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Hillary Clinton Comments on Barack Obama's Ex-Minister; Hillary Clinton Backtracks About Bosnia Trips; Pennsylvania now has Record Number of Registered Democrats

Aired March 25, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, for the first time, Hillary Clinton is diving into the debate over Barack Obama's former pastor. Is she trying to prolong a racially-charged controversy that Obama wants to put behind him? I'll ask a senior Clinton adviser about the senator's new remarks.
Plus, Obama's tax returns revealed. He's on vacation right now, but there's no holiday from his battle with Senator Clinton. This hour, tax records as political ammunition, and an exclusive interview with Obama in the Virgin Islands. You're going to want to hear what he had to say today.

And John McCain tries to bolster his credibility on the economy. We're going to tell you what the Republican would do and won't do to solve the mortgage crisis.

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

We begin with the Hillary Clinton comments, taking her first shot at Barack Obama's relationship with his former pastor. Just a short while ago in Pennsylvania, Senator Clinton was asked about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the racially charged remarks he made.

Listen to this.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I answered a question in an ed board today that was very specific about what I would have done. And, you know, I'm just speaking for myself. And I was answering a question that was posed to me. But I think given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor.

I gave a speech at Rutgers about a year ago that was triggered by the Don Imus comments. And I said that it was time for standing up for what is right, for saying enough is enough, for urging that we turn a culture of degradation into a culture of empowerment, for saying that while we, of course, must protect our right to freedom of expression, it should not be used as a license or an excuse to demean and humiliate our fellow citizens. Senator Obama spoke eloquently at that time as well.

You know, we don't have a choice when it comes to our relatives. We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend. Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves. They are obviously very personal matters, but I was asked what I would do if he were my pastor, and I said I think this choice would be clear for me.


BLITZER: It's been a full week since Senator Obama gave a speech explaining his ties to the Reverend Wright while condemning Wright's inflammatory sermons.

Let's bring in our Suzanne Malveaux. She's watching the story for us.

She could have said this a week ago, a few days ago. She said it today. Why now?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure. I mean, there's been this assault on her integrity, her truthfulness, her own judgment, from the Obama campaign because of this whole idea, her Bosnia trip, when she said she came under fire, duck and cover, this kind of thing. We have since seen a video that shows otherwise. And so she's really been kind of caught up in that controversy, and she's had to admit and acknowledge that she made a mistake, that she's mischaracterized this whole thing.

So this certainly kind of takes that off front and center and puts it squarely back on Barack Obama. Puts back the attention on this whole idea of her pastor -- the pastor, the controversy over it, and the questions about his integrity and his judgment. And this obviously coming as we approach the Pennsylvania primary.

BLITZER: So, in part, designed to shift the attention from her mistakes -- and she admits she made a mistake in describing when she arrived at the Tuzla Air Base back in 1996 in Bosnia. Now direct the attention on the Reverend Wright controversy with Barack Obama?

MALVEAUX: Absolutely. And actually, what we're finding here is that the Obama campaign, they want exactly the opposite. They've been trying to squelch this thing for days, if not weeks, now. They have been unsuccessful in doing that.

Even Reverend Wright, who has come back -- he's going to deliver a sermon in Tampa, Florida -- we've since learned that not only do they not have cameras, they don't have security. That has been canceled. Obviously, Reverend Wright also trying to fade into the distance, into the background a bit, to help the Obama campaign. We'll see if that works.

BLITZER: We'll see what the fallout from this is.

Thanks very much, Suzanne, for that.

Suzanne is going to be staying with us.

And coming up, I'll be speaking live with a top Clinton adviser, Kiki McLean, about the senator's remarks about the Reverend Wright, and a lot more. That's coming up in a few moments right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senator Clinton also told reporters just a short while ago that she's human and makes mistakes. Clinton now acknowledging she misspoke about the danger she faced during that 1996 trip to Bosnia. The Obama camp has suggested Clinton was intentionally exaggerating.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian. He's covering this part of the story for us in Pennsylvania. He's with the CNN Election Express.

Dan, the flap is going to the heart of Clinton's claims about her global national security experience. What's the latest today?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And that's why all day she's been saying that she really made a mistake.

