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Pain at the Pump Hits Campaign Trail; Former President Jimmy Carter Speaks on the Divided Democratic Party; Iraq's Oil Windfall Outrage
Aired April 30, 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, politics at the pump. Democrats find fuel for their neck-and-neck contest in Indiana. Is it enough to put one of them over the top?
Also this hour, Jimmy Carter on a party divided. The former president has real firsthand experience with contested nominations. And he's got something important to say to fellow superdelegates about their power. My interview with Jimmy Carter, that's coming up.
And Barack Obama says it wasn't easy to come down hard on his former pastor. The Reverend Wright is suddenly quiet today. What or who convinced him to clam up?
I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with the best political team on television. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
The Democratic presidential candidates are keeping close watch today on two politically charged set of numbers, gas prices and the growing tallies of their superdelegate support.
Let's bring in Jessica Yellin. She's watching this story for us.
Only a few days away before these critical primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, and a lot going on.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot going on, Wolf. And, today, the candidates are zeroing in on the company. They're promising solutions to the gas price crunch.
YELLIN (voice-over): Today, she drove to work with a sheet metal foreman. He lunched with an X-ray technician and an Amtrak employee, both candidates appealing to low-income voters, feeling their financial pain. And with gas prices at a record high, they're debating a rare policy difference, whether there should be a gas tax holiday.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's the truth. It would save the average family 30 bucks over the course of three months, which is less than you can -- than you can buy a cup of coffee for at the 7/Eleven.
YELLIN: CNN's latest poll of polls shows the race in Indiana remains a statistical dead heat. As the candidates vie for votes, their campaigns announced progress in the other race, for the superdelegates who could ultimately choose the nominee. Today, three more came out for him and two for her. That leaves 295 superdelegates undecided.
And now those superdelegates have something else to consider: this ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)
NARRATOR: The Obama-Pelosi team needs Don Cazayoux to win this special election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: It's on in Louisiana, linking Obama to Don Cazayoux, a Democrat running for Congress in a conservative district. If the Democrat wins, that could be good news for Obama, who can tell superdelegates his association with Cazayoux did not hurt the Democrat and may have helped. But, if Cazayoux loses, it could bolster Clinton's argument that Obama will not do well in conservative districts.
YELLIN: Now, that special election is this Saturday. So, expect undecided superdelegates to watch it closely. It is just another tea leaf for those superdelegates and all those pundits to watch -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we're looking at all those tea leaves. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
John McCain talking about health care reform in Allentown, Pennsylvania, today. The republican nominee in waiting is trying to appeal to the same working-class voters who are now at the center of the Democratic primary battle.
Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Allentown watching this story for us.
How is McCain appealing, John, to these blue-collar voters.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the ways he's trying to appeal is by making note that he was first of the presidential candidates to propose that gas tax holiday. You were just talking about it. He says he knows it's not the end-all/be-all and won't solve all the nation's energy problems, but he thinks it would give working families a break over the summer months. So, he pushed that today as he was traveling here in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. But his main focus was health care. He's been promoting his new health care plan all week long. And he's here for a reason, not just Lehigh Valley hospital provides excellent care, as the senator said when he was here today, and has made a number technological advances.
He was here because of where this is. This is in that blue- collar stretch of Pennsylvania where Senator Clinton did so well in the Pennsylvania primary. Mr. McCain believes that Barack Obama will be his opponent in the fall. And he believes many of the white working-class Democrats who sided with Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary are open to supporting him in November.
So, as he traveled here, he promoted his health care plan and he said either of the Democrats would give the government, in his view, way too much power over health care. And during a ride with him on his bus, the so-called Straight Talk Express, earlier today, I asked him, if you were sitting down with blue-collar workers with Barack Obama, how would you say you are better?
And Senator McCain said one focus he would raise with blue-collar workers is taxes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, on the one hand, McCain has this enormous luxury. He's out courting general election voters, focusing on a November strategy, while Senators Clinton and Obama still slug it out for the Democratic nomination.
But, Wolf, he doesn't have the field to himself, by any means. Here in Pennsylvania and in Ohio and in Wisconsin and in Michigan and other blue-collar states, the AFL-CIO is sending a mailing to some 400,000 blue-collar households. It salutes McCain's military service, but says his ideas on taxes, trade and other issues would hurt working families.
