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THE SITUATION ROOM

Pope Benedict Meets With Priest Abuse Victims; British Prime Minister Meets With Presidential Candidates; CEO Pay: Trouble in the Economy

Aired April 17, 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 pope leads prayer and confronts pain. He meets with victims of priest sex abuse for the very first time. He packs Washington's new ballpark with tens and thousands of worshipers. We will have a full report.

Barack Obama tries to shake off a bruising debate. Has Hillary Clinton put him on the defensive five days before Pennsylvania's crucial primary? The best political team on television is standing by.

And the White House hopefuls testing their diplomatic talents. Did the new British prime minister play favorites?

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Catholic University of America, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We're here at Catholic University, where Pope Benedict XVI is visiting.

Just a short while ago, I had the honor of meeting with the pope. It was a private meeting, including myself and nine other guests as well. We're going to have more details about that coming up.

But, first, we want to turn right now to presidential politics. Barack Obama using some sharp new words to describe what he says Hillary Clinton is doing. Hours after they debated, Obama slammed what he suggested were Clinton's slice-and-dice political tactics and even blasted the debate's sponsor for pointed questioning.

But Obama tells his supporters not to worry; he can take it.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is joining us from Greenville, North Carolina.

Suzanne, some very, very strong, colorful words today.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, Wolf. What you're seeing here is the lead between these two candidates really negligible when it comes to Pennsylvania, very, very close here in states here like North Carolina. So, both of these candidates really trying to address their perceived weaknesses after last night's debate. Barack Obama today coming out swinging, Hillary Clinton pulling back on the punches.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): After a bruising debate in Philadelphia, initially focused on Barack Obama's gaffes and controversies, the senator stopped playing defense.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people.

MALVEAUX: Then Obama went after Hillary Clinton directly.

OBAMA: She was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there. That's all right to kind of twist the knife a little bit.

MALVEAUX: Despite the night's tense exchanges Obama tried to convince voters he was unfazed.

OBAMA: You know you have just got to kind of let it, you know.

MALVEAUX: But after an audience member asked Obama what his strategy was, after being pummeled in the debate, Obama struck a more strident tone.

OBAMA: If the Republicans come at me, I will come right back at them. And I will come at them hard.

MALVEAUX: After making her points last night, Senator Clinton made no mention of her fiery exchanges with Obama. At Haverford College with daughter Chelsea, she talked about fighting breast cancer, reading advice columns and avoiding fashion faux paws. She waxed poetic about her Pennsylvania roots.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was in Scranton where my father was born and raised and where my grandfather came as an immigrant when he was 2-years-old.

MALVEAUX: Despite Clinton's admission during the debate that she believes Obama could beat Republican John McCain.

CLINTON: Yes, yes, yes.

MALVEAUX: She is even more determined to explain why he shouldn't. Why she would make the better nominee. And for now she's doing that with honey, not vinegar.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, since both of the candidates emerged from the debate basically agreeing about issues like withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq no matter what, rejecting tax hikes for the middle class, this has really become much more about character.

That has become the central issue. And both of these campaigns quietly holding competing conference calls with reporters, blasting sending out e-mails accusing the other of behaving badly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you.

The presidential candidates had a tryout of sorts today as well of their diplomatic talents. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain met separately with the British prime minister, Gordon Brown.

Here is CNN's Tom Foreman -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mr. Brown says he believes he can work well with any of these three candidates and take on great challenges ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): The presidential campaign came to a brief halt today, as all three candidates went to Washington to meet with an overseas visitor, not him -- him.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who took over from Tony Blair 10 months ago, expects to be in office well beyond 2008. So, he did not just meet with the current president. He also met with President Bush's successor. And who would that be? Any of three people.

Brown wasn't playing favorites. He met with all three, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. At a Washington reception, Prime Minister Brown paid tribute to the special relationship between the United States and Britain that dates back 65 years to Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Sometimes, that special relationship also exists between the two country's leaders, most famously, between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Tony Blair was unusual. He had a close relationship with two American presidents from different parties, first Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush.

