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Clinton: No Revote 'Un-American'; After Five Years Bush Continues Defending War in Iraq; 'Cash for Peace' in Iraq

Aired March 19, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a new year of war in Iraq. Five years after the invasion, President Bush now broadening his defense of the war and the price America has paid. We're going to be examining the cost of the conflict in lives and dollars.
Barack Obama marks the Iraq milestone with a political shot at Hillary Clinton. This hour, the war makes a comeback in the presidential race.

And Hillary Clinton's Michigan challenge. She's putting new pressure on Barack Obama to agree to a primary revote by issuing a dire warning.

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

Up first this hour, Hillary Clinton takes her fight for primary do-overs to new extremes. She is suggesting the Democrats could ultimately lose the White House if they don't hold revotes in both Michigan and Florida.

Many Democrats have been wringing their hands since the national party stripped those states of their delegates as punishment for moving up their primaries. But for Clinton, this could be a matter of campaign survival.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us now. She's watching the story for us, a story that has huge implications.

She's directly, Jessica, pointing her finger at Barack Obama on this issue of a do-over in Michigan.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She really is, Wolf. And you know, it's not just Hillary Clinton who's doing that.

I hung up the phone just now with a top Michigan Democrat who tells me that in Michigan, there is increasing frustration with Senator Obama. This person saying that the Obama campaign is blocking a revote there by failing to either support the current plan or propose an alternative.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Senator Clinton, championing revotes in Michigan and Florida, issues this challenge...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I call on Senator Obama to do the same. This is a crucial test. Does he mean what he says or not?

YELLIN: Clinton's aides are going further, accusing the Obama campaign of snubbing those delegate-rich states, even disenfranchising voters.

This was Obama last week...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll abide by whatever rules the DNC lays out.

YELLIN: The DNC says the plan for a Michigan revote fits its rules, but now the Obama campaign is questioning the legality of a redo. They're concerned the plan would be paid for with private funds. That's a first. And anyone who voted in the Republican primary would not be allowed to revote, even though Michigan is supposed to have an open primary.

There's self-interest on both sides of this fight. Obama tends to do better in open primaries. Clinton, who is more than eager to narrow Obama's delegate lead, has reason to believe she would gain most from a redo. She won the January 29 Michigan primary. Obama was not on that ballot.

Now Michigan's Democratic leaders are warning that without a new primary, the fallout at the Democratic convention will be ugly.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: So now we're in a situation where unless there's a new primary in Michigan, because of a flawed primary which took place before, we are going to have a floor fight or a credentials fight.

YELLIN: And Senator Clinton says now it's all up to Barack Obama.

CLINTON: Senator Obama speaks passionately on the campaign trail about empowering the American people. Today, I'm urging him to match those words with actions to make sure the people of Michigan and Florida have a voice and a vote in this election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, according to a new CNN poll, Wolf, 63 percent of Democrats across the nation do support new primaries in Florida and Michigan. The one in Florida is really -- the proposal there is basically on life support.

In Michigan, the legislature has until tomorrow to pass a plan if there is going to be a redo. We have reached out to Barack Obama's campaign for more word on whether or not they will support the plan, and no response so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Jessica Yellin.

We're all over this story. And the numbers tell the story of why Michigan and Florida are simply so critical to Senator Clinton. CNN estimates that Clinton now trails Obama by 142 delegates. Right now, neither one of them is close to getting the 2,024 needed to clinch the nomination, but the math could turn dramatically in Clinton's favor if she were to win a big chunk of the 368 delegates in those two states, Michigan and Florida. Notice that if those states do reclaim their roles in the nominating process, the magic number to seal the nomination will go up to 2,208.

Now that a primary revote appears to be dead in Florida, some state lawmakers are circulating a new compromise to ensure that all the state's delegates are in fact seated at the party's convention. The plan calls for awarding half of Florida's delegates based on the results of the January 29th primary -- that was the primary that Senator Clinton won -- and it presents several options for allocating the rest of the delegates.