And just this week, as Senator McCain is out promoting his views on health care, the Service Employees International Union, another big voice in the labor movement, is airing a television ad that will greet Senator McCain when he arrives in Ohio tonight to court blue-collar workers. That ad by the Service Employees Union saying the McCain health care plan wouldn't help families lower their costs, in the view of that advertisement, which, of course, Senator McCain disputes.
It says that working families would actually get a raw deal under the McCain approach to health care. So, Wolf, he does say he believes he has an opening to court the Reagan Democrats. One of the things that heartens him in this state -- remember, President Bush lost it narrowly twice -- in the exit polls in the Democratic primaries, 15 percent of the Democrats who voted in the Democratic primary said they would support McCain if Obama was the Democratic nominee.
No way of knowing whether that holds up come November, but that is one reason McCain has some optimism about this state at the moment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pennsylvania, a critical battleground state. And both of these parties are going to be fighting very aggressively there.
John, stand by. You're going to be joining us later with the best political team on television.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Forty-four percent of Americans in a recent survey said that paying for gasoline is a serious problem for them.
Gasoline costs were the most frequently cited economic concern across all income levels. Twenty-five percent of people who make more than $75,000 a year said it's a serious problem. A whopping 63 percent of people who earn less than $30,000 feel the same way.
The cost of gasoline far outranks the number-two economic concern, getting a good job or a raise, at 29 percent, and paying for health care or health insurance, which came in at 28 percent. The survey conducted on behalf of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
And all indications are it will get worse before it gets better. As gasoline shoots past $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, the president of OPEC out a couple days ago predicting crude oil prices could hit $200 a barrel.
A year ago, average gasoline prices less than three bucks a gallon, according to AAA. One idea that is being thrown around as a way of dealing with this is the four-day workweek. Several state governments are looking at it. Staggered work schedules would be necessary in those cases in order to keep government offices open five days a week. And some have suggested that it's an idea that could gain some traction in the private sector.
For example, I for one am very much in favor of the idea of a four-day workweek.
So, here's the question: Would shifting to a four-day workweek be a good way for us to save gasoline?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.
I think that's a terrific idea. How soon can we push that through, do you think, to THE SITUATION ROOM?
BLITZER: It's not happening. Forget about it.
CAFFERTY: It's not happening.
BLITZER: No, not happening.
BLITZER: But maybe for other people, not for us, but -- not happening...
BLITZER: Jack, thanks.
Someone has to lose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but will the losing candidate's supporters turn their backs on the winner?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think they are going to go out and vote for John McCain. But I think they might -- they might very well not be enthusiastic if that should happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The former President Jimmy Carter predicts what might happen. And he also looks back at a fierce battle he endured for his nomination. Stick around for that.
Americans are paying the lion's share to reconstruct Iraq. But some are outraged Iraq isn't spending more of its own money for itself, especially now that it's estimated to see eye-popping oil revenue near $70 billion this year.
And who should you bet -- who should you be most concerned about when it comes to terror threats? There's a brand-new report that is just coming out. And you may be surprised to hear who's in it.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A lot of Democrats hope it won't be deja vu all over again: a fierce race for the nomination, voters in the same party, but entrenched on opposite sides. And, when one Democrat wins, supporters for the losing candidate wind up turning their backs. That's what happened decades ago. Could it happen again in the current race?
Let's have more of my conversation now with the former President Jimmy Carter.
BLITZER: Let's get back to politics.
BLITZER: All right?
You know something about a divided Democratic Party. And there's enormous fear right now that the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could result in a divided Democratic Party. You remember -- take a look at those pictures behind you over there. That was the convention back in 1980. Ted Kennedy was your challenger.
You got, obviously, the nomination. But you went on to defeat. Was it the result of a divided Democratic Party at that time, because he had fought a bitter battle against your nomination?
CARTER: That was part of it.
I think it was a lot my fault, because I wasn't able as president to create a unified party. Kennedy began to challenge me for the nomination as a Democrat, even though I was an incumbent president, about a year after I was in the White House. And, for three years, he ran against me. And I defeated him 2-1.
In that same picture, when I tried to shake hands with Kenned, he refused to shake my hand.
BLITZER: We just saw it, yes.
And then his supporters, a lot of them, did not support me in the general election.
BLITZER: Would you have been reelected, do you think?
CARTER: I can't say that I did, because we had the hostage crisis and some other things.
