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John McCain's Stunning Political Turnaround; Oil Executives in the House; U.S. Generals on Iraq; Farm Bill Fiasco

Aired May 22, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jack, thank you.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news -- a CNN exclusive. Comments about God, Hitler and the Holocaust lead John McCain to reject the endorsement of the controversial minister, Pastor John Hagee. Now Hagee is responding. We'll share it with you.

$4 a gallon -- if you're not paying it yet, you may be paying that much on your way back from the Memorial Day holiday. Amid the outrage, one automaker makes announcement that may signal the end of an era.

And Barack Obama quietly starts his search for a running mate, while a mysterious meeting is set for John McCain's ranch, sparking speculation about his vice presidential vetting process.

Will he go for a governor?

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

Breaking news -- a stunning political turn around. We first reported exclusively last hour that John McCain has rejected the support of the controversial televangelist, Pastor John Hagee. And now there's a brand new twist.

Our own Brian Todd, he broke this story for us in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Brian, what is the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest is that Pastor Hagee is now withdrawn his endorsement of John McCain. The dominoes fell pretty quickly on this one. It began today with our inquiries about remarks that Pastor Hagee made in a sermon in the '90s. Now, these remarks were actually posted first by a blogger who's been critical of Hagee. He found these remarks that were recorded in a sermon back in the 1990s, in which Hagee cited biblical passages in trying to explain what he believed was God's plan for bringing the Jews back to Israel. These are Pastor Hagee's remarks from that sermon back in the 1990s.


PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, TELEVANGELIST: God says in Jeremiah 16, "behold, I will bring them the Jewish people, again unto their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers. An actor will I send for many hunters. And they, the hunters, shall hunt them." That would be the Jews.

Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter.


TODD: Now, Pastor Hagee, after this was posted on a blog very recently, said that he was mischaracterized on that blog, that he never meant to condone the Holocaust or anything that Hitler did, but said he was explaining a statement that he gave to us. He said that he was explaining how God could have let something so terrible happen. He was explaining this to his congregation.

Still, it seemed to become too much to bear for John McCain, who said in a statement earlier today, "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement and I feel I must reject his endorsement, as well. And McCain went on to say and his campaign went on to tell us that Hagee has never been McCain's pastor or spiritual adviser and that he did not have the relationship with Pastor Hagee that Barack Obama had with Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Since that rejection just last hour, Pastor Hagee came out with this statement: "I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues. I have therefore decided to withdraw my endorsement of Senator McCain for president, effective today, and to remove myself from any active role in the 2000 campaign."

Wolf, the dominoes falling very quickly on this. John McCain rejecting the endorsement of a very, very important religious leader in the United States. This man has 19,000 people who follow him and a ministry seen on TV around the world.

BLITZER: So this could be a political setback, at least part of that Evangelical community.

Is that what the McCain camp fears?

TODD: You know, you don't get the sense that they really do fear that. They just say that at this moment, they've got to just completely push themselves away from this man and his remarks. You know, this -- the political consequences, I guess, are just going to play out.

Again, it's worth noting here that Reverend Hagee -- Pastor Hagee has been an ardent supporter of Israel. His record is clear on that. He's done a lot of work and said a lot of statements in support of Israel. So, you know, these statements are still getting him in trouble and now the McCain campaign has to push away from him.

BLITZER: All right, Brian.

Good reporting. Thanks very much.

Grilled once again on Capitol Hill, executives from the country's largest oil companies facing outraged lawmakers demanding explanations for record high gas prices. And they got the same answer a Senate committee got yesterday -- that would be oil supply and demand.

Take a look at the oil prices over the last year. They reached a new high of more than $135 a barrel today, before settling in at around $131. And for the 15th day in a row, gas prices set a new record, averaging $3.83 a gallon.

CNN's Kate Bolduan has more on today's hearing -- Kate.


Well, the hearing was much more partisan today. Democrats and Republicans taking jabs at each other over energy policy. But the focus remains squarely on big oil.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Round two -- five of the oil industry's top executives back on Capitol Hill to face a second day of tough questioning about soaring gas prices and big oil company profits.

J. STEPHEN SNOW, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION: The price of products relative to crude oil has come down.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: The only thing that matters...

SNOW: If the raw material behind it...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: that it costs almost $70 to fill up a minivan.

SNOW: I understand that.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's the price that matters.

