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Pain-At-The-Pump Politics; Obama On Carter & Hamas; Begala Vs. Penn: "Nothing But Contempt"; Courting the Gay Vote

Aired April 11, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, John McCain siding with the Democrats against President Bush. He wants to ease your pain at the pump by limiting the amount of oil in the nation's emergency reserve. But those 700 million barrels may represent just a drop in the bucket.

Barack Obama says he would deal with America's foes, including the president of Iran. But it may surprise you to hear what he's now saying about Jimmy Carter's planned meeting with the leader of Hamas, which the U.S. government calls a terrorist organization.

And as tight security keeps protesters away from the Olympic Torch, an Olympic gold medalist will tell us why she's worried by all this talk of a possible boycott.

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

John McCain may have more in common with his Democratic rivals than with President Bush when it comes to the issue of the nation's emergency oil supplies buried deep underground along the Gulf coast. The split comes at a time of sky high gas prices.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's been looking into this story.

What are you learning, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, oil and gas prices are at record levels. We could see $4 a gallon at the pump. And the issue is getting hot enough on the campaign trail that John McCain has made a critical decision.


TODD (voice-over): Your pain at the pump again creeps into politics, prompting the likely Republican nominee to break with the president on the question of whether to keep storing oil away.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should stop adding to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

TODD: That reserve, a series of massive salt caverns under these tanks where oil is kept in case of hurricanes, war or other disruptions in the oil supply. How much oil is sitting there? The U.S. government has four facilities long the Gulf Coast, a fifth under development. Each place has dozens of caverns and each cavern can hold the Sears Tower in Chicago with room to spare. Seven hundred million barrels of oil are stored away. The Reserve's capacity is 727 million and the White House wants that doubled in 20 years.

The Bush administration is putting 70,000 barrels of oil a day in storage. A Department of Energy says that's a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the world's daily oil consumption and has almost no impact on the market. Oil analysts agree with the caveat.

DAVID PUMPHREY, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The amount of oil in terms of the total oil market is quite small. But in a very tight market, each additional barrel begins to matter even more.

TODD: Analysts say those are barrels that could be released into the market to possibly drive prices lower.

The administration isn't budging, an energy official telling CNN the reserves need to be built up to protect America's energy security in case of a market disaster. But experts worry about the psychology of that.

ADAM ROBINSON, LEHMAN BROTHERS: The signal that it provides, in that the Bush administration is putting -- investing in barrels at the highest prices we've ever seen, suggests to some market players that perhaps the United States is preparing for war in another -- or preparing for a geopolitical disruption somewhere else in the world.


TODD: An Energy Department official says that is not the case, that this is simply a long-term plan for energy security. Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, want the president to stop putting oil into the strategic reserve for the rest of this year, unless and until oil prices come down below $75 a barrel.

Now, to be clear here, John McCain -- a campaign official with his group says he is not going that far. He just wants to stop adding to the reserves now and evaluate the situation later. But right now, Wolf, it doesn't look like the White House is about to give into that.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

Brian Todd reporting.

Barack Obama has said he wouldn't hesitate to meet with some of America's foes, including Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So how does he feel about the former president, Jimmy Carter's plans to meet with the leader of Hamas in Damascus, a group labeled a terror organization by the United States government?

Take a listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to comment on former President Carter. He is a private citizen and, you know, it's not my place to discuss who or who he shouldn't meet with. I know that I've said consistently that I would not meet with Hamas, given that it's a terrorist organization; it is not a state.

And until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements that have been entered into, I don't think conversations with them would be fruitful.


BLITZER: Barack Obama speaking out about this sensitive issue.

Let's turn to a member of the best political team on television, our own senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

When you heard his comments, obviously, very different than Jimmy Carter who -- Jimmy Carter has been toying with the idea of endorsing Barack Obama, although he stayed out of it.

What went through your mind -- Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what went through my mind was that he's probably going to get criticized for this by the Jewish community for not just going the extra step and saying, look, Jimmy Carter should not meet with Hamas. Instead, he said look, you know, I'm not going to criticize him, he's a private citizen.

Even saying you wouldn't meet with Hamas yourself may be -- not be enough because, as you know, Wolf, Jimmy Carter is not well regarded in the Jewish community. He equated the Israeli relationship with the Palestinians to apartheid and he hinted broadly that he's going to endorse Obama. And so there may be some question, gee, why did Obama kind of hang back on this one?

Why didn't he just go all the way and say, you know, I don't think it's a good idea for the former president to do that? John McCain said it.

