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Presidential Candidates Question Top U.S. Commander in Iraq; Hillary's Hospital Story; Obama Narrows Clinton's Lead in Pennsylvania
Aired April 8, 2008 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the next president of the United States questioning the current president's Iraq policies. All three presidential candidates take part in hearings today on the war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton and John McCain put out some tough words about Iraq, even aiming some of them at each other. Barack Obama, he also is letting loose, unyielding comments of his own -- all of that coming up.
Also, Hillary Clinton tells another story out on the campaign trail, raising some questions about what is true and what is not true. We're getting to the bottom of this one as well.
And regarding foreign policy judgment, Barack Obama essentially says, anything his rivals can do, he can do better. Why does he think his knowledge of the world out there trumps theirs?
All that coming up -- plus, the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Democrats unleash some harsh words about what's happening in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Iranian leader -- and our president has to sneak into the country. I don't understand it. Isn't it true that, after all we have done, Iran has gained ground?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Right now, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are painting a sobering picture of the progress and the pain of the war. They're speaking to senators on the Foreign Relations Committee. This is the first time since September they have appeared together with an update on what's happening in Iraq.
And there's a bit of irony, in that both men actually faced the next president of the United States. John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all sit on these committees that have been questioning the general and the ambassador.
Let's start with the Democrats and what they had up their sleeves.
We will turn to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching this story for us.
All right. What happened today involving the Democratic presidential candidates and their questioning of these two witnesses?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, if General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have paid any attention to the campaign trail, they knew what was coming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Senator Clinton?
CROWLEY (voice-over): Before turning to the witness, Hillary Clinton conducted a little campaign business, a shot at John McCain, who said yesterday a quick withdrawal from Iraq would be a calamity, and anyone who suggests it is irresponsible.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again.
CROWLEY: With that, the woman who would be commander in chief in low, deliberate tones told the general in charge of the Iraq war, his recommendation notwithstanding, it's time for the troops to come home.
CLINTON: And for the past five years, we have continually heard from the administration that things are getting better, that we're about to turn a corner, that there is, finally, a resolution in sight. Yet each time, Iraqi leaders fail to deliver.
I think it's time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops, start rebuilding our military and focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, the global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America.
CROWLEY: When Petraeus testified before the Foreign Relations Committee, the man who would be president struck a tone similar to Clinton's, respectful disagreement. He too made campaign trail points, in his case, the need to sit down with the enemy.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nobody's asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that it has to be a measured but increased pressure; and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran. Because if Maliki can tolerate as normal neighbor-to- neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them as well.
CROWLEY: It was pretty much the campaign trail without the yard signs. Nobody thought the Petraeus report would change minds, and it didn't.
CROWLEY: And, Wolf, you can pretty much guess what happens tomorrow. Both these candidates return to the campaign trail.
BLITZER: And the two witnesses go back to the House side, because they're going to have more hearings tomorrow.
Candy, I want you to stand by for a moment.
I want to bring in a couple our other correspondents who are watching all of this. Dana Bash has been watching it up on Capitol Hill. Michael Ware is here from Baghdad. He's been up in the committee room as well.
But, Dana, let me start with you, because you were focusing it on John McCain. He's the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He had some questioning today. I want to play a little sound bite of one point that he made.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq and the outcome of our efforts there. For while the job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished, as the recent fighting in Basra and elsewhere vividly demonstrated, we're no longer staring into the abyss of defeat and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success.
Success, the establishment of a peaceful, stable, prosperous democratic state...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. He's got about as much at stake politically in this war as anyone right now.
Dana, give us a little perspective on how important success in Iraq is to the campaign of John McCain.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's everything. There's no question about it, Wolf.
But what's interesting is the way John McCain is trying more and more to define success his own way. You just heard him do it a little bit there. He did it yesterday in Kansas City.
But I thought what was most fascinating in terms of the McCain atmospheric in this hearing -- you just saw Candy's piece about the Democrats. But what McCain did was, first of all, he had a little bit more of a role than the Democrats had in either of these hearings today, because he is the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, so he got to give a lengthy opening statement and have some question-and-answer time with General Petraeus.
But on the question-and-answer, you watched him walk this fine line he's trying to walk, first of all, in what you said, Wolf, trying to make the case that this is about the future, and this is about making clear that no matter what happened in the past, no matter what mistakes happened in the past, you need to change the dynamic about the future, but also trying to show that he is somebody who understands things aren't necessarily going right.