We're going to have more on what's happening in Florida later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Needless to say, both of these states right now could have an enormous sway on which direction this Democratic presidential nominating process moves.

There's a milestone today in Iraq and the heavy price here at home. Today marks five years since the U.S.-led invasion. The shock and awe of those first days giving way to a long and controversial war and the loss of almost 4,000 American lives. This day, President Bush -- it's presenting President Bush with a new opportunity to defend the decisions he's made along the way.

Let's bring in our Elaine Quijano. She's over at the White House watching this story for us.

Elaine, an important day, five years into this war. The U.S. now starting year number six. What did we hear from the president today that was new?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush continues to try to link success in Iraq to security for the United States, and today in his speech, the president raised the prospect that al Qaeda could get stronger if it gets its hands on Iraq's oil.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): Five years after "Shock and Awe," President Bush, speaking at the Pentagon, broadened his defense of the Iraq war...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must win.

QUIJANO: ... saying failure there could give al Qaeda oil riches, allowing it to pursue weapons of mass destruction, but also the power to shake the global economy.

BUSH: Al Qaeda would regain its lost sanctuaries and establish new ones, fomenting violence and terror that could spread beyond Iraq's borders with serious consequences for the world's economy. QUIJANO: And against the backdrop of fears about the slumping U.S. economy, the president also invoked 9/11, referencing not just the nearly 3,000 lives lost, but the livelihoods lost as well.

BUSH: The day after which in the following of that attack more than a million Americans lost work, lost their jobs.

QUIJANO: The president argued the troop surge is working.

BUSH: The level of violence is significantly down. Civilian deaths are down. Sectarian killings are down. Attacks on American forces are down.

QUIJANO: And he said the surge has dealt al Qaeda in Iraq a major blow.

BUSH: In Iraq, we are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology, and his murderous network.

QUIJANO: But the president made no mention of Iraq's slow political progress.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: He doesn't talk about, where do we go from here where the Iraqi government, you know, how soon can we turn this over? He really spoke almost as if America's going to win this. We're not going to win this on our own.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Today, though, a significant development on the political front. Iraq's presidential council approved a provincial powers law. And that law, Wolf, as you know, is considered a major step forward towards provincial elections and national reconciliation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Elaine. We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up. Elaine Quijano is over at the White House.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: On this, the fifth anniversary of the United States invasion of Iraq, it is worth noting that if the Bush administration gets its way, our involvement there will stretch far beyond the five years. Vice President Dick Cheney has been in Iraq this week playing "let's make a deal" when it comes to our nation's long-term role in a country we now occupy.

Cheney came away from two days of private meetings with promises from Shia, Sunni and Kurdish officials to firm up a new blueprint for relations between the U.S. and Iraq. This deal would replace a U.N. Security Council resolution that expires in December, the same time that President Bush leaves office. The administration insists the deal will not create permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, will not set terms for U.S. troop levels, and will not tie the hands of future presidents. And in keeping with the arrogant, unilateral way it has conducted business for more than seven years, the Bush administration says it probably will not bother to get Senate approval for any of this. Why should the American people have anything to say about it?

The administration says they're not going to get approval because it's not a treaty that provides Iraq with specific security guarantees. Democrats in Congress aren't happy. Some lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make the administration's agreement null and void unless they agree to get Senate approval.

Given the Democrats' overwhelming lack of success in stopping President Bush from doing anything, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Here's the question: Should the Bush administration be negotiating long-term agreements in Iraq without the consent of the American people?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

The U.S. is paying a price in Iraq in more ways than one. Coming up, cold, hard American dollars being pumped into Iraq. We're going to take a closer look at the charges that the Pentagon is trading cash for peace.

Plus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq on the future of the war and who needs to win it. General David Petraeus, one-on-one. That interview coming up.