BLITZER: Yes, but some of his own foreign policy advisers disagree with him on this, saying it isn't a bad idea at all for the U.S. to enter into a dialogue with Hamas. And, after all, they control Gaza right now. And so he's going to be criticized from that element of the foreign policy.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) yesterday Brian Todd mentioned some names, including Lee Hamilton, the former U.N. ambassador, Thomas Pickering, among others. So he's got to deal with both sides of this spectrum. BORGER: He does. And, you know, it's a problem for someone who's new on the foreign policy scene. You know, just a few years ago Barack Obama was just an Illinois state senator. So all sides are kind of looking at him and saying -- particularly in the Jewish community -- does he have too nuanced a view on the Palestinians, as far as they're concerned?

I think the jury is still out on that. But they are a bit suspicious of him. He trails Hillary Clinton among Democrats -- among Jewish Democrats -- by about five points in the latest Gallup Poll on that. But I think there are a lot of folks who are kind of sitting back and just waiting to see how he positions himself. He says he's firmly pro-Israel but a lot of folks in the Jewish community are kind of stepping back just to see.

BLITZER: Clinton, 48 percent, Obama, 43 percent. That was the poll you were referring to.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, stand by. You're coming back with the best political team on television in the next hour, as well.

BORGER: I can't wait.

BLITZER: Former President Bill Clinton takes a swipe at John McCain's stay the course policy on Iraq and uses a creative example to make his own case that the U.S. has stayed there way too long.

Listen to this.


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's kind of like if your next door neighbor's house burned down and your neighbor had nowhere to go. We'd all take our neighbor in, wouldn't we?

And it wouldn't matter if we didn't have any money and no extra bed. If they had to sleep on the couch, that would be fine. And they could stay for a month and it would be all right. Most of us would be fine if they had to stay for six months.

But if your neighbor is still on the couch after five years, what do you know? It is not about that fire anymore, it's about not having to get off the couch. And that's about where we are in Iraq. It's not about the fire anymore.


BLITZER: All right. That's the former president speaking out.

For the latest political news, by the way, any time, check out our Political Ticker at The Ticker is the number one new political news blog out on the Web. And as I said before, you can read my latest blog post there every day, as well. Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Some voters are worried that John McCain will bring old-fashioned views into the White House if he wins.

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says that swing voters in focus groups raise the issue of McCain's age on their own. McCain, at 72, would be the oldest president elected to a first term. Dean says voters are concerned about both his health and his outdated ideas.

For example, some women were shocked at his support for abstinence-only sex education and his opposition to health insurance paying for birth control pills. They reportedly said, "This guy is out of step with what modern views are."


Dean says even though McCain's age is a factor for voters, he doubts the Democratic Party will use it as an issue during the general election, adding, "There's a somewhat higher ethical bar on our side of the aisle."

Oh, please.

Instead, Dean says the Democrats will portray McCain as wishy- washy on key issues, things like changing his positions on the tax cuts, illegal immigration in order to win over Republican voters in the primaries.

Of course, the flip-flopping argument is what partly did in Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 election. The Republican National Committee dismisses all of this comment about McCain's age, saying that the upcoming election would be, "about judgment, character, vision and leadership -- all things voters associate with John McCain."

So here's the question: Given John McCain's age, should Republicans worry that some voters see him as bringing old-fashioned ideas to the table?

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

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack, for that.

Coming up, a prominent Clinton supporter takes off the gloves and goes after another prominent Clinton supporter. You're going to be surprised to hear what Paul Begala is saying about the recently demoted Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn. You might not believe it -- that is, until you actually hear what Paul Begala is saying.

He's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to hear it from him directly.

Hillary Clinton may have an edge with gay voters. We're going to tell you what Barack Obama is now trying to do to cut into that edge.

And voters might recognize her from campaign appearances, where she often introduces her husband. Now Cindy McCain is introducing herself.

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


BLITZER: He's a veteran Democratic strategist, a long time Hillary Clinton friend and supporter. But right now our own strategist, Paul Begala, is breaking ranks in a big way with Clinton's recently demoted campaign strategist, Mark Penn. He's quoted as saying he has "nothing but contempt for Mark Penn." And he's got more quotes, as well.

Paul Begala is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All right, explain. What were you thinking? You said this morning, right?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, CLINTON SUPPORTER: I did say --this morning I was at a panel, the Public Agenda, which is a public interest group. They did it with the Maxwell School with Syracuse University up in New York City this morning.

And the conversation was about whether consultants matter and how they matter. Well, they do. And a lot of Hillary supporters -- I'm not the Lone Ranger here. A lot of Hillary supporters are really frustrated with how the campaign has been run. And the strategist has to be responsible for that.