So, he asked a couple of questions about, for example, the 1,000 or so Iraqi military troops who basically left during the Basra raid. That's something that he tried to show, you know, he understands that there are definitely problems going on still on the ground.
BLITZER: Plenty of problems on the ground in Iraq.
Michael Ware knows that better than anyone. He's been there since day one.
All right, Michael, it's a lot different covering Capitol Hill than it is covering the war in Iraq. You spent hours up there listening to the questions, listening to the answers. Give us the bottom line. What did you learn?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I learned essentially, Wolf, is not very much at all.
There's been no great revelations today. I don't think anybody truly expected that there would be any great bombshells dropped. But for me as an outsider coming here, obviously, it's a wonderful insight into the process. But what struck me, as I was just saying before, is the lack of probing in the questioning.
It just seems to me that this is a great opportunity, where we have the two men who are commanding and leading the mission in Iraq itself, and the questions all seem to be based on information we already know. It's as though we know the answers before they come. So, as an outsider, I must say that's what struck me the most -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Candy, if anyone thought that there would be firearms in the questioning, in the exchanges between the two witnesses in this particular case, the general and the ambassador and the two Democratic presidential candidates, they were sorely disappointed, because those questions were very sort of meat and potatoes, very polite, very non- controversial.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. They may have been disappointed, but they shouldn't have been surprised.
Remember, all three of these people, including Senator McCain, are running for commander in chief. So, the Senate, as you know, is a very political body. We're in the middle of a very political time. But both of these candidates went in knowing a couple of things.
First of all, they had to be somber, but they also had to be challenging of Petraeus, because -- let's face it -- the anti-war movement began within the core of the Democratic Party. It has only expanded within the party. Barack Obama also needed to go in there, look serious, ask intelligent questions.
I think both of them did precisely what they set out to do, which was to look like a commander in chief, or somebody that understood the subject matter. So, that was kind of the baseline for both of them, and they both walked away looking like they had done it.
BLITZER: And, Michael, having spent a few hours watching these hearings on Capitol Hill today, are you ready to go back to Baghdad?
WARE: Yes, definitely. It's much more compelling, let me say that. But I do have to say, just as an experience, firstly as an Australian and secondly as somebody from the field, to come here, there is -- it truly is a unique experience. And, for me, it's really insightful. So, yes, there is a certain lack of temper or pace, shall we say, and, yes, I will be looking forward to going back to Baghdad, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Before you go back, you are going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM all day tomorrow as well.
All right, guys, thanks very much, Candy, Dana, and Michael Ware.
Let's take a closer look at something that General Petraeus told the lawmakers back in September vs. what he said today. It involves the issue of U.S. troop reductions in Iraq. Listen to this from seven months ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2007)
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: I do not believe it is reasonable to have an adequate appreciation for the pace of further reductions and mission adjustments beyond the summer of 2008 until about mid-March of next year. We will, no later than that time, consider factors similar to those on which I base the current recommendations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: At the same time, though, regarding that specific issue, this was General Petraeus earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown of the surge combat forces and that upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation of our forces and evaluation.
At the end of that period, we will commence a period of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, the troop level in the summer and beyond, until any change changes are made, will remain at around 140,000 or so troops. That's even more than the number of U.S. troops who were on the ground in Iraq before the surge, the military surge, began.
By the way, President Bush clearly expected to sign on to that recommendation from General Petraeus. He will be addressing the nation on Thursday with that and with other -- another announcement, that they're going to cut back the troop rotations for U.S. soldiers from 15 months, tours of duty in Iraq, to 12 months. But that's on Thursday.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Was it Colin Powell said, you break it, you own it?
BLITZER: Yes, the Pottery Barn law or something like that.
CAFFERTY: A fairly prescient observation, based on what we're gleaning about the state of affairs over there, don't you think?
Coming to a theater before he leaves office, the movie "W," Oliver Stone's movie about President Bush. A draft of the script describes our president, "... a foul-mouthed reformed drunk who is obsessed with baseball."
"The Hollywood Reporter" sent a draft of the screenplay to four biographers of the president to see how accurate they thought it was. Reactions were mixed. They say specific scenes are largely based on fact, but the screenplay shows inaccurate and over-the-top caricatures of President Bush, as well as his inner circle.