BLITZER: All right, let's learn the lessons of that and flash forward now, a bitter battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Somebody's going to get the nomination. Somebody and their supporters are going to be deeply disappointed. How do you unify your party?
CARTER: There's no doubt in my mind at all that, after a nominee is chosen, the other candidate will support that nominee enthusiastically, and, overwhelmingly, the supporters of that losing nominee will support...
BLITZER: Well, what if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination because of the superdelegates, not because of the pledged delegates? Don't you think that Obama's supporters, whether young people, African-Americans, will see that as stealing the nomination, in effect?
CARTER: I think a lot of those people that you just mentioned who have not ordinarily been deeply involved in the political campaign might very well refrain from going to the polls. I don't think they are going to go out and vote for John McCain.
But I think they might -- they might very well not be enthusiastic if that should happen. But I can't imagine the -- a candidate -- I won't say which one -- getting the majority of a delegates and then having the superdelegates go the other way. That would be...
BLITZER: Because it looks almost certainly, irrespective of what happens in the remaining nine contests, that Barack Obama will emerge with the most pledged delegates. The superdelegates, though, will be the decisive factor.
CARTER: That's true.
But, you know, the Democratic primary and the Republican primary both is set up to deal with delegates, not popular votes, not the number of states you carry and that sort of thing. It's just delegates only.
And, so, it would be very, I think, uncomfortable to see the superdelegates go contrary to the way that Democratic voters...
BLITZER: But they're entitled to, though, if they want to.
CARTER: That's right. They're entitled.
BLITZER: If they think that one candidate is more electable or would be a better president, they created that rule precisely to go against the pledged delegates, if necessary.
CARTER: Right. And it was created after the 1980 election.
BLITZER: After your experience.
BLITZER: So, you know a lot of about the history of why they came up with these superdelegates.
CARTER: I certainly remember very well.
BLITZER: So, they're entitled to do it.
What in your opinion would be more important, as a superdelegate, who has the most pledged or elected delegates, or who has more of the popular vote in all of these 50-plus contests?
CARTER: The pledged delegates, because that's the whole rule.
I mean, there's no rule at all that says the popular vote gets the nomination. The rules for the Democratic Party and the Republican Party only refer to the delegates. BLITZER: So, that's -- that's -- some will argue, having heard what you just said, that's code for Barack Obama.
CARTER: Not necessarily. He hasn't gotten the majority of delegates yet.
BLITZER: But he's almost certainly going to get the most pledged delegates.
CARTER: Well, I don't know yet. They have got nine more states to go.
BLITZER: So, you're not ready to endorse anyone, in other words?
CARTER: No. You're right.
BLITZER: Let's talk about this remarkable mother that you had.
CARTER: I'm ready...
BLITZER: All of us who watched your presidency -- and I watched it very closely -- remember her so, so fondly, so vividly. And you have written a beautifully moving book, a book that every son can relate to.
But you had an extraordinary mom. Give us an example or two of why you decided now, after all these years -- she died, what, in 1983?
BLITZER: You decided to put it down on paper?
CARTER: Well, I think now is a time of kind of a quandary in our country. What does America really stand for? What are the great things about American consciousness and moral values and so forth?
And I think my mother, as well as anyone I have ever known, exemplifies or personifies what Americans ought to be like. She was strongly independent. She was strong-willed. She observed from her own perspective what was wrong with society. And she did everything she could within her power to change things that she thought was wrong, even though it brought on her condemnation and criticism and sometimes disgrace.
BLITZER: I don't remember her -- anybody ever condemning her or her being in -- I only remember positive things about her.
CARTER: But you didn't live with her during the Depression years, when segregation was the law of the land and discrimination against black people was the only thing we knew in the South. She never discriminated against a black person. And she never accepted the pressure of society when she decided to treat blacks and whites equally. And she did that all of her life. In fact, when she was 70-years-old...
BLITZER: She volunteered to go into the Peace Corps.
CARTER: She was in India. She was still dealing with poverty- stricken people who had leprosy and so forth, and standing up for their rights when she was 70-years-old. She did it all her life.
BLITZER: So, why was she such an amazing woman to go against the tide, as she did?
CARTER: That was just her character. She was a strong, determined woman. She believed in Christianity of the finest degree. She emulated what she thought Christ would do in a case like that. She believed in peace and justice and fairness and human rights and civil rights and service to others.