The candidate has been much better than her campaign. When she's off on her own, either in debates or in New Hampshire, for example, when she was campaigning around the clock and made such a wonderful emotional connection with voters -- she's at her best when she's, frankly, not on other people's talking points.

But I think there's a great deal of frustration with it -- I mean I say this every day when we have our conversations in here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's what you're quoted as saying.

You said, "I have nothing but contempt for Mr. Penn. And for those of us who wanted to see him out from the beginning, it became almost a Rumsfeldian thing. And he is not even fired. He has been demoted. How could this be?"

Is that accurate?

BEGALA: Sure. That sounds exactly accurate.

BLITZER: What do you mean by that?

BEGALA: Well, just what I said that --

BLITZER: Rumsfeldian.

BEGALA: Well, just like when the secretary of defense was running things. There were a whole lot of people in the Pentagon -- a lot of people in the field, a lot of privates and corporals and lieutenants and captains, who were very frustrated with the top strategist. And now I think it's very -- as a Hillary guy, I think it's a good thing that he's been demoted.

You should know -- and I know you know, but our viewers should know, also, I don't advise her campaign, I don't work for her campaign. This is not some internal struggle at all. I'm just somebody who voted for her in my primary --

BLITZER: And you're throwing a lot of the blame on Mark Penn for...


BLITZER: ...for the problems that she's suffered?

BEGALA: Sure. Look, when I worked for President Clinton as his political adviser and we lost the Congress in 1994, I took a lot of the blame, as I deserved to. Right, I made the mistakes, I screwed things up and I took the hit, as I deserved to.

BLITZER: What was his biggest mistake, Mark Penn?

BEGALA: Who, Mark Penn? I think not running Hillary as Hillary. She's a very unconventional person. She's a very warm person. I've known her for 17 years now and she's treated me like family. And so I think the mistake was not showing her as the change agent, the very unconventional person she is. And she's very warm and funny. We haven't seen enough of that. We've seen some. And I...

BLITZER: And when she -- when we that part of her, she does well. When we see the almost robotic part of her, she doesn't do that well.

BEGALA: Right. That's right. And so I would not have had -- I don't like the fact that I think Mr. Penn is certainly credited for having a strategy that has been a lot more sort of regimented and controlled than I think Hillary is.

BLITZER: Because you specifically refer to his notion of these micro trends...

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: What -- explain what that means.

BEGALA: Well, there is a theory -- Mr. Penn is a proponent of it -- that very small and minute demographics and very small and minute issues will define our time. I disagree. I think big ideas and big changes and big trends, like being for change, being against the war, are much more important in a campaign. Hillary is somebody who came with the biggest idea of the last decade, which is trying to bring affordable health care to all Americans. And I think that's the kind of thing she's all about. And so I don't her...

BLITZER: And you all...

BEGALA: I don't think her campaign has been as good as the candidate.

BLITZER: And you also hated the idea that he kept his day job...


BLITZER: ...even as he was the chief strategist for the campaign.

BEGALA: Yes. I do think that there's a tension...

BLITZER: That there was a built-in conflict.

BEGALA: There's a potential and we've seen the reality of conflict of interest. And I think that's why he was demoted.

I have to say, in my own case, Carville and I went to work for Bill Clinton in 1991, in late '91. We only had one other client, and that was John Glenn for U.S. Senate, who was a hero of mine.

Well, in the first couple of months of the campaign, we had to resign from Senator Glenn's campaign because -- not that there was no conflict. Obviously, Bill Clinton wanted John Glenn to be reelected. But the work is so all-consuming that there's no time for anything else.

There's no time for anything. There was not even time for me to be a very good husband to my wife at the time. I was an absentee husband for that whole campaign. So that's what I was talking about is that the -- this conflict of interest, you should be whole hog for Hillary if you're -- if you're running her campaign.

BLITZER: And, finally, because we've got to go, you didn't like the fact that he was demoted. You think he should be out, is that right?

BEGALA: Sure. Yes. And I think I speak for a lot of people. I've talked to -- I've run four campaigns in Pennsylvania. I know Democrats, also, all around the country. And you've seen -- whether it was Governor Rendell or the labor leaders -- there's been a whole -- I'm not the Lone Ranger.

There's a lot of criticism of Mr. Penn and I think it actually -- it's probably good for the campaign he's been demoted. But I want to let Hillary be Hillary. Get that warm, witty, wonderful, very spontaneous person that I've known out there now.

