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Gas Prices Reach All-Time High; Carter, Rice Clash on Mideast Peace Process

Aired April 28, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Jack.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a shocking new record -- gasoline prices now higher than we've ever seen them before in this country. You're going to find out which presidential hopeful wants to appoint an energy czar and which one wants to cut the price by almost 20 cents a gallon.

Also, a former president versus the current secretary of state -- Jimmy Carter/Condoleezza Rice in the search for Middle East peace.

Who's on the right path and who's making it harder?

Now, Jimmy Carter is speaking out.

Plus, a CNN exclusive -- the first look at Al Qaeda in Iraq in captivity. We'll take a closer look inside the largest detention facility in all of Iraq.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The cost of gas soaring to a new record high today, more than $3.60 a gallon. But that's just the national average. Millions of Americans are paying much, much more, as high as $4.21 a gallon in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example. It's impacting every single American and the presidential candidates are seizing on this issue. They're speaking out.

Listen to what they're saying out on the campaign trail.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to put a government watchdog in charge of our energy markets. That step alone would probably get us at least $20 off the price of oil. My opponent, Senator Obama, opposes giving consumers a break from the tax -- the gas tax at the federal level. I support it. I understand that the American people need relief. And, you see, I think we want to show that the government can actually work for hardworking Americans again. So doing something like that sends a very clear message. Meanwhile, Senator McCain says he's also for a gas tax holiday, but he won't pay for it. Well, that's a mistake because we can't give up on building and repairing our roads.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John McCain recently said he's going to propose a federal gasoline tax holiday for the summer. This is his solution to the problems of the energy crisis and your gas -- your gas bills. Now, keep in mind, so the federal gas tax is about 5 percent of your total gas bill, which means if it lasts for, you know, three months you're going to save about $25 or $30, or a half a tank of gas. That's his big solution. And he had the gall yesterday to tell me that obviously because I didn't agree with his plan, I must not be sympathetic to poor people.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the candidates and where they stand on this very important issue.

We'll bring in our Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, what are they all proposing specifically?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you might not be surprised to hear that the candidates disagree about the best way to solve the gas price crunch.


YELLIN (voice-over): The rage over gas prices is rising -- truckers protesting in Washington, Americans driving south of the border to fill up or opting for alternative transportation. Now the candidates are vowing to slash your prices at the pump.

John McCain was the first to propose a federal gas tax holiday. He'd lift the 18.4 cents a gallon federal tax on gasoline during peak summer travel months May through September. McCain says it will give low income Americans...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A little bit of relief so they can travel a little further and a little longer and maybe have a little bit of money left over to enjoy some other things in their lives.

YELLIN: Clinton's plan -- like McCain, she would have a gas tax holiday. She points out that will cost the government up to $10 billion -- money that's used to improve our roads. So she'd make up for lost revenue with a wind fall profits tax on the oil companies. Their profits over a certain figure would be taxed at 50 percent.

CLINTON: Oil companies aren't paying their fair share to help us solve the problems at the pump. So now in the short-term, we have to take aim at these enormous oil company profits. YELLIN: Clinton would also close $7.5 billion in oil and gas loopholes and monitor prices to be sure there's no manipulation.

And Obama -- his plan is very similar to Clinton's, only he does not support the gas tax holiday. He says it would save the average driver only $25 to $28. He calls it a political scheme.

OBAMA: That's typical of how Washington works. There's a problem. Everybody's upset about gas prices. Let's find some short-term, quick fix that we can say we did something, even though we're not really doing anything.

YELLIN: Obama would use a windfall profits tax on oil companies to help low income families pay their energy bills. And he insists he'll work harder than the other candidates to limit oil companies' influence in Washington.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, both Clinton and McCain are piling on Barack Obama for opposing that gas tax holiday. But a number of experts tell CNN that the holiday is not a long-term solution to the issue of soaring gas prices -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks for that.