BLITZER: So, you believe -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- those attributes that you have, you can trace back to her?
CARTER: No, I'm not saying that I have those same attributes.
BLITZER: You try to do all those things.
CARTER: Sometimes, I do. Yes, I try that. I'm a Christian. I try to. But I know that all people have sinned and we come short of the glory of God. We don't brag on ourselves.
But my mother exemplified those things. And she was scorned and despised. She was the only person probably in 30,000 white people in Sumter County that was so blatantly reaching out on an equal basis to our black neighbors, who were suffering from gross discrimination.
BLITZER: Well, it's a remarkable read and just in time for Mother's Day, too, out there, "A Remarkable Mother."
BLITZER: Jimmy Carter writes -- this is a love story to your mom.
CARTER: It is. That's true. And I think every mother ought to have a copy of this book.
BLITZER: What about every son? I think every son should...
(CROSSTALK) CARTER: Every son ought to have it too, actually.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mr. President. Thanks for coming in. Congratulations on writing this book.
CARTER: I enjoyed it. Thank you. It's good to be with you again.
BLITZER: Thank you.
BLITZER: The most powerful African-American in Congress has a strong message for the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. You're going to want to hear what Congressman James Clyburn is saying.
And potentially stunning answers to a mystery that has lasted nearly a century. It involves this question: What really happened to the entire family of Russia's last czar?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Here's something we don't necessarily hear from Bill Clinton every day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, we're laughing. But here's the deal. I actually believe that, under the circumstances, the president and the Congress did the right thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Money at the center of a surprising agreement between the former and current presidents -- the best political team on television standing by to take on issue number one.
Plus, growing outrage over Iraq's big oil profits, while the U.S. is still footing the bill for reconstruction.
And suddenly silent -- did Barack Obama's stinging criticism convince his former pastor to clam up or did someone else get to him?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, an oil windfall sparking outrage. Iraq is raking in billions and billions of dollars right now, while the U.S. foots the bill for reconstruction. Is it time for the Iraqis to start to pay up?
Also, how to characterize the U.S. economy. President Bush says it doesn't matter what you call it. But are we in a recession?
Plus, in the wake of Barack Obama's very public split with his former pastor, silence today from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Why has he not responded? All of this, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
An oil windfall for Iraq and growing outrage over the billions of dollars the U.S. is pouring into reconstruction in Iraq.
Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us.
Brian, explain what's going on here.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Iraqi government is still so corrupt, that the U.S. inspector general for reconstruction calls it a second insurgency. That same U.S. official now has some other information about Iraq's leaders that might make American taxpayers wince.
TODD (voice-over): The Iraqi government, now flush with cash, thanks to skyrocketing oil prices. How flush?
STUART BOWEN, INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION: Iraq could reach $70 billion in oil income this year, which is twice what they anticipated.
TODD: The eye-popping figure is part of Inspector General Stuart Bowen's latest report to Congress on Iraqi reconstruction. We asked Bowen, how will Iraqis spend the money?
BOWEN: On more relief and reconstruction projects. But the challenge in the Iraqi government is executing their budget. Last year, it was only able to execute about 50 percent of its ministry capital budgets and 30 percent of its local capital budgets.
TODD: Bowen says that's because of inefficiency and complicated contract laws. The U.S. government has spent $31 billion so far on Iraq's reconstruction. And even before the latest numbers on Iraq's oil profits came out, members of Congress were steaming about the inequity for Americans getting socked at the pumps.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It is unconscionable that American taxpayers, paying a fortune for gasoline, some of which comes from Iraq, building up a huge surplus for Iraq, which the Iraqis are not spending, that the American taxpayers continue to spend billions of dollars on the reconstruction of Iraq.
TODD: Outrage that has built almost from the outset of the war, when U.S. officials made bold predictions about Iraqi oil revenues.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.
TODD: The inspector-general says Iraq can now start doing that.
We asked Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. about the charges of corruption and inefficiency.
SAMIR SUMAID'IE, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: These concerns are real and we understand them. We are addressing them. Remember, we have inherited a situation which was not our own making. These are decades of misrule -- decades of a culture of corruption.