BLITZER: But do you feel it may be too late right now for her? BEGALA: No, I don't --

BLITZER: Because in this story, it suggests that even you, Paul Begala, are worried she might not win.

BEGALA: Well, obviously -- look, it's certainly -- Barack is ahead right now and he's run a terrific campaign. And -- but, I think Donna Brazile said it right -- you know, there's a reason she's a superdelegate -- that this thing is not over at all.

Let's 2008 it up in Pennsylvania. Let's go up there. And then, of course, you're going to vote in Indiana and Kentucky and West Virginia, in North Carolina, in Puerto Rico and some of those Western states. There's a whole lot more game to be played here.

BLITZER: Paul Begala, thanks for coming in.

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'd love to have Mark Penn come in, too. And maybe he'll join us. We'll get a -- we've invited him in the past. We'd like to invite him once again.

BEGALA: Outstanding.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

They're almost certain to decide the Democratic presidential nominee and the party superdelegates are under more pressure than ever right now. We're going to hear from one undecided superdelegate. We're going to find out which way he is leaning, if any.

Plus, you're going to find out the new title Britain's prince William now carries.

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


BLITZER: There's a potentially very significant development coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now from Cuba.

Let's get the latest from Carol Costello.

What is going on -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty interesting, Wolf. It's just coming in to us now. The "Associated Press" is reporting that Cuba's new president, Raul Castro, has decided to give thousands of Cubans the right to gain the title to the homes they currently rent from the state.

Now, this is the latest in a series of relaxed rules the new leader has ushered in, including rules on owning cell phones, staying in tourist hotels and even buying electronics like DVD players. We'll keep you posted. Baseball players and owners have reached a deal to amend their drug agreement. The decision allows for more frequent testing and it eliminates 15-day suspensions assessed in December against Jose Guillen and Jay Gibbons. The deal strengthens the authority the independent administrator has over the drug program, but baseball did not heed advice from the World Anti-Doping Agency to turn drug testing over to an outside agency.

Frontier now the latest airline to file for bankruptcy protection. It says it was pushed over the brink by a problem that could spread to other carriers -- credit card trouble. Frontier says its credit card processing company decided to start withholding a larger chunk of the airline's ticket revenue and that caused a cash crisis that forced Frontier to seek bankruptcy protection. Frontier plans to keep operating while it reorganizes.

A hostage stand-off involving pirates off the coast of Somalia is now over. France says its troops captured six pirates today without incident. That accounts for about half the hostage takers. About 12 pirates allegedly seized a luxury yacht last Friday, took 30 crew members captive. The yacht carried only crew members, most of whom are French. France sent an elite commando force to the region. The pirates were captured on land about an hour after they released hostages.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that. We'll check back with you shortly.

Courting gay voters -- we're going to show you what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are now doing to try to win over what could be a crucial bloc, and what one gay newspaper did to show its anger with Barack Obama.

Also, John McCain's wife is speaking out on some personal issues. We're going to have details of what she's saying. That's coming up.

Also, tax returns for the president and the vice president just released. Find out how much they made, how much they gave away to charity and a lot more.

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


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

Happening now, a travel nightmare that just won't end. American Airlines canceling almost 600 more flights today for safety inspections. That makes more than 3,000 flights scrapped this week, leaving more than a quarter of a million passengers stranded.

Also, the average cost of a gallon of gas hits a new record high -- more than $3.36 a gallon, with premium now topping $4 a gallon in California. And stocks tumble on Wall Street, led by G.E., as the company catches investors off guard with a dismal first quarter earnings report that helped drive down the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than 250 points.

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

The Democratic presidential candidates are battling for support of gay and lesbian voters, with Barack Obama moving to clip what some see as Hillary Clinton's advantage.

Carol Costello has been working the story for us. She's here.

So what is Senator Obama doing now to win over gay and lesbian Democrats?

COSTELLO: Well, one thing he is not doing, for sure, he's not talking to the local gay press in Philadelphia. And they are not happy about it.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Note the big white space on the cover of "The Philadelphia Gay News". It's where reporters would place an Obama interview -- if they had one. Editor Mark Segal.

MARK SEGAL, "PHILADELPHIA GAY NEWS": It's been now 1,528 days since Senator Obama has spoken to local gay press. And that last time, in 2004, was to his hometown newspaper.

COSTELLO: Segal, who contributed to Clinton's campaign, believes Obama refuses to talk to his paper and other gay publications because he doesn't want to answer tough questions.

Senator Obama countered with an exclusive interview to "The Advocate," the nation's largest gay news magazine, saying: "The gay press may feel I'm not giving them enough love, but basically all press feels that way at all times."

