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'Surge' Troops to Come Home; McCain Woos Women Voters; Senator Barbara Boxer Discusses U.S. Troops in Iraq; Obama Closes in on Clinton's Lead in Pennsylvania

Aired April 10, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Bush announcing what was expected regarding U.S. troops who will be leaving Iraq by this summer versus those who will be staying. But was the rest of the president's announcement just more of what he's been saying?
In Pennsylvania, Barack Obama counts on unions to help him overtake Hillary Clinton. Is he hoping to appear more like union members to win their support?

And it's a political courtship. John McCain knows what he needs. He needs women to help him win. So he appears on a program widely watched by women; that would be "The View." Will that help?

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

Today President Bush did something that essentially guarantees the United States will have a major military presence in Iraq up until the day he leaves office. That would be January 20 of next year. And that's the same day the next president, of course, takes over.

The president said the almost 30,000 additional troops sent to Iraq last year to quell the violence will be coming home. But 140,000 other American men and women will remain until further notice.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's been following this story for us.

He did embrace the recommendations put forward by General Petraeus. Update our viewers on what happened today when the president addressed the nation, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president has called his latest strategy return on success. But today he talked a lot about success, but very little return of U.S. troops.


HENRY (voice-over): President Bush declared that while the American people had been worried last year about failure in Iraq, the so-called surge has caused a dramatic shift in the war, reviving the prospect of success.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fifteen months ago, al Qaeda had bases in Iraq that it was using to kill our troops and terrorize the Iraqi people. Today, we have put al Qaeda on the defensive in Iraq and we're now working to deliver a crippling blow.

HENRY: Sound familiar? That's not much different from what the president told the nation seven months ago, after the surge's first progress report from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

BUSH: Some say the gains we are making in Iraq come too late. They are mistaken. It is never too late to deal a blow to al Qaeda.

HENRY: Now, after the second progress report from his top two men in Iraq, the president said he will continue drawing down up to 30,000 surge troops already scheduled to come home, a move he announced last September. Then, this July there will be a halt to withdrawal so Petraeus can reassess, making it highly unlikely many more troops will come home before Mr. Bush leaves office.

BUSH: And I told him he'll have all the time he needs. We will use the months ahead to take advantage of the opportunities created by the surge.

HENRY: But if the surge has been so effective, Democrats asked, where's the return on success the president has touted?

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This week's hearings gave the Bush administration a chance to answer two very important questions: Has the war made us any safer? Are our troops any closer to coming home? On both counts, after the hearings, the answer is no.


HENRY: Now, the president also said the war is difficult but not endless, acknowledging the heavy strain on U.S. troops. So he's cutting combat tours of duty from 15 months to 12 months. But that's just a promise, a promise that has been broken before. And it's going to be up to the next president to fully implement that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's -- it was interesting in his speech. He mentioned that that new policy of cutting the tours of duty in Iraq from 15 months for Army soldiers down to 12 months. That goes into effect August 1. I take it that means that between now and August, those troops heading over to Iraq, they'll stay for the full 15 months. Only the new policy takes effect in August. Is that right?

HENRY: Absolutely. So there's a few months for that to take effect. Any troops who are in Iraq right now serving in combat duty, they're not affected by this new policy. And anybody going over between now and August, you're absolutely right.

So, the fact is it's going to be delayed for a few months. And then if you carry out a strategy that starts in August that lasts 12 months, in terms of the next round of combat tours of duty, that takes you into August of '09, obviously, when there's a new president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that. Ed Henry watching the story from the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

In his announcement, Mr. Bush also sent a very stern warning to Iran. He blasted Iran's support for extremist groups. He says those groups are simply terrorizing the Iraqi people. And he warned that if Iran continues that support -- I'm quoting now -- "America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners."

The past two days, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq talked to lawmakers about Iran's influence in that country. He also discussed that issue with CNN's Michael Ware.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You touched on the issue of Iran. Let's have a quick look at that, then.

Is the threat of Iran overblown?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: It's a very significant one. Again, you know, it depends on what perspective one approaches this. But clearly, Iran's level of involvement and, in many respects, malign involvement, is of genuine concern by really all Iraqi leaders.


BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more of Michael Ware's one- on-one interview with General David Petraeus. That's coming up in our next hour. Much more on the situation in Iraq as well.

Meanwhile, the Republican presidential hopeful, John McCain, is setting out to win over a key voting bloc, American women.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She's in New York, where the Arizona senator took his message today to the audience of the very popular program "The View."

Just like other candidates have done exactly the same thing, Dana. How did he do?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did OK, Wolf. You know, he definitely is following the path of other candidates, but what is interesting and perhaps different is that he is obviously a Republican candidate. And for more about three decades, women have been voting more than men in presidential elections. And recently -- in fact most of the time -- those women have been voting much more for Democrats than for Republicans.

So John McCain definitely came here to New York to go into a studio to do some outreach.



BASH (voice-over): He got a warm welcome, yet offered a business-like greeting, handshakes for the ladies of "The View."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama gave us a hug.



BASH: But he was coaxed into some hugs. A subtle but telling lesson for the Republican candidate here to embrace a giant challenge -- the gender gap.

A recent poll showed John McCain trailing Hillary Clinton among women by 14 points, 13 points to Barack Obama. McCain adviser and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina says women do need a connection.

CARLY FIORINA, MCCAIN ADVISER: I think for us the challenge really is to put John McCain out there where women can really get to know him, get to see him, get to understand him.

BASH: So nestled on the couch at "The View," softened his approach in explaining his position on Iraq.

MCCAIN: If we did what many want, which is to set a date for withdrawal and pull out, and I think we'd pay a very heavy price.

BASH: In 2004, George W. Bush narrowed the gender gap, losing the female vote by just three points by warning women Democrats will risk their security.

BUSH: Senator Kerry has chosen the position of weakness and inaction.

BASH: That would be a harder sell now. Yet, McCain advisers insist his military experience helps.

FIORINA: As a woman, I truly believe that it takes a soldier to bring us home with victory and honor in Iraq.

BASH: But groups like Planned Parenthood are working to defeat McCain for another reason -- his opposition to abortion. They commissioned a study showing more than half of women in key states don't know his position and are starting a grassroots effort to tell them.

SAMANTHA SMOOT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: When women voters find out that John McCain opposes Roe versus Wade and sex education and affordable birth control, then they stop supporting him. It's as simple as that.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: Now, a CNN/Opinion Research poll, Wolf, actually shows that 52 percent -- it may surprise you -- only 52 percent of women consider themselves pro-choice or for abortion rights. And McCain advisers, especially Carly Fiorina, who I spoke to today, she says that she is pretty confident, at least she hopes, that women are going to look at a whole host of issues and that no woman, no voter at all, is a single issue voter -- Wolf.

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

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: To Americans who want to end the war in Iraq, a Democratic president is the only answer. Or is it?

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama both promising to withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq if either is elected president. If McCain wins, forget about it. He says we could be in Iraq for 100 years.

The thing is, that it might turn out to be easier for McCain to keep us in Iraq than for Clinton or Obama to get us out. This George Bush abomination is now in its sixth year, and the quicksand just gets deeper.

Iraq is no closer now to being a true functioning democracy capable of providing for its own security than it was five years ago. And the outlook for meaningful progress is awful.

Both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as Maureen Dowd calls them, the surge twins, describe the country as being in a fragile state and warn that security gains could vanish if troops leave too soon. See Basra without the British.

Meanwhile, former secretary of state Colin Powell says the next president will have to face the reality that the U.S. has to reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, Powell warns there will be limitations -- "None of them is going to have the flexibility of just saying, 'We're out of here. Turn off the switch. Turn off the lights. We're leaving.'"

The unsettling fact is we might not be able to leave without either handing Iraq over to Iran or setting off a tribal war that would result in genocide.

Here's the question: How likely is it the next president, whether Republican or Democrat, will pull U.S. troops out of Iraq?

Go to You can post your comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. See you in a few moments.

Lawmakers say they want to help the struggling homeowners out there save their homes. But they're inching toward action amid a housing crisis. Why can't they move as fast as they did in the government's economic stimulus package. For Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, is the key to winning with union members actually looking like one of the guys?