And John McCain visits a sacred site in Jerusalem and sends a message that he'd be a pro-Israel president.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Five years after the invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops appear to be making some progress in lowering the violence that's been directed against them and against Iraqis. Many attribute that to the so-called surge. Others suggest it's simply a matter of cold, hard U.S. cash.

Let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as U.S. commanders explain progress in Iraq, they usually cite three things: the surge, the so-called awakening, and the cease-fire by Muqtada al- Sadr. But some critics say they should add a fourth factor, cold, hard cash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): It's a truth many hold to be self- evident, that more American troops means less Iraqi violence.

BUSH: Some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt.

MCINTYRE: Maybe, but there is doubt among some military experts who argue there's actually a mightier force at work, money. Hundreds of millions in hard cash given to Iraqis for everything from picking up garbage, as in this case last year in Ramadi, to taking up arms against al Qaeda.

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Normally when you begin paying off your enemy on the scale that we are, it is seen by your enemy, as well as others, as a tacit admission of failure, not of success.

MCINTYRE: The former deputy commander for General Petraeus bristles at the suggestion the U.S. is bribing bad guys to back off.

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, FMR. DEPUTY IRAQ COMMANDER: It's about reconciling them with the rest of the government of Iraq. It's a confidence-building measure in reconciling them with Iraq.

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: If it's only a question of a tactical distribution of money for a short period of time, then it won't stand up and it will be reversed the moment we leave.

MCINTYRE: But U.S. commanders on the front lines insist anger, not greed, is what's behind the so-called awakening, and has given rise to groups like the Concerned Local Citizens and Sons of Iraq.

COL. JOHN CHARLTON, U.S. ARMY: We didn't advertise, you know, that, hey, join the police force and we'll give you money. These guys lined up by the hundreds because they were sick and tired of what al Qaeda was doing to their communities, and they knew that they had to stand up and fight.

MCINTYRE: But what happens when the money dries up? Pessimists predict a quick return to civil war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Already, some of the sheen is off the surge. As U.S. troops begin to leave, violence, though still lower, is starting to rise. And the loyalties of militias on the U.S. payroll appear very much in question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre with that report.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, goes before the Congress next month to testify about the progress of the war and the level of U.S. troop commitments in Iraq. But today he spoke with CNN's Kyra Phillips in Baghdad.

Here's some of that exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Can you even, five years into this war, say it is good for U.S. troops to stay or go at this moment?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL, MULTINATIONAL FORCES, IRAQ: Well, first of all, I think let's just focus on where we are right now and recognize that we're in a good, but better, place in terms of security, and even in terms of political progress by the Iraqis than they were, say, a year ago. Iraq was on the brink of a civil war.

The additional coalition forces, and then also the Iraqi surge that was some three or four times our surge, and then joined by the concerned local citizens, now Sons of Iraq, all of that has helped drive down the level of violence by well over 60 percent, reduce the level of civilian deaths, and all the rest of that, although we are always quick to note that the progress is tenuous and that it is reversible, and that there are innumerable challenges out there. We're in the midst right now, as you know, of drawing down the surge forces.

In fact, we will take out by the end of July -- we'll reduce by over one-quarter our ground combat power -- five of 20 brigade combat teams, two Marine battalions, and a Marine expeditionary unit. We've recommended that, we believe that we can carry that out without unduly jeopardizing the gains that we and our Iraqi partners have fought so hard to achieve. And then we'll carry on from there.

We're keenly aware of the strain that this has put on the force, the sacrifices of the families back home, on our troopers, and we want to continue obviously to draw down our forces in the months after that, but we do want to do it in a way that again does not place in jeopardy all that we've fought so hard for, particularly over the course of this past year.

PHILLIPS: These Sons of Iraq, they used to work for the insurgency, they used to work for al Qaeda. They have now turned around and said, OK, General Petraeus, OK, U.S. troops, we're going to join you, we're going to help protect our area.

PETRAEUS: They realize that this extremist ideology is not something they could subscribe to, they realize they made a mistake by not volunteering in the past to serve in the Iraqi security forces. And they made a colossal error in not voting in the elections in 2005.