And at one point when reporters kept questioning her about this issue, she told them, listen, get over it. But at least for now this story isn't going anywhere.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Senator Hillary Clinton is running on her resume, touting foreign policy experience and talking about trips taken abroad as first lady. Like she did last week about a dangerous 1996 visit to Bosnia.

CLINTON: I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead, we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

LOTHIAN: But video shot that day seemingly contradicts her version of events. No one seems to be running or ducking. And there does appear to be a ceremony.

CLINTON: I made a mistake. That happens. It proves I'm human, which, you know, for some people is a revelation.

LOTHIAN: And this on KDKA Radio Pittsburgh...

CLINTON: Last week, you know, for the first time in 12 or so years, I misspoke.

LOTHIAN: But even that admission is raising more questions, because she told the same story not just last week, but in February and last December in Iowa. The question now, will this hurt Clinton's credibility?

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: I think it could hurt her credibility, but what I think hurts most is her claim that she is the candidate of more experience and that she's got more foreign policy experience and commander in chief experience than Barack Obama.

LOTHIAN: Senator Barack Obama has had problems with history, too. Last year in Alabama, he talked about how his parents got together during the Selma voting rights march. SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And so they got together. Barack Obama Jr. was born.

LOTHIAN: The problem is Obama was born in 1961. The march happened four years later. His campaign clarified, said he was referring to the civil rights movement, not one event.

But how can these highly-vetted, heavily-advised campaigns make these missteps?

CHARLES MATHESIAN, POLITICO.COM: Candidates are human just like the rest of us. You know, their recollection sometimes can be spotty. They might not remember things. Maybe they remember things the way they prefer to. And sometimes it's just an outright exaggeration and they don't expect to get caught.


LOTHIAN: And political analysts say that every moment the candidates spend on these missteps, it takes them off message -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

A new round today in the Democrats' tit-for-tat over tax records. Barack Obama releasing his returns for the year's 2000 to 2006, even as the Clinton campaign was sending out a news release pressuring him to do just that. Now the Obama camp is turning the attention back to the Clintons' tax records, which she's promising to release next month.

We're going to have a full report on the battle over taxes. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Suzanne Malveaux and Dan Lothian, by the way, are both part of the Emmy Award winning best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out the political ticker at

The ticker is now the number one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. The political ticker at

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A Florida congressman is suggesting a brokered convention for the Democrats in Denver in August. It could lead to some pretty unexpected results. In other words, forget about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Congressman Tim Mahoney says he wouldn't be surprised if someone different suddenly appeared at the top of the ticket. He says a compromised candidate could be somebody like Al Gore.

In a newspaper interview, Mahoney said if the convention is deadlocked and either Clinton or Obama suggested a Gore/Obama or a Gore/Clinton ticket, the party would accept that. Mahoney's one of the almost 800 superdelegates who will get to cast a vote at that convention. He has not endorsed either Clinton or Obama yet, but he says he's been wooed by both of them.

It's an interesting idea. It's not clear if Democrats really know what they're in for if this nasty battle continues all the way to the convention in Denver.

The way things are going, there could be enough acrimony by that time, by the time it's over, that neither Obama nor Clinton would any longer be viewed as electable. Al Gore has insisted he won't run, he says he has no plans to be a candidate, but he's also said, I see no reason to rule it out entirely.

And it's worth pointing out that the former vice president and Nobel Prize winner has not yet endorsed either Clinton or Obama. So stay tuned.

Here's the question: If a ticket lead by Al Gore somehow emerged from a brokered convention, would that be a good thing for the Democrats?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: A good question, Jack. Thank you.

Hillary Clinton was praising Barack Obama's speech on race just a week ago. Now she's offering some serious criticism of Obama's former pastor, accusing him of hate speech.

What's behind Senator Clinton's decision to speak out today? I'll ask her senior adviser, Kiki McClean. She's standing by live.

Also, Clinton's high expectations in Pennsylvania. The makeup of the state should work for her, at least according to all the polls. But will a surge in voter registration work against her?

And will troop withdrawals in Iraq be put on hold until after the November election? We're going to have the latest on a controversial possibility.

Lots of news happening today, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



CLINTON: I think given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor. We don't have a choice when it comes to our relatives. We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend.

Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves. They are obviously very personal matters. But I was asked what I would do if he were my pastor, and I said I think the choice would be clear for me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Days after the controversy over Senator Barack Obama's former pastor first flared, his campaign rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, as you just saw, sharply criticizing Obama for his association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Kiki McLean is a senior adviser to the Clinton campaign. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Kiki, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: All right. What about the fact that days earlier she was offered plenty of opportunities to condemn what was going on, to speak out? She took the high road. She didn't really say much, but today she decided to answer that question at that editorial board meeting with the Pittsburgh newspaper and speak out very forcefully.

MCLEAN: Well, I think Senator Clinton made it very clear. She was asked a question about what she would do.

BLITZER: But she was asked questions last week, too.

MCLEAN: She answered a question about what she would do. What you're talking about -- listen to the way you even say the question -- "Last week she was offered the chance to condemn." You know, those -- that's...

BLITZER: She was offered the chance to say then what she said today.

MCLEAN: But that's a bias way to put it. Today it was very simple. She was asked a question about what she herself would do. And she answered the question about what she herself would do. She didn't give analysis. She didn't try to speculate what Senator Obama would have, should have, or could have done. She answered a question about herself. It's that simple.

BLITZER: But she could have said today, you know what? That's an old story. We're past it. Let's move on. Let's talk about the economy.

MCLEAN: And then you would have been asking me about why she wouldn't answer a question about what she was asked she would do. So I think she answered a question. It's that simple. It's not that complicated.

BLITZER: Because the immediate reaction of a lot of the, you know, pundits, of course, is that she's trying to change the subject away from her own mistake involving the Bosnia trip.

MCLEAN: Listen, I think she would rather be talking about is the event that she held in Pennsylvania today where she talked about retirement security for Americans and what we as Americans need to do. I don't know about you, it's something I worry about. I have two young children. I worry about my husband's retirement and my own retirement. And I know that there are lots of people in Pennsylvania who are worried about that, and I think that's really what we would all rather be talking about.

BLITZER: Does she feel he's still vulnerable on this Reverend Wright issue?

MCLEAN: You k now what? I don't think she's engaged in what she thinks about him. I think Senator Clinton is engaged in what she thinks about the future -- for the future of our country and what she wants to do.

That's why last week she spent a full solid week talking about her policies on Iraq and what she believes we ought to do. That's why this week she's talking about the economy.

Yesterday, a major economic address. A major address involving what we should do about this housing crisis that's now created a credit crisis. And now today talking about retirement security.

BLITZER: The Bosnia blunder, the mistake she now acknowledges.

MCLEAN: A mistake.

BLITZER: But you know, I covered Hillary Clinton for a long time. She's extremely smart.


BLITZER: Why do you think she would, you know, screw up in terms of describing that arrival at the Tuzla Air Base?

MCLEAN: Look, she said she's a human being. She made a mistake.

She is an extraordinary and talented person, and yet she is a human being. Look, there are all kinds of accounts of exaggerations on the part of Senator Obama. He's a human being, too.

There's an "L.A. Times" story that talks about exaggerations of his role as an organizer in Chicago with some of the projects that he worked on there. I'm sure every human being has a moment like that in life where they've made a mistake. Hers is just magnified because it's in front of the national media.

BLITZER: She's quoted in "The Philadelphia Daily News" as saying this: "Remember that pledged delegates in most states are not pledged. You know, there's no requirement that anybody vote for anybody. They're just like superdelegates."

Explain what she's alluding to. I think I understand, but explain to our viewers what she's suggesting.

MCLEAN: Well, I don't know the whole context of that, so I'm sort of hesitant to go into an analysis...

BLITZER: Because Barack Obama is ahead in the pledged delegates.

MCLEAN: Well...

BLITZER: And by all accounts, now that Michigan and Florida are not going to be part of the equation, assuming they won't be part of the equation, he's going to stay ahead in the pledged delegates.

MCLEAN: I think we know a couple of things. And some of these things we know from right here at CNN with you and John King and the magic board, as we referred to it from election night. And that is, come the end of the primary process, when the last 10 states and territories -- we still have 10 states and territories to go -- finish up in early June, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will be in the same position.

Neither one will have accumulated enough delegates to cross that line without the support of superdelegates. Those are the rules of the party. The rules of the party and the concept of the superdelegates is also that they will, in fact, use their best judgment about who they believe best represents the party and best -- will best represent the country as our president and has the best chance to win.