And for anyone counting out Hillary Clinton, she's reminding them of a famous song -- "I'm Still Standing." Find out what she's doing today and how she got some huge celebrity support last night.

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


BLITZER: Today President Bush officially announced what was expected, that the almost 30,000 additional troops sent to Iraq last year to try to quell the violence will be coming home. But 140,000 other American men and women will remain in Iraq for the time being. The president said it's a sign of success of the so-called surge.

Let's discuss this with California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. She's joining us from Capitol Hill. She's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. She had a chance to question General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker earlier in the week.

Senator, I'm going to play a little clip of what the president said, because he, like them, like John McCain, they're warning the surge has been a success. But if the U.S. were to do what the Democratic presidential candidates want, simply start to pull out, it could be a disaster.

Listen to what he said.


BUSH: Those who say that the way to encourage further progress is to back off and force the Iraqis to fend for themselves are simply wrong.


BLITZER: All right. What do you say?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, it's ridiculous for him to speak for the Democratic candidates. That is nothing like what the Democratic candidates are suggesting or what I'm suggesting or anybody else.

BLITZER: Well, he didn't specifically refer to the Democratic candidates.

BOXER: Well, he said...

BLITZER: I'm sort of paraphrasing what the -- the point is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say there should be a timetable for a withdrawal over the -- once they take office.

BOXER: Wolf, I know. Wolf, I know what they say. And I know what the president is doing. He's setting up a straw man and saying, for those who say run, for those who say withdraw, it's a disaster. Nobody is saying run. Everyone is talking about a responsible change in mission and an eventual take over by the Iraqis for their own defense. And this is -- we are in a disaster now.

Now, this so-called pause, what this all means is after the surge, we're going to be at levels, 140,000, which is more than we had when the president announced the surge. So we are treading water.

And I could tell you, having spent several hours watching General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, they're very, very skilled, very smart people. But they were so flat, Wolf. They were so unanimated. They were so almost depressed.

BLITZER: So what does that mean?

BOXER: It means that we are not succeeding in Iraq. Do you know that we've lost 19 soldiers since Sunday? You know, 19 soldiers. This is all heartbreaking. We've lost much more now than 4,000.

BLITZER: But they also say that if the U.S. were to start withdrawing, let's say one or two combat brigades a month, which is what Barack Obama's suggesting, Hillary Clinton's suggesting, that that could be -- all the of the gains, whatever gains have been achieved over the past year, would simply disappear and the situation for the U.S. in that part of the world would be a whole lot worse.

BOXER: Actually, that's not what they're saying. They're saying under current circumstances the gains are certainly very tenuous right now. And they have said it over and over again. And they're reversible right now.

Right now they're tenuous and reversible. Now, why might that be?

It's because no political progress has been made. There's no military solution to this. And the wonderful thing about our candidates, it seems to me, is they understand this.

They understand that to solve Iraq, you need to have a political plan. And the Bush administration has just been absent on that front. They let Maliki get away with everything.

I mean, Bush announced today that Iran is -- Iran and al Qaeda are our two biggest enemies. And yet, you know, the leader of Iraq was holding hands with the leader of Iran just a couple of weeks ago.

So, the whole thing makes no sense whatsoever. And this status quo has got to go. And that's why I think the American people are so anxious for change.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton repeats this line often, that she's the best candidate to bring the troops home from Iraq. I'm going to play a little clip of what she said yesterday.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One candidate will continue the war and keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely. One candidate only says he'll end the war. And one candidate is ready, willing, and able to end the war.


BLITZER: And she says that would be her. I know you -- I don't believe you have endorsed either of these Democratic candidates, but is she best positioned to end the war?

BOXER: I think Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama have a very sound plan. Their plan is to change the mission and responsibly bring our troops home. And at the same time, they have to find this political solution.

Now, of course, Hillary thinks she'd be the best one at it, and Barack thinks he'd be the best one at it. And at this point we don't know which one will be our nominee, but I am very excited at either one of them becoming the nominee.

BLITZER: You're a superdelegate from California. Your state on the popular vote went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. What's stopping you from endorsing her or, for that matter, him?

