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Fuel for the Democrats; Gas Tax Holiday Hype; Interview With Congressman James Clyburn

Aired April 30, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Hillary Clinton looks for campaign fuel in Indiana. She's pushing for a gas tax holiday and playing up Barack Obama's opposition to it.
Is there any real chance though that the proposal could become reality this summer? We're investigating.

Also, Democrats protest against Democrats. The party's Florida and Michigan problems, they seem to be growing more urgent today, with only about a month left in the primary season. We're going to tell you what's new in the dispute over delegates.

And John McCain tries to make inroads with working class voters, but powerful allies of the Democrats are spending big bucks to stand in his way.

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

Americans are paying one cent more for a gallon of gas today than we did the day before. The national average for regular hit a new record of $3.61 a gallon. The Democratic presidential candidates are keeping a very close eye on these climbing fuel costs. Perhaps the only numbers they're watching more closely are the growing tallies of their superdelegate support.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with Jessica Yellin. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this story for us.

Jessica, the Democrats are taking various stances on this issue which is critically so important.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They really are, Wolf. They are zeroing in on the economy while their campaigns are bragging about some new movement among those all-important superdelegates.


YELLIN (voice over): On the trail, Democrats are feeling the economic pain.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The situation for a lot of folks has gotten worse since we started running.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's time that we had a president who stood up and said, enough, we are not putting up with this any longer.

YELLIN: They're offering solutions...

OBAMA: I want to pass a middle class tax cut for families because it's not just gas that they're feeling burdened by. It's also groceries.

YELLIN: ... and continuing the debate over a rare policy difference, whether there should be a gas tax holiday.

CLINTON: I believe so strongly that the oil companies have to be part of the solution. That's why I want them to pay the gas tax for the summer.

YELLIN: In Indiana, the latest CNN Poll of Polls shows the race there is still a dead heat. Both candidates vying for the support of low-income working families. So today he lunched with an Amtrak employee and an x-ray technician.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going to close the workshop (ph), but...

YELLIN: She drove to work with a sheet metal foreman.

CLINTON: I'm going to go in and pay for you. OK?

YELLIN: Both campaigns announced progress in the other all- important race for the support of superdelegates who could ultimately choose the nominee. So far today, three came out for Obama, two for Clinton.


YELLIN: Now, the next primary is on Tuesday, but superdelegates will be watching another election closely. That's this Saturday in Louisiana, where state Representative Don Cazayoux, a Democrat, has a good shot at winning what has long been a Republican seat.

The thing is, the Republicans there ran an ad linking him to Obama and calling him a supporter of his so-called radical agenda. If the Democrat wins, well, that's good for Obama showing he helps the Democratic ticket. But if the Democrat does not win, that could be yet more ammunition, Wolf, for Senator Clinton and her argument that she's more electable.

BLITZER: They're going to be reading the tea leaves on all of these elections.

Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Let's take a closer look beyond the hype over a potential gas tax holiday this summer. Is there any real chance Congress and President Bush will green-light the idea for this summer?

Kathleen Koch is covering Congress. We'll stand by with her for a moment. Let's go to the White House first, Elaine Quijano.

I noticed yesterday the president is not necessarily ruling the idea out. What are you hearing, Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right, Wolf. President Bush at this point certainly is leaving the door open possibly to this notion of a gas tax holiday.

As we heard him say this week, he's going to be looking at all ideas when it comes to energy. But of course, at the same time, aides here are saying they want to make sure any proposals that are put forth actually go to addressing the root causes of the problem. And they want to make sure that people understand full well there are no short-term fixes to this problem.

Now, on the broader economic picture, and specifically the GDP number out today showing the economy grew in the last quarter by .6 percent, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said, look, that number certainly is nothing to brag about. But she reiterated the administration's view that officials here believe the economy will bounce back. But on that notion of a gas tax holiday, as I mentioned, President Bush at this point, Wolf, remaining noncommittal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll talk shortly with the treasury secretary later this hour -- later next hour, actually, Henry Paulson. We'll get his sense of what's going on.

Thanks very much, Elaine, for that.

Let's go to the Hill. Kathleen Koch is up there.