BLITZER: Those are superdelegates.


MCLEAN: That's superdelegates.

BLITZER: But is she also appealing to the so-called pledged delegates to, you know what? Don't necessarily go with who you're supposed to vote for, but go for -- go for someone else?

MCLEAN: Well, you and I both know that there are delegates through this process who their candidate is no longer in the race. And so some of those delegates...

BLITZER: Like the John Edwards...


MCLEAN: Well, I don't know, because like I said before, I don't know the context of the quote that you're giving me, what was the conversation was before or after. So I really don't want to play guessing games.

BLITZER: We'll leave it right there.

Kiki McLean, thanks for coming in.

MCLEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be talking.

We're going to have an Obama adviser, Greg Craig. He's the senior adviser to the Obama campaign. He's going to come up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get his perspective.

Also coming up, Obama releasing his tax returns, and he's issuing a challenge to Hillary Clinton. We're going to tell you what Obama's financial records are revealing.

Plus, will China's crackdown in Tibet spark a boycott of the Beijing summer Olympic games? We're going to tell you which world leader isn't ruling that out.

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



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

Happening now, a shocking missile mix-up -- one that could put China on edge. The Pentagon is shipping missile fuses to Taiwan by accident. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, will have the latest on the investigation that is now under way.

Campaign smears. A new YouTube video attacking Senator Barack Obama's patriotism, portraying him and his wife as "America-hating racists." We'll take a closer look at whether it could do permanent damage to his campaign. We'll tell you what's going on.

And fierce fighting spreading in Baghdad and Basra. Shiite militias are battling Iraqi police. I'll talk about it with CNN's Michael Ware. I'll ask him what this means for U.S. troops in Iraq.

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

Senator John McCain is focusing in on the struggling U.S. economy today and the housing crisis that has a lot of Americans in its grip.

Let's go to CNN's Dana Bash. She's joining us now from Santa Ana, California, watching this story for us.

The senator focusing in, as we say, on the mortgage meltdown. Give us a little background, Dana. What's behind the strategy?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Wolf. The McCain campaign is planning to unveil a major economic plan next month. But they realize that this situation is just too huge to ignore until then, especially the housing crisis.

So, today McCain offered a detailed analysis of the problem. Not so much on specific solutions, but what aides hope will be a conservative contrast to the Democrats.


BASH (voice-over): John McCain pointedly blamed the housing crisis on both irresponsible lenders and Americans who borrowed more than they can afford, and said it's not Uncle Sam's job to save either.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've always been committed to the principle that it's not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they're big banks or small borrowers.

BASH: McCain's carefully-crafted speech, delivered with the help of a teleprompter, were the most extensive remarks to date from the GOP candidate who admits he knows far more about national security than economics.

MCCAIN: And this crisis, as in all I may face in the future, I will not allow dogma to override common sense.

BASH: But his address was more of a framework for what he would not do to remedy the housing crisis than what he would do.

MCCAIN: No assistance should be given to speculators. Any assistance for borrows should be focused solely on homeowners, not people who bought houses for speculative purposes.

BASH: McCain spoke in California's historically Republican Orange County, where one local estimate projects 21,000 home foreclosures in the next five years.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean issued a statement chastising McCain, saying: "Instead of offering a concrete plan to address the crisis at all levels, McCain promised to take the same hands-off approach that President Bush used to lead us into this crisis."

McCain did offer little in terms of proposals for immediate assistance, his short-term ideas, a meeting of accounting experts and a pledge to help from mortgage lenders.

MCCAIN: They have been asking the government to help them out. I'm now calling upon them to help their customers and their nation.


BASH: And, in an appeal to independent voters, who are looking for solutions, rather than partisan bickering, McCain was very careful to say that he is looking for -- he won't let dogma override common sense in whatever issues or solutions that will be proposed to him with regard to the housing crisis.

But, Wolf, he was asked about Hillary Clinton's proposal just yesterday to put about $30 billion in assistance out there for this housing crisis. And he responded that that's very expensive and says he doesn't think that would work -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And she accused of him today of being nothing more than Herbert Hoover when she was asked to react to his economic strategy that he unveiled today -- Herbert Hoover, tough words, Dana.

