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Interview With Hillary Clinton; Intreview With John Edwards

Aired May 18, 2008 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.

CLINTON: The delegate race for me is close. We have contests yet to go.

BLITZER (voice-over): Hillary Clinton gets an impressive win in West Virginia, but still faces an uphill fight. The New York senator talks about her prospects for a come-from-behind victory for the Democratic nomination, and more, in an interview.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: He accused me and other Democrats of wanting to negotiate with terrorists.

BLITZER: Barack Obama takes on President Bush over national security.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: By January 2013, America will welcome home most of the service men and women who have sacrificed terribly.

BLITZER: While John McCain lays out his vision of his first term. We'll get insight and analysis from former Democratic senator Gary Hart and former Reagan cabinet member and CNN contributor Bill Bennett.

EDWARDS: The Democratic voters in America have made their choices. So have I.

BLITZER: John Edwards throws his support behind Barack Obama. The former Democratic presidential candidate tells us why in an interview.

Plus, the latest on the race for the White House from three of the best political team on television.

From record gas prices to the housing crisis, we'll discuss what's being done to help the U.S. economy with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Ten years of LATE EDITION. We'll look back at my 2001 interview with then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. The first hour of LATE EDITION begins right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is LATE EDITION with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington 8 a.m. in Los Angeles and p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for LATE EDITION.

We'll get to my interview with Senator Hillary Clinton in just a moment. But we begin with a developing story we've been following here in the United States, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy in a Massachusetts hospital after suffering an apparent seizure. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is in Boston, she's following the story for us. Deb, what is the latest?

FEYERICK: Well Wolf, the 76-year-old senator remains in serious condition. A spokesman tells us that he got a good night's sleep, but today they're really expecting it to be very quiet. The senator will be here for a couple of days according to the spokeswoman and his office will continue running normally during his absence. Doctors still trying to figure out what happened, what triggered the seizure, how to treat it, and whether in fact it's related in any way to surgery that Senator Kennedy had seven months ago to remove a blockage from an artery in his neck. That was picked up during routine screening. His wife Vicki Reggie Kennedy was here all yesterday, late into the night. She's expected to return today. A couple of other Kennedys in town. But right now, pretty quiet. Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, we wish him a speedy, speedy recovery. Deb, thanks very much.

Let's get to the race for the White House right now. Hillary Clinton had a huge victory in last Tuesday's West Virginia primary. But she still faces an enormous challenge. I spoke with her this week, the day after her primary win.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, the Democratic presidential candidate. Senator Clinton, thanks very much for joining us.

CLINTON: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Congratulations on your win yesterday in West Virginia. A big win for Senator Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, it was a big win. And it was a very gratifying one because I had campaigned hard there, and I think that the issues that I've been championing on the economy and health care really resonated with the voters in West Virginia.

And as I have said many times in the last couple of weeks, no Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia. So I took that as a good sign.

BLITZER: You did well there. All right, let me get your reaction. The current issue of "TIME" magazine, which you've probably seen, you see a cover like this and it says, "And the Winner Is...", and a little asterisk. What do you think when you see something like this?

CLINTON: I think it's a great picture of Barack. You know what I think? Is that this is the closest election we've ever had that anybody can remember. Each of us has brought millions of new people into the process. I think I've now been privileged to receive the votes of 17 million Americans.

And that's pretty much the same as Senator Obama. The delegate race remains close. We have contests yet to go. People have been trying to end it. And the voters just won't let it happen.

As a recent poll suggested, 64 percent of Democrats want to see this continue. And I think for good reason, because it's one of the most substantive, exciting, energizing political events I can remember in my lifetime.

And there is no winner yet. You have to have, now with the special election of a Democrat from Mississippi, 2,210 delegates to actually stay...

BLITZER: You're including Florida and Michigan.

CLINTON: Which we have to. We have to include them.

BLITZER: Because in -- they're going to be meeting, the Rules Committee of the DNC...


BLITZER: ... May 31st.

CLINTON: That's right. BLITZER: They have to make a decision.


BLITZER: What do you want them to do?

CLINTON: Well, what I would want them to do is to seat the whole delegations based on the votes that were taken, because I think the voters who came out, over 2.3 million of them in both states, clearly believed that their votes would count. And they may have violated the DNC rules, but other states did as well.

BLITZER: Because right now the DNC says that the number is, what, 2,025 or 2,026?

CLINTON: That's just not a practical answer. That would mean that only 48 states would determine who the nominee of the Democratic Party is. And that's not the way the election works.

BLITZER: So you're staying in at least through May 31 and June 3...

CLINTON: That's right.

BLITZER: ... which is the last -- you're not going anywhere.

CLINTON: I'm not going anywhere, Wolf...

BLITZER: All right.

CLINTON: ... except to Kentucky and Oregon and Montana and South Dakota, and Puerto Rico.

BLITZER: In these remaining states.

Let's talk about some of the issues, the key issues, the economic issues, issue No. 1, the economy. Gas prices...


BLITZER: ... right now. You've said in recent days you want to get tough with the major oil exporting countries, OPEC, because of the huge cost per barrel, the resultant price of a gallon of gas.

But when you say get tough with OPEC, what does it mean when you have members of OPEC like Ahmadinejad of Iran or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, or Gaddafi of Libya? How do you plan on getting tough with them?

CLINTON: Well, I actually have a four-part program that I would put into effect were I president today to deal with these rising gas prices, which are going to hit $4 soon. And it's an enormous burden on people who drive any considerable distance.

BLITZER: But what kind of leverage do you have on OPEC? CLINTON: Well, four things, and I'll get to OPEC quickly. I would go after the energy traders and speculators. I think they are adding to the cost of a barrel of oil. I believe there is significant evidence of that.

So I would launch a Department of Justice/Federal Trade Commission investigation and really try to rein them in and close what's called the "Enron loophole." I approve and voted for what the Congress did yesterday, which is to quit filling up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and I would even release some money.

I have advocated a gas tax holiday that is paid for. That is not what Senator McCain wants. He wants one that is not paid for. And Senator Obama doesn't want one at all. But I would pay for it out of the record profits of the oil companies.

Nine countries that are members of OPEC are members of the WTO, the World Trade Organization, where they have agreed to certain rules that I believe OPEC by definition violates. Also, we have never used antitrust laws in our country to really go at the heart of what is a monopoly cartel.

There is something fundamentally wrong and outdated in having the oil-producing countries getting together a couple of times a year and saying, OK, here's how much we're going to produce and here's how much we're going to charge for it. And I think there is enough market power in the world, if we use the tools available to us, to rein that in.

BLITZER: Because Barack Obama says this...


OBAMA: You say you've been in the White House for eight years, you've had two terms as a United States senator, and haven't said a word about OPEC. And now suddenly you're going to take it right to OPEC?


CLINTON: Well, he's wrong about that. I have voted, actually, in the Senate on several occasions to try to get the president of the United States to do something about OPEC. Obviously, President Bush wasn't inclined to do so, the Republican Congress before him was not inclined to do so.

So we're going to have, I hope, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. That is the time when we'll be able to take on this unfinished business when it comes to energy.

BLITZER: Looking back, did the Clinton administration, during eight years of your husband in the White House, do enough toward energy independence?

CLINTON: Well, they certainly tried between both the president and the vice president. And my husband often says laughingly that tax credits and energy programs were the only things that he couldn't get the Republican Congress to even look at, because obviously they had a very different view about what we should be doing.

But now I think it's clear to everyone, even the Republican nominee, Senator McCain, who has been very eloquent in the last few days, talking about how we have to cap greenhouse gas emissions, this is not a Republican or Democratic issue.

We need a long-term strategy, like the one I've outlined on my Web site, You can read all about it. And we need a short-term strategy to try to provide relief to citizens right now.

BLITZER: You were recently asked about your proposal to have a holiday on the gas tax. And you would pay for it by having a windfall profit tax on ExxonMobil and some of the other big oil companies. And then when you were pressed on economists who would endorse your idea, you said you're not going to put your lot in with economists.


BLITZER: Which raised questions, are you not going to believe in what economists say?

CLINTON: No, but I think there's that old saying. You can find an economist to say nearly anything.

Now, some of the economists were against it because they misunderstood my policy. They thought it wasn't paid for. And I would agree with those who said we can't afford a gas tax holiday that will add to the deficit, that will take money out of the highway trust fund. Others are against the mechanism of a windfall profits tax. They think that doesn't necessarily work well and that the cost will be passed on.