One biographer said it really misses the mark of how the White House is run, leaving the impression that it's similar to a frat house, with everyone using nicknames and casually chatting about going off to war.
Another biographer was skeptical about Stone's claim that he wants to make a fair, true portrait of the president, saying that's -- quote -- "like Donald Trump saying he's going to be modest" -- unquote.
Also, several of the experts say the script inaccurately depicts the president as being manipulated by his White House staff when it comes to policy decisions. Stone had no comment. One of the screenwriters says he's read 17 books about the president. And a producer on the film says -- "We have done our homework."
Stone's previous movies "JFK" and "Nixon" both controversial. It remains to be seen how much of an appetite the American public might have for a movie about a lame duck president, especially when there's so much interest in who the next president is going to be. "W," set to begin filming in Shreveport, Louisiana, this month, it already has foreign distribution deals, but, so far, no domestic deal in place as yet.
Stone hopes to have the movie in release before President Bush leaves office.
Here's the question now: Are you interested in plunking down $8 or 10 bucks to see Oliver Stone's movie about President Bush? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.com and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you in a few moments.
A tragic story takes a life of its own out on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Next time she went to that hospital was in a ambulance. She came in through the emergency room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton tells a heartbreaking story over and over, but does she have all the facts right? We're doing a fact check. Brian Todd watching the story.
Barack Obama raising eyebrows with a boast that he has more world affairs know-how than his presidential rivals. Mary Snow checking this out.
And if you're due to fly on American Airlines, get ready. You better go check your flight right now. Hundreds of flights on American Airlines have now been canceled, not one, not two, not a dozen, but hundreds. We're going to tell you why.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The conventional wisdom out there has it that Barack Obama would pick a running mate who could balance his relative lack of world affairs know-how. But Obama is raising some eyebrows after boasting that he has got more foreign policy knowledge than either of his presidential rivals.
CNN's Mary Snow has been looking into this. And she's joining us now live.
Mary, what are you learning?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Obama is trying to poke holes in his opponents' experience, and rivals are firing back.
SNOW (voice-over): Senator Barack Obama was asked what he's looking for in a vice president. His response set off sparks. At a closed-door fund-raiser in San Francisco Sunday, Obama suggests he won't base his choice on their foreign policy credentials, since that's his strong suit.
"The Huffington Post" obtained an audio reporting.
OBAMA: Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SNOW: Both of those candidates are running on their experience. Obama took sharper aim at his Democratic rival.
OBAMA: When Senator Clinton starts bragging about how "I have met leaders from eighty countries," I know what those trips are like. I have been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There's a group of children who do a native dance.
OBAMA: You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy, and they give you a briefing.
SNOW: In an interview on FOX, Senator Hillary Clinton scoffed at Obama's claim he trumps her on foreign policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Well, I'm somewhat shocked by that, since I don't see any evidence of it. So, I'm not quite sure exactly where Senator Obama has been. So far as I know, he's maybe taken two trips.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Obama touts the fact he lived in Indonesia as a child. He says a college trip to Pakistan taught him the differences between Sunnis and Shias long before he became a senator.
He's been saying judgment, not Washington experience, is the key to the White House. But one political observer says Obama is overcompensating following criticism he's inexperienced on foreign policy.
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: People respect humility. They don't respect arrogance. And I think for Barack Obama, humility will sell, and arrogance will not.
SNOW: One former presidential adviser says when it comes to choosing a running mate, Obama doesn't need a foreign policy expert.
STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: That's why you have a secretary of state and a national security adviser and for that matter a secretary of defense. Those are the jobs that collectively are going to be running your foreign policy.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Now, the Republican National Committee is also weighing in, saying it's laughable for Obama to suggest he has more foreign policy experience than Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, adding, there's not a shred of evidence to support it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary Snow. Good reporting from you, as usually.
Hillary Clinton has been criticized in recent days over a heart- wrenching story she's been telling out on the campaign trail. The problem is, some people say the story is simply not true. But right now, there's a new twist to the story.
And Brian Todd is learning about it. What are you finding out, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some parts of the story are accurate. Some other key parts are not. And it all speaks to how a personal story can get very tangled indeed on the campaign trail.