Blair's support for the United States after 9/11, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, made him wildly popular with Americans. But it was a relationship Blair ultimately paid a political price for. The British public turned against the war and against him. Blair was derided in the British press as Bush's poodle.

Blair resigned last June, handing power over to Brown. Brown was a loyal supporter of Blair's Iraq policy.

But, as a prime minister, Brown has given in to public pressure and reduced the British troop presence in southern Iraq. Both Clinton and Obama are committed to withdrawing U.S. troops as well. McCain is determined to keep U.S. troops there until victory is achieved. (END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Iraq, of course, has been a big irritant between the United States and Britain. Whether or not it remains one may depend on who gets elected -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom, thank you -- Tom Foreman reporting.

In just a few minutes here on the campus of Catholic University, Pope Benedict will meet with the leaders of other faiths, highlighting ecumenical ties, but also underscoring some controversies dogging Catholic relations with Muslims, Jews, and others.

Brian Todd has been watching this story for us. He's here on the campus with us.

All right, so, what's about to happen, Brian? Give us a sense of this meeting that is upcoming.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just in this hour, Wolf, he's going to go into this very crucial meeting with leaders of other faiths. It does have a lot of eyes watching it.

Almost from the moment he assumed his papacy, Pope Benedict has tried to establish dialogue with members of other faiths. And almost from that very moment, that effort has been severely tested.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): As he tries to shore up his theological flank in the United States, Pope Benedict XVI is himself at a crossroads, analysts say, with other faiths. One calls this trip a mission of reconciliation. His starting point, a meeting with leaders of five other religions in Washington.

Observers say the pope has some repair work to do with Muslims over the very public conversion to Catholicism of a prominent Muslim commentator during Easter and the continued fallout from a lecture he gave in Germany in September 2006, where he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor.

POPE BENEDICT XVI(through translator): He said -- I quote -- "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman."

TODD: Observers say the pope was trying to illustrate that with faith must come reason and that he believed the comment was taken out of context.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: The pope is well aware you could come up with equivalent examples out of Christianity, out of Hinduism, out of Judaism, out of any religion. And so, in his own mind this was not intended as a provocation towards Islam.

TODD: But the reference led to the killing of a nun in Somalia and Christian churches being firebombed in the Middle East. Jewish leaders are likely to address with Benedict his decision to reauthorize a prayer for the conversion of Jews in his Good Friday services and for a speech he gave in May of 2006 at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

DAVID GIBSON, BELIEFNET.COM: He really spoke in kind of theological terms how the Nazis were a kind of pagan campaign against all believers and against God. He barely mentioned the Holocaust. That was kind of a last-minute insertion. That left Jewish leaders a bit perturbed.

TODD: And even the pope's latest effort at reconciliation has its own conspiracy. Left out of the Washington interfaith meeting, Sikh leaders, who represent the world's fifth largest religion, 25 million strong. They were invited by the Vatican, but their insistence on wearing kirpans, ceremonial daggers that are important symbols of their faith, was a deal breaker, the U.S. Secret Service drawing the line at bringing weapons anywhere near the pope.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, a Sikh leader we spoke to says that his delegation, Wolf, is still disappointed in the.

He said that the Sikhs and the Secret Service, both agencies told us that they tried to work out a compromise, but in the end they just couldn't come to an agreement for the Sikhs to meet with the pope.

Brian, thanks very much -- Brian Todd with that part of the story.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the buzz began before the papal plane had even touched down. A couple of days ago, you will recall, there were rumors beginning to circulate that Benedict XVI might actually meet with victims of that sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. The Holy Father had indicated he would speak forcefully and directly about the shame the scandal brought upon the church and the pain that it caused its victims and Catholics everywhere.

But talking to the actual victims was something that had never happened before, not at that level. And yet for true healing to actually begin, this is exactly what was necessary.

And it happened. Without fanfare, about 4:15 this afternoon, Benedict XVI met with a small group of people who were sexually abused by Catholic priests -- no reporters, no cameras, private, personal, profound. We are told the pope listened to their stories and prayed with them.

There is a very long way to go, if in fact it is even possible for the Catholic Church to ever overcome the effects of this, but it's a start.