Diesel is also at a new record high, $4.24 a gallon. But as Jessica showed us, that prompted hundreds of truckers to protest here in Washington today in a rally organized by the group Truckers and Citizens United. Drivers blared their horns as they circled the White House and the Capitol, demanding Congress take oil off the commodities exchange. They're also calling for the government to stop adding to its Strategic Petroleum Reserve and exports of American oil.

Another major campaign issue -- health care. Presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, distinguished himself from his Democratic rivals, who both support some measure of government- mandated insurance.


MCCAIN: I've made it very clear that what I want is for families to make decisions about their health care, not government. And that's the fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. They want the government to make the decisions, I want the families to make the decisions.


BLITZER: Negotiation not isolation -- former President Jimmy Carter is urging direct negotiations with Hamas as part of the Middle East peace process. But both Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. And that has that has Carter at odds directly right now with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. She's watching the story for us.

He's speaking out -- Jimmy Carter -- on this sensitive issue.

What exactly is he saying -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are really sticking to their guns. It's becoming more a he said/she said spat.


VERJEE (voice-over): He says Hamas is legitimate.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was not the one that legitimized Hamas. They were legitimized by their own people in, as I said earlier, in a free and fair election.

VERJEE: She says the U.S. won't talk directly to Hamas, that it's a terrorist group.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Hamas is, in fact, the impediment to peace.

VERJEE: Former President Jimmy Carter's latest comments are fueling his duel with the secretary of state over whether to deal with the militant group. In a "New York Times" opinion piece, Carter says Hamas is ready to agree to a cease-fire in Gaza, accept a deal between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if the Palestinian government or people sign off and hand Egypt control over the Gaza/Egypt border -- all results, Carter says, proves negotiation, not isolation, is the way to go.

CARTER: The president's strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working. It only exacerbates a cycle of violence.

VERJEE: The State Department says a former U.S. president talking to a terrorist group crosses the line.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We didn't think that those meetings would further the cause of peace and we still believe that's the case.

VERJEE: Carter still says he never got a message about not talking to Hamas. But the U.S. has given its ally, Egypt, the green light to do just that. Secretary Rice leaves this week for the Mideast again for more shuttle diplomacy.

Has the Carter meeting hurt her mission?

MCCORMACK: I don't think anybody confuses what she's doing with President Carter's mission.


VERJEE: President Carter has often disagreed, Wolf, with Bush administration presidency. In his opinion piece today, he says the U.S. policy of boycotting and punishing factions or governments makes it a lot harder for the leaders themselves to go ahead and try and moderate their own policies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She's heading back and the president of the United States is heading to the region, as well.

What are they trying to do?

VERJEE: Well, what Secretary Rice is going to try and do in the region here is really to try and lay the groundwork, try and make some kind of progress in negotiations between the two sides ahead of the president's visit. But she's got a tough and tall order, particularly given the hostilities that we're still seeing on the ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain.

Thank you.

And this note to our viewers. You can see much more about what Jimmy Carter is saying. He's going to be a guest on "LARRY KING LIVE" later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. And tomorrow, the former president will be our guest. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Jimmy Carter, tomorrow.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's now in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Every day. I'm here every day.

BLITZER: And we're happy about that.

CAFFERTY: Yes. As I am.

When it comes to John McCain, Wolf, his age is an issue with some people. The Senator from Arizona is 71. If he's elected, he would be 72 inauguration day. That would make him the oldest person ever sworn in for a first term. If he served two full terms in office, he'd be 80 when he left office.

McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He's had several bouts of melanoma -- which is a potentially fatal form of skin answer. His doctors assure us that McCain is healthy and cancer-free. But so far, his campaign has refused to release all of his medical records. And we called today and they told us that they'll be made public sometime next month.

In the meantime, reporters who are half McCain's age say they can barely keep up with the septuagenarian as he campaigns for the nation's highest office -- 14-hour days climbing on and off airplanes and buses, giving one speech after another not uncommon. I get this from some of our own CNN correspondents who cover him.

And yet doubts persist. Being the president of the United States ages a person in ways that no other job does. The responsibilities are so big, the problems so important, that trying to handle them can take years off your life. Take a look at pictures of any president on inauguration day and compare them with pictures of the same man when he leaves office, and the effects are immediately apparent.