TOBIAS WOLF, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHAIR: You know, Barack has been talking to the gay media. He's done two "Advocate" interviews so far this year. We placed advertising in local gay media in Ohio and Texas. He's published open letters to the LBGT community to lay out his positions very carefully.

H. CLINTON: And I particularly want to thank...

COSTELLO: Obama's positions are similar to Hillary Clintons. He also wants to scrap the military's don't ask/don't tell policy on sexual orientation and believes in civil unions. He's just using a different strategy to get his message out.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He wants to structure his communications with the gay community so that there is no negative backlash in places where he hopes to expand the Democratic coalition. He's thinking about the South. He's thinking about the conservative Midwest and he's thinking about the border states.

COSTELLO: Clinton, on the other hand, who needs a big win in Pennsylvania, has been overtly courting the gay vote. There she is hugging Elton John and rapping with Ellen.

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST: One thing that's very important to me, and another reason that I like you so much, just today -- this was just announced, that you're going to defend gay rights as president and eliminate inequalities for same-sex couples (INAUDIBLE).


COSTELLO: Even Chelsea is stumping for mom at a popular Philadelphia gay bar. And Clinton has given interviews to the local gay press, like "The Philadelphia Gay News".

SABATO: Hillary Clinton is behind and she needs every vote. The gay community can provide 10 to 15 percent of the Democratic vote. And some large northern and Western states.


COSTELLO: And in a Democratic primary that's very important. Democratic support, by the way in the gay community nationwide, split right down the middle and talking to nonpartisan groups support is just as passionate for Obama as it is for Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. Thanks for that report.

The convention still four months away, the convention in Denver. But a growing number of Democratic superdelegates aren't waiting to pledge their support to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But not necessarily our next guest. That would be Congressman Jason Altmire. He represents Pennsylvania's fourth district. That's north of Pittsburgh where he's joining us now live.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. JASON ALTMIRE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Happy to be here. Thank you.

BLITZER: What are you waiting for?

ALTMIRE: Well, the Pennsylvania primary is in ten days and we've had an unprecedented opportunity to see both candidates up close and personal, hear what they have to say. I want to know who has the best plan for western Pennsylvania and I want to see how my district votes and how the state of Pennsylvania before I make my decision.

BLITZER: Some members of congress, elected officials, superdelegates, and you're one of those superdelegates, have suggested they're scared right now, they're scared if they go the wrong way it could affect their electability come November.

Are you worried if you were to endorse one or the other it could affect your prospects in November? ALTMIRE: I'm not worried about that. I want to make sure the will of the people is heard. If we get to tend of this primary process and one of the candidates has won more popular votes and more elected delegate votes, then certainly that will play heavily in my mind. But I also do want to see who wins my district and who wins the state.

BLITZER: Let me rephrase the question. Do you in your gut, in your heart, in your mind really -- are you leaning toward one of them but you're really unwilling or afraid to go public for whatever reason right now?

ALTMIRE: No. That's really not part of the calculation. I think I have an obligation as an elected official and a superdelegate to wait and see what the results are. And when I have all the facts in front of me both in my district and the national election then I'll make my decision.

BLITZER: Listen to what Senator Arlen Specter, he's a Republican from Pennsylvania, he's been elected statewide in Pennsylvania five times, what he told me in the last hour.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, Wolf, it's only one man's opinion but I would pick Obama at this stage. He is running a good ground game. He's got a bus tour going to just the right spots. I know them because I've been there many times. Doing a lot more advertising. And I think the momentum is with him. But these elections have so many ups and downs it's hard to say. But that would be my pick.


BLITZER: He's picking him. He's predicting Obama will win in Pennsylvania. What do you think?

ALTMIRE: Well, I think in western Pennsylvania where I am I know Senator Clinton is going to do very well. The state of Pennsylvania is going to be a lot closer than anybody thought it was going to be. It's not out of the question that Senator Obama could win. But I do think that Senator Clinton has the advantage.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

ALTMIRE: Thank you. Happy to do it.

BLITZER: Please be sure to watch CNN Sunday. We're the exclusive broadcaster of a presidential candidate forum on faith and values issues. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will attend. CNN's Campbell Brown will moderate the session.

Once again, that's a forum on faith issues featuring Senators Clinton and Obama exclusively here on CNN. It airs Sunday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Voters might recognize her from campaign appearances where she often introduces her husband. Now Cindy McCain is introducing herself.

Let's go to New York. Mary Snow has been looking into this story.