TODD (voice-over): First, she heard the story that tugged at her heart. At a campaign stop in Ohio in late February, someone tells Hillary Clinton of an uninsured pregnant woman that he heard was turned away from a local hospital.
BRYAN HOLMAN, POMEROY, OHIO, RESIDENT: And they told her she needed $100 that she didn't have.
CLINTON: That's really sad.
TODD: The baby was stillborn and the woman later died. Senator Clinton retold the story several times to illustrate a broken health care system.
CLINTON: She went back home. She came back a little while later, still having trouble. They told her the same thing. The next time she went to that hospital was in an ambulance.
TODD: But in recent days, Mrs. Clinton and her campaign have come under fire. Officials at one southern Ohio hospital say they treated the woman several times, never turned her away. And they say she was insured when she came through there last summer.
That hospital told the Clinton campaign to stop making those claims, which it did. But news reports now quote the woman's aunt as saying it's a true story. The aunt saying another hospital did want payment before seeing her.
We did some checking on our own. That other facility that the aunt mentioned says they have no indication the woman ever tried to seek treatment there last summer. But she did years ago.
Records obtained by CNN show that facility took her to court in 2002 over unpaid bills. And the aunt told a newspaper the woman didn't want to go back there, that the facility would charge her up front because of her previous debts.
By last summer, when the woman was pregnant, she found a different medical facility. She was insured by then. An official there tells us they treated her eight times. Her baby died, and she was then transferred to a third hospital where she died.
So it turns out the guy who told Hillary Clinton the story didn't have all his facts straight. Clinton passed it on time after time, which analysts say happens on the campaign trail a lot.
MARK HALPERIN, "TIME": These candidates pick up stories on the campaign trail. They adopt them. They retell them. And they often don't check them.
TODD: A Clinton campaign spokesman said they had no reason to doubt the initial story told to her by a local sheriff's deputy. The spokesman says they tried, but were not able to fully vet the story. They say medical records are confidential.
But officials at all three medical facilities in question tell us they have no recollection of being called by the Clinton campaign to vet any of this. And when we called and e-mailed the campaign to ask why they let her tell the story without fully vetting it, they said they did the best they could. They believe the fact that this woman knew she couldn't go back to the initial facility without paying up front was at least interpreted by people close to her as her being turned away -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a sad story all around, no matter what the actual details. Thanks very much for that, Brian Todd.
Shadowed by protests every step of the way, the Olympic torch relay reaches San Francisco. But can tight security keep the flame burning?
And Egypt rushes to head further trouble after rising food prices trigger riots. There are new fears that violence may spread.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Iraq is doing well for itself, at least in one area. It's generating tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue.
But one senator says this...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The Iraqi government seems content to sit by, build up surpluses, and let Americans reconstruct their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, why is the U.S. still paying the lion's share of what's needed to rebuild Iraq? Are American taxpayers suckers?
Also, meet Hillary Rodham. Long before she became a Clinton, she and Barack Obama want you to know what they were like before they were old enough to run for president.
And Bill Clinton goes to Puerto Rico, but it's no vacation. You are going to find out why it's such an important trip.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Iraq sitting on billions of dollars in oil money right now while the U.S. government pays for reconstruction, prompting outrage on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers demanding to know why the U.S. is still footing the bill.
Also, Barack Obama closing in on Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, chipping away at her once formidable lead. Can he pull off the ultimate upset two weeks from today?
And President Bush choking back tears as he presents the nation's highest military honor.
All of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As the presidential candidates took turns grilling the U.S. military commander in Iraq, another drama was playing out on Capitol Hill -- issue number one for many Americans. U.S. taxpayers are carrying a staggering burden right now, as Iraq actually rakes in massive amounts of oil revenues -- billions and billions of dollars.
Let's turn to CNN's Kate Bolduan. She's looking at this story for us.
And it's causing a lot of outrage on Capitol Hill and to the American public, once they get wind of what's going on -- Kate.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it sure is. And outrage is exactly how I would say it, Wolf.
Back in 2003, the Bush administration predicted that Iraqi oil money would fund Iraq's reconstruction. Well, now five years in, the U.S. is still funding the rebuilding effort. And today senators on both sides of the aisle said enough is enough.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Chairman Carl Levin wanted to know why, with Iraq making billions off of skyrocketing oil prices, American taxpayers are still footing the bill for Iraq reconstruction.