So here's the question -- would John McCain have a better chance of being elected if he promised to serve only one term in office?

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

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

Barack Obama's former pastor speaking out a lot. He's also defending his criticism of the United States.



Does that make me patriotic?

How many years did Cheney serve?



BLITZER: And that's just the beginning from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. You're going to hear for yourself what he has to say about race, politics and what he calls the attacks on the black church.

Also, appalling military housing exposed on the Internet. We're going to show you the images prompting outrage.

Plus, it's where they house the most dangerous Al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq and we have an exclusive look inside.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Controversial remarks by Barack Obama's former pastor are getting a fresh airing thanks to the pastor himself. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright answered questions over at the National Press Club here in Washington earlier today. He answered questions about some of his past inflammatory remarks -- remarks that have been highly problematic for the Barack Obama campaign. He calls the criticism -- and I'm quoting now -- "an attack on the black church."

Here are some of what Reverend Wright had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have said that the media have taken you out of context.

Can you explain what you meant in a sermon shortly after 9/11 when you said the United States had brought the terrorist attacks on itself: "America's chickens are coming home to roost."

WRIGHT: Have you heard the whole sermon?

Have you heard the whole sermon?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard most of it.

WRIGHT: No, no, the whole sermon -- that, yes or no?

No, you haven't heard the whole sermon?

That nullifies that question.

Well, let me try to respond in a non-bombastic way.


WRIGHT: If you heard the whole sermon, first of all, you heard that I was quoting the ambassador from Iraq. That's number one.

But number two, to quote the Bible: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever you sow, that you also shall --"


WRIGHT: Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some critics have said that your sermons are unpatriotic.

How do you feel about America and about being an American?

WRIGHT: I feel that those citizens who say that have never heard my sermons, nor do they know me. They are unfair accusations taken from sound bites and that which is looped over and over again on certain channels. I served six years in the military.

Does that make me patriotic?

How many years did Cheney serve?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Obama has tried to explain away some of your most contentious comments and has distanced himself from you. It's clear that many people in his campaign consider you a detriment.

In that context, why are you speaking out now? WRIGHT: On November the 5th and on January 21st, I'll still be a pastor. As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

And why am I speaking out now?

In our community, we have something called playing the dozens. If you think I'm going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition, and my daddy and his religious tradition, and my grandma, you've got another thing coming.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan?

Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers' show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago -- when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for.

And everybody wants to paint me as if I'm anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we're going to build a future for our children, whether those people are -- just as Michelle and Barack don't agree on everything, Rayma (ph) and I don't agree on everything, Louis and I don't agree on everything, most of you all don't agree -- you get two people in the same room, you've got three opinions.


WRIGHT: So what I think about him, as I said on Bill Moyers, and it got edited out, how many other African-Americans or European- Americans do you know that can get one million people together on the Mall?

He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That's what I think about him. I've said, as I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks, it's like E.F. Hutton speaks -- all black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan any more than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro.

Do you remember that Ted Koppel show where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, "You don't tell me who my enemies are. You don't tell me who my friends are."

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn't make me this color.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your motivation for characterizing Senator Obama's response to you as, "what a politician had to say?" What do you mean by that?

WRIGHT: What I mean is what several of my white friends and several of my white Jewish friends have written me and said to me. They've said you're a Christian. You understand forgiveness. We both know that if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever's doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they're pastors. They have a different person to whom they're accountable.

As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That's what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do. I am not running for office. I am hoping to be vice president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In light of your widely quoted comments damning America, do you think you owe the American people an apology?

If not, do you think that America is still damned in the eyes of God?

WRIGHT: The governmental leaders -- those -- as I said to Barack Obama, my member -- I'm a pastor, he's a member. I'm not a spiritual mentor, a guru. I'm his pastor. And I said to Barack Obama last year, if you get elected November the 5th, I'm coming after you. Because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people, all right?