What are the realistic prospects Americans will save money on gas between Memorial Day and Labor Day of this summer? What are you hearing from Democrats and Republicans, Kathleen, on the Hill?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think it's safe to say that like a car without gas, this idea frankly is going nowhere fast.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just for the summer, why don't we give the American people a little break?

KOCH (voice-over): The way John McCain and Hillary Clinton see it, eliminate the 18 cent federal gas tax for the summer and prices drop at the pump. But on Capitol Hill the idea is a nonstarter, first because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn't support it. She says it won't work.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, this has happened before. It has not accrued to the benefit of the consumer, because it doesn't have to be passed on to the consumer.

KOCH: Another problem, suspending the tax leaves a shortfall of up to $12 billion in the funds to repair the nation's roads, bridges and highways. In the Senate, Clinton supporters back her idea of replacing it by taxing oil company profits.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Big oil ought to pay for it. Take some of the money out of the royalties. Take some of the money out of the windfall profits. And reduce that gas tax.

KOCH: One senior Democratic aide whose boss actually backs a tax holiday still calls it a "terrible idea" that won't pass if it includes the tax on oil companies. Senate Republicans won't vote for such a tax.

Some do support McCain's plan, which replaces the lost money for roadways by taking funds out of general treasury revenues. But neither side has the 60 votes needed to pass one plan or the other.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: While it could provide, perhaps, some temporary relief, we really need a long-term solution.


KOCH: But Wolf, another reason there is no real push here on Capitol Hill for a gas tax holiday is that it would come to an end, presumably sometime around Labor Day, and prices would go back up. And no one here wants to be responsible for higher gas prices just a couple months before Election Day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So it looks like it's a good academic debate for these three presidential candidates, but it's moot. It doesn't look like it's got any real significant support on Capitol Hill.

All right, Kathleen. Thanks for that.

President Bush is rejecting another idea aimed at trying to drive down gas prices. Some lawmakers of both parties want the government to stop adding to the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Mr. Bush told reporters yesterday that proposal would not affect prices because the energy stockpile holds such a small amount of the global oil supply.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if I thought it would affect the price of oil positively, I would seriously consider it.


BLITZER: The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the largest government-owned emergency stockpile of crude oil in the world. It's stored under ground along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. It was created back in 1975 in response to the Arab oil embargo. The reserve can hold up to 727 million barrels. About 700 million barrels are stored there right now.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" for yet another day.

Welcome, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, thank you, Wolf. It's a pleasure to be here.

Ever since Super Tuesday, Barack Obama has been outscoring Hillary Clinton big time when it comes to picking up support from the superdelegates. "The Wall Street Journal" suggests that he is close now to taking the lead in that department, and that if he doesn't stumble badly in Indiana or North Carolina next week, enough of them will break his way after June 3rd to secure the nomination for him.

It seems simple enough. He leads in pledged delegates. She can't catch him there. He's won more states, has more popular votes. Much better fundraiser, which is a very important consideration. And he has shown that he can appeal to Independents and Republicans.

So piece of cake. Just run out the clock, get ready for McCain.

Yesterday on this program, former President Carter, who is a superdelegate, was asked if he would support the candidate he voted for in the Georgia primary. And his answer was, "Yes, unless I change my mind." And therein lies the problem for Barack Obama, potentially.

Superdelegates are free to change their minds. And thanks to the angry tirades of this bitter old man who seems less like a pastor and more like a racist with every passing day, Barack Obama could have a problem.

Here's the question, then: Will the Reverend Jeremiah Wright cause Democratic superdelegates to rethink their support of Barack Obama?

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

BLITZER: On my blog today -- on my blog at, Jack, I asked the question, it's now been more than 24 hours since Barack Obama railed against his former pastor and the reaction from his former pastor so far? You ready? A thunderous silence.

So far he has not said anything publicly, no written statements. I checked with his spokesperson and he's remaining silent. The question is why.

CAFFERTY: Well, because nobody's interested in what this bitter, old, hateful human being has to say. He's not relevant to the debate about who's going to lead this country for the next four years. He doesn't have any solutions to any of the problems that this country faces.