LEVIN: To add insult to injury, in addition to spending tens of billions of U.S. dollars on reconstruction, American taxpayers are also paying $3 to $4 a gallon on gas here at home.
BOLDUAN: In fact, Levin says, Iraq has $30 billion sitting in U.S. banks, but Iraqi leaders aren't spending those funds. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq insisted that's changing.
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: The era of U.S. funded major infrastructure projects is over.
BOLDUAN: Crocker says this year, the Iraqi government has allocated $13 billion for reconstruction. The U.S. special inspector general for Iraq says American taxpayers have paid more than $47 billion so far.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is rolling in oil revenue -- estimated to reach $100 billion by the end of this year. And apparently it has only spent a small fraction of that on rebuilding. Given $100 a barrel oil, Republican Susan Collins asked why the U.S. continues to pay for training and equipping Iraqi forces.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Isn't it time for the Iraqis to start bearing more of those expenses, particularly in light of a windfall in revenues due to the high price of oil?
CROCKER: Senator, it is. It will be, like everything else in Iraq, a complex process -- what have they got the capacity to do, how do they get the capacity to do it.
BOLDUAN: Afterward, Levin said the issue is far from over.
LEVIN: Ambassador Crocker's statement that "there's -- we are no longer involved in the reconstruction business" is utterly incredible. We are very deeply involved in the reconstruction business.
BOLDUAN: Now, Levin has already asked for a Congressional investigation into just how much oil money Iraq has. Now he's also asking for -- hoping -- wanting legislation that would force Iraqis to start paying more. And, Wolf, one idea is that any money -- any U.S. money put toward rebuilding would be a loan that Iraq has to pay back.
BLITZER: Another idea is simply to take the $30 billion in U.S. banks right now and start using that as a downpayment for repaying the United States for the hundreds of billions it's already spent there. That's just an idea that's out there.
But let's discuss the outrage over Iraq's oil billions right now with our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Philadelphia. In New York, Jack Cafferty. And Gloria Borger, she's here in Washington. They're all part of the best political team on television.
You know, last year, the Iraqis promised to spend $10 billion to rebuild their bridges, their roads, their schools, their hospitals. The Government Accountability Office said they actually spent 4.4 percent of that. The White House says they spent 24 percent of that. This is enough to drive a lot of Americans crazy, Jack, at a time when we could use that money to rebuild some hospitals, some schools, some bridges in the United States.
CAFFERTY: Sure. Yes, and, you know, for Ambassador Crocker to say that we're no longer involved in the reconstruction business is just an outrage. There are 100,000 Iraqis that are involved in the reconstruction of that country that are being paid for by John King and Gloria Borger and Jack Cafferty and Wolf Blitzer -- $16 million a month coming out of the American taxpayers' pocket to pay the salaries of 100,000 Iraqis who have jobs, while here in the United States 80,000 people lost their jobs last month. This whole thing is just beyond beyond.
BLITZER: You know, they took in -- they're going to take $100 billion in oil revenue, given the fact that oil is selling, Gloria, at $100 a barrel right now...
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BLITZER: ...plus, if you will. But they took in $56.4 billion. That's what the GAO projects they'll take in this year. This is an issue that really has political resonance out there...
BLITZER: ...because it could really hurt specifically John McCain right now, who's all in, basically, on the war in Iraq.
BORGER: Well, you know, I think this is going to be a bipartisan rallying cry -- you know, show us the money here. And, in a way, it's an opportunity for McCain to also start saying show us the money.
I think -- Susan Collins is a Republican. She's up for reelection. She's griping about this as much as Carl Levin is. And if there's anything Americans understand, it's that this is their money and they're footing the bill and these folks are making an awful lot of money on this windfall in oil. And that is going to be a very big issue -- and for George W. Bush. He's going to have to answer this.
BLITZER: What do you think, John?
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you're absolutely right, Wolf. Anything that reminds Americans that this is not the war they were sold hurts John McCain. John McCain needs to make this about no matter what you think of going into a war -- into Iraq back in 2003, it is broken, the United States has a moral obligation to fix it. That is how John McCain needs to frame the Iraq debate going forward, that no matter what you thought at the beginning, we can't leave now because it would get worse and I have the judgment to get us out in the best, most responsible way.