They realize you can't win if you don't play, you can't get your share of the incredible bounty of this country, the oil revenues, the -- all the rest, if you do not participate. And they now are intent on participating.

PHILLIPS: The president of the United States said in a speech today the U.S. is going to win this war. Is it the U.S. that needs to win this war, or is it the Iraqis that need to win here? PETRAEUS: Well, we often talk about people say, gee, how are you doing at winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis? And we'll say, certainly, we'd love to win hearts and minds. But the truth is what we really want to do is help the Iraqis win hearts and minds of their own citizenry, help them achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the (INAUDIBLE) -- or the people of Iraq. That's what it is about obviously.

We can help, we can enable, we can assist, but at the end of the day, increasingly, obviously, it is Iraqis who must carry it forward. So it will be a team effort, very much, but increasingly the bigger part of that team will be Iraqi and the smaller part will be the coalition and the U.S.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: General David Petraeus speaking with our own Kyra Phillips in Iraq today. This, the fifth anniversary of the start of the war.

John McCain is touring Israel right now, but something he did today angered some of the Palestinians. We're going to tell you what happened and how John McCain responded. Our John King is covering the visit. He will be joining us from Jerusalem.

And how confident are you in the Iraq war and in President Bush's handling of the war? We have some new answers. You may be surprised how much those two items are related.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

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

Happening now, as the war enters its sixth year, President Bush gives an upbeat assessment. But what's the assessment of those who have long covered the war? Our Michael Ware, right now embedded with the 101st Airborne, he'll join us. That's coming up.

A split among those for and against the Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick. He's embroiled in a major sex scandal and could be criminally charged for lying under oath about an affair.

You're going to find out how the mayor answers calls for him to resign. Carol Costello working that story.

And Hillary Clinton touts decades of experience. So what do more than 11,000 pages of her schedule as the first lady show?

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

On this fifth anniversary of the war's beginning, Barack Obama delivering a searing rebuke of three leaders who approved the war, authorized it back in 2002. He essentially lumped together President Bush, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, saying the president failed to put pragmatism over ideology before the war and that both McCain and Clinton failed to make the United States any safer.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is watching all of this unfold in Charlotte, North Carolina. They've got a primary coming up in the not-too-distant future.

These are strong words, Candy, from Barack Obama.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you know, Wolf, if you go back a year from this past January, so a year and several months ago, and what you will find is that before there were marquis names in this race, Obama and Clinton, there was already passion inside the Democratic Party, and it was based on the anti-war movement. And even though voters now say that the economy is their primary concern, the war remains a driving force in politics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): The fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq finds Democrats wrestling with a central question that began their '08 campaign: Who can best end the war, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

OBAMA: Ask yourself, who do you trust to end the war, someone who opposed the war from the beginning or someone who started opposing it when they started preparing a run for president?

CROWLEY: In Fayetteville, North Carolina, not far from Fort Bragg, Obama honored a central tenet of his campaign for a job with no more awesome power than that of commander in chief. He argued he had the judgment to be against the Iraq war from the beginning and Clinton did not. His argument now incorporates the presumptive Republican nominee.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We continue to be concerned about Iranian taking al Qaeda...

OBAMA: Just yesterday, we heard Senator McCain confuse Sunni and Shia, Iran and al Qaeda. Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no al Qaeda ties.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America's enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades.

CROWLEY: Criticized as naive by McCain, Clinton and George Bush, Obama took every opportunity to link the three together, arguing that their support of the war has made the country less safe.

OBAMA: We have a security gap when candidates say they will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but refuse to follow him where he actually is.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: What we need in our next commander in chief is not a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality or empty rhetoric about 3:00 a.m. phone calls.

CROWLEY: A Clinton campaign spokesman shot back that Obama took practically no action to end the war before he started his White House run.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Obama says, if this election is decided on who has the most years of experience in Washington, then he will not be either the nominee or the president. But he argues, it is not about years in Washington. It's about judgment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much.