BOLDUAN: But the oil executives insisted that the price that matters and the one driving up the cost at the pump is the price of crude. And they say that's not something they control.

When it comes to those high profits, Steven Simon of Exxon Mobil argued they invest more into U.S. energy development than they earn, prompting this exchange.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: We don't like to hear that you are broke and that you have spent more money than you are earning. It just doesn't sit well with us.

SNOW: Yes, and I wasn't trying to...

WATERS: It certainly doesn't sit well with me.

SNOW: Yes. I wasn't trying to imply that we're broke, Congresswoman. But if you look at last year and looked at -- I said we invested about $21 billion. It all goes into that... WATERS: But it says profits. After all of that was done in 2007, you earned $40.6 billion. After all of that was done. $40.6 billion.

BOLDUAN: But not all lawmakers were on the attack. Congressman Chris Cannon says Congress shares the blame for the price at the pump.

REP. CHRIS CANNON (R), UTAH: It's obscene that we have an environment where we're grilling these gentlemen and America has vast resources on its public lands which it has locked up and kept from getting to the gas pump.

BOLDUAN: Outside the hearing, we asked one of the executives what he'd say to the average American paying close to $4 a gallon for gas.

PETER ROBERTSON, VICE CHAIRMAN, CHEVRON CORPORATION: We're, you know, we see consumers. We've got families. We mix with Americans every day. We know how difficult this is. We're doing everything that we can do to increase the supply, to make this the situation -- to alleviate some of the situation.


BOLDUAN: So what about solutions?

Well, the executives say there doesn't seem to be any short-term relief in sight for gas prices, only long-term solutions they say Congress needs to act on now, such as opening up drilling offshore, as well as pursuing greater dependence on other sources of energy, like coal or nuclear power -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Kate Bolduan on the Hill for us.

You -- this is a look, by the way, at all of the planes in the sky right now. Check it out. U.S. airlines are taking new measures to cut soaring fuel costs, but they may cost you a bit of a time -- a bit of time the next time you fly. Just like cars, commercial airliners can get more miles to the gallon when they slow down. So now many airlines are telling pilots to ease off the throttle. JetBlue projects it will save about $13 million in fuel this year by adding less than two minutes to each flight. Southwest Airlines is adding one to three minutes to its flights, for a savings of $42 million. And according to Northwest Airlines, by adding eight minutes to just one flight from Minneapolis to Paris, it can save 162 gallons of jet fuel, or more than $500.

Some members of Congress want the Bush administration to tap into the country's emergency oil stash to help bring gas prices down. The Energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, was pressed on this issue at a hearing of the House committee on global warming.


SAMUEL BODMAN, ENERGY SECRETARY: The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is meant to be there as a protection for the American people. That's why...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American people right now are being...

BODMAN: That's why it is there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, the American people are being tipped upside down at the pumps and having money shaken out of their pockets.

BODMAN: I understand.


BLITZER: Just last week, President Bush gave into Congressional demands to temporarily halt additions to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

We had hoped to have an interview here in THE SITUATION ROOM today with the vice chairman of Chevron, Peter Robertson. But that hearing was running late, so they had to cancel. We're hoping to reschedule that interview with the vice chairman of Chevron and get his answers to a lot of good questions that not only I have, but a lot of our viewers were e-mailing us sending in I-Reports, as well. We'll go to that interview when we can reschedule it.

But we can go to Jack Cafferty right now and he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Don't you find it interesting that in an election year, how all of a sudden the politicians in Washington are all concerned about rising gas prices?

This is the same group of mutants that haven't had a coherent energy policy in this country for three, four decades, maybe, since the Arab oil embargo of the '70s. But now all of a sudden, because in November they're very likely to get thrown out in the street and somebody else is going to be given their jobs, they drag the oil company executives in, they drag the secretary of this in, the -- let's do this with the Petroleum Reserve -- don't fill it, let's drain it, let's -- I mean it's just -- it is so transparently offensive that I'd better stop.

Here is one of the better lines I have heard in a very long time: "The fate of the world for the next four years -- it's all going to boil down to a few old Jews in Century Village."

That's a quote and it's the assessment of the 2008 election campaign by Rabbi Ruvi New, according to "The New York Times". The line is the kind that'll get a laugh. The point he's making very serious.