WRIGHT: It's about policy, not the American people. And if you saw the Bill Moyers show, I was talking about -- although it got edited out -- I was talking about -- do you know that's biblical?

God doesn't bless everything. God condemns something. And D-E-M- N, "demn," is where we get the word "damn." God damns some practices.

And there is no excuse for the things that the government -- not the American people -- have done. That doesn't make me not like America or unpatriotic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.

So I ask you, do you honestly believe your statement and those words?

WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz's book, "Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola," whoever wrote that question?

Have you read "Medical Apartheid?"

You've read it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you honestly believe the American government (INAUDIBLE)...

WRIGHT: Oh, are you -- is that one of the reporters?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, no questions from the media.

WRIGHT: No questions from the floor.

I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven't read things, then you can't -- based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything. In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the -- one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non- question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.

So any time a government can put together a biological warfare to kill people and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.


BLITZER: The Reverend Jeremiah Wright speaking over at the National Press Club here in Washington earlier today, answering lots of questions.

And now that you've heard extensively from Pastor Wright, what impact will his latest comments have on Barack Obama's campaign?

We're going to talk about that with Kevin Madden and James Carville and Jamal Simons. They're standing by live.

Also, flames coming within yards of homes in a Los Angeles suburb. We'll have the latest on the wildfires that are vexing some fire crews right now.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, nearly 600 firefighters are battling a wildfire raging in Southern California's Sierra Madre Mountains. They're also fighting rising temperatures. Some 490 acres of dry brush have gone up in flames. Four firefighters are injured. Thousands of people have been evacuated from nearby homes, including a large wedding party. So far, only one billing has been damaged.

Well, you may want to pack lighter for your next trip. American Airlines is the latest carrier to announce a $25 fee if you check a second bag. This helps offset surging fuel costs. United, Continental, Northwest, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue have all announced similar fees this year.

First class letter stamps go up to 42 cents on May 12th. And that's making the so-called Forever stamp a much wanted bargain. Right now, they cost 41 cents. But once the increase takes effect, they'll remain valid -- at least until the next increase. The Postal Service says it's selling $30 million Forever stamps every day.

That's amazing. That's a lot of stamps to save a penny.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, you know, a penny here, a penny there.

COSTELLO: I guess.

BLITZER: A penny -- whatever.

All right, Carol.

Thanks very much.

Barack Obama's former pastor is speaking out -- but who exactly is he speaking for?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not angry lunatic. But he's a theological scholar that says America has urgent concerns.


BLITZER: Does Reverend Wright speak for the African-American community?

We're going to hear from some who say yes. Others say he's hurting the cause.

Also, we'll look at the possible fallout from what he said today on the Barack Obama campaign. The best political team on television is standing by.

And it's where they hold the most dangerous suspected Al Qaeda and Iraq terrorists.

We're going to have an exclusive look inside. We're back in 60 seconds.


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

Happening now, no photo I.D. , no vote. The U.S. Supreme Court OKs voter picture ids in Indiana. Now other states may follow suit. We're going to focus in on what this could mean for November's presidential election.

Adjusting his message -- Barack Obama and blue collar voters -- can he win them over with a change in tune?

And truth check -- a new Democratic ad slams John McCain for talking about staying in Iraq for 100 years.

But what did he really say?

We're checking it out.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Barack Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, making headlines once again as he speaks out about those controversial remarks that have dogged the Barack Obama campaign. He's made it clear he does not speak for the presidential hopeful but does he speak for the African-American community?

Carol Costello has been looking into this story for us.

Carol, what are you picking up?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting, Wolf. If you listen to the audience reaction to Reverend Wright's speech both in Detroit and in D.C., he was a hit. There was applause. There was laughter. But were Wright's remarks a hit with voters? Does he really connect with the African-American community?


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, OBAMA'S FORMER PASTOR: If you think I'm going to let you talk about my mama.

COSTELLO: Some still find the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's fiery rhetoric difficult to understand despite his make it right tour.

WRIGHT: Understand that?

COSTELLO: He's traveled from Chicago to Detroit to Virginia trying to make America understand he's been taken out of context. But for some white voters the damage is done.