Here's the question, then: How far has Pope Benedict XVI gone toward healing the wounds of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

Howard Dean puts out this message to Democratic superdelegates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I need them to say who they are for starting now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Democratic Party chairman puts superdelegates on notice. I will ask if he's trying to bring Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's long battle to a close in the near future. That's coming up.

And Jimmy Carter meets with Hamas, which the Bush administration calls a terrorist group. You will hear the message the former president says Hamas wants to make now.

And Pope Benedict XVI touches tens and thousands of lives here in the United States. We are going to take you to his mass with over 40,000 faithful at the new baseball stadium here in Washington -- much more of our coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're here on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. We're covering Pope Benedict's visit here. Much more on that coming up in a moment.

In presidential politics, only five days until Pennsylvania's potentially pivotal primary. Depending on what happens, we could see Barack Obama losing big to Hillary Clinton or Hillary Clinton not necessarily doing so well and having more people call on her to withdraw from the race.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: What do you think of -- Hillary Clinton should do if she -- obviously, if she loses in Pennsylvania, or even if she squeaks by with a very narrow win, given her -- her being behind in pledged delegates pretty significantly, at least going into Pennsylvania?

DEAN: Well, my job is not to be a pundit. My job is to make sure that everybody gets treated fairly in this process. And that does not include making decisions about when people stay in the race and when they get out.

So, I'm confident that we have two great candidates. They're going to work hard. They're having a spirited contest. And the best news is, they're in all 50 states. We're going to have -- know every voter in the Democratic primary, which is a record number. And we're not going to have to go into Pennsylvania this time without knowing where everybody is.

And that's going to be a big help to us in the fall.

BLITZER: But you have suggested, though, you want this thing resolved before July 1, long before...

DEAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... the Democratic Convention in Denver at the end of August.

DEAN: That's right. And that is really -- there's about 65, roughly, percent of the superdelegates have voted. There's about 320- some-odd left to vote. I need them to say who they're for starting now. They really do need to do that.

We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. We have got to know who our nominee is. And there's no reason not to know after the last primary on June 3. So, the superdelegates have actually been pretty good so far. They have trickled in. They have made their alliances known as things have gone on. And they need to keep doing that, so we get all this wrapped up in June.

BLITZER: Should they make their decisions, these undecided superdelegates -- and even those who have made up their minds, they are free to change their minds, obviously -- based...

DEAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... on the popular vote, the pledged delegate count, the electoral college states, the most states won, or whatever's in their gut, who they think is most electable?

DEAN: The rules say they should vote their conscience. And I think that's pretty good advice.

My job is to enforce the rules. You can agree with them or not agree with them, but they're going to vote their conscience. And I think that's what they're called upon to do.

BLITZER: You know, it's really, I guess, to a lot of the pundits, surprising is how well John McCain does in these hypothetical matchups against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in some key states.

We will put some numbers up. You can see them. In Michigan right now, either way, it would be fairly competitive, in Florida, relatively competitive as well. Same is true in Ohio. These are potentially very, very critical states in November. Nationally, it's very competitive.

Why is John McCain doing as well as he doing, given the state of the economy, given the unpopularity of the war in Iraq?

DEAN: Well, I don't John McCain is doing so well. For him, with no opponent and nobody criticizing him, and getting much publicity doing so, he's in the low 40s.

Our candidates are having a really spirited contest, and they're in the low 40s. When people know John McCain, when they know that he just proposed $8 billion worth of spending, essentially tax cuts, without saying how he's going to pay for it, it appears that he's just another four years of George Bush. That's what we got from George Bush, 100 years in Iraq.

Well, I don't think people are going to sign on to that platform. So, I don't think -- I have said for a long time the polls don't mean anything right now in terms of November. And I will be consistent and say it again. I'm not worried about the polls.

What I want is a fair process to name a good Democratic nominee, which I'm convinced we're going to have. Then we will see what the polls say, when we know who our nominee is.

BLITZER: Well, how worried are you, though, as the leader of the Democratic Party, that Hillary Clinton is attacking Barack Obama on a whole host of issues, and vice versa, that they're chipping away at each other, they're diminishing each other, potentially to the advantage of John McCain?