He's just a petulant, nasty, disappointed old man who doesn't have a job as a pastor anymore. He's now alienated the highest profile friend he's got in the world, Barack Obama, and he's left to give speeches to clowns like Marion Barry at the National Press Club. So who needs him? Just go away.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Jack will not be going away. He'll be back later this hour.

Barack Obama says it wasn't easy to come out so forcefully against his former pastor. Up next, I'll ask the top ranking African- American in Congress, Congress James Clyburn, if he thinks the Reverend Jeremiah Wright will keep this controversy going, or will he remain silent now?

And Hillary Clinton is trying to show voters she has a different idea for fixing the economy than Barack Obama. Does her new ad tell the truth or shade it?

And the Republican Party says John McCain is the target of a smear. We're going to tell you who's behind the ad, how it could hurt, in our "Strategy Session," and more.

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


BLITZER: Today a voter asked Barack Obama about his decision to turn his back on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright with very strong words yesterday. Obama said he had to make sure his former pastor did not continue to be a distraction. But here's the question -- can the senator put this issue behind him?

Joining us now is Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. He's the majority whip, the number three leader in the House of Representatives, certainly the top ranking African-American member of Congress, and a good friend.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you so much for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you think about the silence so far in the now more than 24 hours since Barack Obama really railed against his former pastor? Jeremiah Wright has not issued a statement, not said anything. What do you think?

CLYBURN: Well, Wolf, there's an old saying -- silence is golden. And I suspect that that should apply here.

I don't know exactly what Reverend Wright's thinking right now. But I would very much hope that he would no longer inject himself into this national discussion on what should we do about our economy, what should we do about people's lives, what should we do about the war in Iraq, what should we do about driving down gasoline prices, creating employment for people, providing economic opportunities and educational pursuits? That's where our discussion ought to be now. It ought not be between a former pastor and former parishioner. BLITZER: I want to make it clear to our viewers, Congressman, you haven't endorsed either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. You're neutral in this campaign, is that right?

CLYBURN: Yes, I am. I have not endorsed anybody. I've made it very clear that what I'm trying to do is maintain a climate within our Democratic Party that will allow good, valuable debate to take place that will add value to this campaign.

BLITZER: All right. So, if he's listening, your advice to the Reverend Wright right now is simply keep quiet?

CLYBURN: Well, I wouldn't quite put it that bluntly, but I would say, please, let us go forward with this campaign in such a way that the American people will get to look in on these two Democratic candidates and then begin to make comparisons between them and the other party so that we can chart a way forward. It will be a benefit to our children and grandchildren.

I am a grandfather, and so is he. And I think all of us ought to be focused on what kind of legacy we are leaving for them. And it certainly is not a good, positive legacy if you're arguing with a former parishioner.

BLITZER: You're a superdelegate as well. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, wants the superdelegates to make up their mind at least after the last contest on June 3. Is that when you're going to do it?

CLYBURN: I agree with that. I've been saying for a long time that I think within days of the last contests, the superdelegates ought to inform the Democratic National Committee of exactly who they will be voting for.

I do not think we ought to have any kind of a superdelegate convention, nor superdelegate primary. All of us came to these positions through our own home states and our congressional districts, and that's the way we ought to make our preferences known, through our home states and our congressional districts.

BLITZER: And should the candidate who has the most pledged delegates be the party's nominee?

CLYBURN: Not necessarily. Anything might happen between now and the end of this process. And that ought to dictate whatever the ingredients in decision-making ought to be -- pledged delegates, popular vote, number of victories won, number of states won, as well as what is being demonstrated in the surveys that are being taken as to who will help us be the best candidate going into November. So it should not be any one indicator here.

BLITZER: All right.

CLYBURN: You've got all these factors. All these factors should be weighed, and then we make our decision. BLITZER: The president yesterday really hammered the Democratic leadership in Congress for delaying action on issues critical to the American people. And among other things, he said this, Congressman -- listen to this little clip.


BUSH: Across our country many Americans are understandably anxious about issues affecting their pocketbook, from gas and food prices to mortgage and tuition bills. They're looking to their elected leaders in Congress for action. Unfortunately, on many of these issues, all they're getting is delay.


BLITZER: There was good cooperation between the White House and Congress on the issue of the economic stimulus package. Do you see that kind of cooperation on these other issues happening any time soon?