If we are being reminded constantly that they said the Iraqi oil would pay for this, they said the United States would be greeted as liberators, they said Iraq has this thriving civil servant class that will quickly get the government back up and running, none of those things turned out to be true.
If John McCain is arguing about any of those things, but specifically the outrage over this oil money, when we are in September and October, the Iraq debate will be framed in a way he simply cannot win.
CAFFERTY: One other quick point on that is that some of these very people in Congress who are sitting there expressing all this moral outrage are the same people who have given George Bush and the administration carte blanche to prosecute this war from the get go with no reasonable checks or balances. They voted to let him go in there and use force. There's been no accountability on where the money has gone.
We have reconstruction projects over there that aren't inhabitable that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Things are disappearing right and left -- weapons. There's no accountability. And that's Congress' job, is to hold the executive branch accountable on some of this stuff. And they have failed miserably to do their job.
BORGER: You know, it's one thing to have a moral obligation, which is what John McCain talks about. But the American people are wondering what is their obligation to us, the Iraqi obligation to us, particularly since we're in an economic crisis here in America, some would say.
And why are we funding this when we need to be funding things at home? It gives -- it adds a lot more fuel to the Democratic fire on this point.
BLITZER: I think the outrage is only just beginning. And we're going to see what happens in the coming days and weeks on this narrow part of the war in Iraq.
Guys, stand by. We're going to continue with a lot more with the best political team on television.
Barack Obama -- he's putting pressure on Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania right now. He's dramatically closing the gap in the polls.
Could he actually pull off a huge upset and win that primary two weeks from today? And if he does, what happens next?
And you're also going to find out why Puerto Rico, potentially, could be a deciding fact being in the race for the White House for the first time in memory. Puerto Rico and the primary.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Barack Obama chipping away at Hillary Clinton's lead in Pennsylvania with only two weeks to go before the primary.
Let's get back to the best political team on television.
And, John King, I'll start with you. You're there in Philadelphia right now. Let's talk about these new poll numbers that we're getting.
In the most recent poll of polls, the average of the most important polls we're getting in Pennsylvania, 49 percent for Clinton, 43 percent for Obama. That's a six-point spread. The last poll before that, there was an 11 point spread, 51 percent for her to 40 percent for him. And then only on March 10 through the 27, it was a 14-point spread, 50 to 38.
Those trend lines for her aren't boding all that well, are they?
KING: Absolutely not, Wolf. And they get it. We just came, on our way here -- we were out in the suburbs at an AFSCME phone bank, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the teachers union and some other unions that have supported Hillary Clinton.
We were at their phone bank. They were making calls to union households, trying to see, are you for Clinton or are you for Obama; are you sure you're going to vote; could you volunteer some time in the final two weeks. That is an urgent question they're asking as those polls get tighter.
And earlier today, Wolf, we were walking the streets with other labor organizers. That's one of the fascinating questions here, the divided house of labor, if you will, walking around a devastatingly poor neighborhood in North Philadelphia, many of the row houses boarded up, shut down, nobody living in them, the SEIU workers going door-to-door for Obama, trying to get out every last vote.
They do believe they're within striking distance. But their bottom line, Wolf, in the Obama campaign is this. They think even if they come close, most of the delegates in this state are in the districts that are Democratic. They believe even if they lose the popular vote here, if they come close enough, they'll split the delegates with Hillary Clinton, roughly. And they think if they come out of here roughly even in delegates, she has a very hard time going forward.
BLITZER: One impressive advantage, Gloria, that Barack Obama has is he has a lot more money to buy commercials in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and a lot of other media markets out in Pennsylvania. And, as they say, money talks.
BORGER: Yes, money does talk and Obama is spending all the money that he can. You know, this race is closing. And we see a lot of the Hillary Clinton people now kind of changing the expectations. Because, as you know, this campaign has always been about expectations. And months ago, as you showed, she was leading in the double digits. Now, Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, who's a Clinton supporter, has said well, it's very hard to win Pennsylvania in the double digits, so we'll be happy to take a single digit win. And as John points out, you know, they could split the delegates if it's a single digit win.
BLITZER: And, you know, Jack, they're both running new commercials showing sort of a softer side of both of these Democrats.