DEAN: Well, you know, sure, you worry about that some. And I think we should focus on Iraq and tax policy and the economy and so forth. But I have to say, the media is a big part of that as well. They seem to like the attacks more than the substance.

But I have to say, also, that, if you actually listen to what our candidates are saying, the American people are going to agree with them. They do not want to continue George Bush's "give everything to the millionaires and gazillionaires" tax policies and run up huge deficits.

They don't want to continue the war in Iraq, when we need so much help here at home and American jobs are being lost. They do believe that we ought to join every other democracy in the world and have health care for all our people, which John McCain has voted against, and said he doesn't support.

John McCain is just completely out of step with where the American people are. And I -- I think, at the end, we're going to win. And John McCain is just a step backwards. And the American people are looking for a step forwards.

BLITZER: Governor Dean, thanks for coming in. DEAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Republican National Committee has responded to our interview with Howard Dean.

In a statement, the RNC say -- let me read it to you -- "Howard Dean's distorted attacks on John McCain are a transparent attempt to shift focus away from the divisive battle within the Democratic Party. Rather than attack McCain, Dean should explain why both Democratic candidates want to raise taxes on hardworking Americans."

That statement coming in from the RNC.

Hillary Clinton admits something many people were waiting to hear. It involves Barack Obama. What exactly does it mean? I will ask the best political team on television. They are standing by.

And issues of faith and politics from a man of faith. He's also a politician. To a certain degree, he's both. That would be Mike Huckabee, the former governor, the former Republican presidential candidate. What does he think about Democrats openly talking about their faith, while John McCain prefers not to?

Much more coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee defending John McCain on matters of faith. I will ask the former presidential candidate why McCain doesn't seem all that open on the subject of religion.

And Barack Obama suggests his latest debate with Hillary Clinton created more heat than light because so much time was spent talking about gas and controversies. The best political team on television will weigh in on that.

And Pope Benedict XVI takes center field, literally, for a moving and jampacked mass.

We're live at the Catholic University of America here in Washington. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hit the campaign trail after a bruising debate that is causing lots of criticism. You're going to find why Obama himself is blasting the face-off and why he likens it to a game. We will talk about that and more with the best political team on television.

Also, the politics of faith, we will talk about it with the former presidential candidate and Baptist Minister Mike Huckabee.

Plus, 1,300 priests, 250 bishops, 14 cardinals, plus a choir 570 strong. We will take you inside today's papal mass.

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

Some people are criticizing last night's presidential debate, including Barack Obama, who likened it to what he calls gotcha games.

Joining us now to talk about that and more, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, and our own Jack Cafferty as well. They are all part of the best political team on television.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me play this little clip, Jack, for you, first of all, of Barack Obama -- of how he summed up what happened last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Forty-five minutes before we heard about health care, 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq, 45 minutes before we heard about jobs, 45 minutes before we heard about gas prices. Now, I don't blame Washington for this because that's just how Washington is. They like stirring up controversy and they like playing "got you games" getting us to attack each other. And I have to say, Senator Clinton, you know, looked in her element.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jack, what do you think?

Does he have a point?

CAFFERTY: Well, yes he does, except for this. More than 10 million people watched that debate last night. I think it won its time period in the ratings. All the print critics -- Shales and the rest of them -- trashed it pretty good. And he makes valid point. They spent the first 45 minutes rehashing old ground and -- but one of the things we got out of that first 45 minutes that I thought was interesting was when George Stephanopoulos, the former press secretary for President Clinton -- what kind of objectivity is ABC News showing having him moderate the debate?

But when he pinned Hillary Clinton down and said, is Barack Obama electable, can he beat McCain? And she said yes, because all the reports I've read is that she's been saying that he can't win privately. And he got her to acknowledge that, yes, he probably can. So that was a good moment.

But the rest of that first half hour, 40 minutes, was pretty lame.

BLITZER: Candy, I believe her answer was yes, yes, yes in terms of can he beat John McCain.