ROSEMARY MCVETY, VOTER: To me, he sounds like he is very pro- African-American and kind of against the white establishment. COSTELLO: But is he? Wright says such criticism misses the point.

WRIGHT: This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

COSTELLO: Wright says ultimately that tradition teaches reconciliation despite controversial phrases he's used like god damn America, and American terrorism begets terrorism. It's a sentiment echoed by black clergy of many states.

REV. FREDERICK HAYNES, BAPTIST CHURCH PASTOR: He did a wonderful job of educating and transforming an attack on the African-American church on our particular prophetic preaching tradition.

REV. DR. BARBARA REYNOLDS, HOWARD SCHOOL OF DIVINITY: He's not an angry lunatic, but he's a theological scholar that says America has urgent concerns.

COSTELLO: And some black voters agree. He does speak for black religious America in words that some white voters may find ugly, but that are familiar to African-Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As far as I'm concerned, it's not anything that I haven't heard before, all my entire life. These are words I've always heard. And you hear it more strongly in the pulpit because that's where we have to get our information from.

COSTELLO: But others we talked with think Wright doesn't speak for them. They say his rhetoric is outdated. It's as if he's still speaking in the era that gave voice to black power.

EVALYN BILLUPS, VOTER: I think he's saying things that hurt his cause. Because I think he's living in the old days. This is a new generation now. We're getting old. We should let Obama come in here and help our young people.

JEROME SHELTON, VOTER: I think he's speaking from his own personal experience by growing up a black American. I like what he's saying and I wish he'd continue saying what he's saying.


COSTELLO: Other black voters told me they too were offended by some of Wright's remarks. His they say is just one voice, one opinion, not necessarily theirs.


BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks.

Let's discuss this and more. We're joined by Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, James Carville. He's a Hillary Clinton supporter. Democratic strategist, Jamal Simmons, he's a Barack Obama supporter and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

I suspect you're a John McCain supporter. Is that right?


BLITZER: All right. Used to be a different supporter but that's history right now.

What do you think about this whole Reverend Wright decision now to go out and be so visible just days before Indiana and North Carolina?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I don't know. I hope that somebody gets the real story behind this because it's evident that this is not -- I think we'd all agree, Jamal would agree too, this is not very helpful. Senator Obama has denounced this in no uncertain terms. I don't know. But he's not -- I think that Reverend Wright must feel aggrieved for some reason. It almost seems to me like he's trying to punish Senator Obama which seems absurd.

BLITZER: He's been slammed. He has every right to defend his reputation.

CARVILLE: He does but you know sometimes in politics you can write a book or do it after. There's other things he can do. I don't -- my guess is, this is just from an analytical standpoint, I don't think he necessarily helped his reputation very much today.

BLITZER: But he makes the point he's not a politician. He's a pastor.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He does. But I don't think he did himself a lot of favors. I thought Friday night he got pretty good reviews after the Bill Moyers. There are a couple of little things I think the Obama campaign would pick with. Sunday night at the NAACP, he got pretty good reviews after that.

Today, the speech probably reads fairly well. But I think the -- the physicality of his remarks did not play very well on TV. Some of the other remarks aren't going to work. He did say some things thought that I think were important. He said that if Barack Obama becomes president he's going to start criticizing him the way he's been criticizing everyone else. I think that we have to be clear that this is a man who was in Barack Obama's church but he is not sort of some kind of puppet master behind his career.

BLITZER: Kevin, John McCain now thinks it's OK to out and link these issues of Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama. I'll play a little clip of what he said on the campaign trail.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have never questioned Reverend Wright's patriotism. As I said before, I am of the belief that Senator Obama does not reflect the extremist statements that Reverend Wright has given. And I have no comments on it. But I also understand why millions of Americans may. As Senator Obama said yesterday, view this as a political issue.


BLITZER: He said yesterday on TV, Obama, the fact that he's my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue. So I understand that. Is this a change in strategy for McCain?