Barack Obama could have a problem with some Jewish voters, especially in Florida. Obama, as you know if you've been watching this program -- and we expect you have been -- was in Boca Raton today. He spoke at a synagogue there about his strong support for Israel, how to deal with Iran, terrorist groups, the historic relationship between Jews and African-Americans.

Florida is critical and the Jews there make up about 4 percent of the voters statewide. Many of them are elderly and that's the group that has concerns about Barack Obama -- elderly Jewish voters. He has received a lot of support from younger Jews. He won 45 percent of the Jewish vote in the primaries, if you don't include Florida and Michigan.

The latest Florida poll, though, suggests that Obama would lose to John McCain, while Hillary Clinton would win. Obama didn't campaign in Florida, as you know. Voters didn't get a chance to know him.

It's a hotbed for rumors about him, too. People think he's an Arab. He's not. They think he's part of Chicago's Palestinian community. He's not. That Al Qaeda is supporting him. They aren't. That he'll fill his cabinet with supporters of Louis Farrakhan. He won't. And that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is the godfather of his children. He isn't.

It's amazing -- it's amazing, with all the access to accurate information, that people could be so pathetically uninformed.

Nevertheless, others are worried about Obama's commitment to Israel or have reservations about his willingness to talk with Iran. And for some, it's simply a question of race.

So here's the question for this hour: What does Barack Obama have to do to persuade Florida's Jewish population to support him?

Go to You can post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf, what did you think of the speech?

BLITZER: I thought he took a major step forward in easing a lot of those concerns in Florida in that speech he just gave, that we carried live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. It was pretty good.

CAFFERTY: He seemed pretty comfortable and I think a lot of what he said may have resonated with the audience there. They seemed to be soaking it up pretty good.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people were there, but a lot more people were watching it here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CAFFERTY: Right. You bet.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thanks very much. We'll get back to you shortly.

Shaking up the war leadership -- two of the top U.S. commanders in Iraq are up for new jobs and they're speaking bluntly about troop cuts. Iran's role in Iraq and much more. You're going to hear what they're having to say.

Also, an embarrassing blunder by Congressional Democrats. The president ends up vetoing a bill with more than 30 pages missing. We're going to tell you how it happened.

Plus, high tech firepower controlled from miles away -- an exclusive look at the military's latest weapon in remote control warfare.

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


BLITZER: Two top generals have been named to new jobs and were up before a Senate panel today for confirmation. The outgoing Iraq commander, David Petraeus, who will have a lot more on his plate, he's been named to take over the sprawling U.S. military's Central Command. CENTCOM's area of responsibility stretching from Northeast Africa through the Middle East and into Southwest Asia. It covers 27 countries, from Egypt across to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and bodies of water in between.

Let's go to our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's watching this story for us -- all right, Barbara, what are these two generals -- both very, very smart, both very, very involved -- what are they saying, first of all, about Iraq?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a lot of discussion about Iraq. And you can bet these are the men that the next president of the United States will be dealing with.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No more killing! Stop the killing!

STARR (voice-over): Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno never flinched from protesters as their confirmation hearings began. Petraeus to run the Central Command, overseeing the Middle East. Odierno to replace Petraeus, running the Iraq War.

Petraeus had a mixed report. He expects delays in Iraqi elections and the schedule for Iraqi forces to take control of more provinces. But there is good news for U.S. troops and the next president. He expects to recommend a new round of troop cuts in September.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY: My sense is that I will be able to make a recommendation at that time.

STARR: The number of attacks in Iraq is at the lowest level in four years, according to Petraeus. But Odierno warned there are tough times ahead in dealing with Iran's continued weapons smuggling into Iraq.

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: Many of these networks have been established for many years and have used to transit other goods besides weapons. And so it will take a lot of hard work for us to get inside those.

STARR: But new jobs for these generals aren't likely to make much difference in ongoing investigations into financial waste in running the war. The House Oversight Committee held its own hearing.

REP. HARRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: The inspector-general reviewed approximately $8.2 billion in defense spending and estimated that the Department failed to properly account for $7.8 billion. That means the Defense Department had a stunning 95 percent failure rate in following basic accounting standards.


STARR: And, Wolf, the Pentagon doesn't really argue with that. The inspector-general said yes, sometimes they are still paying out billions to contractors and not knowing what they're paying for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

The United States has the second largest active duty military in the world, with almost 1.4 million active duty service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The world's largest military belongs to China, with 2.25 million groups. India ranks just behind the U.S.