What did you think?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't want to burst Jack's bubble here, but today Clinton advisers pushed back a little and said, well, just because she said he can win doesn't mean she thinks he will win. We think we will win. So, you know, they've...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Yes, but the public saw...

CROWLEY: ...they've sort of backed off just a little bit on this.

CAFFERTY: But the public saw her, not those lame clowns in the campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Absolutely. I think, Wolf, you know, one of the interesting...

BLITZER: You know...

CROWLEY: ...things about this debate -- go ahead.

BLITZER: No, no, no. Finish your thought.

CROWLEY: I was just going to say, one of the interesting things about this debate is that it fit so neatly into both their story lines. Barack Obama's story line is that Washington politics are so small and the problems are so big. So he talked about small Washington politics and this debate as being part of this.

She has been arguing listen, this guy is unvetted. You don't want to send him into the lion's den with the Republicans. Everybody knows my baggage, I've been vetted. And it also showed that. So, in some ways, it was the perfect debate for both of them.

BLITZER: Let me play, Suzanne, that little exchange that Stephanopoulos had with Senator Clinton.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, MODERATOR: The question is, do you think Senator Obama can do that?

Can he win?

CLINTON: Yes. Yes. Yes. Now, I think that I can do a better job. I mean, obviously.

(LAUGHTER) CLINTON: That's why I'm here. I think I am better able and better prepared, in large measure because of what I've been through and the work that I've done and the results that I've produced for people and the coalition that I have put together in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Suzanne, what are you hearing about all of this?

MALVEAUX: Well, that really was a gift to Barack Obama. But one of the things that did happen in the debate, that he really needed to push back today. And what we've seen, he's coming out swinging with these rather aggressive statements, it was even one of the audience members here, when he -- earlier today, who said what is to like, what is your strategy after being pummeled by this debate?

There is this perception here, that he needs to come out fighting, that he needs to come out punching, that he's got to be a lot harder. And that's why you heard some of the statements today that he made directed at Hillary Clinton, directed about the debate here, that he's got -- that he is the strong candidate.

And one of the things that was also notable here is that they came out in agreement on so many issues, when it came to the Iraq War, withdrawing U.S. troops, when it came out to not raising taxes for the middle class. It's really been focused on their character here. And that's why these campaigns are back and forth, exchanging these e- mails, holding these conference calls with reporters, claiming that the other one is engaged in bad political, messy behavior here, that this is something that they are trying to exploit in these critical days before the Pennsylvania primary.

BLITZER: Do you think Pennsylvania voters were impressed or not impressed?

MALVEAUX: You know, it was interesting to be at that debate and actually outside and to see the crowds. It was about four to one, Hillary supporters to Barack Obama supporters. There was a lot of excitement. There was a lot of enthusiasm. People were very much engaged.

It looked like, when you talked to these folks, that it really confirmed what they already believed, that if you believed that Senator Clinton was exploiting these differences, going after Obama fairly, that that's what they took away from the debate. If you feel like Barack Obama really was above the fray, trying to stick with the issues, downplaying some of those differences, that's what the other supporters came away with. I don't really think it was a game changer here.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe, Candy, that there are still a lot of undecided people out there, but there are, potentially, a decisive number, aren't there?

CROWLEY: There are, certainly enough to switch what we're seeing in the polls, which is in Pennsylvania, in our poll of polls, I think, is around a five point edge for her. But, you know, sometimes I wonder about those undecideds. I think they have decided. I mean they're clearly swayed one way. I mean, yes, there are some that go into the -- you know, voting booth and decide right then. But I think, in large part, they've decided and they're just holding their cards close to their vest. And we obviously don't know. So to us they're undecided.

But I think people have seen enough and I do think most of those undecideds really are prone to go to one candidate or the other.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right, Candy.

Thank you very much, Candy, Suzanne. Thanks to both of you.

Jack, don't leave. We've "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Tens of thousands of the faithful, they fill Nationals Park here in Washington for a once in a lifetime experience. We're going to take you inside Pope Benedict's mass.