Candy is watching this story in Charlotte.

Hillary Clinton says she's the one most ready to lead on Iraq. And, apparently, some retired admirals and generals agree. The Clinton campaign is out with a brand-new video highlighting a show of support.

And here's one of those -- one of them from that video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN AD)

REAR ADMIRAL DAVID STONE (RET.), U.S. NAVY: There's a large group of retired admirals and generals that believe this is the most important election in their lifetime. We face growing threats around the globe. Senator Clinton is the candidate that we believe is the strongest and most experienced leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Senator Obama spoke at length about the situation in Iraq on this, the fifth anniversary of the war, with our own Anderson Cooper earlier in North Carolina.

Coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we are going to have excerpts of that interview. The interview, Barack Obama, Anderson Cooper, we will have some of that coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- strong words coming from Senator Obama.

While the candidates play up what they do on Iraq, what do you think about what's happening there right now?

For some answers, we will turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story unfold for us.

Bill, what -- what is the mood out there? What are people saying on this, the fifth anniversary of the war? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the public has lost confidence in this war and in this president. And the two are not unrelated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): President Bush sees progress in Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The successes we're seeing in Iraq are undeniably...

SCHNEIDER: And most Americans don't deny them. Last month, a majority of the public said they believe the U.S. military is improving conditions in Iraq.

Has that increased public support for the war? No. Only 32 percent of Americans now favor the war in Iraq. Two-thirds are opposed. Opposition has held steady since the 2006 midterm election.

Now look at President Bush's job approval rating, 31 percent in the new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, this president's lowest approval rating ever in our survey, almost exactly the same number as favor the war.

When the war started five years ago, a lot of people believed it would be another Persian Gulf War, a quick, relatively easy victory. Instead, it looks more like Vietnam.

In 1969, five years after Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, authorizing the use of force in Vietnam, public support for that war was at 32 percent, exactly where it is now for Iraq. But there's one big difference. The Vietnam War was started under a Democratic president and continued under a Republican president.

By 1969, neither Democrats, nor Republicans supported the war. The war in Iraq is extremely partisan. Sixty-two percent of Republicans, but only 11 percent of Democrats, favor this war.

Are Americans ready to get out of Iraq? Yes. Sixty-one percent want the next president to remove most U.S. troops within a few months of taking office. Right now, the war isn't the big issue in the presidential campaign. The economy is. The Democrats are trying to link the two issues.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The war in Iraq could ultimately cost well over $1 trillion.

SCHNEIDER: Does the public see the war in Iraq as a reason for the country's economic problems? Over 70 percent say yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Does the public believe the U.S. is winning the war? Well, just 32 percent say yes. The prevailing view? Sixty-one percent say neither side is winning that war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, looking at the latest numbers.

Hundreds of anti-war protesters gathered in Washington for this, the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. At least 31 people were arrested today, according to the organizers. Protests are also happening across the country. And many of them are being organized online.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, who's organizing these protests out there?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's a coalition of groups organizing and publicizing the protests today on this Web site, 5 Years Too Many. And they have been updating with pictures of the protests, these from Washington, throughout the day.

The goal, to disrupt business as usual -- and the organizers say they consider the day a success, though marches this afternoon have been called off because of the rain.

Amongst the demonstrators in the nation's capital today, students on an alternative spring break.

Ashley Casale from Wesleyan University is one of the organizers of Our Spring Break, which has bought 150 students from various different schools to Washington. And they say that they have been organizing largely through Facebook, a social networking site.

It's not just D.C., though. Organizers of this site say they have got more than 600 events going on around the country, from interfaith services to rallies and marches. And, separately, the group MoveOn.org has got candlelight vigils planned on this, the fifth-year anniversary of the Iraq war. They have almost 900 of those going on starting in a couple of hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

And Abbi Tatton, Candy Crowley, and Bill Schneider, they are all part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out our Political Ticker at CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker is now the number-one political news blog out on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. Just posted one before the show on the whole issue of experience vs. change. Let me know what you think.