BOXER: Well, I actually announced a month before our vote in California that I plan to vote for the winner of my state without endorsing, because I think they're both terrific and they're very close friends of mine.

BLITZER: So you'll vote as a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton?

BOXER: I am planning to do that.

BLITZER: All right. I was confused. Thanks very much for that.

BOXER: All right.

BLITZER: Senator Boxer, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BOXER: Thank you. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: You may be inconvenienced, but it's meant to keep you safe. The recent airline inspections and the cancellations are proving to be a huge headache for passengers, hundreds of thousands of them, and for the airlines alike. We'll update you on what's going on today.

Meanwhile, Congress makes a serious accusation against the agency responsible for plane safety. And we should all be very concerned. You're going to find out what that is.

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



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

Happening now, President Bush says troop withdrawals will pause from Iraq this summer to give his commander there, General David Petraeus, "all the time he needs," a direct quote. Our own Michael Ware, he sat down with General Petraeus here in Washington today for an interview. We're going to have some of that coming up in the next hour.

Jimmy Carter reportedly preparing for a very controversial meeting with the leader of the militant group Hamas. The Bush administration and a lot of other people not happy about that.

And courting the gay vote in the quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Our own Carol Costello is looking at who's making the most headway on that front.

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

Pretty much a make-or-break time for Senator Hillary Clinton, with 12 days to the Democratic presidential primaries in Pennsylvania. Senator Clinton is maintaining a breakneck pace in this all important state.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is keeping up with that pace. She's joining us now. She's watching this story.

Suzanne, that lead that Hillary Clinton had only couple or three weeks ago is dwindling if you look at these poll numbers that are coming in. What is going on?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it certainly looks like Barack Obama is gaining some ground here in this battleground state. Really, Senator Clinton had a press avail here, a press conference, if you will, just moments ago, addressing a number of issues that people in Pennsylvania care about. One of them the statement that President Bush made about General Petraeus, giving him as much time as he needs to assess the conditions on the ground.

Well, I put the question to her. IF she was commander in chief, would she do the same? Would it be an open-ended type of assessment? She would not say, but she did say that as president, she sets the policy and she'd try to bring the troops home as quickly and responsibly as possible.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): In an effort to convince voters she's the anti-war candidate, Senator Clinton blasted President Bush, who earlier in the day ordered to halt withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq after July so his top commander could assess conditions on the ground.

CLINTON: I do want to commend President Bush for cutting the length of deployments from 15 to 12 months.

MALVEAUX: Clinton praised Mr. Bush's decision to reduce soldiers' combat tours by three months, but portrayed the change as too little, too late.

CLINTON: In the wake of the failed objectives that were laid out to be met by the surge, what is the exit strategy in Iraq?

MALVEAUX: Wednesday night, Senator Clinton asserted, it's not too little or too late for her to still win the Democratic nomination. At a fund-raising concert with Elton John, she borrowed a line from one of his greatest hits, declaring:

CLINTON: I'm still standing.

MALVEAUX: Leaving New York City, $2.5 million richer from the event, she was back on the trail in Pennsylvania. Her encore here in Pittsburgh is aimed at wooing women, the working class, and those worried over the war. But her job is getting tougher.

A new survey of three polls compiled by CNN shows Barack Obama is closing in on her lead, now just a four percent gap between the two, 46 percent supporting Clinton, 42 percent for Obama, and 12 percent undecided.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, the campaign obviously choosing to emphasize the positive news here, what is happening. They say, over the last 36 hours, she's gained three superdelegates. They announced that she is opening new offices in North Carolina, Indiana, as well as Oregon, clearly looking ahead at those races beyond Pennsylvania -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Suzanne, on the scene for us. Appreciate it.

As we mentioned, the polls in Pennsylvania show that Hillary Clinton is narrowly leading Barack Obama 12 days out from the state's important Democratic primary.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now. He's part of this -- watching this story for us as well.

Bill, Obama's trying for an upset in Pennsylvania. Here's the question. Could he get it, and, if so, how?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: By going after the state's huge blue-collar vote. And, to do that, he's got some important allies.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Teamsters and Barack Obama, is that a fit? Here's Teamsters president Jim Hoffa leading a convoy across Pennsylvania. JAMES HOFFA, PRESIDENT, TEAMSTERS UNION: I believe in a Barack Obama, and I believe that we can change this country.