Plus, the Democratic candidates, they are speaking out about their faith. Now a former Republican presidential candidate weighs in. My interview with Mike Huckabee. That's coming up.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The pope's visit to the United States is casting a spotlight on the politics of faith -- traditionally a delicate issue for Democrats. But it's also a bit sensitive for Republican, John McCain and some of his supporters, a topic we discussed earlier in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And joining us now, the former governor of Arkansas, the former Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be back with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Welcome back to Washington.

Let's talk about faith right now, appropriately. The pope is here in the United States right now. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they've been opening up. They've been openly talking about their religion, their faith. They attended this Compassion Forum over the weekend. We're not seeing that, really, from John McCain so much.

You were very open about your faith, your religious beliefs. Is that a mistake on his part?

HUCKABEE: I don't think so. I think he's certainly addressed the faith issue. He has during the debates. Some people are more expressive than others, maybe a little more comfortable in talking about it. I've always said some people eat their soup a little louder than others, it doesn't mean the soup tastes better.

And the fact is what Democrats are having to do that they haven't done in the past few several election cycles is they're having to acknowledge that faith does matter to the American people.

BLITZER: Can they -- is there an opening here for the Democrats to bring back some of those so-called Reagan Democrats?

Many of them are Catholics. Many of them are religious. Can Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama bring them back to the Democratic fold?

HUCKABEE: They may be able to bring some. But it's going to be awful hard for them to bring back a lot of the true believers among both Catholics and evangelicals, for whom the issue of the sanctity of life is a very precious one. And it's not a political issue for people of faith. It's a matter of conscience. It's a moral issue and it transcends the left or the right of anybody's politics.

And so when you have candidates who take, really, a left of center position on that issue or issues like that, whether it's changing the definition of marriage to mean something other than a male/female relationship, I think you can say anything you want to. But people of deep faith grounded in scripture ultimately are going to have a hard time dealing with that.

BLITZER: Should John McCain have been more outspoken in rejecting the embrace from Pastor John Hagee, whose written words that a lot of Catholics see as anti-Catholic? I ask that question at a time when the pope is here, obviously, in Washington.

HUCKABEE: I think Senator McCain has been very clear that he embraces anybody's endorsement, he just doesn't necessarily embrace everything that endorser might say or might have said through the course of the years.

But that's true for any of us. Nobody would ever be able to say John McCain is a religious bigot.

BLITZER: If you were still running for president, would you have done anything differently involving that whole Pastor Hagee uproar?

HUCKABEE: Well, I would have certainly been very adamant -- but I think Senator McCain has been -- that he disagrees strongly with any statements that seem to go in the direction of bringing disparity upon the Catholic Church. Because it would be ridiculous.

The pope is a world spiritual leader. I'm an Evangelical. I'm not a Catholic. But I have nothing but the highest respect, not only for Pope Benedict, but for Pope John Paul II, who I thought was one of the truly great spiritual leaders for all the world.

BLITZER: Let's use this occasion for you to bring our viewers up to date. We've been getting reports you've hired a talent agent in Hollywood.

What's that about?

HUCKABEE: Oh, well, I think it sounds like, you know, I'm going to Hollywood. It's simply...

BLITZER: It sounds like you want to be a movie star.

HUCKABEE: You got any openings?

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: No. What I'm trying to do is put, you know, the future together. I've created a Web site, which is huckpac.com. It can still be accessed through our old Web site of mikehuckabee.com. But it's a political platform to help people run for Senate and the House and (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: You want to raise money and give money away?

HUCKABEE: Exactly. And to campaign for people, which I'll be doing this year.

BLITZER: So it will be a political action committee, basically?

HUCKABEE: Exactly. But I'm also exploring ways to take this community that we did see form during the course of the campaign, to keep it active. These are voices of millions of Americans out there who believe in making sure that the future of this country doesn't forget a lot of those people that some might say are invisible.

BLITZER: So what does a talent agent have to do with it?

HUCKABEE: Well, what they're going to be doing is help me in the coordination of everything from speaking and the books that I hope to write and, also, you know, doing things in media.

But, you know, I don't know this field. I'm not a person who's navigated those waters before. And they had approached me and I visited with them and felt that it was better to have somebody kind of helping me steer through that than me jumping out there in dark water where I've never swam.