MADDEN: I think there's two tracks here. The first is that there's an old saying that if your opponent's about to commit suicide, don't murder them. So it's kind of odd that he actually weighed into this.

But the second track is the fact that Barack Obama did provide an opening. If there has been any criticism from a lot of Republicans, it's that John McCain might have unilaterally disarmed by saying previously that he wasn't going to get into this.

The fact that Barack Obama said this is legitimate political issue, it's opened the doors, put it on the table so I expect it will be.

BLITZER: Because a lot of Republicans, conservative Republicans, were angry at McCain for blasting the North Carolina Republican Party for coming up with this ad which linked Barack Obama and the Pastor Wright, some other Democratic politicians running for office.

CARVILLE: Obama addressed this in his speech in Philadelphia. He pointed out that Reverend Wright is basically I heard some of the people in the set up piece saying had a static view and that things sort of moved, if you will.

You know, if Senator Obama is the nominee in the general election, I'm going to be glad to go out and defend his kind of view of things. I think that Reverend Wright, again, I'm a little mystified because of my -- I don't think Reverend Wright -- it helped Reverend Wright at all today and he think he didn't do Senator Obama any favors. He's not just another pastor. He's the pastor of the front-runner right now for the Democratic nomination and that's a little bit different than just the guy on the corner church.

SIMMONS: He is the former pastor.


SIMMONS: But let's remember, you know, one of the things that he said today, this goes back to the issue of language. He talked about the religion of the slave owner and the religion of the slave. But he used the verb is. I think most people in the America would have used the word was and that goes back to Barack Obama's point that we are not talking - the problem with -- one of the major problems with Jeremiah Wright's approach here is that he's talking about America and its race relations in a very static point. But there are people in Barack Obama's generation and maybe even mine who sit on the shoulders of people like Jeremiah Wright. But you know what, when you're sitting on someone's shoulders like you're standing in a - you know you're in a big field, they get stepped on and bumped around and you don't actually have to feel the same pain that they felt. This is a man who saw things and witnessed things and lived a life that I don't have to live and that Barack Obama doesn't have to live and I think it's hard for us to criticize him for being angry about it.

BLITZER: Some have suggested from Barack Obama's standpoint, there may be some silver lining in this being thrashed out right now, Kevin, because get it over with now before he's the nominee. Come November people are going to forget and it'll be old news.

MADDEN: I don't believe that and I think right now what you're seeing is that a lot of Americans are still in the introductory phase of become Obama. This is their introduction to Barack Obama and many of the views that he may or may not hold. And at this time we're Republicans we're actually kind of licking our lips at the fact that we are going to be able to define Barack Obama well before he ever gets a chance to define himself. It's a great opportunity. I do think that that's going to be litigated in this campaign.

CARVILLE: We do know, we do know Senator Obama does not share these views because he said he didn't and he even went as far as to denounce them. You take over. I'm the Hillary guy.

SIMMONS: And he said had he heard those views when he was in the pulpit, he probably would have left the church but he did not hear those views.

MADDEN: He's baking the cake though that he has a definite attachment to Barack Obama and a lot of people via the prism of Jeremiah Wright are learning about Barack Obama and where he came from.

CARVILLE: Again, I feel like although I'm not here for Senator Obama right now --

BLITZER: You might be for Senator Obama down the road.

MADDEN: He must be on to something if James is defending Barack Obama.

BLITZER: All right. We're just getting this in. We've just confirmed that the governor of North Carolina, James I want all of you to react, Mike Easley, has just told the Associated Press he's endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nominee. We're only a little bit more than a week away from the North Carolina primary.

Governors in states that have primaries, as we saw in Pennsylvania, usually have some influence. What do you think about this endorsement?

CARVILLE: Yes. I'm happy about it.

BLITZER: Is it a big deal?

CARVILLE: Yeah. He's a very popular governor. He's a Democratic governor in that state. This is a good, solid endorsement for her. Now you can go.

BLITZER: I'm sure Barack Obama would have loved the endorsement.