CLYBURN: Well, there are a lot of issues that we can cooperate on. But I would remind the president that he alone controls the Strategic Petroleum Reserve fund. And the quickest way to drive down costs at the pump, and I think the best way, is for the president to stop loading up that reserve fund.

We're at 97 percent. If he were to immediately put that gasoline into the market, as we had done in the year 2000, the experts say it would drive the cost of gasoline down anywhere from 5 to 24 cents a gallon.

BLITZER: He said yesterday it would have virtually no effect in the short term if they stopped adding fuel to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

CLYBURN: Well, that flies in the face of history, Wolf. The fact of the matter is it has been shown that in the year 2000, it affected the cost of a barrel of oil by up to $25 a barrel. If oil is now at $117 a barrel, that alone, according to history, will run it immediately under $100 a barrel. That would have an effect.

So if you look at the times that it's been done, it was done by President Bush and by President Clinton, and they worked both those times. I don't understand why it would not work again.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it there.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me.

BLITZER: James Clyburn of South Carolina is the Democratic majority whip in the House.

Appreciate it. Shopping for a home or trying to pay credit card debt, you're going to want to hear what the government has just done. It involves the Federal Reserve's important action on a key interest rate.

And beware who's calling you. Voters like you are getting anonymous phone calls with confusing information about casting ballots. Wait until you hear who's behind the latest round of these calls.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



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

Happening now, the United States government believes Iran has a hand in the killing of American troops in Iraq. So it's now sending Tehran what's being described as a serious message. But it appears to include a mixed message as well.

You're going to find out what it is and what it might mean. Our Jamie McIntyre standing by at the Pentagon.

Americans are paying a lion's share to reconstruct Iraq. But some -- a lot of people are outraged Iraq isn't spending more of its own money for itself, especially now that it's estimated that we'll see an eye-popping oil profit near $70 billion.

And revealing new text messages in the scandal circling Detroit's mayor. This, as some residents believe he was not only involved in an affair, but also corruption.

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

Hillary Clinton is out with a brand-new campaign ad. It says she did something that Barack Obama did not do regarding a problem so many Americans are dealing with. That would be the housing crisis. But are Senator Clinton's claims accurate?

Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" checks the facts -- Howie.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Wolf, there haven't been all that many policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in this campaign, but the former first lady is now trumpeting a couple of minor ones on how to deal with a struggling economy.

With a credit crunch threatening to force millions of people out of their homes, Clinton's latest ad features what sounds like a quick fix.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD) NARRATOR: When the housing crisis broke, Hillary Clinton called for action, a freeze on foreclosures. Barack Obama said nothing.


KURTZ: That's true. Obama has proposed a legal change that would allow bankruptcy courts to modify the mortgages of homeowners, perhaps by lowering their interest rate. That could reduce foreclosures over the long term, but may be too complicated for a 30- second ad.

Clinton's plan includes a five-year freeze on interest rates for risky subprime mortgages. But critics say that would bail out reckless borrowers who bought homes they couldn't afford and could discourage financial institutions from making future loans.

With gas now averaging $3.60 a gallon, Clinton has another easy- sounding answer.


NARRATOR: Now gas prices are skyrocketing, and she's ready to act again. Hillary's plan, use the windfall profits of the oil companies to pay to suspend the gas tax this summer. Barack Obama says, no, again.


KURTZ: And, again, that's true. Obama dismisses the gas tax freeze, an idea first floated by John McCain, as a gimmick that would save the average driver less than 30 bucks.

OBAMA: Let's find some short-term quick fix, that we can say we did something, even though we're not really doing anything.

KURTZ: "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman called the Clinton and McCain approach shameful pandering, but it would cut drivers a break. Although consumers didn't get much of the savings when Illinois tried suspending gas taxes.

The move would also deprive the government of $10 billion in revenue used to maintain highways, which is why Clinton would make up that money by taxing the likes of ExxonMobil and Texaco, always a popular target in a Democratic primary.

(on-camera): Thanks to Washington gridlock, Hillary Clinton's gas and housing plans aren't likely to pass any time soon. But she may have a more short-term goal, persuading voters in Tuesday's Indiana and North Carolina primaries that she's on their side -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Howie Kurtz, thanks very much.