BLITZER: John McCain says -- he told our own John King just today that he probably will want his running mate to be anti-abortion, pro-life. I know that you would fit that part of the requirements.

What do you think about being his running mate?

HUCKABEE: You know, that's going to be Senator McCain's decision. I've always said, you don't sit around waiting for the phone to ring hoping the prom date comes in. The fact is, I'm going to support Senator McCain's decision, because he's got to make that decision not based on what I think, but based on the game plan that he's put together to win the presidency. And, quite frankly, him winning the presidency is a lot more important than whether he picks me.

BLITZER: But you're open to it?

HUCKABEE: Nobody would ever say that they're closed to it. I think, you know, let's be honest, Wolf. I mean, people say oh, no, I would never consider it. But the truth is the vice presidency is a job that nobody ever claims to want and nobody ever turns down.

BLITZER: Governor, good luck.

HUCKABEE: Thank you very much.

Great to see you again.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show that begins right at the top of the hour.

He's standing by with a little preview.

What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

Coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN, tonight, we're reporting on new developments in a case that has been called one of the worst miscarriages of justice in the country's history -- a Mexican illegal drug smuggler finally pleads guilty to drug smuggling -- exactly 15 months after two U.S. Border Patrol Agents who shot that smuggler began their harsh prison sentences. A leading Congressional supporter of those agents, Congressman Ted Poe, and the prosecutor who put them behind bars, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, will be among my guests tonight.

And new demands for a bill of rights for credit card holders in this country -- consumers who are victims of the same predatory lending practices that helped create our housing crisis.

We'll have the latest, as well, on the political fallout from last night's presidential debate. Senator Obama seems furious. He says the moderators played what he called "got you games". We'll tell you really what happened and examine the next steps in this presidential contest.

Join us for all of that and more all the day's news at the top of the hour here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou, for that.

You've heard the figures. CEOs of American companies often receive 10, even hundreds of millions of dollars in salary bonuses and sometimes even as a severance package. Now some people are suggesting that these payments are partially to blame for the nation's struggling economy.

Carol Costello has been looking into the story for us -- Carol, what are you finding out? CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf it's easy to blame greedy, overpaid and ex-CEOs for some of our economic woes. All three presidential candidates are partly blaming Mr. Big Bucks.

But are they right or is Mr. Big Bucks just an easy target?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): The American CEO -- once considered a capitalist hero, you know, back in the '90s, when a lot of us were making money. But now consider Mr. Big Money CEO, today's Gordon Gecko.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

COSTELLO: The Geckos of Wall Street have become this year's political villains -- not just considered greedy, but partly responsible for the sad state of our economy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Americans are also right to be offended when the extravagant salaries and severance deals of CEOs -- in some cases the very same CEOs who helped bring on these market troubles -- bear no relation -- no relation to the success of the company or the wishes of the stockholders.

COSTELLO: Like the CEO of Bear Stearns, Jimmy Cayne, who's made at least $232 million in salary and perks in the past 15 years, but led his company to the brink of bankruptcy.

But was it Cayne's enormous salary that led him to make risky decisions that, in part, damaged our whole economy?

LAWRENCE MITCHELL, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I actually think that's nonsense.

COSTELLO: Professor Lawrence Mitchell wrote "The Speculation Economy."

MITCHELL: That's not the real problem. I think the real problem is the relationship between our out of control financial markets and actual corporate performance, which is a much more complicated issue.

COSTELLO: An issue, he says, that begs for more government regulation. Instead, politicians are talking about legislation to control those enormous salaries. It's called say on pay. The legislation would entitle shareholders to a nonbinding vote on how much a CEO is paid.

Aflac, whose earnings and stock price have gone up this year, is already on board voluntarily. CEO Dan Amos says stay on pay is a good thing. He says shareholders should express how they feel about his $14 million salary -- although he wouldn't comment on whether it should be legislated.

DAN AMOS, CEO, AFLAC: It is important that all boards and CEOs and management listen to their shareholders. In our case, the shareholders felt like they should have an opportunity to vote. We have done that. Therefore, it become a moot point with us.