SCHNEIDER: Obama, who has not been doing well with blue-collar workers, took his own tour across Pennsylvania.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I met folks in factories and on farms and in bars and at...


OBAMA: ... bowling alleys.


SCHNEIDER: These are voters who desperately want change.

HOFFA: There's a despair out there that we can't change things. We have been beaten down.

SCHNEIDER: On Wednesday, the Teamsters convoy made its way to Reading, Pennsylvania, where the York Peppermint Pattie factory is shutting down, moving more than 250 jobs to Mexico. Your peppermint pattie will be wearing a sombrero. The target of the workers' anger? NAFTA.

HOFFA: People remember Clinton and NAFTA. And I think, when we talk about changing NAFTA, I think that Barack Obama has more credibility.

SCHNEIDER: Obama's running as a Washington outsider.

OBAMA: That story of diminishing opportunity starts in Washington. It's not an accident.

SCHNEIDER: Many workers see Hillary Clinton as a Washington insider, part of the system that gave them NAFTA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When her husband was in office, he OKed NAFTA and the other trade agreements.

SCHNEIDER: Obama suddenly reminds voters that he's not part of that system.

OBAMA: For over two decades, what we have heard from President Bush has been the so-called ownership society, which really means, you're on your own.

SCHNEIDER: Two decades? Wouldn't that include the Clinton years? Yes, it would.


SCHNEIDER: Obama is counting on his outsider appeal more than his lifestyle to break Clinton's lock on the working-class vote. He reminds workers that, when it comes to enjoying the gains of economic growth, they're outsiders, too.

And, Wolf, I have a souvenir. This may be one of the last one of these made in America.

BLITZER: Those York Patties, where are they made? Where are they made now?

SCHNEIDER: They're made in Reading, Pennsylvania, which is shutting down, moving to Mexico.

BLITZER: Oh, I love those York Peppermint Patties. They're delicious.

All right.

SCHNEIDER: I will save it for you.

BLITZER: Thanks.


BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Bill Schneider joining us from Pennsylvania.

Clinton and Obama have only a few more contests to fight over. Pennsylvania offers the biggest delegate treasure, 158. In our latest average of polls out there, Clinton's lead over Obama is down to four points, after rapidly shrinking over the past few days. The next two biggest primaries are on May 6, Indiana, offering 72 delegates.

A recent Research 2000 poll shows Obama and Clinton running neck and neck in Indiana. In North Carolina, on that same day, Obama leads Clinton by a huge margin in recent polls for that state's 115 delegates.

Amid the mortgage crisis, Congress says, help -- says help is on the way. But struggling homeowners want to know how quickly it might arrive. Lawmakers did something today, but it's not anywhere near a final solution.

Meanwhile, regarding helping you and your home, where do the candidates actually stand? We're breaking it down. We will tell you.

And bizarre, very bizarre threats against the Supreme Court and the justices themselves -- should anyone worry over the level of security at the nation's highest court?

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


BLITZER: Something has happened to the federal budget that's never happened in American history. For the first half of this budget year, the federal deficit hit an all-time high, just more than $311 billion. It's another sobering bit of news about the economy, that's already sagging because of things like oil prices and a huge mortgage crisis. Today, Congress did something regarding the mortgage mess. Some are complaining it does not do enough to help homeowners.

Let's go to CNN's Kate Bolduan. She's on Capitol Hill watching this story for us.

It involves a Senate bill. What's going on, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with so many homeowners being hit with -- hit with foreclosure, the pressure is on. And members of Congress here, they are feeling it. The Senate took a first step today by passing its own housing relief bill. But there are growing signs that it's going to be a while before there's a final congressional plan.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): The vote was bipartisan and overwhelming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 84. The nays are 12. HR-3221, as amended, is agreed to.

BOLDUAN: A Senate housing package, tax breaks for homebuyers and struggling homebuilders, as well as money to help hard-hit communities and counsel people facing foreclosure.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: This bill is a major positive step in the right direction.