Right now, there's a new proposal to resolve the issue of trying to seat those delegates from Michigan and Florida at the Democratic Convention in Denver at the end of the summer. If done, it could change the current race dramatically.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now. He's been watching this story for us.

Bill, more than two million Democrats voted in Florida and Michigan. The Democratic Party suggesting that their votes should count, but here's the question. Will they?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, at the moment, they're not counting because both primaries violated party rules, and this situation still is not resolved.


CROWD: Count our vote! Count our vote!

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hundreds of Florida protesters came to Washington Wednesday to demonstrate at Democratic Party headquarters.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Do you think that we can win the general election in November starting without counting Florida?


SCHNEIDER: The candidates agree, in principle.

OBAMA: Florida and Michigan are critically important states. We want all their delegates seated.

CLINTON: How do you, as a Democrat, expect to win in the fall if we disenfranchise 2.3 million voters who turned out to vote in Florida and Michigan?

SCHNEIDER: But that's about all they agree on. The big issue is how the Florida and Michigan delegates should be divided. Hillary Clinton won both primaries, but were they fair fights?

OBAMA: We were told, the candidates, that they wouldn't count. So, we didn't campaign there. My name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.

SCHNEIDER: In the race for pledged delegates, Obama leads Clinton by 159. Michigan and Florida have a total of 313 pledged delegates. If Clinton gets the lion's share of those delegates, it could end up putting her over the top.

So, various parties are busy trying to work out a compromise. In Michigan, Clinton won 55 percent of the vote, so she wants 55 percent of the delegates. Four Michigan superdelegates have written a letter to the state party chairman proposing a compromise, 69 pledged delegates for Clinton and 59 for Obama. That approach, they write, splits the difference between the 73-55 position of the Clinton campaign and the 64-64 position of the Obama campaign, "based on our belief that both sides have fair arguments about the Michigan primary." (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The ultimate solution will probably be to seat Michigan and Florida delegates without allowing them to determine the outcome, because, if Michigan and Florida make Hillary Clinton the winner, the Obama forces will cry foul. And that could split the party -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a difficult decision this one is. Thanks very much, Bill, for that.

Top labor unions are clearly taking sides on a new job. They're working against John McCain and his campaign to win over blue-collar voters. But are they knocking McCain off message? We're looking at the story.

Hillary Clinton says there's something she wants to shout from the mountaintops. We're going to tell you what it is and what it means for Barack Obama. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And, later, the treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, he will be here right in THE SITUATION ROOM. I will ask him about the value of those stimulus checks going out to Americans right now and whether he might see eye to eye with Bill Clinton on another sensitive issue.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: John McCain is talking about health care reform in Allentown, Pennsylvania -- Pennsylvania a critical battleground state. The Republican nominee in waiting is trying to appeal to those same working-class voters who are now at the center of the Democrats' primary battle.

Some labor unions are spending their cash already to try to stop him.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Allentown as well.

I guess, John, this is another attempt by John McCain to go after some traditionally Democratic turf?


John McCain is here at the Lehigh Valley Hospital, in part because he's out all this week promoting his health care plan. But this hospital was also chosen because of where it is, not just what it does. This is Allentown, Pennsylvania.

And the McCain campaign's operating assumption is that, barring some huge turnaround, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee. Well, remember, back on the Pennsylvania primary night in Allentown, Bethlehem, nearby Reading, up in Scranton, Barack Obama was trounced here by Hillary Clinton. And the McCain campaign believes that Barack Obama has a problem with those white working-class voters who often switch over and in November can be among what we now chemical Reagan Democrats or Casey Democrats here in the state of Pennsylvania.

So, McCain sees an opening, which is why he's here focusing on November, trying to win over some of those blue-collar voters. And as he campaigned here at the hospital and as he took a short ride with us earlier today on his bus, the Straight Talk Express, McCain says, if it's him vs. Obama, he believes he can succeed here by telling voters that Obama's approach to health care would give the government too much power. And McCain says Senator Obama would raise working Americans' taxes.