COSTELLO: But as attractive as say on pay sounds, remember it's nonbinding.

MITCHELL: This is just pretty please would you lower the CEO's salary. It's like asking the schoolyard bully to return your lunch money.

COSTELLO: And that means the company's board can elect to do absolutely nothing about the CEO's salary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Of course, there are those who say on pay is a good start. At the very least, it may shame badly performing CEOs into a pay cut. I don't know, though, Wolf -- back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.

New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, he's talking about a presidential endorsement. Was he taking a swipe, though, at the same time, at President Bush? You're going to find out precisely what he said.

Plus, Vice President Dick Cheney draws some big laughs, sometimes at his own expense. We're going to show you what he was up to.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is: How far has Pope Benedict XVI gone toward helping the wounds of the church's sex abuse scandal?

He did meet unannounced this afternoon with, we are told, a small group of sex abuse victims.

Suzanne writes: "The first step is the hardest and he's taken it -- breaking the no talk rule and walking out of denial and minimization. Victims are re-traumatized by all the suffocating silence that surrounds abuse. With his acknowledgement, victims are validated and the long healing journey can finally begin."

Tom in Texas says: "Who cares? If you're still going to the Catholic Church, then it's your problem, not the rest of ours."

Brent in Texas writes: "A day late and a dollar short, the effort by the pope to solve the problem. The only reason he's addressing it at all is that it's cost the Catholic Church $2 billion and bankrupted several dioceses. Their actions of ignoring this very old problem and leaving thousands of children to the hands of perverts will show this organized religion is despicable. Good people need to quit kissing the hand of His Holiness and kick his backside. Wake up, please."

Mike says: "I believe the pope meeting with some of the victims is a very good move. It will go a long way to heal some feelings. However, I also think the wounds will not heal until someone is punished for the horrible crimes that were covered up for so long."

Kim in Dodge City, Kansas: "How far is far enough? No one can know for sure. I doubt if this type of behavior could ever be eradicated in a belief system that requires celibacy. It isn't natural so it breeds deviancy."

Lenny writes: "The pope's way too late as far as I'm concerned. The Catholic Church will never completely recover from this -- and rightly so. We'll probably never know the hundreds of victims through the years that have suffered. And the sad thing is, this can affect the whole family, generation after generation, because a lot of victims internalize their feelings and never really deal with them properly."

And, finally, J.R. In Toronto writes this: "With no disrespect to the pope, the last time I saw that look of awe on Wolf Blitzer's face was when he had Jimmy Page in THE SITUATION ROOM. What a great photograph."

I'll say amen to that.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can look for your letter along with hundreds of others.

A pretty nice afternoon you had, wasn't it, Wolfman?

BLITZER: Yes. It's one of those days you'll always remember, Jack. You'll never forget.

How often do you get to meet the pope?

All right, it was pretty exciting, Jack.

Thanks very much. See you here tomorrow.

Dick Cheney on the hunt for laughs -- and he's working Hillary Clinton into his act. Stand by for our Political Ticker right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's political ticker, New York's Independent mayor offers advice to the people who want to be president. But did he also deliver a snub to the current president?

Today, the mayor said the candidate who will get his endorsement should be blunt on the issues. But afterward, Bloomberg said -- and I'm quoting now -- "at least we'll have an adult in office who can lead and accomplish something."

When asked if that was meant for President Bush, Bloomberg said it was not.

Vice President Dick Cheney went for laughs at his own expense and at the expense of Hillary Clintons. It happened at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner here in Washington last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You in the press need to go easy on Senator Clinton on the whole business about running and ducking from gunfire in Bosnia. She made an honest mistake. She confused the Bosnia trip with the time I took her hunting.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, may have gotten some of the biggest laughs when his list of the top 10 reasons he dropped out of the race were read by him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Number six, word leaked out that nobody had bothered to search my passport files.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: Number five, I'd rather get fat, grow a beard and try for the Nobel Prize.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington.

I'll be back in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. Among my guests tomorrow, Ben Stein.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.