SIMMONS: I'm sure he would have preferred to have the governor's endorsement. I think Barack Obama is doing pretty well in North Carolina right now and governors are always very helpful because they have a lot of political allies. But you know Barack Obama also has a great grass roots organization in the state from what I understand. It's going to be a good contest as well as the contest in Indiana.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MADDEN: Governors have great organizations, the ability to put boots on the ground and all the people out to the polls. It's always better to have a governor. I know people whenever they get endorsed by a senator swear it's a great thing by governors matter.

SIMMONS: But you've got to remember Senator Binghamton endorsed Barack Obama today which gives him the lead in the number of senators who've endorsed versus Hillary Clinton. So everybody's sort of having a good day of endorsements.

BLITZER: Unfortunately for Obama, New Mexico already had their primary, right?

SIMMONS: But the superdelegates have not spoken and Binghamton is a superdelegate.

BLITZER: Binghamton is a superdelegate. So is Mike Easley is a superdelegate as well.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

CNN has now confirmed that the governor of North Carolina has endorsed Hillary Clinton eight days before the North Carolina primary.

The father of one army sergeant says he's, quote, and I'm quoting now, mad as hell. A You Tube video shows shocking conditions at an army barracks at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina. Mold, rust and broken pipes greeting soldiers returning from the war zone. Is the army doing anything about it?

And will the Supreme Court's voter ID ruling blind side Democrats in November? You're going to find out who may get shut out of the presidential election.

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


BLITZER: A CNN exclusive now, an unprecedented look at hard core al Qaeda terrorists being held captive in Iraq. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is the first reporter allowed deep inside the camp with a camera crew.


We can't show you their faces. But these men are the hard core of the Iraqi insurgency.

MAJ. GEN. DOUGLAS STONE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We've got about 2,000 identified al Qaeda here in the facility. They are hard to break.

ROBERTSON: Major General Douglas Stone runs Camp Bucca where the U.S. holds nearly 20,000 Iraqi detainees.

STONE: This is not a place that you want to hang around.

ROBERTSON: We are the first television crew allowed inside this sprawling camp. For General Stone, it's a terror trove like no other.

STONE: This is the only place in the world where U.S. and coalition forces day in and day out engage with al Qaeda, day in and day out. We meet them, we talk to them, we understand them.

ROBERTSON: But it wasn't always this way. When Stone arrived last year, the camp was literally in flames. At its worst, the violence involved between 1,000 and 10,000 detainees rioting spread across half the compounds in Camp Bucca. So bad Stone says the detainees were effectively running the place.

STONE: It most assuredly was a jihadist university unquestionably.

ROBERTSON: Now Camp Bucca is part of a bold experiment to win over Iraqis who fought U.S. forces. And this is where it begins. Suspected insurgents listen to an imam preaching a moderate interpretation of Islam, far removed from the violent ideology that fuels al Qaeda. In Bucca, classrooms are the new battleground. Victory is a detainee converted to moderate Islam.

While we've been in here, the imam explains to detainees that they have to respect other people. It's also said we also make mistakes but it's up to our souls to correct those mistakes. Stone knows some detainees are beyond reform.

STONE: There's no way we put these guys in a class.

ROBERTSON: So Stone and his team isolate the extreme of the extreme and offer incentives for the rest of the detainees. This means family visits, English classes, even civics courses teaching western style democracy. The goal, to release the majority of detainees at Camp Bucca and make some of them into allies. 7,000 detainees have already been released. Every one of them carefully screened. It seems to be working. Only seven have found themselves back behind these bars.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Camp Bucca, Iraq.


BLITZER: Head to head. Hillary Clinton insists she's a better bet to beat John McCain than Barack Obama come November. You're going to find out some brand new poll numbers that actually back her up. Political fallout, that's coming up.

And the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on photo IDs at the polls. Will the decision keep many elderly and minority voters away in November?

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


BLITZER: Let's check our political ticker right now. Senator Hillary Clinton says she's more electable than Democratic rival, Barack Obama. And a brand new AP poll may boost her claim at least right now. According to this latest survey, Clinton leads Republican John McCain by nine points in a head to head presidential match up. Meanwhile, Obama and McCain are essentially tied. Both Democrats ran about even with McCain just three weeks ago.