MCCAIN: Well, I want your family to make the decisions about your health care. I want you to have a $5,000 tax credit, if you choose to take it, to -- to go across state lines and choose the kind of health insurance you want for your family.

I don't want to raise your taxes. One hundred million Americans have some investment that would be affected by a near doubling of the capital gains tax, which Senator Obama wants.


KING: Now, Obama and Senator Clinton, of course, still fighting it out for the Democratic nomination. But it's not like -- as if Senator McCain has a clear path to court these working-class voters.

Here in Pennsylvania and in neighboring Ohio, in Michigan, in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the AFL-CIO is sending a brochure in the mail to 400,000 working families and their households, saying that John McCain has an admirable military record, but that his views on taxes and trade, in the AFL-CIO's view, would hurt working families.

And, Wolf, as Senator McCain is out promoting his health care plan this week, another big union, the Service Employees Union, is airing ads in Ohio and says it will air ads in other battlegrounds as well, saying the McCain approach to health care would actually increase costs on working families.

So, as McCain says, he thinks he has an opening to court these Reagan Democrats, even though the Democrats don't have a candidate yet, still plenty of opposition from unions and others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is he saying anything today on the whole Barack Obama- Reverend Jeremiah Wright issue?

KING: We tried to get him twice on his bus to talk about that. The first time, he simply said that Barack Obama yesterday had said that he believes it is an issue, and Senator McCain said Barack Obama will have to have a dialogue with the American people on this issue. And he did not want to say anything else.

We tried again to press him as to whether he thinks it's a legitimate issue or a question about Barack Obama's judgment that he stayed in that church in Chicago for 20 year, despite the controversial pastor. And, again, Senator McCain said that Obama himself had said it was a legitimate issue, but that he would let Senator Obama deal with it, and he didn't want to speak to it himself, said simply it's a matter for Mr. Obama and the voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds like smart politics on his behalf.

All right, John, thanks very much for that.

In our "Strategy Session": Clinton keeps up the pressure on Obama and McCain over her gas tax.


CLINTON: My opponent, Senator Obama, doesn't want to do that. My other potential opponent, Senator McCain, wants to have the gas tax holiday, but he won't pay for it. Well, I think we need to pay for it.


BLITZER: But if she can't sell that message and overtake Barack Obama, she promises to shout from the mountaintops to get him elected.

And another massive ad buy against John McCain -- this one aims to link him to President Bush and the war in Iraq. Will it work? Donna Brazile and Cheri Jacobus, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- right after this.


BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": The group is out with a tough new ad linking John McCain to President Bush. Tomorrow, by the way, is the fifth anniversary of the speech President Bush gave under the banner "Mission Accomplished." A lot of us remember that, of course.

Here's how is using that against McCain.


NARRATOR: Five years ago, George Bush stood under a "Mission Accomplished" banner and announced:

BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.

NARRATOR: John McCain said the end of the Iraq war was very much in sight. Now we need to know how long...


BLITZER: All right. You get the point.

Let's discuss this and more with our political analysts, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

What do you think? Is that going to be successful, Cheri, this effort to link McCain to Bush when it comes to the war in Iraq, which is, as you know, pretty unpopular, according to all the polls?

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that John McCain has pretty well established himself as an independent on this issue. As you know, he was the first out there criticizing Rumsfeld.

But he supports the war. And Americans do have confidence and do want us to win this war and to do well. And this ad, Wolf, takes McCain's comments out of context, saying that he would, oh, want to stay there, doesn't care if it's 100 years or 1,000 years.

It's also pretty well established that, in context, he was staying, we will stay there to keep the peace. He's not talking about combat. And that does beg the question as to what Barack Obama would do, that had endorsed. Does he just want to wave the white flag of surrender? Does he have a plan for keeping the peace?

BLITZER: All right.

JACOBUS: It might also show that Barack Obama is just too inexperienced to handle something this complicated. So, it's not such a bad thing for John McCain after all.

BLITZER: Is it a good strategy to go after McCain this way, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's important to point out that John McCain has followed George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

Look, he had some minor differences with them, but he has supported this war. The country is ready for us to leave Iraq. We believe that we have done the job, we have completed the mission. And the American people, the vast majority, including Republicans, they believe it's time to bring our troops home.