A big embarrassment for Democrats in Congress. In what Republicans are calling a fiasco, the massive farm bill sent to the White House was missing 34 pages. And even worse, the president vetoed it.

Let's go to White House correspondent Ed Henry.

Ed, this is a very strange story.

What's going on? Where do things stand right now?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was supposed to be a crowning achievement for Democrats -- a rare chance to override a presidential veto. But it turned out to be not so easy because of a farm foul-up.


HENRY (voice-over): Back when were kids, ABC's "Schoolhouse Rock" taught us how a bill becomes a law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill. And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it's a long, long journey.

HENRY: An even longer journey for House Democrats, who found out the hard way that securing new farm subsidies was not so simple. After passing the $307 billion farm bill, Democrats were glowing about a rare victory over President Bush -- until someone found a clerical mistake. The enrolling clerk is supposed to print the final bill onto fancy official parchment paper. But somehow, only 14 of the bill's 15 sections got printed. The part about trade and food aid was left out.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I take responsibility for what happened here. The enrollment of the bill was not done accurately.

HENRY: Nobody read the document closely, so the whole farm bill was not sent to the president. He did not veto the whole bill. And Democrats did not override his veto of the whole bill on Wednesday night, leading White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, to crow to reporters: "They've proved that they can even screw up spending the taxpayers' money unwisely."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted she was not happy. Asked what she said when first told...

PELOSI: (LAUGHTER). Uncustomarily crude.

HENRY: Democrats spent Thursday scrambling to pass the whole bill again, so the president could veto all 1,800 pages of it again.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: But nobody knows. Nobody's read it. Nobody's had a chance to read it.

HENRY: Uh-oh, here we go. The House pushed through the bill anyway, with a veto-proof majority, thanks to a wide number of Democrats and Republicans supporting a bill they had probably not read. The Senate moved forward, too. Voting for farm subsidies in an election year was just too irresistible.


HENRY: House and Senate Democrats think they have now passed the 14 sections into law. They'll probably deal with the trade section in a separate bill. To quote "Schoolhouse Rock," this farm bill will probably become a law -- at least Congress hopes and prays it does -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much -- Ed Henry.

A strange story up on the Hill and at the White House.

This next story had everyone in the newsroom stopping in their tracks today. Take a look at this. It's a giant tornado covering a huge area. It hit out West with deadly consequences. We're getting new information about the devastation.

We also know what John McCain is doing this weekend. He's hanging out with a group of people -- each one could be a potential running mate. The story about his vice presidential party. That's coming up, and a lot more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is off today. Zain Verjee monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Zain, what's going on?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in China, the death toll from last week's earthquake has now topped the government's own dire forecast, with more than 51,000 people now confirmed dead. That's up almost 10,000 from yesterday. That's also likely to jump again in the coming days, as 30,000 people still remain missing. There's also growing concern for the estimated five million people left homeless.

And imagine this frightening sight bearing down on you. This is Windsor, Colorado just a few hours ago. This huge tornado killed at least one person and damaged buildings over a wide area about 60 miles north of Denver. It came dangerously close to a day care center with more than 100 children inside and even damaged the playground equipment. But no children were hurt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much.

Zain Verjee watching this story for us.

By the way, this same storm system is making a mess of the highways in nearby Laramie, Wyoming. Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is looking into this part of the story.

Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these are pictures picked up by traffic cameras on Interstate 80 from the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Chad Myers from CNN reports a tornado touched by here about two hours ago, right around that time. These pictures recorded and posted online at this Web site.

A semi-trailer on its side there. And if you go along on to the following picture -- if I zoom in on that one there, this is a flatbed trailer. And it looks like a boat at the back of that blown off and debris strewn over the highway.

The A.P. is reporting that the Wyoming Highway Patrol has gone to the scene to respond. Any pictures of this storm system, please send them to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Abbi Tatton reporting.

John McCain's search for a running mate is apparently picking up some steam. You're going to find out what he's doing now that's fueling the buzz about the V.P. slot on the Republican ticket.

Also, we'll be joined by one of Senator McCain's strongest supporters. That would be Senator Lindsay Graham.

We'll talk about McCain's rejection of the Hagee endorsement, the situation in the Middle East and a lot more.

Plus, controlling weapons from half a world away -- we have an exclusive look at the latest remote control technology.