He did get -- John McCain did get an endorsement today from a former first lady.

BASH: That's right. He's actually going to get it later this afternoon. That former first lady is, in Republican circles, the former first lady. It's Nancy Reagan.

Now, this is something that is not unexpected, given the fact that John McCain is and has been the presumptive Republican nominee. But they are going to meet later this afternoon at her Bel Air home. And it will sort of be -- you know, it's a right of passage, if nothing else, for John McCain to go there and get the blessing of Nancy Reagan, because says all the time that he considers himself a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.

And it's interesting that these two actually have known each other personally for about 30 years, because she knew him when he came home as a POW in Vietnam -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

Dana is watching the story for us.

Barack Obama's campaign today released a stack of the senator's tax returns and put new pressure on Hillary Clinton to do the same thing.

Let's bring back Suzanne Malveaux. She's also watching this part of the story for us.

All right, give us the headlines. What do we know as a result of these tax returns?

MALVEAUX: Well, it's really fascinating. It's interesting. We get to see how much he has actually earned, he and his wife, Michelle, as well as charitable contributions.

There really is a bit of both when you take a look at this. Clinton releases her taxes. And Obama says that he is the transparent one. But then, when she does release these, well, everyone is going to look at them with a fine-tooth comb.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Being a bestselling author has its benefits. The tax returns for Barack and Michelle Obama in 2005 and 2006 show $1.7 million in earnings from his books. The campaign posted six years worth of their personal tax records on the Internet and said they are highlighting a contrast Senator Obama has been trying to make with his rival, Hillary Clinton.

OBAMA: She doesn't believe in transparency and hasn't even released her earmarks, because -- just like she hasn't released her income tax returns.

MALVEAUX: Obama posted all his requests for earmark spending online. Clinton has not. Clinton now says she will release six years worth of tax returns for her and her husband, perhaps within the next week.

CLINTON: Now he should release his records from being in the state senate and any other information that the public and press need to know from his prior experience.

MALVEAUX: But a top Obama aide dismissed that call, and said Clinton's release should come sooner.

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: All she has to do is send someone to Kinko's to photocopy tax returns and post them immediately on their Web site.

MALVEAUX: Obama has taken some flak of his own about how up forthcoming he was with his relationship with fund-raiser Tony Rezko, now on trial in Chicago.

But his aides have kept up a drumbeat of criminal on Hillary Clinton's disclosures, from her schedule as first lady, to her disclosure of earmark requests, to her tax returns, to the Clinton Library donors list.

JEANNE CUMMINGS, LOBBYING AND MONEY CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: I think that Barack Obama is both trying to lay some subtle hints back to the scandals of the Clintons' past. And then it's a more offensive tool as well, because he's hoping for some immediate information that he can use against her in the primary.


MALVEAUX: Now, aides to Obama made a list of 10 questions they would like to know the answer to regarding the Clinton's finances.

Meanwhile, Obama's tax returns show that, in the two most recent years, they list $137,000 in contributions to charity. And, Wolf, this is really about -- it's about releasing their tax returns, but it's also the political competition here, is, who is the most transparent? Who is the most forthcoming? Each of them trying to outdo the other.

BLITZER: So, he's, basically, according to my math, making about $70,000 in charitable contributions, as opposed to $1 million in income per year?

MALVEAUX: One-point-seven is --


BLITZER: But that's for two years, for two years.

MALVEAUX: For two years from the book.

BLITZER: Yes. So, if you divide that in half over two years, plus the other income for him and his wife, it's about a million dollars a year, when -- most of that from the book. And he was giving about $70,000 a year in charities. That's about right, right?

MALVEAUX: That's about right.

BLITZER: OK, because we always take a look and see how charitable these respective candidates are.

MALVEAUX: It will be interesting to see what the Clintons exactly...

BLITZER: And we will see how Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, how charitable they are, as well. I suspect they have a joint income of a lot more, given how much money Bill Clinton has made speaking over these years.

MALVEAUX: Yes, probably.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thank you.

A stunning registration for Democrats in Pennsylvania. And it's one some speculate could trigger an upset win for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. A record four million-plus registered voters have registered as Democrats ahead of the state's April 22 primary.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now from the CNN Election Express in Philadelphia. He's watching this story for us.