TODD: Now, both the ambassador and the U.S. inspector-general believe that despite the shock of the oil revenue figures for Iraq, Americans should actually be pleased about this, because it does mean the Iraqi government will be far less dependent on American money for reconstruction. The inspector-general told us some U.S. funding has, in fact, just been trimmed off some reconstruction projects -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about this notion if the Iraqis are going to take in $70 billion this year in oil export revenue, maybe they should start thinking about repaying U.S. taxpayers for the billions and billions of dollars that we've spent?
TODD: Well, I asked the Iraqi ambassador about that, Wolf.
He essentially asked back, where would you start to figure out how much that is?
He said a lot of that money that the U.S. paid into reconstruction actually benefited American companies more than Iraqis. He said his government is open to negotiation on that front, however. And it's worth pointing out, the Iraqis themselves have paid billions of dollars into reconstruction.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our own Jack Cafferty, and our chief national correspondent, John King. They're part of the best political team on television.
When we say there's outrage on Capitol Hill, there is outrage. You know why, Jack?
Because a lot of people think that the American taxpayer is being played for a sucker.
CAFFERTY: Really? Gee, that's a new experience, isn't it?
That's never happened before in our country. They ought to be outraged. And the outrage ought to be directed at the Bush administration for not doing anything about this -- $70 billion in surplus money that's just sitting in Swiss bank accounts while us, the American taxpayers, continue to fund these phony reconstruction projects -- half of which are inhabitable when they're done anyway?
In addition to that, there was a report a week or so ago thousands -- thousands of dead or missing Iraqi soldiers and policemen are still on the payroll.
Guess who's paying those checks?
You and I, the American taxpayers. Last month was the deadliest month in seven for American soldiers in that in that war over there. We lost 47 of our troops. And tomorrow -- tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of "mission accomplished".
BLITZER: So how does this play out...
CAFFERTY: Isn't it grand?
BLITZER: How does this play out, Gloria, right now in the midst of this political campaign?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's really become a bipartisan issue on the Senate Armed Services Committee. You have both Democrats and Republicans saying where did our money go, we want an accounting of this. Because there are some striking numbers here that are very relevant, Wolf, that Iraq spent only 22 percent of the oil money set aside for reconstruction in 2006, a fraction of that in 2007.
So of this $47 billion we've given them, what have they done with it?
We don't know whether it's gone into some fat cat's pockets. We don't know what's happened with it. I mean, so, you know, the American taxpayers could be throwing money down a rat hole here and we don't even know where it's gone.
BLITZER: And, John, given Senator McCain's strong support for the war, this could be a political problem for him in particular?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a very tough problem for Senator McCain and any Republicans who continue to say the military presence in Iraq needs to stay there. In the end, Wolf, it makes it even worse because of the Paul Wolfowitz sound you just heard in Brian Todd's piece, because the Bush administration, at the beginning, said don't worry, the Iraqis will be able to pay for this and they'll just give us a few weeks or a few months and the oil revenues will be flowing in.
So it's more of an outrage because of what the Bush administration sold the American people. So what Republicans are saying, including Senator McCain's staff, is that the president will get his money for the troops. The Democrats will argue about timetables. That debate will continue. But, in the end, that the president will get his money for the troops, but don't look for any extra money for reconstruction or look for huge fights when it comes to that.
Democrats increasingly saying, look, whether you're for or against the war, we can't afford it anymore. We need that money back here in the United States at a time the economy is teetering on the edge of a recession.
BORGER: You know, this is finally the opening, I think, that the Democrats want, because they have to fund the troops even though they're opposed to the war. But they don't have to fund the reconstruction anymore. They can cut off that money. And Republicans will support it because it's been a waste.
CAFFERTY: Well, they -- realistically, they could have cut off all of the funding for the troops and for everything else going on over there. They just didn't have the political stomach to do it.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about the economy, because there is a spillover effect from the billions being spent in Iraq on what's happening here. Today, some new economic numbers, John, came out, showing that there was anemic economic growth, what, .6 percent in the first three months of this year -- the same number as occurred in the last three months of last year.
Here's how the president assessed the economy yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the words on how to define the economy don't reflect the anxiety the American people feel. You know, the average person doesn't really care what we call it. The average person wants to know whether or not we know that they're paying higher gasoline prices and that they're worried about staying in their homes. And I do understand that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It may not be a technical definition of a recession, but as you know, a lot of voters out there believe the company is deep in recession right now, John.