All that and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a Texas appeals court says the state was wrong to remove more than 460 children from a polygamist sect ranch last month. The ruling says there was insufficient evidence to support what it calls "an extreme measure."

Also, the staggering cost of flight delays -- a new Congressional report says the industry and the passengers lost more than $40 billion last year while left idling.

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

Barack Obama is quietly starting his search for a running mate. CNN has learned that the former Fannie Mae CEO, Jim Johnson, has accepted Obama's request to begin a screening process. That comes from a veteran Democratic activist, who says the process is at a very early point right now.

Johnson did the same job for Democratic nominees twice before. Obama told CNN today he doesn't yet have criteria for a running mate, adding he still has to win the nomination.

In the meantime, a get together being hosted by John McCain is raising a lot of questions about his vice presidential search.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Camp McCain says the vetting process is not on the menu at the McCain ranch in Arizona this weekend. But the guest list has only fueled speculation about a potential running mate for Senator John McCain.


SNOW: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and ex-presidential rival Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, are all planning to attend what the McCain camp calls a social gathering. McCain doesn't say much about the choice he'll have to make.

In April, CNN's Dana Bash asked him if he considers his age a factor.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not particularly, no. I think about whether that person who I select would be most prepared to take my place. That would be the key criteria.

SNOW: But some Republican strategists say with McCain being 71, age is a factor. They point out all that three guests this weekend are young, especially Jindal, who's only 36. They have something else in common.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're governors which I think is very important.

SNOW: What can a governor add?

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: For somebody who's a governor you would bring executive experience. You'd bring domestic issues like education and health care reform. And in the case of many governors, they also have some international experience as well.

SNOW: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's name has also been mentioned as a potential VP contender. He visited the McCain ranch in March for what he described a social weekend and says McCain has lots of choices.

Some Republican strategists say the issue of the economy is a factor since it's not seen as his strength.

DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He needs someone who's recognized as being strong on the economy.

SNOW: Some strategists also believe McCain will need to pick a conservative, a group he's been working to win over but others believe it isn't as crucial.


SNOW: Whatever the choice, some Republican strategists say they wouldn't be surprised if McCain picks a running mate before September's convention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thank you.

Let's get some more now on what's going on inside the McCain campaign. For that we're joined by one of his strongest supporters and close friends, his Senate colleague, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

Senator, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: You're heading over to Arizona for this little get together in weekend as well. What do we make of that?

GRAHAM: I'm going for the free food. You can't get a free meal in Washington anymore. I'm going to Arizona. He's a pretty good cook.

BLITZER: Is this sort of a formal opportunity for him to check out these potential vice presidential running mates? You included?

GRAHAM: I don't think so. It's people who've helped John. John's got to know during the campaign trail. That he likes and wants to spend time. There's been a lot of groups go through there. I think a lot's being made of this. It's quite frankly silly.

BLITZER: Silly? At some point he has to pick a vice presidential running mate.

GRAHAM: Yes. He'll do that. He has a lot of good choices. I'm okay with him making that decision.

BLITZER: All righty. We'll hold off for that one. We don't want to do anything silly.

What do you make of today and this dramatic development. We broke it in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier. The latest comments surfacing a few years back, Pastor John Hagee saying words about the Holocaust and Hitler and Israel and all of a sudden today John McCain says this is too much. He repudiates not only Hagee's statements but he takes away -- he doesn't want his endorsement anymore. Then Hagee comes back and says, you know what, you don't have my endorsement anymore.

GRAHAM: When you're running for president it's not guilt by association. We have a lot of supporters out there we don't always agree with. I go to schools that I don't agree with everything the school teaches or the policy of the school but I feel an obligation to go because they're in my state.

There comes a point in time when you're running for president that you have to disconnect yourself from rhetoric because you're trying to be the pros of everybody. You're trying to reassure people that as president of the United States you have a big view and you're a tolerant person. There comes a point in time where you have to break and John made that decision today.

BLITZER: You're comfortable with his decision?

GRAHAM: Yes. Because he's going to be president of everybody. You just have to reassure people you're going to be the president of everybody and you have a level of tolerance that'll make the country stronger, not weaker.

BLITZER: Senator Obama was in a synagogue in the past hour. We carried his remarks live in THE SITUATION ROOM. He made a point he's a strong supporter of Israel, has his own views about Hamas and Iran, some of those are different than Senator McCain. I'm going to play a little clip for you I want to discuss. This is really important.