What are we learning about Cindy McCain, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, she's taking a more visible role than she did eight years ago when her husband ran for president. And Cindy McCain is also talking about how she's handled some of the tests she's faced not just on the campaign trail but in her personal life.


CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: I would like to give you the next president of the United States, my husband, John McCain.

SNOW: Cindy McCain is often noted for her glamour and her wealth. As heiress to her family's beer distribution company, her worth reportedly is at least $100 million. But for a woman who could be first lady, she's largely unknown.

Cindy McCain is now opening up, revealing how she personally dealt with a "New York Times" article bomb shell in February suggesting her husband had a romance with a lobbyist, a claim Senator John McCain dismissed as untrue.

Cindy McCain spoke exclusively to "Access Hollywood."

C. MCCAIN: I knew the truth. I was angry at the newspaper of course.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was the first thing you said to your husband?

C. MCCAIN: I love you. I know this isn't true.

SNOW: And she stood by her husband's side when he faced the press about the allegations.

C. MCCAIN: He's a man of great character. And I'm very, very disappointed "New York Times" in the.

J. MCCAIN: I should have had you conduct this meeting.

SNOW: Cindy McCain also gained attention for taking aim at Michelle Obama after Obama came under fire on the question of being proud of America.

C. MCCAIN: I don't know about you, if you heard those words earlier. I'm very proud of my country.

SNOW: One political observer says Cindy McCain is becoming more outspoken.

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: That was a really feisty moment and not the kind of thing people saw from Cindy McCain eight years ago or very much before that in this campaign.

SNOW: Cindy McCain is also talking about a very private matter, an addiction no painkillers she says she overcame in the early 1990s. She tells Access Hollywood she thinks it's important to be up front saying it makes her a better person and parent.

Which first ladies inspire her? She cites Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan but most of all, Jackie Kennedy.


SNOW: Now one political observer says Cindy McCain is seen as an asset to her husband's campaign since she helps humanize John McCain and reminds people that he has a family. The McCains have four children together but they are known for keeping family life private -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.

As tight security greets the Olympic torch at its latest stop, an American gold medalist will tell you why she's worried by talk of an Olympic boycott.

And William gets his wings. We're going to tell you what's next for Britain's young prince.

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


BLITZER: In Buenos Aires, protest banners and even water balloons greeted the Olympic torch on its latest relay but a security force of almost 6,000 kept the event from being derailed.

So what impact is all the controversy having on Olympic athletes? That's the question Carol Costello has been looking into working this part of the story.

So what's the answer, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, I really haven't heard of any athletes favoring a boycott of any kind. I talked with an Olympic gymnast who worries the true meaning of the games is lost in controversy.


COSTELLO: The Olympic torch symbolizes unity but not this year. Layers of security in Buenos Aires keep protesters away from Olympic torchbearers. The sight of that here and the chaotic scene in San Francisco is, to some, a sad spectacle.

DOMINIQUE DAWES, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL WINNER: The Olympic stage, it's world stage. It is all about uniting. It's all about peace. It's all about focusing on competition and sport and uniting countries together.

COSTELLO: Dominque Dawes was part of a magnificent seven, a team of American gymnastics who struck gold in the 1996 Olympics. It concerns her when she hears presidential candidates Clinton, Obama and McCain suggest that President Bush boycott the opening ceremonies fearing it will lead to a U.S. boycott of the games.

DAWES: My second Olympic games took 13 years to qualify to and I couldn't imagine having the United States boycott an Olympic games. It would have been definitely a sad situation for everyone involved.

COSTELLO: The International Olympic Committee president is concerned himself. He urged world leaders to remember what the Olympics are all about, unity.

JACQUES ROGGE, PRES., INTL. OLYMPIC CMTE.: If you look at the whole controversy about boycotts, if there is one thing that stands, it's that the public is saying we do not want a boycott because a boycott would only make innocent victims.

COSTELLO: There are reports some Olympic committees like Belgium's have forbidden its athletes to speak out about the controversy. But Dawes suspects American athletes who will compete in China are simply unaware of much of the controversy shielded by coaches who forbid them to watch the news or read the paper.

DAWES: You only focus on the things you can control. You're not focusing on the equipment. You're not focusing on the judges. You're not focusing on the political unrest. You're not focused on anything out there in the peripheral that's not going to help you achieve your goals.

COSTELLO: She adds the athletes will likely focus on the political controversy surrounding China after the games are over, finding their own way to protest peacefully.


COSTELLO: And Dawes says she admires speed skater Joey Cheek who donated his 2006 Olympic bonuses to refugees from Darfur and he now runs a non-profit. That's his type of protest.