All right, Bill, what's the expectation for Pennsylvania?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hillary Clinton is expected to do well here. But there is a big unknown.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is expected to win big in Pennsylvania next month. It's got her kinds of voters.

JOHN BAER, "THE PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS": Two million residents over the age of 65, a very heavily unionized state, a lot of Catholics in the state. Women in Pennsylvania vote at a higher rate than men in Pennsylvania.

SCHNEIDER: And she has family roots in Pennsylvania. Barack Obama is campaigning for change. But Pennsylvania is a state where more than three-quarters of the people who live there were born there.

BAER: It speaks to a state where change isn't an important element in day-to-day life.

SCHNEIDER: Pennsylvania is a diverse state, part Midwest, part Northeast.

TERRY MADONNA, POLLSTER: The eastern part of Pennsylvania is more like New Jersey. And the Western part is more like Ohio. And she won both of them.

SCHNEIDER: Does Obama have a chance here? BAER: The only way that Senator Obama can do better than losing the state by five percent to eight percent is if he's able to capture the imagination of new voters.

SCHNEIDER: You have to be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary here. Registration closed Monday. So, what happened? Since January 1, upwards of 120,000 new Democrats joined the rolls. More than 86,000 voters switched their party to vote in the Democratic primary.

The director of the Philadelphia Republican Party says the Democratic primary has hit his city like a hurricane.

ALAN SCHMIDT, DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN PARTY OF PHILADELPHIA: There appear to be tens of thousands of new registered Democrats in Philadelphia County. We're not sure exactly, you know, where they came from or why they haven't shown up on the radar before.

SCHNEIDER: Clinton's strongest argument for her nomination is that she can win states like Pennsylvania.

CLINTON: I have won the big states. I have won the states that a Democrat has to win.

SCHNEIDER: That argument disappears if she loses Pennsylvania.

MADONNA: I think that effectively would end her campaign.


SCHNEIDER: Pennsylvania experts say that Obama could win Pennsylvania the same way Governor Ed Rendell beat Bob Casey in the 2002 Democratic primary for governor, by sweeping Philadelphia and its suburbs.

But there's one problem. Governor Rendell has endorsed Hillary Clinton and is working hard to deliver his state for her -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's good to have the governor working for you.

All right, Bill. Thank you very much.

Bill is with the CNN Election Express in Philadelphia.

Troop cuts in Iraq now under discussion. Might they be put on hold though, after the presidential election? And how would that play politically? Tough questions about the war, that's coming up.

And Hillary Clinton is refusing to be counted out. But is she doing what her critics say is some fuzzy math to calculate convention delegates? Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And later, they're supposed to be closely guarded, so how did parts for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal end up in Taiwan? The big mistake, and what the Pentagon is now saying about it -- that and a lot more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Iraqi leaders are facing their gravest challenge in month.

Government troops are battling militiamen loyal to the Shiite anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad, as well as in Basra in the south. Al-Sadr's followers are waging a nationwide civil disobedience campaign to protest government crackdowns. It's straining a cease-fire by al-Sadr's Mahdi army.

And it's also threatening to reverse security gains made by U.S. forces, all this as President Bush prepares to go to the Pentagon with his recommendations.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent Ed Henry, who is watching this story for us.

He was briefed yesterday by General Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker on their recommendations for troop withdrawals. What do we know, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting. He's going to the Pentagon tomorrow to hear from the Joint Chiefs as well, hear about the situation on the ground in Iraq. Officials here stress that there will be no final decisions made until General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker give their big progress report to Congress early next month.

But it's becoming more clear where all of this is headed. A small number of U.S. troops will continue to come home through the end of July. And then General Petraeus is expected to seek some breathing space, about a month or two for the rest of the summer, to try to take a close look at the situation, find out whether the U.S. could sustain more troop cuts on the ground in Iraq.

The major point here is that a so-called pause in troop cuts could be very controversial, because it could mean there are no more major troop cuts in Iraq through the end of the president's term, no major troops cuts after the November election, put more pressure on the president, and more pressure as well on Republican Senator John McCain.

Now, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, though, stressed that this should not be a surprise to anyone, how this is likely to turn out, because the president, for months now, has been stressing that he doesn't want to give back any of those security gains by rushing home U.S. troops.


DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's not been shy about saying that we have to make sure that the gains that have been achieved over this past year not be erased by acting too quickly in bringing troops home. Remember, all of this is conditions-based. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, obviously, we have heard that before, conditions- based. The White House says that shows the president has been consistent in his approach. Critics, though, say that that suggests there is still no end in sight to the war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will do a reality check with Michael Ware coming up in our next hour.

Thanks very much for that, Ed Henry, at the White House.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session," Senator Clinton says, this contest is by no means over. But will the Clinton campaign resort to trying to pick off Obama's pledged -- pledged -- delegates? And Clinton criticizes Obama over his choice of pastors.

Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, they are standing by live for our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton speaking out forcefully today about her rival Barack Obama's former minister. But why is she talking about the controversy now?

Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our political analyst, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and our contributor Bill Bennett of the Claremont Institute.

She says -- using pretty strong words, all of a sudden, willing to discuss in response to a question the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his relationship with Barack Obama. What do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think -- I talked to Maggie Williams, her campaign manager. And she said Hillary was responding to a question. So, she was not trying to inject more what I call racial animus into a fire that is already out of control. So, I have to respect it. But I also have to say this.

BLITZER: But I have got to say, as I said to Kiki McLean, one of her senior advisers here just a little while ago, she could have said today what she said last week, you know, I don't want to talk about this. It's history. Let's move on. She didn't do that.

BRAZILE: Well, again, she was responding to a question. And perhaps she felt that she had to make another statement. But, you know, it's not where you sit in life, in what pew, in what congregation. I'm Catholic. There are times when I don't agree with my priest.

But it's where you stand in moments of trial and tribulation. And Jeremiah Wright and many other black preachers stood with the Clintons during their darkest hours in the White House. And, so, perhaps this is a more prayerful moment, a prayerful reflection that she should give, and not try to add more to the -- (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Do you take that? Do you accept that?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's interesting. I was going to say, playfully, I -- the gentleman yields his time to the lady from Louisiana, let her just go on, on this. This is a fight that we're kind of watching.

But it's interesting that she chose to comment. And I think that has less to do with her views of religion and stress and whether she's operating on a different standard. Then the -- this report in "Politico" and elsewhere that she's really fighting a very steep battle and that she probably cannot win if the delegates who are pledged to Barack Obama stay with Barack Obama.

But that, again, is another issue that she addressed. But it just shows this thing is getting intense and ugly.


BLITZER: And she said -- and she said this to "The Philadelphia Daily News": "Remember that pledged delegates in most states are not pledged. You know, there's no requirement that anybody vote for anybody. They're just like superdelegates."

BRAZILE: I'm so glad when candidates understand the rules and not try to change them.

She's absolutely right. Rule 12-J is that delegates are not pledged. Look, John Edwards' delegates can go there and vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But most delegates, pledged, like supers, it's a matter of conscience. And most pledged normally will --


BLITZER: So, pledged delegates for Barack Obama in Texas or Ohio or Pennsylvania or anyplace else, they could change their minds in Denver?

BRAZILE: They're not legally bound to cast a ballot based on their preference. But, however, most of them do, based on the fact that they're elected delegates to represent that person.

BLITZER: But that opens up a whole new can of worms. We were all talking about the superdelegates could whatever they want.


BLITZER: They can -- like John Lewis, they can go back and forth and change their minds. But now Donna says there is a rule that the pledged delegates can do exactly the same thing.

BENNETT: You're exactly right. Delegates now -- all delegates now become, under this logic, superdelegates. What were we doing up late all those nights if this didn't count? I mean, what is the point of democracy? I mean, the point here -- and Donna says, look, this is only pledge and only conscience. But pledge and conscience have to mean something, too.

Remember years back a guy in the Electoral College didn't go the way he was supposed to because he wasn't legally bound to do that? This is about democracy. And this is about whether you take democracy seriously.

I think it is a very dangerous precedent to say, just think it through again and maybe go for the other person. You have a rule, don't you, about the first round?

BLITZER: The first ballot. They're supposed to go with the way their states decided.


BENNETT: That's understandable, I think.


BRAZILE: ... all in good conscience.


BRAZILE: I don't think anyone who has been elected to represent Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will go there and necessarily change their vote, unless one of them drops out.