BOLDUAN: A step, maybe, but still far from the finish line. Even before the Senate voted, the White House attacked the plan, saying it's tilted more toward lenders than homeowners.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The bill will likely do more harm than good by bailing out lenders and speculators and passing on costs to other Americans who play by the rules and honor their mortgage debt obligations.

BOLDUAN: Instead, the administration announced its own plan. It would expand an existing government program to help more low- and middle-income families refinance their loans.

But Democrats criticize that move as far too narrow.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: In terms of number of people affected, the president's initiative, most recent one, affects 100,000 people, when it should be affecting 10 to 15 times that many.

BOLDUAN: House Democrats are pushing yet another proposal, $300 billion to help up to two million cash-strapped homeowners lower their mortgage payments, and tax breaks for first-time homebuyers. But Republicans say the measure is too expensive. SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think we all were trying to do the right thing, trying to help people who need help. But, at the same time, we need to be good stewards of the -- of the federal taxpayer's dollar and not just throw money at problems.


BOLDUAN: Now, with so many plans and competing ideas, Wolf, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they don't know how or when a compromise will emerge. And there's already signs both sides are digging in.

BLITZER: All right, Kate, thanks very much for that.

Kate Bolduan is on the Hill.

The candidates realize the economy is issue number one for so many Americans. If elected, John McCain would consider more government intervention in the mortgage crisis, but says a bailout is a last resort.

Today, the senator explained the logic behind his housing plan.


MCCAIN: It's built on the reality that homeowners should have an equity capital stake in their own home. Homeowners would end up with a 30-year mortgage and an equity stake in their home. The new lender would receive a federal guarantee of the mortgage. And the taxpayer gets a benefit if the sale value ever recovers.


BLITZER: Barack Obama wants $10 billion to help stop foreclosures and to kill some taxes and fees for those who must sell.

He would give tax credit to 10 million struggling homeowners. And he has this to say about Senator McCain's plan.


OBAMA: I'm glad he finally offered a plan. Better late than never.


OBAMA: But don't expect any real answers. Don't expect it to actually help struggling families, because Senator McCain's solution to the housing crisis seems like a lot like George Bush's solution to the housing crisis, which is to sit by and hope it passes by, while families are facing foreclosure and watching their home values decline.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton wants to temporarily freeze the monthly rate on subprime adjustable mortgages, and wants status reports from the industry on the mortgages it's modifying.


CLINTON: I have been saying for more than a year, we have got to help people stay in their homes, not foreclose on their homes, if we're going to work our way out of this economic crisis.


BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session," the president, politics, and the Olympics. Senators Obama and Clinton say the president should boycott the opening ceremonies. And McCain says he wouldn't go if the Chinese don't clean up their record on human rights. So, should President Bush take heed? We're watching the story.

And could Obama beat McCain in the fall election? It's the question unpledged superdelegates want answered. And a new poll is shedding some light.

Steve McMahon, John Feehery, they're standing by -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Protests in San Francisco and a global outcry over unrest in Tibet, it remains to be seen how President Bush will respond, as the three remains presidential candidates are nearing agreement on this very sensitive issue. Should the U.S. boycott the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in Beijing in August?

Let's discuss it in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, the Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, the Republican strategist John Feehery.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

Obama says the president should boycott the opening ceremony, not the Games, let the athletes play. Senator Clinton earlier said the same thing.

And, today, we heard this from Senator McCain.


MCCAIN: I would say, right now, this depends on Chinese behavior. Unless there is some progress with the Dalai Lama, including conversations with him, including stopping this brutal crackdown that we're seeing in Tibet, then I would make the decision not to go.


BLITZER: All right.

It's -- what do you think? I mean, it's one thing for presidential candidates to say that. It's another thing for the president of the United States, given the relationship, the sensitivities, the U.S. relationship with China, to actually make that decision.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. But we keep waiting for the behavior of the Chinese government to improve. And what's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and over again, and expecting a different result.

I don't know why John McCain thinks the result will be any different. It's clear that the Chinese government has a human rights problem. It's not going to be fixed in the next year, probably in the next decade. The leaders of -- of -- in England and in France and in Germany have already made this decision. I know President Bush is the decider. But he ought to make a decision on this and he ought to lead.