My attitude is I think we could design such a windfall profits tax that would work, that would be enforceable and that would not be passed on. I have been advocating a windfall profits tax on the oil companies to supplement a strategic energy fund that I have recommended for more than three years, and it's because I think that there is such a disconnect between what the oil companies have been raking in as profits and any comparable investment or effort that they've made to produce those profits.

There does seem to me to be an opportunity here both to take away the subsidies for the oil companies, which clearly don't need our tax dollars to make these huge profits, and to try to impose a windfall profits tax.

BLITZER: But you will consult with economists...

CLINTON: Of course.

BLITZER: ... you believe in economists, and if you're president of the United States you'll work with economists, because when you said, "I'm not going to put your lot in with economists..."

CLINTON: Well, not totally. Not totally. You know, sometimes economists are not right. And I think there are political...

BLITZER: But most of the economists have criticized your plan.

CLINTON: Well, again, some of them didn't understand it and some of them don't believe it could be done. But you listen to all kinds of advisers, but then you have to try to make up your mind. Franklin Roosevelt, during the New Deal, a lot of economists said that's a terrible idea, you're going to be priming the pump, you're going to be putting people to work. That's a terrible idea, that's a betrayal of the American capitalist system. But he said, you know we've got to put people to work.

Well, I think we've got to reign in the oil companies. And there are certainly economically appropriate ways of doing that.

BLITZER: When it comes to the war in Iraq, another issue on the minds of Americans right now, you've criticized Senator McCain for suggesting U.S. troops could stay there perhaps for 100 years. But you yourself back in 2005 suggested, you know what? If there's a peaceful environment like along the lines of Korea or Germany or Okinawa, maybe it wouldn't be that bad for a long-term U.S. military presence in that kind of environment.

Is the criticism of Senator McCain, who's made similar comments, is it warranted? CLINTON: Well, I think it is for this reason, that there isn't any significant milestone that the Iraqi government has met. It's a very different situation than Germany or Korea.

BLITZER: But if they were to meet those milestones and if there were a new peaceful environment?

CLINTON: But Wolf, I don't think though -- I think you're confusing kind of cause and effect. I don't believe that they will serious attempt to meet those milestones until they are absolutely convinced we are going to withdraw. I believe that is the best way to focus their attention.

Everything we've tried, including the most recent effort with the surge, has not resulted in the gains that were either hoped for or forecasted. I believe we've got to bring our troops home. There are continuing missions -- guarding our embassy, Special Forces perhaps dealing with al Qaeda -- but that's a very different scenario than what we have today. Therefore, I would begin to bring our troops home.


BLITZER: Just ahead, more of my interview with Hillary Clinton. She gets emotional, you're going to want to see why in part two of this interview. That's coming up next.

Also, this note. On Tuesday, I'll be with the best political team on television. We'll be bringing you the results from the Kentucky and Oregon primaries. Our live coverage begins 7 p.m. Eastern from the CNN Election Center. You're watching LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up in our next hour, John Edwards strongly defends Barack Obama's foreign policy credentials and tells us why he decided to back his former Democratic rival. But right now, here's part two of my interview with Senator Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: The Israelis are celebrating their 60th anniversary right now as an independent state. Here is what McCain said about Barack Obama. And I want to get your reaction.

He said, "I think" -- this is McCain -- "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas' worst nightmare. If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly."

McCain was referring to a statement by the North American spokesman for Hamas endorsing, in effect, Barack Obama. Is McCain right? CLINTON: No, I think that that's really, you know, just an overstatement, an exaggeration of any kind of, you know, political meaning. And I don't think that anybody should take that seriously.

BLITZER: But you have confidence in Barack Obama as president would be a strong supporter of Israel?

CLINTON: I would -- yes, I do. I would believe that that would be the policy of the United States, and it's been our policy for 60 years.

BLITZER: Because the criticism he gets from McCain and his supporters -- McCain's supporters -- is that he would be willing to meet unconditionally with the leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and given the statements that Ahmadinejad has made about destroying Israel, that doesn't -- that doesn't reassure, let's say, Israel.

CLINTON: Well, I think that's a different issue. You know, I objected when that statement was made back in an early debate, because I don't believe that a United States president should commit to meet unconditionally with leaders of rogue nations. That doesn't mean you don't eventually meet with them under appropriate circumstances, but not without conditions.

BLITZER: Let's talk about an issue that's come up in this campaign. The issue of race in the campaign. You were widely quoted in that "USA Today" interview.


CLINTON: There was just an "A.P." article posted that found how Senator Obama's support among working -- hard working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how the -- you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.

(END AUDIO CLIP) BLITZER: Now, your great friend and supporter, Congressman Charlie Rangel, said -- and I'm quoting now -- "It's the dumbest thing you could have said."

CLINTON: Well, he's probably right.

BLITZER: Oh, he is? All right. Well, explain.

CLINTON: Well, absolutely. Well, I was -- I was referencing an AP article, and, you know, obviously I have worked very hard to get the votes of everyone. And I have campaigned hard, I understand that we've got to put together a broad coalition in order to win in the fall. We've got to get to that 270 electoral vote margin. And I know Senator Obama has worked hard to reach out to every community and constituency.

So I'm going to continue to do that. That's what I think is in the best interest of our party and that's how we will win in November.

BLITZER: Well, as someone who has championed civil rights all of these years, and you see all these stories coming up, and he's getting 90 percent of the African-American vote, you're doing well with these white working class voters, as you did in West Virginia, for example, Pennsylvania, in Ohio, how does that make you feel when you see this issue all of a sudden explode out there?

CLINTON: Well, I obviously regret people exploding an issue like that, because I think it's not only unfounded, but, you know, it's offensive.

I think people vote for me because they think I'd be the better president. I think people vote for him because they think he'd be the better president.

I think people vote for me because they believe I'll fight for them. I think they vote for each of us for whatever combination of reasons that appeal to the individual voter. That's the way it's supposed to be in America.

And I've worked very hard to make it clear to people in this campaign that we need a champion back in the White House. I am not one who believes that we're going to be able to come to Washington in 2009, hold hands with everybody, and take on the drug companies and the oil companies and the health insurance companies and everything we have to do, and that, just, somehow that will all happen.

I think politics is the hard boring of hard boards, as Max Faber said. And from my perspective, people who know how hard it will be to create the changes we need are attracted to my candidacy, people who feel that, maybe, life hasn't been fair, the odds are stacked against them. They want somebody who's going to go to bat for them.

BLITZER: At, we invited people to submit a question through our i-reporters. A couple came in that I want to play for you, to get your brief response.

This one was from someone named Billy Sutton (ph). He's a Clinton supporter turned Obama supporter. But watch this.


(UNKNOWN): Senator Clinton, I have a question for you. I was wondering, why do you believe that so many of your strongest Democratic supporters say that they would vote for Senator McCain over Senator Obama in the fall, if you were not to win the nomination?


CLINTON: Well, I've heard that from both my supporters and Senator Obama's supporters.

BLITZER: Because the exit polls showed that, a bug chunk of them.

CLINTON: Right, that both his supporters and my supporters might stay home or not vote for the other. And I just have to say, as strongly as I can, Billy, that that would be a terrible mistake. Anybody who has ever voted for me or voted for Barack has much more in common, in terms of what we want to see happen in our country and in the world, with the other than they do with John McCain.

So I'm going to work my heart out for whoever our nominee is. Obviously, I'm still hoping to be that nominee.

But I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that anyone who supported me, the 17 million people who have voted for me, understand what a grave error it would be not to vote for Senator McCain -- Senator Obama, and against Senator McCain. And I know that Senator Obama has said that he will do the same to campaign for me.

So, you know, in the heat of a primary campaign, people get -- their passions are high. They feel intensely. That's all understandable. But once we have a nominee, we're going to have a unified Democratic Party.

BLITZER: Because Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, among others, says the best way to heal this Democratic Party, irrespective of who gets the nomination, is for the two of you to be on the ticket.

CLINTON: I know. I think he made a speech or wrote something to that effect. And it's premature for either of us to talk about that. I think both of us are committed to doing everything we can to win in the fall. I certainly am.

And I will do -- I mean, I will do whatever it takes. Because I know what four more years of basically the same Bush policies would mean to America, even though they would be carried out by someone else. They are more of the same. And we cannot afford that.

BLITZER: We also got a variant of this question from a lot of our viewers. This is from a McCain supporter. He asked this question.


(UNKNOWN): Why do you continue to stay in this race for the Democratic nomination?