GRAHAM: I agree.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to just repeat this because I know that there's a lot of rumor mongering going around. People have been getting e-mails nonstop. I have said throughout this campaign that we should not negotiate with Hamas or Hezbollah. And that's why I reject the attempts by some of my opponents in this campaign to distort my position.


BLITZER: All right. He says there's got to be one category for what he would regard as terrorist organizations. He includes Hamas and Hezbollah. He says he's not going to negotiate with them. But there's another category involving states. And you've got to be tough, you've got to be firm, but you also have to have a dialogue to see if you can change an adversary's view.

What's wrong with that strategy?

GRAHAM: Well, Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people. So they meet the criteria of an elected organization.

BLITZER: Do you think the U.S. should be negotiating with Hamas?

GRAHAM: No. I don't understand the difference. If Hamas got elected and he won't talk with them why does he talk with the Iranian president who denies the Holocaust existed?

You want to talk about Israel? Here's one good signal to send to Israel if you're going to be the president of the United States. I'll never sit down with anybody that had a conference in 2006 that denied the Holocaust ever existed.

BLITZER: You're talking about Ahmadinejad?

GRAHAM: I'm talking about the guy in Iran who had an international conference that questioned whether or not the Holocaust exists. I'm talking about the guy in Iran who said Israel was a stinking corpse. I'm talking about the president of Iran backing militia in Iraq that's killing Americans. No. We're not going to talk to him on the McCain side. If you want to go talk to that guy and legitimize him, you're welcome to do it.

BLITZER: The Bush administration has had talks with Iranians at a lower level, diplomats in Baghdad or Afghanistan.

GRAHAM: Sure. That's not what we're talking about, Wolf. We're talking about going from a presidential visit, sitting down with this guy, he said it in the debate. Now he's backing off. If he wants to do that, great. John's never going to do that. He's never going to take the office of the presidency of the United States and sit across the table from a guy who's a terrorist sponsored leader and who denies the Holocaust ever existed and is killing American soldiers as I speak and thinks Israel's a stinking corpse. We're not going to do that.

BLITZER: What do you believe? You know his foreign policy about as well as anyone. Senator McCain would do differently vis-a-vis Iran than President Bush has been doing?

GRAHAM: I think he'd try to get the U.N. more involved. Part of the problem. Can I have a little straight talk here? If you're a leader now it's hard to do business with President Bush. Because look what happened with Tony Blair. President Bush, I like him. But the next president of the United States is going to have an opportunity to reconnect with the world. And I think we can put together an alliance in the next presidency that will allow the U.N. to take a bolder action against Iran.

Because, trust me, it's not in anybody's interest to allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon because the whole region would go nuclear. I think John McCain is a new face on the international scene with a good reputation of a consensus builder can do more simply because it's a start over.

BLITZER: Based on what you know, are Iranians directly or indirectly killing American troops in Iraq right now?

GRAHAM: According to General Petraeus they're directly involved, an organization, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

BLITZER: What do you do about that? Because the Iraqi government of Nuri al Maliki you know they welcome Ahmadinejad to Baghdad, give him a red carpet treatment, kiss him on both cheeks.

GRAHAM: Well, what you do is you support Iraq that turns on the Shia militia that's supported by Iran, the special groups. The Iraqi government has sent a letter the Iranian government, stay out of our affairs. The Iraqi government is coming together with one voice telling their Iranian neighbor that, do not try to break our country apart.

We want to be your neighbor. We want to be your friend. But cease and desist of trying to destabilize our country. The tide has turned in Iraq against Iran. The Shias, Kurds and Sunnis don't want to be dominated by Iran. And that's good news. It's happened here in the last couple months.

BLITZER: We hope you have a great weekend this weekend. Senator McCain is a lucky guy to have you as a good friend and supporter.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Maybe next week you'll come back and give us a firsthand report on the barbecue.

GRAHAM: I'll tell you about the menu.

BLITZER: Thanks, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Always great to have him in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're quiet and deadly and the Pentagon wants more of them. Remote controlled aircraft changing the face of the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've got new video in a CNN exclusive.

Plus, we've uncovered something about the way the meat you eat gets inspected. It has to do with your personal safety. There are new questions for you to ask your butcher.