BLITZER: Gordon Brown, the new prime minister of Britain, says he won't go to the opening ceremonies. He will -- he will be there at the closing ceremonies, though, at the final day of the Olympics. He will get that torch, because London's got the Olympics coming up four years down the road.

What do you think?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's politically correct to play politics with the Olympics now, of course.

And you will have all this pressure from Gordon Brown and all the other Europeans. I think the president is not -- first of all, he is not politically correct.


FEEHERY: I don't think he's do the politically correct thing.

If you want to have a real -- you have to engage the Chinese. You have to engage the Chinese people, not just the Chinese government. I think that the president should go to the opening ceremonies, show that he's with the Chinese people. I think Steve's right to a certain extent. They're not going to change if we go or not go.

I think he should go, show that we're with the Chinese people, and try to continue to build a relationship with the Chinese people.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Pennsylvania, coming up April 22.

This new average of the polls, the major polls, our so-called poll of polls, shows this gap that Hillary Clinton had dwindling. Earlier, in March, there was a 14-point advantage she had, 52-38 percent. More recently, it went down to 11, 51-40 percent. Now, in our latest, today, average these three major polls, 46-42 percent, 12 percent unsure.

It's only a four-point spread right now. And that doesn't necessarily bode all that well for Senator Clinton.

MCMAHON: It doesn't, if those polls are correct.

Obviously, there are some polls out there that show a wider margin as well. The average, as you point out, is about four, five, six points. And that clearly shows a trend, where the race is closing. And, remember, a poll is a snapshot in time. And, usually, if one candidate is going down and the other candidate is coming up, the movement doesn't stop on the day the poll is taken or the day the poll is concluded. It continues beyond that.

So, if those numbers are correct, Wolf, what you're seeing is a race that is tightening. And it will continue to tighten, probably, over the next 10 days, two weeks.

BLITZER: We saw a similar tightening in both Ohio and Texas in the popular vote. She managed to carry both of those states, in terms of the popular votes. Can she do it in Pennsylvania?

FEEHERY: I think she needs to win by more than 10 points.

Look at this campaign. Obama...

BLITZER: More than 10 points. But a win is a win, isn't it?

FEEHERY: Not necessarily. I think she's got to blow him out to --


MCMAHON: She has a delegate --

FEEHERY: She needs to blow him out to stay in this race.

The fact of the matter is, Obama's run a pretty good campaign. He's been in bowling alleys. He's been drinking beers with the guys. He's showing that he's one of the guys. I think this has been a very good campaign. Hillary Clinton is up in New York with Elton John. I don't think that helps her with the blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania --


BLITZER: But she will go on. Even if she wins by 1 percent, she will go on to Indiana and North Carolina.


MCMAHON: Listen, you're right. A win is a win, in one sense.

But, in another sense, everybody who's a superdelegate is looking at the margin. John is correct about the margin that is needed in order for her to begin to close the gap, the delegate gap with Barack Obama. And, after all, this race ultimately is about delegates. And if she can't get to 2,025, and if it doesn't look like she can close the gap between now and the end, there are going to be some superdelegates who start to probably move the other way.

BLITZER: And some of those superdelegates, the undecided ones, and maybe some of the decided ones, because they can change their minds very quickly, are going to be looking at this new hypothetical poll that the Associated Press just came out with, a hypothetical matchup nationally.

If it's Clinton vs. McCain, she wins 48-45 percent. If it's Obama vs. McCain it's tied, 45-45 percent. Let me caution, the sampling error is three percent.

But what, if anything, does that say to you?

FEEHERY: I don't think that is statistically significant. I think the big thing for the superdelegates right now is, they want to, I think, clear up this -- finish this race as soon as possible, so they can get to the -- the main event. The big problem right now is that they're -- those two are in the sub-fight beating each other up. McCain is able to go scot-free.

I think for the superdelegates, what they want is the undercard fight to finish up and have Obama face --


BLITZER: Are you surprised, as a good Democrat, Steve, that McCain is so competitive, at least right now, given the state of the economy, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq? He's neck and neck in these hypothetical matchups.