Barack Obama is well ahead of you in the delegates, and now ahead of you in the superdelegates. Many of them have switched to him after he won by a large margin over you in the North Carolina primaries last week.


CLINTON: Well, I'm really touched that a McCain supporter would be so concerned about our primary. But let me say that, after my big win last night in West Virginia, the delegate difference is extremely narrow. It is -- you know, people have gone to conventions and fought out nominations with far fewer delegates. We have a close, close race here. And it is a matter of inches. And we're going to keep going until someone gets 2,210 delegates. That's the way our system works.

BLITZER: John Edwards says he gives you a lot of credit for being willing to stick in there and fight it out. He, as you know, dropped out. And I guess the question is, how do you do it every single day?

CLINTON: You know, Wolf, something happens every single day that just lifts my spirits and energizes me. A lot of the people who have worked their hearts out for me in this primary season -- they're not quitters in their own lives.

I mean, the single mom in Indianapolis who's never given money to anybody, and gives me $20 a month out of her paycheck, and goes to my headquarters every lunch hour to work for me, or the little boy who sells his bicycle, from Kentucky, or the 88-year-old woman dying in a hospice in South Dakota who just demands that her daughter bring her an absentee ballot.

I mean, these are people who I feel like I'm representing, and that I have a very personal connection to. So, you know, I don't believe in quitting. You may not win in life, but you do the best you can. You go the distance. You don't walk off the court before the buzzer sounds.

You never know. You might get a three-point shot at the end. And so we're going to finish this process. It's been a privilege and an honor to have met so many Americans, been to so many of the beautiful places in this country. And I feel like I'm doing it for the right reasons. And I still believe I'd be the better president and the stronger candidate against Senator McCain.

BLITZER: We have one final question, because we're out of time. And it involves your daughter Chelsea. I've been watching her since she was a little girl. She came to Washington back in '93, in the '92 campaign, and now she's a grown woman. And she's out there campaigning for you every single day. I think she's in Puerto Rico right now. And I know you talk to her every single day.

CLINTON: Right. Right.

BLITZER: And, you know, what goes through your mind when you -- when you have your own daughter out there, working as hard for you as she is?

CLINTON: Well, it's one of the most incredibly gratifying experiences of my life, as a person, and as a mother. It's going to make me get very emotional.

She is an exceptional person. And she's worked so hard, and she's done such a good job that I'm just filled with pride every time I look at her.

You know, obviously, we are very close. We are in communication all the time. But, you know, she is doing this because she believes I'd be a good president but also because she cares so much about our country's future. She did grow up in the White House. She knows what a difference a president makes. If anybody ever doubted what difference a president makes, after seven years of George Bush, I think the doubts should be put to rest.

So she's doing it because she's my daughter, but she's doing it because, as she says, she's a young American who cares about our future.

BLITZER: And she's doing it because she loves you.

CLINTON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton, thanks very much.

CLINTON: Thanks.

BLITZER: And coming up, Gary Hart and Bill Bennett take opposite sides on President Bush's very controversial "appeasement" remarks in the Knesset in Jerusalem. We'll have a full discussion of that.

But first, we'll get an update on the speech the president gave this morning, in Egypt, on his final day in the Middle East. Stay with us. "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We'll get to my interviews with the former senator Gary Hart and CNN contributor Bill Bennett in just a moment.

First, though, Fredricka Whitfield is at the LATE EDITION update desk with some other stories we're following right now. Fred, what's going on?


BLITZER: Amazing stories of survival. Thanks, Fred, very much.

Speaking in Israel this week, President Bush stirred up a firestorm in the U.S. presidential race. We'll talk about the controversy with former senator Gary hart. He's an Obama supporter, when LATE EDITION continues.



BUSH: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We've heard this foolish delusion before. We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: That was President Bush in a major speech before the Israeli Knesset on Thursday, marking Israel's 60th anniversary of its independence. A lot of people suggest he was referring directly to Barack Obama and that sparked a huge political fire fight over U.S. policy. Let's discuss this and more. Joining us from Denver, the former Colorado senator, Gary Hart. He's now supporting Barack Obama. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

HART: Great pleasure, thank you.

BLITZER: When you heard those very strong words from President Bush, what went through your mind?

HART: Well, it was highly inappropriate on multiple levels. First of all, the unwritten rule in American politics is you don't go abroad to engage in American domestic politics, particularly at the presidential level.

Second, the occasion was totally wrong. This was a celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary. And to inflame an occasion like that with words like appeasement is just totally out of bounds.

Third, we all know that the administration has had contact with and is advocating contact with Hamas and other organizations.

So it was incredibly hypocritical. And then finally, the White House press office, when people responded on this side of the waters so vehemently, were disingenuous at least by saying at least, well, if the president was talking about anyone, he was talking about Jimmy Carter. Well, that's just -- we know that's totally false.

BLITZER: How do we know that?

HART: First of all, if he was talking about Jimmy Carter, it was still wrong for all the reasons I've stated. And Jimmy Carter's not running for president. John McCain's already attacked Barack Obama as saying he's the candidate from Hamas. And so I think this was all part of the McCain campaign.

BLITZER: When Barack Obama responded very angrily to what the president suggested, or implied in his remarks in the Knesset, John McCain didn't waste any time in going directly after Barack Obama. Listen to this.


MCCAIN: It was a serious error on the part of Senator Obama. It shows naivete and inexperience and lack of judgment to say that he wants to sit down across the table from an individual who leads a country that says Israel is a sinking corpse, that is dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel.


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama has been on record several times saying he would sit down with the president of Iran without pre- conditions. Is McCain wrong there?

HART: My guess is, without discussing it with Senator Obama, he is talking about an administration negotiating. Now, if that led to heads of state discussing to wrap up a deal, that's been done throughout American history. Keep in mind that as early as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, they negotiated with the al Qaeda of their day, the Barbary pirates before finally attacking them.

So we've had administrations, highly reputable administrations discuss differences with all kinds of states and organizations throughout our history. I think Barack Obama was simply saying he would be willing to explore, his administration would be willing to explore whether or not differences could be discussed. John McCain knows that. BLITZER: But the question he was specifically asked at one of the presidential debates is, would you personally as president, be willing to sit down with these leaders, whether leaders of North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba or Iran without pre-conditions, in your first year of president, that was the specific question, he said yes. He later expanded. He said that there would be preparations that would have to be done by lower-level officials. But he was saying without pre-conditions, he personally would be willing to do so.

HART: Well, it depends on how you define pre-conditions. I've been in those debates, and everything gets compressed. I don't think Barack Obama or any other president's going to meet with a head of state without lower-level discussions preceding that. It doesn't lead to anything. What you do is send diplomats and negotiators to explore areas of mutual interest. And if it does seem profitable, then you go to the heads of state. We did this with the Soviets throughout the Cold War. Richard Nixon did it with the Chinese. And the preparations led up to those discussions.

BLITZER: Because both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, among other Democratic presidential candidates of the time, they criticized Barack Obama for that flat statement that he had made.

Let me ask you about the politics of all of this. It seems the Republicans would very much like to once again project the Democratic presidential candidate as weak on national security, soft on defense. This goes back to basically 1972, when McGovern was running for president. They've had a pretty good track record in making that argument. How worried are you that McCain and his supporters would succeed in making that argument against Barack Obama.

HART: Actually, it goes back earlier than that. This was exactly the case made against John Kennedy, who, as we know, led this country a couple of years after that election through the most critical era of its history.

HART: And that was the Cuban missile crisis. So youth and inexperience was the charge Nixon made against Kennedy and they proved to be false.

BLITZER: But they may have proved to be false, but it's been a successful argument that the Republicans have made. And now they go one step further, the McCain camp, and say, this is his strength, national security, John McCain. The Democrats want to fight on his turf, national security. They're a lot better off doing than, let's say, on the economy.

HART: A lot of us supporting Barack Obama have pretty long history of experience in national security matters. And I for one would yield to no one in this country in terms of my commitment to this country's national security, and new ways to achieve it. We're not living in the Cold War anymore. And to pretend that simply spending a lot more money on the Pentagon is going to make us safer was proved false by 9/11. This was an administration that was warned that terrorists were going to attack this country, and they did nothing. I am not going to listen to anybody in this administration talk about Democrats being weak on national security. They let this country down.

BLITZER: Senator Hart, thanks for coming in.

HART: Pleasure.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll get a very different perspective from former Reagan cabinet secretary and CNN contributor Bill Bennett. He'll be here as LATE EDITION continues right after this.