BLITZER: And I think that's going to be a big issue in this campaign.

Donna, let me read to you what Hillary Clinton told the editorial board over at "The Indianapolis Star" -- Indiana holding its primary next Tuesday.

"Anyone -- anyone," she said, "who voted for either of us should be absolutely committed to voting for the other. I'm going to shout that from the mountaintops and the valleys and everywhere I can, no matter what the outcome of the nominating process is."

That's a pretty strong message for -- for Democrats, that, if she loses, she's going to go out there and try to fix the rift and -- and get support for Barack Obama. What do you think about that? BRAZILE: First of all, I applaud Senator Clinton for making that statement. And I know that Senator Obama has said similar statements in the past.

Wolf, I say to my Democratic colleagues who tell me that I have to vote for Hillary or I have to vote for Obama, if not, they're going to sit home or vote for McCain, I say, just look at the Supreme Court. Do you want John McCain to pick the next justice to overturn Roe v. Wade, the next justice to overturn affirmative action? If that's what you want, then just go ahead and vote for John McCain.

I applaud Senator Clinton for making that statement today.

BLITZER: I think you agree, Cheri, if the Democrats manage to live up to that -- and that's a big if right now -- if they do unify their base, unify their party, and fight as hard as they can with one voice, it's going to be tough for McCain to beat that combination come November.

JACOBUS: Well, I expect this will be a tough campaign for both sides.

But, look, this is something Hillary Clinton had to do. There's been very public speculation from all quarters that perhaps her plan is to, if she can't get this nomination, to make sure that Barack Obama loses, so that she can run against John McCain in 2012. That's been a discussion that many people in politics and the media have had quite publicly for a number of weeks now.

So, she really has no choice, for her own reputation and her own survivability, to make that. Whether or not it comes true, you know, who knows. We know that both Clintons are extremely ambitious. So, I'm betting on Hillary Clinton's ambition over any -- any sort of loyalty to the party, quite frankly.

BLITZER: Can she turn around African-American voters, Donna, in North Carolina next Tuesday? She's going to have to get some of their support. As you know, in Ohio, he did really, really well. He's been doing -- and -- he did really well in Pennsylvania, I should say. Can she make inroads in North Carolina with the African-American Democratic vote?

BRAZILE: You know, I don't know what the outcome will be. But I do know that she's trying very hard to get the African-American vote. She tried in Philadelphia.

This -- earlier this week, she had Maya Angelou, someone we all respect, out there on the campaign trail with her. She's running advertisement in black newspapers, on the black radio. She has tremendous support still in the African-American community. But, of course, African-Americans are also interested in looking at Senator Obama and what he has to offer the country as well.

BLITZER: From your vantage point, as a good Republican strategist, Cheri, what do you see happening next Tuesday? JACOBUS: You know, I think that, if Hillary Clinton, even if she doesn't win North Carolina, but she starts closing that margin, and if she wins Indiana, but if it looks like -- if this -- if this primary were to go on a week later, and she could have won North Carolina, it shows that -- where things are trending.

The Democrats, the superdelegates, they want to win. They don't need to be politically correct on this. They want to win. And if it looks like Barack Obama has seen his best days as a candidate, and that Hillary Clinton is trending upwards, I think she has a real good talking point to take to those superdelegates, particularly -- if this were a winner-take-all primary, the way Republicans have it, Hillary Clinton would be ahead, instead of behind. So, she's got some good arguments.

BLITZER: Donna, I know you want to make a final point. Go ahead.

BRAZILE: Well, Democrats believe in fairness. And that's one of the reasons why we got rid of the winner-take-all system. We want every American to feel like their vote will count. And that's why we're also working hard.

At the end of May, the rules committee will take a look at Florida and Michigan. So, this is about bringing the party together, unifying the party, and preparing to defeat the Republicans, who are out of touch with the American people this fall.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.

JACOBUS: Thank you.

BLITZER: A pastor weighs in on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It's not any pastor, but it's Mike Huckabee. You're going to want to hear what he thinks Wright is trying to do to Barack Obama.

Also, the presidential candidates say they would help you save on gas costs. But could their plans make matters even worse?