KING: No question, Wolf. But notice the change in tone from the president. That's the same president who just a few weeks back, when asked by Peter Maer of CBS Radio, what about the prospect of $4 a gallon gasoline, said, huh, I hadn't heard that. Mr. Bush is now at a different tone, saying let's not argue about whether the economists say there's technically a recession or not, the American people are hurting.
That is what you hear from John McCain, as well, because, look, when you have a bad economy, who pays the price politically? The people who run the government. And that would be the president of the United States, who happens to be a Republican. This is a Democratic issue -- or at least tends to favor the Democrats. And the Republicans know that. That's why you see John McCain out here today in blue collar Pennsylvania saying I know a gas tax holiday is not going to save the world, it's not going to solve the energy problems in this country, but it might put $20 or $50 in the pocket of a working family and let them take a summer vacation or do something, so let's do it.
Everybody in the political debate of this year is trying to show some empathy for people hurting the most.
BORGER: You know, there's nothing worse in politics than being considered out of touch with voters.
And remember when George Bush the elder didn't know the cost of a quart of milk in 1988, the political trouble that got him in?
So now politicians, including his son, understand that they have to let the voters know that they feel their pain in one way or another. And that's what you saw from Bush. And that's what you're hearing from McCain, although his proposal is not regarded as a lot of straight talk by a lot of people who know something about the economy.
CAFFERTY: Well, and it's just more politics as usual...
CAFFERTY: ...which is to say every time there's any kind of a problem, the politicians suggest some sort of short-term, Band-Aid approach to get over it -- let's suspend the gas tax for three months. Let's have an energy policy.
The only thing that came out of the oil crisis back in 1973 or '74 was the formation of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That was the only ongoing commitment we made to try to do something about our dependence on Middle East oil. And now the politicians are saying well, let's don't fund -- let's stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve because gasoline costs $4 a gallon.
These people have no vision for anything that happens beyond election day...
BLITZER: All right...
CAFFERTY: ...never have, never will.
BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We're going to continue this conversation.
Blasted by Barack Obama -- so why hasn't his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, responded to the candidate's scathing criticism?
Also, you're going to find out who's now owning up to some mysterious confusing phone calls to voters in one upcoming primary state.
Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Barack Obama very publicly divorcing himself from his controversial former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And from Jeremiah Wright today -- silence.
We're back with the best political team on television.
Gloria, any reason why he -- because I called up his spokesperson earlier today and asked is there any reaction. But no reaction or public statements or written statements. No nothing -- at least for now.
What do you think?
BORGER: Well, I was told by a source who knows Wright that ministers and friends of his in Chicago have been calling him and asking him to please not say anything. They're not sure if it's going to work forever, but it's clearly worked for today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Here's what the highest ranking African-American in Congress, James Clyburn, the majority whip, told me earlier in THE SITUATION ROOM when I asked him what advice he might have for the Reverend Wright.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN CLYBURN (D-SC), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: 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 research. That's where our discussion ought to be now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There's no doubt the Obama campaign would like the Reverend Wright to stay silent, simply go away.
John, is that likely?
KING: Well, they hope he would stay silent, Wolf. I was talking to a Democrat last night who is close to the Obama campaign who joked -- at least I took it as a joke -- that maybe Reverend Wright is the one person we should send to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing.
KING: They clearly want him to silence himself. They clearly recognize that this has caused him damage. And it is not just damage about what the pastor says. It is being used now on talk radio, it is being used quietly by the Clinton campaign to raise questions about Senator Obama's judgment, saying he was a congregant of this church for 20 years, that Pastor Wright was supposed to give the blessing -- the invocation, at his kick-off at his campaign for president and at the last minute, they pulled the plug. So they had to know that this was politically dicey.
So Senator Obama did something that impressed many Democrats yesterday -- also even though Democrats who support him say he has been late to understand the damage this could cause him. They are hoping, from here forward, he can build on what they believe was progress yesterday. But make no mistake about it, they are nervous the pastor will come out and speak again.
BLITZER: Jack, how much damage has been done to Obama's campaign?
CAFFERTY: Well, there's no way for us to be able to assess that accurately. I would offer this thought, that if any of us had gone out into public and made as big a fools of ourselves as Jeremiah Wright did on Monday in front of the National Press Club in Washington, that none of us would be too anxious to be seen or heard from in public for a while, either. That was just -- it was just disgraceful. And the guy who said he has no voice in the national debate, he's so right.