OBAMA: He accused me and other Democrats of wanting to negotiate with terrorists, and said we were appeasers, no different from people who appease Adolf Hitler. George Bush said in front of the Israeli parliament. Now, that's exactly the kind of appalling attack that's divided our country and that alienates us from the world.


BLITZER: That was Senator Barack Obama on Friday, responding directly to President Bush. We just spoke about that with Obama supporter Gary Hart. Let's get the Republican point of view right now from Bill Bennett. He's a former Reagan cabinet secretary, a CNN contributor. He's a strong supporter of John McCain, has a morning radio show as well. You're a busy guy.

BENNETT: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

BENNETT: Work Sundays like you.

BLITZER: Was it appropriate for the president of the United States to go before the Knesset and make that charge against Barack Obama and Democrats?

BENNETT: Yes, and let me tell you why for two reasons that I think so. One, this is the 60th anniversary of Israel, and it's appropriate to talk about appeasement. Because of appeasement, Israel is still under threat and it's still under threat. Second, he didn't mention Democrats. He didn't say Democrats, he didn't say Obama, he didn't say Carter.

BLITZER: Do you have any doubt that he's referring to them?

BENNETT: I have no doubt they're included in a larger group. You could also include in that group members of Tony Blair's cabinet, probably James Baker, who recommended in the Iraq Study Group meetings with Syria, Iran, and so on. What he was arguing against was a policy position, a position which endangers Israel. Which is to meet with dictators, increase their profile, increase their prestige, undermine opposition. But the touchiness, the immediate reaction of Senator Obama, the touchiness of Senator Hart shows you -- the point you make, that they feel very vulnerable on this issue, as they should.

BLITZER: On national security.


BLITZER: In his speech on Friday, Barack Obama went right after not only President Bush, but also John McCain in saying, you want to debate national security and foreign policy, in effect he said bring it on. I'll play this little clip of what he said.



OBAMA: Those are the failed policies that John McCain wants to double down on. Because he still hasn't spelled out one substantial way in which he would be different from George Bush when it comes to foreign policy.


BLITZER: Now, among other things, he pointed out, he said that Iran is now stronger than it was earlier. Israel as a result strategically weaker. Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda all stronger. The United States quagmired right now in a war in Iraq. He said, if you want to talk about the record of the last eight years, go ahead. Because he's ready to take on McCain.

BENNETT: Well no one has been more critical of the president's foreign policy in Iraq than John McCain. And directly in terms of how that war is going. He was critical early on and remained critical.

BLITZER: Right now he supports...

BENNETT: Because the president has bought the McCain recommendation of the surge. Yes, I would be tougher on Iran and I would be tougher on Hamas. And I think that McCain will be. But the one thing you can't say about John McCain, which Democrats will try to say, is that he's indistinguishable from George Bush.

BLITZER: A third term of George Bush. That's the argument they'll make on economic issues and on national security issues. BENNETT: Right. The other thing I just want to mention, back to Israel, it was interesting when the president gave those remarks, I noticed those people applauding the president's remarks, one of them was Elie Wiesel, applauding the president's remarks.

BLITZER: The Holocaust survivor.

BENNETT: Right, hardly a Republican, but someone who understand that to appease terrorists and the dictators is to hurt the cause of Israel.

BLITZER: Well, he may not necessarily have been politically sensitive enough to assume that the president's referring to Barack Obama.

BENNETT: I have been in meetings with Elie Wiesel in the White House, as you have been. He's a pretty politically attuned guy.

BLITZER: When Obama says that McCain wants to double down on Bush's national security policies, because he doesn't see any substantial difference, do you see right now any substantial difference on national security between John McCain and George Bush?

BENNETT: Well, no, I think that on the issue at hand, which is when you negotiate with terrorists, you negotiate with leaders of terrorist states, no. But I do think as McCain has signaled by his criticism of George Bush that he will be tougher on Iran, he will be tougher on Hamas. I think he'll take on other issues. He's a much more confident guy in foreign policy. If the Democrats want to have a debate about foreign policy and national security, if that's where they want to have a major debate for this election, I think John McCain will welcome it.

BLITZER: Here's what Barack Obama said at the CNN/Univision debate on February 21st, explaining his theory about a dialogue with tyrants and others. Listen to this.


OBAMA: If we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world. At this point in time. And I think that it's important for us in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years.


BLITZER: But even in recent days, the Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested that these kinds of meetings, dialogues with Iran and other countries, and the U.S. has been engaged in direct dialogue with North Korea for some time, I don't know how successful it's been, but it's going on, what's wrong with what Barack Obama is suggesting?

BENNETT: Well, a couple things. First of all, there's a difference between negotiations at some level, State Departments to their State Department or whatever equivalent organizations and president to president.

BENNETT: When you sit down with Ahmadinejad, you increase his stature and prestige. You don't want to do that.

Also, the Obama campaign has said not pre-conditions, but some other word they've used. I can't remember...

BLITZER: There would be preparations, but there would be no pre- conditions.

BENNETT: What's the difference between that? This seems to be a hedge. But it's in that very quote, Wolf, I think you see the problem, when he says when people believe it's some kind of privilege to meet with the president. It should be a privilege to meet with the president. I was in the cabinet, always regarded it as a privilege to meet with the president. He says that's because we think we're somehow better than other countries.

We are in fact better than other countries. That is the problem. And just take this debate to another level. Does Barack Obama not believe that we are superior to these other countries? Is that why he's so ready to deal at the lowest common denominator?

BLITZER: All right. Let me just get your quick reaction to another setback the Republicans suffered, Mississippi congressional election this past week. That seat had long been held by Republicans, the third straight special election in which the Republicans have suffered.

Here's Tom Davis. He's a Republican congressman, retiring, who summarized the Republican stand, the Republican position right now.


REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: At the congressional level at this point, the reputation is just in the trash can. And the Republican brand name, if you were to put this on a dog food, the owners would just take it off the shelf, because nobody's buying it.


BLITZER: Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, had similar words, saying the Republicans right now are in deep trouble. How much trouble are they in?

BENNETT: Well, this is almost a unanimous resolution. The problem is that a lot of Republicans say we're in serious trouble, we're doing the wrong thing, and they vote for something like this farm bill. So they've got to stop behaving this way if they condemn that kind of action. This is what you call cognitive dissonance, you know, not reacting to your criticism of yourself. They have got to make clear what their priorities are. They've got to come up with a sound agenda.

John McCain, interestingly, seems to be escaping a lot of this wrath and is still, despite all the problems of the Republican Party, running close to even with Obama. So the notion that he is the same as George Bush does not seem one that's persuasive to the American people. Republicans have a lot of work to do.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, thanks very much for coming in.

BENNETT: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett is our CNN contributor. Appreciate it.

Coming up, we're standing by. We're going to be speaking with John Edwards at the top of the hour. Much more of "Late Edition" right after this.


BLITZER: In response to President Bush's appeasement comments, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden hit back hard, using some very tough language to describe the president's remarks.


SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: This is bull [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. This is malarkey. This is outrageous.


BLITZER: I late spoke with Senator Biden in "The Situation Room."


BIDEN: ... use that word. I came off the elevator and I was confronted with what had happened, and I responded. I should have just said malarkey. But the essence of what I was saying is absolutely accurate. This is outrageous.

BLITZER: Why is it outrageous?

BIDEN: Two reasons. One is, it's a disturbing pattern. Here you have the presumptive nominee last week saying that Danny Ortega and Hamas likes the Democratic nominee. Draw your own conclusions. Then President Bush goes to a foreign country, addressing the Knesset and makes a veiled and totally inaccurate assumption, and comment that Barack Obama -- not using his name -- is ready to engage in appeasement, when in fact it's absolutely outrageous. Here's the president of the United States, criticizing and calling appeasement, the willingness to sit down and talk with Iran about what our mutual interests are, and what the problem they're creating for us.

And it's the same president who apparently doesn't know his secretary of defense, Secretary Gates says we should sit down with Iran. The secretary of state says we should sit down with Iran. They've been explicit about it. If I had time, I would read their quotes to you. Is he going to fire them when they come home? The disingenuous part here, Wolf, is, if that's appeasement, then he's the biggest appeaser we've had in modern history. What did he do? He sat down with Gadhafi -- that is, the administration did -- and they cut a deal with Gadhafi, a known terrorist, a guy who in fact killed Syracuse University alumni like me, at the school I went to, shooting down and taking down a plane -- not shooting down, blowing up a plane. And what did he do? He made a deal with him.