Remember, for the latest political news any time you can always check out The ticker is the number one political news blog out there on the web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. Posted one of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on voters mandating needing photo ID in order to get up there at the polls.

Back to Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty file. Big decision by the Supreme Court today.


BLITZER: Some say the most important decision since 2000 when they ruled that the election was over.

CAFFERTY: You know, it's been, what, eight years since we had the Supreme Court decide a presidential election? We need to get them back involved. And this ruling could very well do that. It is very significant.

BLITZER: The ramification's significant.

CAFFERTY: It's huge. The question this hour is age related. Would John McCain have a better chance of being elected if he promised to serve only one term in office? He's 71 years old. That's what we based the question on.

Jane in New Hampshire writes, "Having barely survived the Bush years, there's nothing that would cause me to vote for John McCain. I don't want him serving one day, let alone one term. Any candidate who stands in front of a boarded up steel factory and tells the voters how wonderful our trade polices are should be run out of town on a rail."

David in San Bernardino, California, "No. I would like to see McCain serve a term for his involvement in the Keating scandal. Why is nothing every said about that?" Stuff will be said about that later.

Mike in Houston, "McCain shouldn't have to promise to serve only one term. He will have the right to run for a second term. I would prefer to live with eight years of McCain than eight minutes of Obama or Clinton."

Al in California, "He could live to be 100. Second, I recently underwent cancer surgery and I am able to perform MY job. This 'old man' seems to get around pretty good. I don't see any wheelchairs or walkers and who would run on the platform of I promise to only serve one term? Jack La Lanne is pretty old. He's in better shape than a lot of us a third his age. If the only thing to attack McCain on is his age, doesn't that say something?"

Bob in Virginia writes, "The only way I'll consider voting for McCain is if Hillary steals the Democratic nomination."

And Jerry in Tennessee, "I don't think a promise to only serve one term would add any extra votes to McCain. Far more important to his chances will be his choice for vice president. Americans will want to know who they're potentially voting for."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, Look for yours along with hundreds of others that are posted there.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, thanks very much.

Political fallout. As we've been reporting, the United States Supreme Court weighs in on photo IDs at the polls. Will its decision keep many elderly and minority voters away from November and what might that mean for Democrats? We're taking a closer look.

And an important development in North Carolina. Senator Hillary Clinton just picked up a major endorsement. We'll tell you what's going on eight days before the primary there.

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


BLITZER: Lou Dobbs has a show coming up in one hour. He's here to talk to us right now.

There seems to be a little war going on between Jimmy Carter and Condoleezza Rice about his decision to go ahead and meet with Hamas when he was in the Middle East. What do you think about this?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: If you want my opinion, whether there's a war going on between these two, whoever wins that argument it doesn't really matter. The fact is that President Carter better than anyone knows better than to start this lone ranger diplomacy nonsense. He also knows the role of Hamas. This is not a man without experience or perspective.

What he could be doing to antagonize the administration, the state of Israel, these are absurdities and a fruitless effort that's more about, unfortunately it appears to me, to be more about his ego than the desire for a concrete and specific results.

BLITZER: Do you think he's well intentioned in doing this?

DOBBS: You know you want to hope so but as I said, well intentioned with a heavy dose of ego. The result is the same. It's not helpful and he really needs to cease and desist.

BLITZER: Yes, it doesn't look like he's going to because you know - I believe he - I'm going to be speaking with him here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM but I think he really believes he can help.

DOBBS: I'm sure he does but because one sees him do this unfortunately over and over, he's trying to in some ways perhaps seek some sort of balance in his own mind from his failures. You know, we have seen more people win Nobel Prizes for peace in the Middle East, while seemingly assuring that we are going to have anything but peace. It would be nice to see governments work here, and the responsibility as Condoleezza Rice and as president, not Jimmy Carter. And he's doing much to set back, it seems to me, that process.

BLITZER: Lou, thanks very much. See you in one hour.

DOBBS: You bet.