MCMAHON: You know what? I'm really not surprised, because the last few elections have been this way. We're in a very polarized country. And the Republican, no matter who the Republican nominee is, is always going to be at 45, 46 points.

I do think that the -- that those polls are significant for a different reason, particularly going in Pennsylvania, where you're looking at a poll where the gap is closing. Senator Clinton needs to be able, to make the argument to continue and to be viable, that she's a stronger general election candidate.

And if there are more polls like this, that argument starts to look like perhaps it has some merit. So, this actually helps her a lot right now. She needs this right now.

BLITZER: The Democrats, they're desperate. They want to win in November.

MCMAHON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: They want somebody who's going to help them.

All right, guys, thanks very much for coming in, Steve and John.

A former presidential candidate is building for his future. We're going to tell you who just signed with a top talent agency in L.A.

And did San Francisco play hide-and-go-seek with the Olympic torch? We will ask the mayor, Gavin Newsom. He's standing by live -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In today's political ticker, it appears a former presidential candidate may have Hollywood dreams. According to his daughter, Mike Huckabee has just signed a contract with a top talent agency in Los Angeles. She says there are no firm deals for her father yet, but that Huckabee is exploring options for various projects.

And please be sure to watch CNN this Sunday. We're the exclusive broadcaster of a presidential candidate forum on faith and values. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will attend. Our own Campbell Brown will moderate, along with Jon Meacham of "Newsweek" magazine.

Once again, it's a forum on faith issues featuring Senators Clinton and Obama, exclusively here on CNN. It will air Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And, also, remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out

Supporters of Barack Obama are trying to give him an extra boost heading into the Pennsylvania primary. It's in the style of the Ron Paul money bomb, in which supporters raised millions of dollars in one day for the Republican presidential candidate twice last year.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's following this story for us.

What do we -- what do we see going on, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is called "An Obama Minute," a Web site by a supporter with the ambitious goal of raising one million bucks in just 60 seconds, set up by a New York City photographer, Scott Cohen, a supporter of Barack Obama, who is looking for 10,000 people to each donate $100 all at once, and do it the day before the Pennsylvania primary.

We will see how that goes. But it's these kind of small donors online that have added up to fund-raising success for the Barack Obama campaign, out-raising Hillary Clinton last month two-to-one and allowing him to pour money into Pennsylvania.

Hillary Clinton's campaign has been trying to close that gap online, pushing people on her Web site to this kind of virtual online gift registry. That means that donors can direct their money exactly where they want to see it going right before Pennsylvania.

Well, the people behind "An Obama Minute" are looking a little bit further ahead of that -- Scott Cohen sounding quietly confident about his effort, saying he's already thinking about doing round two before the North Carolina primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Abbi, with the latest from the Internet.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How likely is it the next president, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, will pull U.S. troops out of Iraq?

Patricia writes: "Only the soldier can end this war. I know my answer is not the one anyone can understand, but only General Petraeus can stop this war. And until he gets the guts to tell Bush and company, enough is enough, those men and women will continue to die."

Sharon in Minnesota says: "The best shot we have is with Clinton. She's the most reasonable candidate, and, besides, a woman is more peace-loving than most men."

Mitchell in Arkansas writes: "Obama. It's going to take dialogue with Iraq's neighbors to begin pulling our troops out. Most of those neighbors would like to see us leave anyway. Let them take responsibility for keeping the peace. We had no business occupying Iraq after winning the war."

Scott writes: "America needs to explain to the Iraqi government, look here. Our job is done here. We have toppled your dictator, given the country to the people. Now it's up to you. We can no longer afford to move forward and mediate your civil war. The American economy is sluggish. The dollar has fallen. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their homes. A recession is on the horizon, and energy costs are forcing our citizens into a tight corner. So, Iraq, so sorry. Have to go home and take care of our people. See you."

Tim says: "It's not as likely as many might hope. A quick withdrawal from Iraq would mean mass killings, genocide, a future of oppression with no foreseeable end. I don't understand how Hillary or Obama could be that heartless."

And Ray writes from Lubbock, Texas: "Nancy Pelosi could have stopped the war months ago, if only she'd had the starch."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, and look for your e-mail there among the hundreds that are posted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.