It was the right thing to do, but he made a deal.

And what else did he do? We have a very talented State Department guy negotiating right now, head-to-head with the North Koreans. Kim Jong Il has been part of making sure the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the world, yet we're making a deal. How do you square those two things?


BLITZER: Straight ahead, we'll hear from former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. We'll talk about his decision to endorse Barack Obama. Lots more "Late Edition" coming up at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.


EDWARDS: There is one man who knows and understands that this is a time for bold leadership.

BLITZER: John Edwards endorses his former rival Barack Obama. The former Democratic presidential candidate talks about the race ahead in an interview.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama wants to have direct talks with the president of Iran.

BLITZER: John McCain spars with the Democratic frontrunner over U.S. policy in the Middle East.

CLINTON: I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign.

BLITZER: While Hillary Clinton hopes to follow up her West Virginia win with another big victory in Tuesday's primaries.

We'll assess the race for the White House with three of the best political team on television.

Plus, an ailing U.S. economy. We'll discuss the number one issue for U.S. voters with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. LATE EDITION's second hour begins right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is LATE EDITION with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back to the second hour of LATE EDITION. We'll get to my interview with former senator John Edwards in just a moment. First though, we want to update you on the developing story we've been following. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy hospitalized after an apparent seizure. Let's go back to CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's outside Massachusetts General Hospital out in Boston where the senator spent the night. What do we know, Deb?

FEYERICK: Well, Wolf, doctors right now trying to determine exactly what caused that seizure. The 76-year-old senator remains in serious condition, but his doctor did rule out a stroke, according to preliminary tests. But the senator still has a lot more tests to undergo.

Remember, he did have surgery seven months ago to remove a blockage from an artery in his neck and the doctors want to just see, whether this particular incident is in any way connected. His spokesperson says that Kennedy will be here for the next couple days and his office will run as it normally does in his absence.

The spokesperson said that the senator did get a good night's rest, that he's resting comfortably and they're really expecting it to be a pretty quiet day. The senator yesterday was supposed to host an event run by his family, the Best Buddies charity. That event did go on without him while he was that hospital. Right now the senator resting comfortably expecting to just take it easy and see how the day goes. Wolf?

BLITZER: We certainly wish him a very, very speedy recovery. Thanks very much, Deb Feyerick up in Boston for us.

Coming off a staggering 41-point loss to Hillary Clinton in West Virginia, Barack Obama got a big boost when he received the endorsement of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. When I interviewed Senator Edwards earlier this week, we spoke about that but we started by talking about John McCain's recent attacks on Barack Obama's foreign policy.


BLITZER: Joining us now, Obama's most important new supporter, the former Democratic presidential candidate, the former U.S. Senator John Edwards.

Senator Edwards, thanks very much for joining us.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: I want to play this little clip.

John McCain, just a little while ago, responded to this uproar involving the appeasement comments. And he directly responded to Barack Obama's earlier statement from today. Listen to this.


MCCAIN: I have some news for Senator Obama. Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, unconditional, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a stinking corpse, and arms terrorists who kill Americans, will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And that was just the beginning. I don't know if you had a chance to hear his speech. But he is certainly not backing down at all.

I wonder if you want to weigh in.

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, first of all, I think, from a more thoughtful perspective, instead of all this anger, I think that, number one, it really is beneath the dignity of the president of the United States to make these kind of cheap political statements when he's in Israel celebrating the 60th anniversary of an extraordinary country.

And, in the history of the United States, the president does not do these kind of things. That's first.

And then, secondly, it's an amazing thing to listen to the continuation of fearmongering. We saw it back in 2004, when I was running for vice president, trying to scare the American people into believing the only -- if you elect a Democrat, it's going to be a disaster for the country.

It is utter nonsense. And, luckily, we're now in a very different place. I mean, we know what the American people think of George Bush. We know what they think of this mess of a war in Iraq. And his foreign policy, Wolf, has been a complete and utter disaster.

And moving to the more important thing for this election, since Bush is not running in this election, is, John McCain embraces it. It is -- the McCain foreign policy is virtually identical to the George Bush foreign policy.

And if you think about those two things in combination, and compare it to what's happened over the last eight years, anybody in America paying attention knows we need a change. That's what Senator Obama's going to bring.

And I would add, just as an afterthought, what we really need is visionary leadership that understands the importance of American strength, but also understands that, if we don't work and cooperate and engage in serious, principled diplomacy with the rest of the world, the huge problems facing America and the rest of the world, from climate change, to extreme poverty, all these issues that we're faced with, cannot be solved.

BLITZER: All right. Well, what about the argument they make that Barack Obama -- and you were at one of those debates -- said he would meet unconditionally with tyrants, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, without preconditions? Those were his words.

And you hear the response from President Bush and John McCain. What are they going to talk about with someone who calls Israel a stinking corpse?

EDWARDS: Well, we all think exactly the same thing about Ahmadinejad.

I actually have discussed this issue in depth with Senator Obama. His view about this is, I think, virtually identical to mine and to Senator Clinton's, which is that all the work would have to be done to ensure that something constructive could come out of such a meeting.

But, in the history of America, Wolf, we have been successful -- look at what's happened -- I will just give you an example. The Bush administration and George Bush derides Senator Obama, although not by name -- they were clearly referring to him -- and, at the same time, over the last couple of years, one of the great foreign policy achievements that they're now talking about is what's happened with North Korea.

That was the direct result of direct discussions between the United States of America and North Korea and the leadership of North Korea, one of the countries in the axis of evil.

This administration engages in ongoing contact with the leadership of Iran. They do it all the time. And the notion that we're not going to engage our enemies is utter nonsense. And what we have to do is, we have to do it in a thoughtful, responsible way. That is exactly what Barack Obama is talking about doing.

And this is -- the American people are going to have a dramatic choice come this November. If they want four more years of George Bush, then they ought to vote for John McCain. If they believe we can do better than this, they ought to vote for Barack Obama.

BLITZER: I guess there's one thing about -- one point about having a diplomatic dialogue at relatively lower levels or senior levels, but it's another thing for the president of the United States to be willing to meet unconditionally with another tyrant, if you will.

And that's the criticism that McCain keeps making about Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton herself, at one of those debates -- I don't remember if you did -- said she thought it was naive or inappropriate to make a flat-out commitment like that. I'm sure you remember the discussion.

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, Wolf, that's not what George Bush said.

What George Bush said is that what we were talking about doing, the Democrats, was effectively appeasement. And then he compared it to what happened with Hitler just before World War II.

I mean, that's an extraordinary and deplorable thing to say. It really is, especially coming from a man who's been an absolute disaster, arguably the worst president in American history on foreign policy. And, so, that's the first thing.

And then John McCain defends him. I mean, I think that what Senator Obama is saying, if -- instead of engaging in this high-level political rhetoric, angry political rhetoric, what Senator Obama's saying is actually very thoughtful.

What he's saying is, we're going to continue to engage countries like Iran, that we don't have a friendly relationship with, at a diplomatic level. And if it appears that it would be useful for me as president to meet with the leader of any other country, then I will make that decision and judgment at the time. And if I think it's useful, I will do it.

What in the world is wrong with that? That makes all the sense in the world.

BLITZER: Some of us were surprised, Senator Edwards. Monday night, you were on "LARRY KING LIVE" and you said you weren't ready to endorse anyone. Wednesday night, you appear in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with Barack Obama and make this endorsement.

What happened in between to convince you it was time to go public?

EDWARDS: Well, I had made the decision about who I would support, because, for one thing, I had to vote in the North Carolina primary. And I voted for Senator Obama in the North Carolina primary.

But I just came to the conclusion, basically, in the 24 hours before we made the announcement on Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that it was time for me to speak out. It was more gut than anything else.

BLITZER: And what about Elizabeth, your wife? Is she on board with you? Is she formally part of the endorsement of Barack Obama?

EDWARDS: Elizabeth, I think, announced months ago publicly that she was not going to make an endorsement, that she had a very high opinion of both of these candidates.

EDWARDS: And she decided it was more important, particularly because she's so interested in the health care issue, that she stay focused on that, and not on either of these candidates, particularly since we had such good candidates.

BLITZER: Both of you had suggested that, on health care, you were closer to Hillary Clinton's plan than Barack Obama's plan. Is that still true as far as that one issue is concerned?

EDWARDS: Senator Clinton's plan was virtually identical to my plan. So, yes, that is true. But I have talked to Senator Obama about this, and I have absolutely no doubt about his commitment to achieving universal health care. He cares deeply about it. He's worked on it for a very long time. And I'm totally convinced about his resolve and his determination about that.

