out there who want to be president on the Democratic and Republican side. Who do you like? BARKLEY: Well, I'm really pulling for Barack Obama, John Edwards and Senator Clinton. I think they're both -- all three of these are great candidates.

I'm really pulling for Barack, because I consider him a casual friend of mine. I supported John Edwards last time. I think it would be great if a woman became president of the United States.

And I'm really excited about the next couple years, because you're going to get a chance to see who's racist, who's sexist. And Senator Edwards always talks about the discrepancy between the rich and the poor. And those are really three great things we really need to look at in this country. And I'm really excited about the next two years.

BLITZER: All right. I've got to -- I've got to press you, though. You can't vote for all three of them. If you've got to pick one, who do you like the most right now?

BARKLEY: I'm going with Senator Barack Obama. I like him a lot. I respect him. I really -- I really think he'd make a fantastic president.

BLITZER: You think he's -- the American public is ready for an African-American president?

BARKLEY: I do not think they're ready for it. That's why I don't think Senator Clinton can win, either. But that's why I say the next two years, America's going to really get a chance to show their true colors if they can look past Barack being black or Senator Clinton being a woman. America's really going to get a chance to show their true colors.

BLITZER: Do you like any of the Republican candidates, whether Rudy Giuliani or John McCain or any of the others?

BARKLEY: Well, I like Senator McCain, because he's a friend from Arizona. But I think senator -- Mr. Giuliani is going to be the front-runner for the Republicans.

BLITZER: If you take a look at the political situation now, the war in Iraq is clearly dominating so much of the political environment. Where do you stand on this conflict?

BARKLEY: You know, Wolf, it's very simple. They said we were going to Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein. He had been in prison for a couple of years and now he's dead.

That situation has not gotten better. So it's an easy call for me. We've got to get out of Iraq.

I mean, he was in jail for a couple of years. Now he's dead. That situation hasn't gotten better.

So anything the Republicans say about the war in Iraq, it's just bogus. I mean, it's a terrible situation. We've got a lot of innocent kids getting killed over there. And we're never going to be safe over there.

BLITZER: Your bottom line is simply get out?

BARKLEY: We've got to get out.

BLITZER: Charles Barkley, thanks very much for joining us.

BARKLEY: Thanks for having me.


BLITZER: And still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a look at the latest clash in the culture wars. It involves young girls, the prospects of sex, a cancer vaccine and a very public debate. Mary Snow with the story.

And a baby that weighed less than 10 ounces at birth has a very special day. An update on one of the world's tiniest preemies. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: In the culture wars debate tonight, a life and death debate. Should young girls be required to get a new vaccine to prevent cervical cancer? The maker of the vaccine is backing down, but at least one U.S. governor is not. Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She has the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at the heart of the debate, the HPV vaccine, which combats a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. It's made by drug maker Merck.


SNOW (voice-over): Facing criticism, Merck says it's backing off lobbying states to make the vaccine mandatory in schools.

DR. RICHARD HAUPT, MERCK: We don't want to be a distraction from the goal of trying to vaccinate women. And so if we are, we need to re-evaluate our position.

SNOW: Doctors who applaud the vaccine say they have reservations about mandating its use, since the vaccine was only approved last year. Conservative groups have other reasons to oppose it. Some say it will promote promiscuity. Others say parents, not government, should be in control.

CATHIE ADAMS, PRESIDENT, TEXAS EAGLE FORUM: If the parent is in control, then the issues of abstinence before marriage, the moral issues are all going to be directed and controlled by those parents.

SNOW: That argument is not swaying Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, who made Texas the first state to mandate that sixth-grade girls receive the HPV vaccine.

GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) TEXAS: For the life of me, when the CDC and when the other experts come forward and say, "This is safe, it's been tested and it's available" why in the world we would not make it available to our daughters.

SNOW: Perry's office says the fact Merck will not lobby states has no impact on his decision. But a fellow Texas Republican lawmaker is hoping the Merck decision will help overturn the mandate.

REP. DENNIS BONNEN, (R) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: My fear is that we don't have enough answers to what this drug will do to 11 year-old girls. You cannot give it the government stamp of approval until you know all of the answers to the questions.


SNOW (on camera): Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control say five years of testing suggests the vaccine is safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much for that.

Paula Zahn is joining us now from New York to preview a very special program she's preparing. It's coming up right at the top of the hour. I want to warn our viewers some of the pictures in the segment are controversial.

Explain, Paula, what you have in store.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're talking about hip-hop tonight. And as you know, Wolf, it's everywhere. It's much more than rap music, of course. For some, it's an entire lifestyle.

But there are some serious concerns about hip-hop's treatment of women. A lot of women and men, for that matter, find videos like this degrading and dehumanizing when it comes to how women are portrayed. And we asked Jason Carroll to bring it out in the open for us tonight.