The delicate balance between foreign policy and politics -- John McCain in Israel getting a firsthand look at the impact of an almost daily set of violence in that region. We are live in Jerusalem, John King standing by to join us.

And Hillary Clinton with a warning for all Democrats about Michigan and Florida -- why she says it could have cost -- it could end up costing Democrats the White House.

Plus, the real cost of the war, $9 billion a month, see what else the government could buy with that money.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain's campaign is marking five years since the invasion of Iraq started by touting the senator's leadership on the war.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee continued his tour of the Middle East today. He focused in on the region's other big conflict. That would be the one between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is in Jerusalem. He's covering Senator McCain's visit to the region.

What was Senator McCain's message, John, today?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's fascinating.

In most of the Middle East, when the subject of the presidential campaign in the United States comes up, the conversation is dominated by Iraq, but not here in Israel. Here, the issues are Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and survival.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): From a helicopter above...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We have just had a technical problem with the piece.

Let's talk a little bit about it, unless we can get that technical problem fixed.

We started seeing Senator McCain flying in a helicopter over the region. What happened?

KING: He was with the defense minister, Ehud Barak, Wolf, who, as you know, is the former prime minister as well.

They took a helicopter ride, essentially, so Senator McCain, who has been here before, but to get a fresh look at how tiny Israel's footprint is, if you will. They flew over Gaza. They flew over the West Bank. They flew around the territorial area of Israel. Then they landed in a border town that has been shelled by Kassam rockets almost on a daily basis.

Senator McCain went to a police station, saw many of the rockets that have come in. Now, the rockets are pretty crude. They don't usually kill people, although, sometimes, they do, but the towns are terrorized up by the border. This is in Southern Israel. And they are coming in from Hamas-controlled territory in the Palestinian territories.

And what the Israelis are looking for most, Wolf, is, what would Senator McCain say about that? There's some concern here, based on past statements, that he might pressure them when it comes to issues like the settlements more than President Bush has in the past.

But, on the issue of whether Israel could respond if hit by Hamas or Hezbollah, Senator McCain said, if Israel is attacked, it has every right, every reason, and, in fact, a responsibility to its citizens to respond with force aggressively.

He also spoke here about the peace process, saying he hopes the Bush administration can make progress in its final months, but he also has said many times he does not see a breakthrough in the foreseeable future -- very interesting, the politics here. He met with virtually every senior official in the Israeli government, also the chief opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu -- no face-to-face meeting with any Palestinians.

He did call President Abbas last night, but he would not sit down face-to-face with President Abbas on this trip. And that has angered the Palestinians. They say that Senator McCain is pandering to the Israeli lobby and the right wing back home in the United States, and that he is not doing anything on this trip that would suggest he would be an even-handed broker, if you will, if he becomes president of the United States.

But, here in Israel, he was very well-received, again, some doubts about whether he would put pressure on them when it comes to the settlements, but the main issue here is Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. And, on that front, the Israeli officials say they like very much what they hear from Senator McCain and believe it would be largely a continuation of their very friendly relationship with President Bush if Senator McCain -- and that's a big if, still, Wolf -- wins the White House.

BLITZER: It's a huge if. He's well known in Washington as one of Israel's most ardent supporters, given his legislative record.

All right, John, stand by. We are going to be coming back to you later, and we will get that technical problem fixed.

John King is in Jerusalem covering the McCain visit.

In our "Strategy Session": Hillary Clinton's dire prediction about ignoring Michigan and Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: We won't end the housing crisis and get the economy moving again unless we win in Michigan and Florida in November.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, could the standoff over Michigan and Florida's delegates cost the Democrats -- Democrats the White House?

And, five years after the start of the war in Iraq, will the conflict there make or break McCain's chances of keeping the White House in Republicans' control? Donna Brazile and John Feehery, they're standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM for our "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says it would be -- quote -- "un- American" not to count primary votes in both Florida and Michigan. And she's urging Barack Obama to act.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our political analyst, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist John Feehery.