BLITZER: I'm sure you had a lot of conversations with him leading up to the endorsement.

I remember the exchange you had with him when I moderated that debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I'm going to play a little clip of that and I want to see if you -- if the two of you have made up on this issue.


EDWARDS: The question is, why would you over 100 times vote present? I mean, every one of us -- every one -- you have criticized Hillary. you have criticized me for our votes.

OBAMA: Right.

EDWARDS: We have cast hundreds and hundreds of votes. What you're criticizing her for, by the way, you have done to us.


BLITZER: I'm sure you remember that exchange.

EDWARDS: Oh, yes. It wasn't the only one we had.


EDWARDS: You know, we were in a tough, competitive race, Wolf. That's what's been going on with Senator Clinton and Senator Obama over the last few months, but that went on for over a year.

I was fighting for the nomination with everything I had, trying to do it honestly and with principle, but challenging him in ways that I thought were legitimate. He did the same thing with me, by the way.

But, at the end of the day -- and I do -- I just have to say -- you haven't asked me about this, but I feel the need to say it. The extent to which I admire and am impressed with Senator Clinton has done nothing but grow since I have gotten out of this race. I have gotten to know her better, talked to her on the phone many times. She's been to visit and talk with me.

She is a fine human being and she -- and an extraordinary leader for the country. But I do believe that, given where we are, where America is at this time in its history, that we desperately need a change agent as president. And I think Senator Obama is in a great position to give us that chance.

BLITZER: I know you have effectively ruled yourself out as a possible vice presidential nominee. You have been there. You have done that, as all of us remember.

What about Hillary Clinton? You have been effusive in your praise for her. Would that help unite the party, to see Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on that ticket together?

EDWARDS: You know, I'm just not presumptuous enough to suggest to either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama what they should do about that.

I think that that's a judgment that -- I believe Senator Obama will be the nominee -- that I believe Senator Obama will have to make, with all things considered. And Senator Clinton, if it were offered to her, would have to decide whether she wants to do it. Any leadership position that Senator Clinton can occupy in the United States of America is good for this country.


BLITZER: And up next, does the Bush administration have a plan to help families here in the United States that are feeling the squeeze from high food and oil prices? We'll speak live with the Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. He's right here. He's also got a new initiative he's working on on Cuba. Stay with LATE EDITION. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Many consumers here in the United States are feeling a heavy burden right now from those rising prices due in large part to the record highs in the oil market. Food prices going way up, as well. Let's talk about the state of the U.S. economy and much more. Joining us is the commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

I know you have a new initiative you want to unveil about Cuba, as well. What is going on with the new regime? Raul taking over, we'll get to that shortly.

But let's talk about the economy right now. An L.A. Times/ Bloomberg survey asked the American people, are we in a recession? Seventy-eight percent said yes, 17 percent said no, 5 percent said they don't know. I know the technical definitions haven't been met but people are feeling it. What are you doing to try it help them right now?

GUTIERREZ: You know, it's interesting. As we speak, over 30 million checks have been deposited for the stimulus package.

BLITZER: These are these rebates.

GUTIERREZ: Average about $920 to $940 per family, if it's more in the family, if it's a joint couple, joint filing. That was decided by the president late last year. So, it was decided in the fourth quarter.

BLITZER: And the bipartisan support was -- GUTIERREZ: Great bipartisan support was immediate and because of that, thanks to that, as we speak, consumers are receiving checks, 130 million.

BLITZER: Are they spending them the way you want them to?

GUTIERREZ: We believe that most will be spent and based on historic examples, that they will spend a great part of it.

BLITZER: And the theory is that will perk up the economy.

GUTIERREZ: That's correct, 70 percent of our economy is consumer spending. We also have a part of the stimulus package that will go to businesses so that they can invest in capital and create jobs. The estimate is that 500,000 jobs will be created so that, that is exactly what we're doing and it's being executed and there's never been a project the size of this.

BLITZER: Is it time for a second stimulus package? A lot of Democrats and plenty of Republicans would be interested in that, as well.

GUTIERREZ: We're always looking at data. Every single day, the president is on this, his whole cabinet is on this. What we're focusing on is let's execute this plan we have. Let's see how it works. This is the biggest undertaking we have ever done in our history. We've never done 130 million checks before. Let's do it well. Let's see how it works.

BLITZER: But you're leaving open the option, if necessary, to go forward with a second economic stimulus package?

GUTIERREZ: Always looking at information, always looking at data every single day.

BLITZER: The president just wound up a visit to Saudi Arabia and he seemed to have been rebuffed by the Saudis when he asked for an increase in oil production to potentially lower the price per barrel. Here's what he said on Saturday.


BUSH: Saudi Arabia this year has increased the number of barrels of oil per day by 300,000 a day. And they're increasing refining capacity, which is not enough, it's something but it doesn't solve our problem.


BLITZER: I know that when the president met with the leadership in Saudi Arabia it was all very polite. But was he rebuffed? Did they basically say, thanks, but no thanks.

GUTIERREZ: I wasn't part of those conversations, but I will say this, this is supply and demand.


GUTIERREZ: Oil. We either fix the supply or we fix the demand and as the president mentioned the other day, we have the opportunity to find oil ourselves in our country. Anwar, as you know, has been pending now.

BLITZER: In the Alaska wildlife.

GUTIERREZ: It is safe and environmentally friendly.

BLITZER: But that is long-term fix. What about short term?

GUTIERREZ: Well the problem is that five, 10 years ago people said it is a long-term fix. Had it been approved by Congress then, we would have it today. We have to get on with it. We're not going to be able to fix this with a silver bullet or with a quick magical wand.

GUTIERREZ: It's a lot of hard work, and it is long-term, but we have got to get started.

BLITZER: I know you're involved, deeply involved this week in a new initiative to deal with Cuba right now. Fidel Castro is out, Raul Castro is in, and he's taking some very, very modest steps to try to improve the situation over there from the international community's perspective.

First of all, what are you unveiling this week?

GUTIERREZ: May 21st is something that is being called International Day of Solidarity With Cuba. There are events taking place all over the world, and the idea is to focus the spotlight on political prisoners in Cuba. There is some disagreement about the policy, the embargo, but at least we can all agree on human rights and the plight of political prisoners.

BLITZER: There are a few hundred, is that...

GUTIERREZ: How many they say is 270...

BLITZER: Is that what you say?

GUTIERREZ: This is the U.N. number. It all depends on how you define it and what is a political prisoner and what is a political crime.

But let me just say this -- these are people who in many cases have just disagreed with the regime, have worn a white band just like this that says "change." And, Wolf, the conditions -- they're thrown in dungeons and in some cases, the little compartments where they can't stand up. Invariably, they get sick almost immediately and they're denied medical attention. This is brutality at its worst.

BLITZER: Is it getting better under Raul Castro?

GUTIERREZ: Everything we hear is that it is the same exact repression, fear, brutality that has existed over 49 years. We believe that people deserve to know, and we believe that the political prisoners in those dungeons deserve to know that the international community is paying attention to them.

BLITZER: Is the -- but for the overall life conditions of all the Cubans -- we've heard in recent days that they are allowed now to buy cell phones, for example. They're allowed to buy and sell cars. Things that most people around the world will take for granted, but is this progress over these past few months in Cuba?

GUTIERREZ: I would say two things, Wolf. First of all, it's very cynical, because Cubans make about $17 a month, and to say that you can now go inside a hotel that was once for tourists only -- they can't get a room in a hotel. You can buy a cell phone. Now you have to register your name and I don't know how much a cell phone costs, but apparently it is a lot more than Cubans make.

I think it's also sad that the international community in some cases is celebrating this as change. Why is it that we have a different standard for Cuba? Why is this great change in Cuba that Cubans can now visit hotels? They don't have (inaudible)...

BLITZER: I guess the argument has been that the policy going back to the '60s really hasn't worked in shaking things up in Cuba. Maybe it's time for a new approach.

I'll play this little clip of what Barack Obama said at a CNN debate back on February 21st, saying he would be open to a meeting if he were elected president with Raul Castro.


OBAMA: I think it is important for us to have the direct contact, and this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down, I think is one that we should try to take advantage of.


BLITZER: All right, do you think that's a smart strategy? Because the other strategy doesn't seem to have worked all that well in removing that regime.

GUTIERREZ: Well, the strategy has been designed to deny resources from a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism. You know, what a lot of people don't realize is one-third of their food and one-third of their medicine comes from the U.S. We are their second source of cash coming from remittances.