BLITZER: Well, he...
BORGER: But, you know, the big thing for Obama...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: ...Wolf, is just to get back on his message and to start talking about the economy again. You know, this is less than a week before Indiana, North Carolina. And Reverend Wright took him off his game for four or five days. And that -- that's not four or five days that he had to waste.
BLITZER: John, wrap it up for us.
KING: Obama looks more and more like a politician, Wolf. Every time he's involved in one of these dust-ups, he looks more and more like a traditional politician. The idea that he pulled the plug on him being at the original kick-off ceremony is being used by others to say this guy calculates everything he does and says, just like any other politician.
Can he move beyond it? Yes, he can, if he performs well.
But people are using this against him and this is a major test of Barack Obama. And not just Democrats are watching closely. Republicans, who expect to be running against him in the fall, are watching extremely closely.
BLITZER: All right, we'll talk about it down the road and see what happens.
Guys, thanks very much. BLITZER: Jack, don't go away. "The Cafferty File" still to come.
Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show, that begins right at the top of the hour.
Lou, give us a preview.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, I've got to ask you first, if I may, I mean is Jack really that comfortable?
Look at your colleague there.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty?
DOBBS: Yes. I mean he looks incredibly comfortable.
BLITZER: He's always comfortable.
DOBBS: It is so...
DOBBS: It's something to emulate here.
Wolf, thank you very much.
Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll be reporting on the Bush administration's determination to give Mexico nearly $1.5 billion. But it's for a good cause -- to fight violent drug cartels. Will that money end up in the hands of those drug cartels, however? We'll have that report.
And an unbelievable illustration of corporate America's apparent determination to just simply abandon working men and women and their families -- 3Com, whose purchase by a Chinese communist company was blocked, is now sending its new CEO to communist China. We'll be talking about that.
And Congress has nearly 180 caucuses for just about any issue or special interest that you can possibly imagine. The one major exception -- our middle class -- until now. One of the congressmen behind this new caucus on our middle class joins me.
And the illegal alien lobby, the open borders lobby -- they're attacking me again, this time for another network's reporting. We'll try to explain. Join us for that at the top of the hour.
We're going to have that, the news, my opinions and much more -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thanks, Lou.
See you in a few moments.
DOBBS: You got it.
BLITZER: Our question for you this hour, would shifting to a four day workweek be a good idea to save fuel?
Jack and your e-mail.
Plus, an unusual endorsement for Hillary Clinton. You're going to find out what one union official said she has that's usually reserved for men.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our political ticker, residents in North Carolina are 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.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is watching the story for us.
Abbi, who's responsible for these calls?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's a group called Women's Voices. Women Vote. Though you wouldn't know that if you received one.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
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.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TATTON: The North Carolina State Board of Elections called these robo-calls misleading, false information, as the mail and voter registration deadline for the primary has passed.
Now, the Institute of Southern Studies blog has traced the call to this Washington, D.C. nonprofit by the name of Women's Voices. Women Vote, that aims to register unmarried women.
The group said today the calls were a "sincere attempt to encourage voter registration for the general election." And they apologized for any confusion.
But it's confusion that has happened before. Election officials in Virginia tell us similar calls from the same group were investigated before their primary in February and there have been complaints in several other states.
The North Carolina attorney general says the calls violated state law by failing to disclose who sponsored them. A statement from Women's Voices. Women Vote says they are now trying to halt delivery of voter registration applications until after the North Carolina primary -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks for that, Abbi.
Abbi Tatton reporting.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Would shifting to a four day workweek be a good way to save gasoline?
Jenny writes: "I doubt it. I'm not sure how much of a problem the commute to work is. For me, it's the after hours driving and the weekend driving -- taking kids to sports activities, piano lessons, dance lessons, as well as frequent stops at Wal-Mart, are what get to me. Usually when I get to work, I'm there from 8:00 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon and the car doesn't move."
J.D. in New Hampshire says: "People who are a whole lot smarter than I need to be working around the clock seven days a week to develop new technologies other than oil. But, to your question, if you happen to be lucky enough to have a job, a four day workweek makes sense. I guess in this new world, we must cancel all vacations, as well. What a shame. The kids will miss out on those family road trips we used to have to endure."