I will play a little clip of what Hillary Clinton said today, challenging Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Ignoring Michigan and Florida would be a grave mistake. We won't be able to end the war in Iraq, we won't achieve universal health care, we won't end the housing crisis and get the economy moving again unless we win in Michigan and Florida in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Her point -- and a lot of analysts believe with her that, if they're not going to seat the Democrats, the delegates in Michigan and Florida, those Democrats in those two critical states are going to be so angry at their own party, they will simply not vote come November, or they might even vote for John McCain.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, we're trying to keep a political party together. We're not trying to destroy it by, you know, hot rhetoric that says it's un-American.

It's not un-American to support the rules. If Florida and Michigan request a revote, I think the Democratic Party will allow that. If they do not request a revote, then Senator Clinton and Senator Obama should sit in a room and cut a deal. Both sides have been very stubborn about holding on to their delegates. Cut a deal. Someone will win more than the other. That's not un-American. Just cut a deal, and we will resolve this issue.

BLITZER: Barack Obama says -- and he has a good point -- he says, basically, you know what, I agree with whatever the rules of the DNC are. Whatever the Democratic National Committee comes up with, I will support.

The ball is clearly in the DNC, and your corner, as part of the leadership of the DNC.

BRAZILE: And I -- and, if I was in charge of anything, other than running my mouth, I would cut a deal, because I think a deal can be cut.

Senator Clinton will not like it 100 percent, and Senator Obama will not like it 100 percent, but we can cut a deal. One of them will come out with more delegates. I think a revote at this time, unless the Michigan officials can come up with the resources, which I understand they might have the resources, but then they have to deal with eligibility.

The DNC rules committee will look at all of this. If it complies with the rules, they will be seated, and people can just take their lawn chairs, leave them at home. We will have tables for them to sit at.

BLITZER: If the Democrats don't get their act together, and they don't seat the Democratic delegates in Denver at their convention, I assume the Republicans will sit back and say, you know what, Michigan and Florida, they're in play.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is beautiful for Republicans.

The fact of the matter is, Republicans probably are going to win Florida. I think that they are -- they are much stronger in Florida than the Democrats. I do think, in Michigan, when the Democrats didn't do on that primary and the Republicans did the debate in Michigan, it was beautiful, because we could talk about the Michigan governor, who has done a poor job of leading that state, who is a Democrat, and we have been able to make a Republican case in Michigan. And it's been a good case to make.

And I think this helps Republicans win Michigan. I really do. And I hope that it continues.

BRAZILE: I don't think it will continue much longer.

I think we are very close to having some settlement. It will not be to Hillary Clinton's liking. It will not be to Barack Obama. At the end of the day, this process is bigger than both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

BLITZER: So, what's it going to be?

BRAZILE: I hope that they will settle on a percentage of delegates that -- that's already been chosen. Senator Clinton might get a percentage, Senator Obama. At the end of the day, again, someone will get more delegates, but everyone just hold their horses, and just let us work this process out.

BLITZER: But is that fair?

BRAZILE: What is fair at this point, since they didn't comply with the rules? I mean, the only thing you can do at this point is to come up with a -- if we had a nominee by now, we would come up with a settlement. But, without a nominee, the party must figure out a way to act.

BLITZER: How worried are you, as a Republican, John, that the war in Iraq is going to hover over this whole debate come the election in the fall and -- and could dramatically hurt the Republican nominee, who is going to be John McCain?

FEEHERY: I don't think the war is as big of an issue now as it was in 2006 in the congressional elections.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You think the economy is the biggest issue.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But the war has a direct impact on the economy, given the billions and billions of dollars that are spent every month on the war.

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY: I think the economy is going to be the much bigger issue.

But I also think that strength and leadership will play a role. It always plays a role in presidential elections. And I think that the leader -- as we saw in the Democratic primary, when Hillary Clinton ran to the right of Barack Obama in Ohio and Texas, it actually -- she won those races because of that.