The problem isn't the U.S. policy. The problem is communism. It doesn't work. The problem is the policies in Cuba, the repression, the fear.

BLITZER: But you have a problem with just talking to him?

GUTIERREZ: Well, I think the question that should be asked is, when are they going to change? Whether we talk to them or not as a presidential policy...

BLITZER: Because the argument was that the U.S. under the Reagan administration spoke with the Soviets. They had nuclear missiles pointed at the United States. And then we saw this collapse of the Soviet Union, and why not do a similar kind of strategy with Cuba?

GUTIERREZ: Well, nine presidents have dealt with Cuba. It's not as if though this is something new.

I think we have to realize that there is such thing as dictators who hate this country, and we have to be very careful. We have to be very careful to not legitimize someone who is putting people in jail, putting them in dungeons. That's why we're doing May the 21st.

BLITZER: And Raul Castro is one of those, is that what you're saying?

GUTIERREZ: Absolutely. Why legitimize those people, Wolf? This is, I think first and foremost, we owe it to the people in prison, we owe it to their families to shine a spotlight on them and to show what's really going on. That's the priority.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And coming up...


ARIEL SHARON, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: We are committed to peace, but we will not negotiate under pressure.


BLITZER: On a week that marks Israel's 60th anniversary, we're going to take a look back at an interview I did right here on "Late Edition" with the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon. We'll show you that interview and more right after this.



BUSH: The only regret is that one of Israel's greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon.


BLITZER: That was President Bush sharing his thoughts on the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem earlier this week. Mr. Sharon remains in a coma since he suffered a stroke back in 2006.

During his trip to the Middle East, the president joined in the celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary. Today, we continue our celebration of my 10th year as the host of "Late Edition" by showing part of my interview with the Israeli leader.

On March 11th, 2001, the same week that he was sworn in as the new -- into his new position, I spoke with Ariel Sharon about resuming negotiations with the Palestinian people, and his government's plans to achieve peace.


SHARON: I think that it was maybe the major mistake of the Israeli former government that agreed to negotiate under fire and under terror, because (inaudible) brought only for more demands from the Palestinians, and Israel made some more confessions, Israel became weaker and weaker. In the end, Wolf, after major efforts by the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Barak, that we have not achieved peace and we have not achieved security.

SHARON: And, therefore, this government will have another policy, though we are committed to peace, but we will not negotiate under pressure because Israel is a tiny, small country. The country, but it's a country where the Jewish people are having the right and the capability to defend themselves by themselves and that is the most important thing and we cannot give up this capability. This is our responsibility.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting?

SHARON: This terror...

BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, are you suggesting, therefore, excuse me for interrupting, that until there is a complete cessation of all violence, there will be no contacts, no talks whatsoever with the politics in the hopes of resuming those negotiations?

SHARON: I spoke about the peace negotiations in a method that conveyed to Chairman Arafat, I said that I would like very much to ease the conditions of the Palestinians that live in the area. Because I believe that we have to draw a distinction between terrorists and their supporters and the people that would like just to go to work and bring some bread home and raise their children.


BLITZER: If you'd like to see my interview with Ariel Sharon go to

Up next, Barack Obama claims that President Bush and John McCain are guilty of hypocrisy and fear mongering over their attacks on Obama's foreign policy. We're going to get insight from three of the best political team on television. LATE EDITION continues right after this.



OBAMA: I don't take what Bush says personally, but I was offended by what is a continuation of a strategy from this White House now mimicked by Senator McCain that replaces strategy and analysis and smart policy with bombast exaggerations and fear mongering.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Barack Obama responding on Friday to criticism from John McCain and an accusation by President Bush that Obama's proposed foreign policy would amount to the kind of appeasement that emboldened Hitler before World War II.

Let's discuss this and more, lots of political firestorms going on with our chief national correspondent John King. And our two congressional correspondents who now spend more time out on the campaign trail than they do on Capitol Hill, Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

John, the word appeasement spoken in Jerusalem at the Knesset, you know that's going to cause a stir. Explain what the thinking was, what was going on?

KING: Well, it's no surprise if you follow President Bush in recent years this is his thinking. Now for a president of the United States to say this in a foreign parliament in the middle of a campaign, look the White House was well aware it was going to cause a firestorm back home. They say he wasn't singling out Barack Obama, that there are many others in his view that meet that description, Jimmy Carter, for example, who was just in the region.

But the president knew what he was doing and on the Democratic side, they understand this is going to be the fight. The Republicans have run the last two presidential elections on national security. President Bush is going to have a role and a voice in this election whether John McCain even likes it or not and this was the president saying something that he feels very strongly about and knowing it was going to cause a storm back home. From the Democrat perspective, they're glad Barack Obama fought back. That's been one of the key questions, will he hit back when hit?

BLITZER: Because that's a lesson that Bill Clinton certainly learned when he was running back in '92 and '96. I'll play this little clip. Another portion of the president's remarks at the Knesset.


BUSH: We've heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, lord, if I could have only talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.


BLITZER: Now, that was the late Senator Borah who was a Republican who had actually made that statement. But, the fact that he included a reference to a senator speaking about if only I could have talked to Hitler, a lot of people were simply going to immediately say well he's making an insinuation against Barack Obama.

BASH: Of course and the official White House line may have been that he wasn't, but it's pretty hard to see anything but that. But I'll take you behind the curtain a little bit inside a McCain campaign after this happened, Wolf. You'll remember this speech was given just before John McCain was giving his big 2013 vision speech, the goals he would have liked to have attained by the end of the first term and the McCain campaign was completely taken by surprise.

I talked to several people inside the campaign. They didn't know that the president was going to do this, so they immediately had to make a choice, do we jump on and basically associate with ourselves with those comments because it's the same kind of argument that John McCain had already been making against Barack Obama or do we not?

We got on John McCain's bus right after that speech a few hours after President Bush made those remarks and he jumped right in. He actually had a little bit of a twinkle in his eye, I've got to tell you, when he jumped in and he had some very strong, strong language against Barack Obama. They realize that they have to, whether or not the Obama campaign or anybody else is going to say, here's evidence. It's Bush and McCain together, they realize they didn't have a choice and they rebel in this.

BLITZER: But what the president and McCain did was unify the Democrats very, very quickly.

YELLIN: This was a gift to Barack Obama in some ways. Maybe there's a short term benefit for Republicans, but the bottom line is Barack Obama wants to run against John McCain as the third Bush term. We've heard him say it over and over and President Bush handed him a perfect entree to say look, they're linked in foreign policy. John McCain is the same as President Bush. And it ideally unified the Democratic Party. Senator Biden jumped on it right away. We heard the Democratic Party elders jump all over it, even Senator Clinton. Barack Obama would be well-served if President Bush continued to inject himself this way.

BLITZER: But on this issue of national security, the Republicans say this is McCain's turf. He loves talking about national security. It's the economy, other issues he may not be all that thrilled to discuss. And whenever they can make the Democrats appear to be soft on defense, soft on national security, they say the Republicans will win.

KING: It's a very different calculation as we speak in May that it will be a calculation for having this conversation on Labor Day. If this campaign is about national security experience and who's tougher against terrorism on Labor Day, then you would assume based on today that that would default to the benefit of John McCain. Democrats were unified, absolutely. And you saw a chance for Barack Obama to debate George Bush and John McCain, even though Hillary Clinton is still on the ballot. And even though there's still some Democratic primaries to go. So, Barack Obama certainly showed Democrats, even Democratic critics what they want it see. Fight, immediately, zest getting right back in the face of the president and the face of McCain. But if this is what we're talking about on Labor Day, most would tell you today they believe that would benefit John McCain. But Barack Obama, he has to grow in this campaign.

KING: He has to prove that he can debate and go toe to toe with him on national security. This is round one.

BLITZER: Are they serious, because Barack Obama says he would welcome, sort of Lincoln-Douglas debates with John McCain on national security or any other issue. Is McCain ready for that, as well?

BASH: Absolutely. They said that they're proposing -- and actually the minute that Barack Obama does in fact more officially become the Democratic nominee, they are going to reach out to the Obama campaign and they are going to propose not necessarily debates, but what they want inside the McCain campaign. They want to bring Obama into the kind of style of campaigning that John McCain engages in, which is the townhall meeting. What they want is Barack Obama and John McCain to be standing side-by-side in front of an audience that both campaigns pick and let the voters ask them questions, and that will allow them to mix it up a little bit.