And I do believe, at the end of the day, someone will drop out in June. At least, I -- I would encourage one of them to drop out.

BLITZER: A quick question before I let you go. That "New York Times" story yesterday detailing how -- how John McCain was flirting with becoming a Democrat or an independent back in 2001, and then he was flirting with being a running mate for John Kerry in 2004, is that causing any uproar within conservative circles?

BENNETT: No more uproar than John McCain has already caused.


BENNETT: As you know, he gives heartburn on fairly frequent occasions.

But,as this fight develops in the Democrat Party, every day, you see more and more people who are dubious about McCain, coming with him. Everyone knows that, you know, he strays from the doctrine from time to time. But he's beginning to look like a very strong candidate.

And it's very interesting, given a relatively unpopular president, a lot of the problems that we have in this country, that McCain seems to be running so strongly. BLITZER: Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, thanks very much.

Barack Obama takes a break from his spring break to talk to us, to CNN. That chat -- not much of a chat, a little bit of a chat -- that's coming up from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And the presidential candidates face off on issue number one, the economy. How do they compare on the housing crisis? We're taking a closer look.

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


BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker: This is the final day of Barack Obama's family vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While the senator is trying to get away from it all, he agreed to take a little bit of time out for a quick chat with CNN.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: All right, guys.

QUESTION: Hi, Senator. How are you?

OBAMA: Just trying to be left alone.

QUESTION: So, how has your vacation been going? What have you been up to?

OBAMA: Well, I have got -- I have got a couple days with my family. We had -- we did a little Easter service here, because we couldn't go to church. And the kids read some Scripture. And we had Easter dinner. And I have been mostly playing with them in the pool.

QUESTION: And can I ask, what do you expect voters want to hear from you when you go on this -- you go on this bus tour in Pennsylvania?

OBAMA: Well, I think, obviously, people are concerned about the economy. So, we're going to spend a lot of time talking about that. And, obviously, we had a tragic marker with 4,000 now dead in Iraq.

So, I think we want to continue to talk about the plans for dealing with the war and having a responsible and honorable withdrawal.

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator.

OBAMA: OK, guys.

QUESTION: We appreciate it.

OBAMA: Safe travels back.


BLITZER: Senator Obama, by the way, returns to the campaign trail tomorrow in North Carolina. He's going to have a busy four weeks between today and Pennsylvania and then beyond.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: If a ticket led by Al Gore somehow emerged from a brokered Democratic Convention, would that be a good thing for the Democratic Party?

Adam writes: "Great. So, now Obama and Clinton will fight it out to see who gets to be Gore's vice president. I think a congressman from Florida has a lot of nerve even suggesting this. The Florida Democratic Party is part of the reason this election is such a mess. The Democratic Party leaders and Florida and Michigan should stand up and start taking responsibility for this mess they've created, instead of patronizing us with ridiculous fairy tales."

Eugene writes: "The fact is, if neither candidate has enough votes on the first ballot at the convention, those delegates are then released from their pledges and are free to draft another candidate from the floor. This is not robbery. It is simply recognition that neither candidate has a majority of the party's support, and thus cannot be expected to unite the party to win in November. My feeling is that this is the DNC sending up a trial balloon to see if this proposal will garner the support of the party regulars as a possible solution to the August train wreck which is coming just around the corner."

Woody in Tucson: "This is stupid. No one runs a campaign for two years to give the top spot to someone who wasn't running."

Cindy writes: "A Gore nomination would easily tick off the voters of both front-runners and show the world how wishy-washy the Democrats are. It's got to be Obama or Clinton, and the one who doesn't get the nomination will have to convince their supporters that it's OK to support the other guy. That's why the negative rhetoric has got to stop. It's going to make it harder and harder to deprogram their supporters.

Barb in Canada: "You think you've heard griping by not allowing Florida and Michigan votes to count, try not counting the votes of the entire nation. It would be the end of the Democrats, although Gore would probably win the election."

Angelos in Munich, Germany: "Yes, that would make sense: Make both candidates unhappy. Next time, we can just do away with the primaries and nominate Chelsea right at the start."

And Rob writes: "Any more ridiculous suggestions you want to post, Jack?" Yes, Rob, there will be one in the next hour and another one at 6:00 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks. See you in a few moments.