I think McCain is going to be the strength and character candidate, and he's going to be the strength and -- and defense candidate. I think that will actually help him, even though the war is unpopular. But -- but there's going to be another part. And that is, what is the answer to the economy? Is it raising taxes or is it -- is it cutting taxes, or keeping taxes...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The old -- the old arguments.

What do you think?

BRAZILE: I don't think the old arguments work.

I mean, as Bill Schneider pointed out, if -- if the public is still weary of this war, they will not give John McCain four more years to do what George Bush has done on this war. So, I don't see John McCain benefiting from this issue. I think the Democrats will win on the war, as well as on the economy.

BLITZER: You have got your hands full, Donna. Good luck.

BRAZILE: Well, I'm praying. I believe in miracles. Where's Mike Huckabee when we need his miracle?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: He's not around, but he will be back, no doubt about that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, John Feehery, thanks, guys.

Rock the vote -- a member of Twisted Sister is saying who she -- who he would support for president. And he is changing the group's famous anthem.

Also, on this five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, how much has the U.S. actually spent on the fighting, and how much might it ultimately spend? Get ready for big numbers.

And 11,000-plus pages on Hillary Clinton's schedule as the first lady, do they support her claims of vast -- vast experience or suggest something else? The pages are now out. Our Brian Todd and a whole team of reporters, we're poring over them right now.

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, the guitarist for the heavy metal group Twisted Sister is trying to vote to rock the vote for Obama.

Jay Jay French, seen on the left, has re-recorded the band's anthem, "I Wanna Rock." It's now called "I Want Barack." But Twisted Sister's Lead singer, Dee Snider, may not be thrilled about all of that. That's Snider on the right. He told "Rolling Stone" magazine he's supported John McCain since the last election.

For the latest political news any time, check out our CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can get more of this kind of information.

Jack Cafferty, a huge Twisted Sister fan, joining us now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I have a twisted sister, actually, Wolf, in the family.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question is: Should the Bush administration be negotiating long-term deals in Iraq without the consent of the American people?

Tony in Kentucky writes: "Geez, Jack, you act like this president has never broken any laws. This president should be tried for war crimes or treason. But he won't be. Controlling the oil in the Mideast means we have to be there to baby-sit the Iraqi government while they cheat their own people. You know, it's called democracy."

Ian in North Carolina: "Jack, great question. Here is a better one. Even if Bush had 95 percent support from the American people, would it be proper to continue, with over two-thirds of the Iraqi people saying, get out now? I don't think it matters what Americans think. No amount of polling will change the fact that a grave breach of international law has occurred."

Barbara in Connecticut writes: "Absolutely not. Too many things in this administration have been done in secret. This is how Bush and company set up themselves and their cronies for years to come. The heartbreaking part of it is, it won't be their children, grandchildren, or family members who will be stuck in the Middle East dealing with this setup for years to come. Ours will."

Brian in California: "Absolutely. Bush and any president dealing with Iraq has the authority and right to make any military decision they believe is in the best interest of the people of this country."

Joan in North Carolina: "How many times has President Bush said he told the Iraqis that he did not plan a long-term presence in their country and that they had to get on with their benchmarks because the occupation was not open-ended? He lied. He was planning this all along."

And Pete writes: "Since when has this administration checked the pulse of the American people before they did anything? I saw where Dick Cheney responded with a blunt, "So?" when he was told that two- thirds of Americans are against this war" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: At this moment, the war in Iraq enters its sixth year -- President Bush calling it noble, necessary and just. But, after nearly 4,000 U.S. lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, will the next president stay the course?

Hillary Clinton warns Democrats of dire consequences if they ignore Florida and Michigan. Can those states' convention seats be saved? There's new talk right now of compromise solutions.

And Detroit's mayor digging in his heels, despite a sex scandal, explicit e-mail, and the possibility that he may be charged with lying under oath to cover up an affair.

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

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