BLITZER: Let's not forget, Jessica, there are still primaries coming up this Tuesday. Hillary Clinton is still very much in this race. At least she's not showing any signs of quitting.

YELLIN: No, and her campaign believes that there is still a 5 percent chance she can win. They firmly believe this. The aides who work for her think it's narrow, but possible.

She had a meeting at her home this week with some of her top fundraisers and laid out a path for them that basically says she's won the popular vote -- she will win the popular vote. Now, this is counting Florida, not counting Michigan, but they also count out some caucus states that didn't tally popular votes. So it's not quite kosher, if you will, by the formal rules, but it's a way they see that they can say she has the moral advantage of having the popular vote at the very end of the day. I expect her to stay in through June 3rd.

BLITZER: She says -- she said to me this week, she said she's still hoping for a three-point shot at the buzzer. It may be more like a mid-court or even a full-court shot at the buzzer. But stuff happens at basketball games, and let's see what happens in this extraordinary political year.

We're going to have a lot more coming up with our political panel in just a moment. When we come back, also, the House Republican Leader John Boehner addresses his party's significant trouble in this election year. You're going to hear what he had to say in our very popular "In Case You Missed It" segment. "Late Edition" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We'll get back to our political panel in a moment, but first, "In Case You Missed It." Let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On ABC, the House Republican leader John Boehner discussed GOP fortunes and what looks to be a very difficult election year for his party.


REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO: The environment for Republicans is a difficult one. What I've been preaching to my colleagues now for over a year is that we have to be the agents of change. We have to prove to the American people we can deliver the change that they want and the change that they deserve. And whether the issue is rising costs of health care, the rising cost of gasoline prices, food prices, we have an agenda that will deliver that change that Americans want. And all they've gotten from the Democrats are a lot of broken promises.


BLITZER: On NBC, Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb was asked how he'd respond if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama approached him about being a vice presidential running mate.


SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: I would highly discourage them. That's about the best way to say it.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, MEET THE PRESS: But you wouldn't be General Sherman and say no.

WEBB: You know, at this point no one is asking, no one's talking, and I'm not that interested.


BLITZER: On CBS, the former New York Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo called for an Obama/Clinton ticket.


MARIO CUOMO, FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: They have proven themselves. She in 17 primaries, he in more than 17 primaries. They have been tested. No other possible candidate has been tested the way they have. This is the poetry and prose coming together. It would be a wonderful solution.


BLITZER: On Fox, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Jon Kyl, blasted Barack Obama for suggesting he would be open to meeting Iran's top leaders if he were president.


SEN. JON KYL, R-ARIZ.: He would meet personally and without preconditions. That's not what former presidents have done. And they certainly have not met with state sponsors of terrorism.

That's the problem here. What would Senator Obama be talking to Ahmadinejad about? This man who calls Israel a stinking corpse, who has personally said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth. It's hard to know what you would talk to Ahmadinejad about.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Up next, will John Edwards' big endorsement of Barack Obama help him win over white, working-class voters? Our political panel standing by. More discussion when "Late Edition" returns.


BLITZER: We're back. We're talking politics with John King, Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin. They're all part of the best political team on television.

John, there was a major election, the congressional election in Mississippi, this week, a seat long held by Republicans. Look at this. We'll put the numbers up.

The Democrat, Travis Childers, got 54 percent; Greg Davis, the Republican, 46 percent, another win for the Democrats.

Barack Obama wasted no time in reacting to that, because the Republicans had tried to use him to undermine the Democratic candidate.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I mean, they were trying to do every trick in the book to try to scare folks in Mississippi, and it didn't work.


BLITZER: It certainly didn't. It was a pretty impressive win for the Democrats.

KING: A very impressive win; it follows the Louisiana race, where they also use Barack Obama in the ads.

And what Republican strategists were trying to shake into the Republican Party is, you have to be for something before you can be against something, that, maybe, criticizing Barack Obama will help you some in September, but only if you first establish with the American people what you're for. And, Wolf, if you talk to Democrats or Republicans right now, the Democrats have more energy. They're turning out more voters. They're raising more money. They have all this enthusiasm.

The Republicans don't have the money. They're still moribund from what happened in 2006. There is a potential here for not only -- the odds favor the Democrats in the presidential race, but there's also a potential they could pick up some seats in Congress, as well. BLITZER: Major seats in Congress. But the amazing thing to me, Dana -- and you cover McCain -- is that he still is competitive in these hypothetical matchups with either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. The Republicans may be in deep trouble but McCain seems to have his own brand out there.

BASH: That's exactly what -- I mean, if you talk to anybody inside the McCain campaign, that is, by far, the biggest challenge and goal for them, is to continue to keep that brand separate. That is why -- it's been under the radar because not a lot of people are paying attention to him.

But that's why, you know, over and over, he's giving speeches on climate change. He's given speeches on other issues where he is seen as somebody who is separate and different from any of the Republicans in Congress.

And there's no question. I mean, John McCain himself said, this week, he looked at what happened in Mississippi, and no matter how different he is, in terms of his brand versus the Republicans' brand, this is such an ominous sign for John McCain. There are no two ways about it.

BLITZER: Jessica, listen to Congressman Tom Davis. He's retiring. He's a moderate Republican from here in northern Virginia, used to run this committee to help Republicans get elected in Congress.

Listen to his assessment this week.


REP. THOMAS M. DAVIS III, R-VA.: The party's at an all-time low. Its leader, President Bush, right now, is the least popular president in history. And that has been for a sustainable period of time. On issue over issue, the voters, at this point, are turning to Democrats instead of Republicans for answers.

In short, this is the worst atmosphere we've seen since Watergate.


BLITZER: And that from a Republican.

YELLIN: It's devastating. And the night this Mississippi race was called, the head guy who runs this committee you're talking about now put out a memo, a release to the press, that basically said to fellow Republicans, fend for yourselves; we can't protect you.

I mean, it was the most bizarre public acknowledgment of the sense of gloom in the party, you can imagine. And it's just enormously promising for the Democrats, right now, which is why there's this sense that it's theirs to win; they better not lose it.

Because the Republican brand is so demolished at the moment that the Democrats really have to capitalize on this moment.

KING: You have all these Republicans suddenly saying John McCain is our best buddy; we need to link up with John McCain. Remember these were the same Republicans who said, on immigration reform, on taxes, back when he was against the Bush tax cuts, that this guy's not one of us; he's not one of us.

Now they see that he has established, as Dana said, a different brand. And the Republicans are suddenly flocking to John McCain.

BLITZER: And listen to this. He was on Saturday night live, last night, and he was pretty funny. Listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I want to give you this piece of advice. Democrats, I have to urge you, do not, under any circumstances, pick a candidate too soon.


SETH MEYERS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE CAST MEMBER: Oh, so you don't think Hillary should drop out?

MCCAIN: Absolutely not.



MEYERS: Cool it.

POEHLER: You cool it.

MCCAIN: That's right. Fight amongst yourselves.



BLITZER: He's got a sense of humor.

BASH: He does have a sense of humor. And he has been pining to get back on that show, since 2002, when he sang Barbra Streisand songs. And luckily, we didn't hear that again, but...


But I think that was -- that was interesting because it was funny, because it happened to be true.

The other thing that John McCain did on that show, in two separate sketches, is make fun of his age. He tried to, kind of, pull the air out of the balloon on this very, very real issue that he has, the fact that he would be the oldest president ever elected. And you know, you go back to Ronald Reagan, during that famous debate, where he said that he's not going to make his opponent's age and inexperience -- or youth and inexperience an issue. That's the beginning of the strategy to try to, kind of, deal with this, head on.

BLITZER: A little self-deprecating humor's always good.

YELLIN: Always good. And this issue of the age is just another example of the way in which the contrast between John McCain and Barack Obama, if he were to become the nominee, is just so stark.

They are running on very different issues. They look different. Their age is so different. And this is the fundamental reason why this talk of the Democratic Party not being unified after the nomination is clear is silly.

There's every reason to believe they will together. Already, I talked to some of the top fund-raisers for Senator Clinton, who are saying to me, in phone calls, you know, I also like Barack Obama and, you know, I'm very close to the Obama people, too. They're starting to be coming together.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

BASH: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

YELLIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And if you'd like a recap of today's program, you can highlights on our "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week in Politics" with Tom Foreman.


BLITZER: And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, May 18. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern.

And on Tuesday, I'll be with the best political team on television, bringing you the results from the Kentucky and Oregon primaries. Our special coverage begins at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.