BLITZER: You may not have been an Olympic athlete but you did get close, Carol. We've got the evidence right now. We spoke about this the other day. There's some video four year ago in Atlanta when you ran -- there you are right there.

Let's let that breathe a little bit. Let's see how you did when you carried that torch representing the United States. How did that feel?

COSTELLO: It was spectacular. But, you know, I was really worried I would hold the torch too low and my hair would catch on fire. I kept thinking of that the whole way. I had such a good time. BLITZER: Is that as fast as you can run, Carol?

COSTELLO: They made you run very slowly. You're surrounded by all those people. Even in peaceful times there's lots of security around.

BLITZER: Atlanta. There's the CNN Center running right past the CNN Center. Our own carol Costello. In my book, she's an Olympic athlete. In my book.

COSTELLO: In my book?

BLITZER: Yeah. You run marathons and that's pretty good.

COSTELLO: I should write a book then I could have you promote it and I'd be a millionaire.

BLITZER: All right. Carol Costello, thank you.

The torch controversy, by the way, has our special correspondent Frank Sesno wondering "What If" -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this week the Olympic torch. Here's the route it's supposed to travel, five continents, 84,000 miles. But for the Chinese this has become a world of protest and push back.

Mostly it's about Tibet. We know that but increasingly China's special torch security force has been ruffling feathers. In Japan, Chinese security guards aren't welcome. In Australia, the police chief says despite threats of protest he'll handle security. In New Delhi, things could get really interesting because there's a large community of Tibetans.

Some suggest torching the whole idea of this torch.


SESNO: What if the flame went out? What if there were no torch for the masses or the athletes or for those guys in blue track suits running alongside to keep protest away, special units from the people's armed police, China's internal security service?

What if there were no Olympic flame traveling the world? This celebration of sport would be lost. Some fans would be really disappointed as they were in San Francisco when the authorities biting their nails about possible protest secretly changed the route.

Sponsors of the torch would lose all that product placement. The Olympic torch brought to you by Coca-Cola, Samsung, Lenovo, we'll be back after this. This is not how the ad was supposed to look.

What if the protests in London, Paris, San Francisco, drawn to the torch like moths to a flame went away? Causes stifled at home wouldn't have had this platform. China which so badly wants to be a global player wouldn't have had this loud reminder it also faces global accountability.

It's ironic, China's crackdown in Tibet, human rights abuses at home, its position on Darfur have drawn attention in a wireless world that China's own factories, these very Lenovo computers, have helped to build.

What if the torch goes out? They're talking about it for future Olympics. Protest and sports don't mix, some say.

But the Olympics are about competition and inevitably the competition of ideas. China wanted the games, the torch, the attention. In this world, they're a package deal.


SESNO: But not part of the package deal the torch sponsors counted on. I visited Lenovo headquarters a year and a half ago in China and I heard the company spokesman enthusiastically talk about how Lenovo sponsorship of the 2008 Olympics would establish it as a global player, a computer for the masses. Big plans just like China and big plans that have gotten blurred with politics and protests, just like China -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Frank, thank you, Frank Sesno.

The economy clearly struggling right now but the president and first lady, they're keeping their heads above water. Their tax information has now been made public as well as the Cheneys. How are they doing?

And Hillary Clinton calls for more cops on the street and more federal help for crime ridden cities, $4 billion worth of help.

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


BLITZER: So do you want to know how much the first couple and the Cheneys earned and paid in taxes last year? That information is now out.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry. He's over at the Crawford ranch.

So what are the numbers out there, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the economy may be sagging but clearly the Bushes and Cheneys not feeling the pain, the first family reporting taxable income of $719,000 for the tax year 2007. That's an $80,000 increase over the previous tax year largely because the president's salary, that's constant at $400,000 a year.

They have interest income on their investments. But then you also have the first lady got $150,000 advance for a book she wrote in the past year with her daughter Jenna that's about to come out. That's nothing compared to what the Cheneys raked in 2007, $2.5 million in taxable income. The vice president makes less than the president, $212,000 per year but they have the investment income. Obviously the vice president, former executive ran Halliburton has a lot more money in those accounts.

The Bushes paid $221,000 in federal taxes. The Cheneys paid $602,000 in federal taxes. Obviously you make more money, Uncle Sam takes a bigger bite, Wolf.

BLITZER: They both made a lot of money. How much charity did they give?

HENRY: Well, the Bushes actually gave more by a percentage to charity than Cheneys did. The Bushes gave $165,000. That's about 23 percent of their income, a much higher percentage.