Sandy in Ohio says: "A four day workweek could be a real solution. Studies show not much is accomplished on Fridays, anyway, as everybody is looking toward the weekend. Cutting a day of commuting out of everyone's budget would lower the demand for fuel and save people money, not to mention what it could for greenhouse gas emissions."
Tina in Texas: "Maybe somewhere else in the country. Here in Texas, they'll not give up their big SUVs or their trucks. Gas could go to $50 a gallon and the fools will still be out driving. We don't have bus service or tram service, like most cities. Most of us have to drive 30 miles or more to get to work."
And Brandon writes from Indiana: "the idea of having a four day workweek could be great, indeed. But the assumption that it would save gas is preposterous. If you want to save gas, move closer to your job, stop commuting for half an hour and stop feeling like you're entitled to cheap gas. Nobody ever talks about how much all the rest of the world is paying for gas."
And E. writes this: "The idea has been shown not to be correct. Just because someone isn't driving to work doesn't mean they're not driving to the mall."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for you e-mail there.
There are hundreds of them posted, including lots of letters that we get each day from Lou Dobbs -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He's always got a comment, Lou. CAFFERTY: He does, indeed.
BLITZER: See you tomorrow.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Day in and day out, presidential candidates need to look and sound their best. But they can find themselves in unfamiliar places. Jeanne Moos shows us the foggy looks and the glassy eyes from the long campaign.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots from the campaign trail coming in from our friends at the A.P.
In South Bend, Indiana, Senator Hillary Clinton shakes hands from the passenger side of a pickup truck. She rode to work with a sheet metal worker.
In Beech Grove, Indiana, Michelle Obama hugs a 19-year-old after meeting with her parents. The young woman is pregnant and her husband is about to be deployed to Iraq.
In Indianapolis, Senator Obama greets supporters during a conversation with working families.
And in Pennsylvania, Senator McCain looks at a C.T. scan during a town hall meeting at a hospital in Allentown.
Some of this hour's Hot Shots.
Political candidates usually have an advance team that checks out every tiny detail of the next campaign stop.
CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us in her Moost Unusual way what happens when things don't go as planned.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They may be potential presidents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a peek in there and you can see...
MOOS: That doesn't mean they know what they're looking at.
OBAMA: This is just kind of oozing all over the place?
MOOS: Also oozing all over the place -- the press. This is what's known as the candidate tour. Every step is orchestrated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Step to your left.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up guys. If you could back up, please.
MOOS: Half the time, you get the feeling the candidate is clueless about what he's staring at...
MCCAIN: Can we get a picture with our guys here?
MOOS: ...or what the guys in the suits actually do, or exactly what it was he was just looking at under the microscope.
MCCAIN: To find out exactly what I've seen there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colon cancer cells.
MCCAIN: There's no such thing as a dumb question.
MOOS: No dumb questions, it's the answers that can make a candidate glaze over.
OBAMA: The panels...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fuel systems...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The filters were all defamed downstairs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can steam these tanks.
MCCAIN: What is this telling me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is looking at the fluorescence.
MCCAIN: Uh-huh. Fascinating.
MOOS: The candidates tend to do a lot of pointing during these tours. They do a lot of touching, as well. They pass by objects that could befuddle anyone.
What is this thing? Is it a missile? Does it fly?
It's a wind turbine.
OBAMA: Huh. It looks like a big surf board.
MOOS: Just begging to be autographed. The candidates seem happiest during the tours when they're meeting the workers, especially ones who address them as Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Mr. President.
OBAMA: How are you?
Good to see you. It's got a ring to it, doesn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it does. MOOS: He thinks that has a nice ring to it. Listen to what Hillary heard from a steelworkers union official talking about looking for a leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That has testicular fortitude.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, that's exactly right.
H. CLINTON: I do think I have fortitude. Women can have it as well as men.
MOOS: These tours sure require fortitude. Candidates better be prepared to do a lot of nodding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll bet every single one of those ports can be fitted with special probes to measure like oxygen concentration.
MCCAIN: We're very excited about this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cars, too much.
MOOS: Remind you of anything?
At least going on all these tours is good preparation to become nodder-in-chief.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: And if you noticed -- and you probably did -- you didn't see our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, out on the campaign trail today. There was a good reason for that. She won a prestigious award. It's the New Hampshire Primary Award for outstanding political coverage. Congratulations to Candy. Well deserved.
That's all the time we have today. Thanks very much for joining us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.