And many of you have or will soon be getting extra money from the government. Will it work? Will it help? I will speak about it with the treasury secretary, Henry Paulson. He will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's live.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today: The former Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, suggests Barack Obama's former pastor is deliberately trying to derail Obama's campaign.

Huckabee spoke to reporters in Montana today. He said the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is creating trouble for Obama because he does not want the Democrat to show the nation that race relations in this country have improved. President Bush hosted the Super Bowl champion New York Giants at the White House today. And he apparently had his mind on the Super Bowl of politics, the November election. Mr. Bush joked that a distraction for the Dallas Cowboys that may have helped the Giants win the playoffs could be useful to the GOP summer. Listen to this.


BUSH: We're going to send Jessica Simpson to the Democrat National Convention.



BLITZER: And you won't be seeing CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, reporting today from the campaign trail.

That's good. There's a good reason for it. She's won a very prestigious award. It's the New Hampshire Primary Award for outstanding political coverage. Candy reported extensively on that state's primary this year in January.

Congratulations to Candy for this very excellent award.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out That's where I write my daily blog post, as well. You can read it. Posted one just before the show.

Residents in North Carolina receiving automated phone calls ahead of Tuesday's primary with some confusing information about the voter registration process. Now a Washington, D.C., nonprofit is owning up to the calls.

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

Abbi, who's responsible for these calls?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the calls are from Women's Voices Women Vote, though you wouldn't know that if you received one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. This is Lamont Williams.

In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is fill it out, sign it, date and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard.


TATTON: The North Carolina State Board of Elections says the calls are misleading, false information. The mail-in voter registration deadline for the primary has passed.

Well, today, the Institute of Southern Studies' blog traced the calls to Women's Voices Women Vote, a Washington nonprofit that aims to register unmarried women to vote. The group posted an explanation today on their Web site, saying the calls were -- quote -- "a sincere attempt to encourage voter registration for the general election" -- end quote.

They also said they apologize for any confusion. But this confusion has happened before. Election officials in Virginia tell us calls from the same group were investigated before their February primary. Complaints from voters have been recorded in other states.

The group's Web site lists board members, including former Bill Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta. Another board member has donated to Barack Obama. Our calls to Women's Voices Women Vote were not returned. Their statement on their Web site says they will attempt to delay delivery of voter registration applications until after the North Carolina primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, will Reverend Jeremiah Wright cause Democratic superdelegates to rethink their support of Barack Obama?

We got this from Larry in Ohio: "I don't think Reverend Wright alone will sway the superdelegates, but this body of baggage he now has, such as Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, the flag pin, not covering his heart during the pledge of allegiance, Michelle's comments, and bitter-gate, none of these things alone mean very much, but, when you start listening them -- listing them all, it almost makes him unelectable. What a catch-22. Hillary can't get the nomination. Obama can't win the election. John McCain thanks them both very much."

Larry in Texas writes: "If the superdelegates give the nomination to Clinton because of this sick man" -- Reverend Wright -- "then we better get ready for a bloodbath in America. The title of your book won't even come close to what will happen in every major city."

Jenny writes: "I hope not. Hopefully, the superdelegates are able to see through this Reverend Wright character and look at the candidate who has the best chance of beating McCain and making the necessary changes in this country. It does not take a lot of effort to realize that Wright is an angry, bitter old man who is on a mission from someone to destroy Obama."

Jake writes: "The problem with the Obama-Wright story is it changes too quickly to gauge its impact. By Thursday night, we should have a better view. Yesterday, Obama picked up five superdelegates, Hillary four. By the end of the day, who knows? And tomorrow? Many of the superdelegates still hold elected positions. And if they go against the pledged delegates, you can assume they will get tossed out."

Patricia writes from Idaho: "No way, Jose. Now that Obama is free of Wright, he has paved the way for a flood -- sorry -- a trickle of superdelegates. I expect to see that as soon as today. Now that Michelle is talking again, her spunky, snarky personality will flesh out the person, and we're ready to set sail."

And Jonathan writes: "Why, hell no, Jack. I'm a Southern redneck white guy. And if I could care less about Reverend Dumb-ass, then why should they?"


CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, along with hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.