The Cheneys gave $166,000 to charity. That's the smaller percentage, about seven percent of their annual income. But it's worth noting the Cheneys over the course of Mr. Cheney's tenure as vice president have given about $8 million total to charity.

By way of comparison, the Clintons earned about $20 million last year. As you know, they gave about $3 million to charity. That's about 15 percent of their income so they come out sort of right in the middle there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks. Ed with the income tax numbers, thank you very much.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Given John McCain's age should Republicans worry about what some voters see as old-fashioned ideas?

Robert in Florida writes: "Assuming Obama is the Democratic nominee, you can be sure this will be an issue. It will most certainly look like JFK sitting next to Richard Nixon in 1960. New fresh and exciting versus old, lame and tired."

Fabienne writes: "If Clinton can forget important things at 11:00 at night because she's 60, can you imagine McCain at 72? McCain's too old, old fashioned, weak, Bush related. We need a government make over and it's time to bring fresh paint into the house."

Jen in Pittsburgh: "If ideas like honor, strength are old fashioned then yes I'm terrified. Terrified we'll fail to elect the right candidate. John McCain brings a lifetime experience that should comfort voters."

Mary says: "As a senior citizen I don't care about the age issue. My problem with the guy is his warmongering take on the world coupled with rumors of a bad temper. Those two don't make a good combination in a world fraught with obstacles to peace."

Tracy in Alabama: "Am I worried about McCain's age? Maybe. Does that have to do with his old fashioned ideas? Not necessarily. He's outdated ideas have more to do with the Republican Party platform than his age."

Brian in Trinidad where they're watching THE SITUATION ROOM: "Old fashioned ideas you mean like respecting the law, serving in the military with the country calls, loyalty to your friends? Sounds like we could all use some of those old fashioned ideas."

And Mary Jo in Pittsburgh: "Voters might have an issue with his old fashioned ideas but I understand he's recording a speech that can be played back on your Victrola that will deal with these issues."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to which where my blog is and you can look for your e-mail there.

If you don't find it let me know. I'll come over to the house and we'll talk about your thoughts are on these things.

BLITZER: I've got one too at It's a lot of fun working on those pieces.

You know you say you're watching us in Trinidad. They're watching us all over the world. I'm constantly getting e-mail from viewers -- I assume you are as well, Jack.

CAFFERTY: But you're more of a global figure, Wolf. I mean I just kind of sit in the corner here with my computer and Sam and Sarah and do my thing. Trinidad, that's a place I'd like to visit. That would be fun to go there. Let's take THE SITUATION ROOM on location.

BLITZER: I'm with you. Jack, thanks. See you back in a few moments.

So is Bill Clinton helping or hurting his wife's campaign? You're going to find out what he said now that has some people wondering if he's becoming a burden.

Plus, his father and girlfriend are on hand to help Britain's Prince William celebrate a milestone. You're going to find out what it is.

Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In news around the world, you can now call him royal air force pilot. That would be Britain's Prince William getting his wings from his father as his girlfriend looked on.

ITN's Nina Nannar was also there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NINA NANNAR, ITN CORRESPONDENT: Taking to the skies to earn his wings, Prince William has fulfilled a personal ambition during his time with the REF, learning to fly light aircraft and helicopters, armed force training seen as vital for a future king.

On his big day, his father naturally was present. Prince Charles arriving with the Duchess of Cornwall on what must have seemed a trip down memory lane. He too graduated with his pilot's wings here at REF Cornwall back in 1971.

Inside, Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, was there for support, giggling as she waited. It's her first appearance with the prince at a major official event since he graduated back in 2006. Their relationship very clearly back on track.

Prince William meanwhile looked relaxed as he sat alongside his fellow graduates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Flight Master William Wales graduating number 227.

NANNAR: Then it was all smiles up on stage as Prince Charles in the dual role of air chief marshal and proud dad did the honors. Prince William's short training course was designed especially for him. An REF pilot world normally spend up to four years training. But on his first solo flight here in January he confessed to a mixture of joy and trepidation.

PRINCE WILLIAM, UNITED KINGDOM: So far it looks all right but as one of the experiences I thought it will never come around and I thought you know hopefully it will all be out and get me for practice. The instructor jumps out and goes go on, get on with it.

NANNAR: Prince William may have been learning to fly here at the REF but the real purpose of his attachment is to learn about the ethos of the working practices in preparation for the day when he will take over as head of the armed forces.

Flying officer William Wales will now spend time with some of the REF's front line units and then he's off to the Royal Navy.

Nina Nannar, ITV News, REF Cornwell.