Let's play a couple little snippets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)
OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People recognize themselves in Barack and they feel understood by him. In part, that's because he listens so well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it's given him...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)
CLINTON: This is me in Scranton, where my father was raised and my grandfather worked in a lace mill. Every August, we'd pile into the car and head to our cottage on Lake Winola. There was no heat or indoor shower.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, you get the point.
Jack, what do you think?
CAFFERTY: I've got a little tear in my eye right here.
CAFFERTY: Just, you know -- no, it's fine, I mean -- but, you know, it's more than somebody having more money to spend on TV. Hillary has made some mistakes in the last week or 10 days. The Penn thing, where she had to demote the head of her campaign because he was down in Colombia doing business on his own, directly opposed to a trade agreement that she was against. He was down there trying to make it happen.
This phony story about this hospital situation, which followed on the heels of the Bosnia stuff that wasn't true, strikes at the heart of creditability. The hospital story was told over and over and over on the stump, until somebody said you know what, the hospital said that's not true, she had insurance and we didn't turn her away from the door. She was given treatment.
BLITZER: That was one hospital, although Brian Todd... CAFFERTY: So there have been some mistakes...
BLITZER: ...Brian Todd's piece we just saw showed that there was another hospital where somebody apparently was turned away...
CAFFERTY: That distinction.
BLITZER: So it's a little murky.
CAFFERTY: That distinction was never made and he also reported that nobody from the Clinton campaign, according to Brian's story -- and I sat here and watched it -- contacted the hospital to try and find out whether or not this woman was -- the story about this woman was true.
The poll numbers are reflecting some mistakes in the Clinton organization. And it's not just about TV money.
BORGER: Well, I think they're trying to right those mistakes. I mean, now, look at the Hillary Clinton ad. And you could call it roots, right? It's about who Hillary Clinton is, where she grew up.
A little Scranton roots is always good to show when you're in a Pennsylvania primary. But, also, this may reflect that change at the top of the campaign that you were just talking about, Jack, because the campaign has always said -- some people in this campaign have always wanted to show the more human side of Hillary Clinton and not just an ad about her answering the phone at 3:00 in the morning. And so what you're seeing in this ad is who is Hillary Clinton and where did she come from.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Unfortunately, we've got to leave it there.
Gloria, thanks very much.
John, thanks for sitting in for me last week, as well.
Jack, don't go away -- "The Cafferty File" coming up.
Right now, though, Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show, that begins right at the top of the hour.
He's got a little preview for us -- Lou.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, you're just going to end it there?
That -- I mean there was just...
BLITZER: I have to because they told me you're desperate...
DOBBS: We'll never know how it ends.
BLITZER: ...you're desperate to promote your show, so we've got to do it. (LAUGHTER)
DOBBS: Absolutely desperate, as always.
Thank you very much, Wolf.
DOBBS: Coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN, we'll have much more on the presidential political battle. And three top national security experts, each supporting a different presidential candidate will join me.
Also, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Benny Thompson, among those trying to stop a fence along our southern border with Mexico. What in the world is wrong with Congressman Thompson? We'll be talking about that.
And stunning charges that employees of the Veterans Administration squandered huge sums of money that should be going to our veterans. We'll have that report.
And the economic slowdown -- it's slowing down some more. The unemployment rate is rising and the Bush administration, well, hang on -- they're not doing much in terms of economic policy. We'll have that report.
And three of my favorite radio talk show hosts join me here tonight to talk about all sorts of things.
Join us for that at 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN. It's going to be exciting, Wolf. Hope you can join us, too.
BLITZER: We'll be watching as we always do, Lou. Thanks very much.
Lou getting ready for his show.
Coming up, President Bush -- he's been fighting back tears at a very emotional ceremony today -- the hero story that moved him so visibly.
And are you interested in seeing Oliver Stone's movie about President Bush? That's Jack Cafferty's question this hour. He's coming up with your e-mail.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: It as a very emotional moment over at the White House. President Bush was overcome by emotion at that ceremony awarding a Medal of Honor, trying to fight back tears. It was very, very visible. The president presented the medal to the parents of a Navy SEAL, Petty Officer Second Class Michael Monsoor, who threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of comrades in Iraq.
Our deepest condolences to his family. Former President Bill Clinton campaigning for his wife in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican residents can't vote for president, but they can hold primaries. They'll elect 55 pledged delegates. Puerto Rico Democrats originally planned to hold caucuses, but when they saw how competitive this Democratic race was, they decided to hold a primary instead. That will take place on June 1st.
Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Oliver Stone is making a movie about President Bush. It's called "W." He wants it out before the president leaves office.
Our question is: Would you be interested in seeing a movie about President Bush?
Chris in Hemet, California: "Yes, I'm very interested to see the movie. I hope it ends with Bush and Cheney being tried for crimes against humanity by an international tribunal and I hope that when I jump up to cheer during the sentencing, I don't spill all my popcorn."
Chuck in Alabama -- some of you don't take this seriously.
Chuck in Alabama: "What a waste of celluloid. Think we'll find this in the DVD bargain bin at Wal-Mart for $3.99 at Christmas season?"
Andy writes: "You bet I will. President Bush is perhaps one of the most controversial figures of our time. Any interpretation of his life and administration will certainly draw interest from me and anyone engaged in contemporary political conversation and debate."
Terry in North Carolina: "I'd rather watch reruns of you and Chuck Scarborough on the old 6:00 news in New York City than see a movie about George Bush -- or any Bush, for that matter."
Suzanne writes: "Having lived through the real life drama tragedy of the last seven years, seeing the film will not be necessary. I pop my own popcorn and try to make it through the next year."
Kathy in Georgia: "It's worth the price of admission to see Bush again on 9/11 reading what was probably his master's thesis -- my pet goat."
Matt writes: "I've already seen the movie. I watch CNN."
Bennett writes: "Yes, I'd like to watch the movie, but I'll probably watch the Chinese bootleg instead of going to the theater. Gasoline is too expensive."
And Rob writes: "W. -- it kind of looks like two thumbs down to me, Jack."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours, along with hundreds of others. It's a busy little site and I hope you enjoy it. BLITZER: It certainly is.
Jack, thanks very much. See you back here tomorrow.
Now, most every senator today thanked General Petraeus for his dedicated service and the proof is on his chest. What do all those medals mean? Jeanne Moos is standing by with a Moost Unusual look.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: It wasn't exactly light-hearted entertainment. America's top general in Iraq and the top U.S. diplomat there testifying in front of Congress on the war and Iraq reconstruction.
But there were some Moost Unusual moments and, of course, they didn't slip by our own Jeanne Moos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General and Ambassador...
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was one of those big Senate hearings where what you're hearing wasn't always scintillating. Photographers camped out on the carpet as listeners occupied themselves chewing their nails...
CROCKER: ... of Iraq's neighbors in November.
MOOS: ... picking their teeth...
MCCAIN: ... far, far costlier war.
MOOS: Taking pictures...
CROCKER: The PKK terrorist organization...
MOOS: The "National Journal's" The Hotline called this cell phone picture of the day. Someone watching Ambassador Crocker testify supplied their own caption.
General Petraeus was the star, surrounded by photographers every time he moved, whether it was to chat with Hillary Clinton or be berated by anti-war protesters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A real leader would get us out of Iraq!
MOOS: In the halls, at the door...
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stop the killing!
MOOS: In the middle of a sentence...
PETRAEUS: Again, it is one...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring them home!
PETRAEUS: Could -- could you...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring them home! Bring them home!
MOOS: But General Petraeus didn't bat an eye. A couple of protesters aren't going to rattle a guy with a chest full of medals.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If I could promote you to five stars, I would.
MOOS: Each of those ribbons on his chest represents a medal.
LT. COL. GEORGE WRIGHT, ARMY PUBLIC AFFAIRS: To you, Jeanne, it looks like a big fruit salad.
MOOS (on-camera): Yes.
(voice-over): But to those in the military, this is what they mean when they say highly decorated -- with everything from a combat action badge to master parachutist.
WRIGHT: He might have a 13 or 15 ribbon rack.
MOOS (on-camera): Wow!
WRIGHT: I mean however many...
MOOS: That's a nice rack.
(voice-over): Periodically, protesters piped up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you please cool it back there?
MOOS: As the Senate hearing was gaveled to a close, demonstrators started singing.
The burka-clad protesters continued in the halls.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies, if you're staying in this building, it constitutes a demonstration. This is going to serve as the first warning.
MOOS: This warning came from a war supporter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That if we pull out of Iraq, I hope they like those burkas, because we'll all wear them.
MOOS: The hearings and the war both felt like there was no end in sight.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos to find that story for us. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.
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