I want to echo Wolf's heads-up. Some of the images we'll be watching together you might find offensive.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since he was five years old, Celestina Rae dreamed of being a serious dancer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): But her professional debut came in a hip-hop video with 50 Cent. It involved a lot of exposure.

CELESTINA RAE, ACTRESS: I never had any aspirations to be in a video. I had aspirations to be a dancer, aspirations to be an actress. And I thought about different ways of getting exposure.

(MUSIC) UNIDENTFIED MALE: Celestina changed her name to Celestine Rae (ph) after her performance, which was mild by the standards of some hip-hop videos.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Critics say these portray a negative image of black women, even calling it porn for beginners.


JERMAINE DUPRI, RAPPER/PRODUCER: If people don't like it and they -- you can always turn it off, you know what I mean? So people act like they can't turn it off. You don't got to watch the bootie videos, but the people that talk about it, they're so intrigued, they want to see it.


ZAHN: Well, the truth is, Wolf, a lot of people aren't tuning out those images. Once again, this is a multi-billion dollar industry. By the way, 80 percent of the consumers happen to be white.

BLITZER: All right, Paula, thank you very much. An important hour coming up in a few moments. You'll want to stick around and watch it. Paula Zahn reporting. That's coming up at the top of the hour.

Coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM, Senator Barack Obama has just spoken out on this battle that his campaign and Hillary Clinton's campaign are in the midst of. We have his latest statement. That's coming up right after this.

Also, backlash to the extensive coverage of Britney Spears. Some unlikely critics now saying it's gone way too far.

Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's more now developing in the top story. Let's go right to Carol Costello in New York -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've been telling our viewers a lot about this in the SITUATION ROOM tonight. It is the first big battle of the Democratic presidential race, pitting the Barack Obama camp against that of Hillary Clinton. It was set in motion by those remarks from Hollywood producer David Geffen, who backs Obama. Geffen is sharply critical of the Clintons.

Now, Senator Obama is speaking out. Listen.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS: My sense is that Mr. Geffen may have differences with the Clintons. That doesn't have anything to do with our campaign.


OBAMA: You know, I've said repeatedly I have the utmost respect for Senator Clinton, have considered her an ally in the Senate and will continue to consider her that way throughout this campaign.


COSTELLO: So his strategy, Wolf, is playing nice at least so far.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Thanks very much for that, Carol.

Another story we're following involves Britney Spears. She's at the center of a media frenzy some say has gone way too far.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Britney in and out of rehab so fast even the tabloids can't keep tab. On, her locks are for sale. It's all enough to turn a late night comedian dead serious.

CRAIG FERGUSON, COMEDIAN: She's 25 years old. She's a baby herself. She's a baby.

MOOS: Audience members expecting a funny monologue didn't quite know how to react.

FERGUSON: People are falling apart. People are dying. That Anna Nicole Smith woman, she died. Look, it's not a joke.

MOOS: No wonder they tittered nervously. Craig Ferguson told them how he hit bottom 15 years ago and decided to quit drinking.

FERGUSON: I woke up Christmas morning, and I was -- you know, I was soaked in my own urine. At least I think it was me. I can't be certain.

MOOS: And now he's giving up another addiction to a certain kind of joke.

FERGUSON: It should be about -- about always attacking the powerful people, attacking the politicians and the Trumps and the blowhards. Go after them. We shouldn't be attacking the vulnerable people.

MOOS: When a comedian gets serious, as David Letterman did after 9/11, it's a big impression.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW": It's terribly sad here in New York City.

MOOS: And Craig Ferguson's 12 heart-felt minutes rocketed to top-rated video on YouTube. E-mailed reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

"Pure class."


Ferguson was anything but holier than thou.

FERGUSON: I'm as guilty as son about this. I mean, I made fun of the lady astronaut wearing the diapers when she was driving. The mug shot comes in, I go, "This woman's in trouble. She needs help."

MOOS (on camera): Talk about guilty as sin. As I was deciding whether to do this story, I had one eye on the television set, watching the Anna Nicole Smith hearing, trying to figure out whether I should do that story or this one.

(voice-over): One fan called Ferguson's diatribe, "The beginning of a revolution."

But other comedians, though respectful, weren't exactly joining in.

JOY BEHAR, "THE VIEW": You feel sorry for everybody, you'll never get a laugh.

MOOS: Even as Ferguson made his promise...

FERGUSON: Tonight, no Britney Spears jokes, and here's why...

MOOS: ... folks were still laughing.

Bigger names than Ferguson were still telling Britney jokes.

LETTERMAN: Yesterday, she shaved her head and got a tattoo. Today she drove to Orlando in a diaper. Yes, in a diaper.

MOOS: And it may take a 12 step program to teach the audience Britney abstinence.

FERGUSON: Britney Spears.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Up next, a special "PAULA ZAHN NOW".


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