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


BLITZER: They are quiet and deadly, operated remotely by pilots half a world away; the newest weapon in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has the CNN exclusive. Jamie is here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching this.

These are already widely deployed, these weapons? What's going on?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Right now there are more than two dozen areas where the U.S. Air Force is conducting round the clock combat patrols with an unblinking eye using an attack plane that never sleeps.


MCINTYRE: This video seen first here on CNN shows a 500 pound bomb hitting a suspected Taliban bunker in southern Afghanistan earlier this year. It's the cockpit view, except there's no cockpit to view it from. The video is among several declassified at CNN's request that are the first to be released from the Air Force's newest remote controlled killing machine. A heavily armed, unmanned war plane with the grim moniker, the reaper.

LT. GEN. NORMAN SEIP, COMMANDER, 12TH AIR FORCE: It flies higher. Flies faster. Carries more of a weapons load. The airplanes are flying. They're flying long. They're flying hard and they're making a big impact.

MCINYTRE: The U.S. military says this strike in Afghanistan shows two insurgents who appear to be making a clean get away on a motorcycle until the reaper cuts off their escape with another 500 pound bomb. The pilot pulling the trigger? Half a world away at Creech Air Force Base in the Nevada desert.

SEIP: The folks at Creech are very proud of the fact that they are the only folks on the Air Force unit sitting in the United States flying combat operations 24 hour, seven days a week with no stop. No pause.

MCINTYRE: The Air Force says there's now an insatiable demand for unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs on the front lines. And industry is constantly rolls out new, improved models. This version called a scan eagle was recently demonstrated at the marine base in Quantico.

If you know just where to look, you can see the UAV in the sky. It's very small and very quiet. There was a time when these unmanned spy planes were just eyes in the sky but they're becoming a lot more.

The addition of hell fire missiles to the original predator spy drone just after September 11st gave it the ability to live up to its name. In this engagement in Baghdad last month, the predator hunts and kills a group of Iraqis armed with grenade launchers and mortars. With the next generation reaper, essentially a predator on steroids, it's easy to imagine drone wars in the future.


MCINTYRE: The Pentagon has a special task force to buy more UAVs as fast as possible. It's not just the planes. They need the crews too, the pilots. While it may not seem as glamorous as being a fighter pilot, it's becoming more and more important.

BLITZER: They'll still need those old fashioned pilots as well. They're not going to be replaced.

MCINTYRE: Well, the days of the manned aircraft may be coming to an end. Not this year or next year, but sometime soon.

BLITZER: All right. Jamie, thanks very much. Good work.

Last month, the Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained about how long it was to get more UAVs to the front lines. He said, I'm quoting now, people are stuck in old ways of doing business so it's been like pulling teeth. The Air Force says the number of predator missions has doubled in the past two years and UAVs now send back more than 13,000 hours of live video each month direct from the battlefield.

Jamie's going to be working this story. He'll have more coming up.

Coming up here, something you want -- you may want to ask your butcher about. It involves information we've uncovered about the people in charge of inspecting your meat. It has to do with your personal safety.

Plus, for the first time in nine years we'll get a look at John McCain's medical records. What will they say about his health? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us live. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The CNN special investigations unit has uncovered some questionable ties that could have a direct impact on the safety of the food you buy. Former lobbyists now running the show at a key government agency.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve shows us why it's cause for concern.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the agencies charged with keeping our meat safe. Watchdogs ask if the agency is too close to the industry it regulates to do its job effectively.


MESERVE: Go to the Agriculture Department Web site and this is what you'll find; five key staffers who have previously worked for or with the National Cattleman's Beef Association, the meat industry's largest lobbying group. Until recently, Jay Truitt worked for the Cattleman's Association.

JAY TRUITT, NATL. CATTLEMEN'S BEEF ASSN.: I don't think we have any concerns about some sort of a relationship issue there. They're, sure, out of the 100,000 people plus that work for the --

MESERVE: In top positions?

TRUITT: In top positions.

MESERVE: They're not just miscellaneous employees of the USDA?

TRUITT: No. Clearly.

MESERVE: Sometimes the resolving door goes the other way.

PATRICK BOYLE, AMERICAN MEAT INSTITUTE: I transitioned from the top job at USDA to industry. Even with my former ties at USDA I'm not of the view I have any undue influence with the department.

MESERVE: But food safety advocates don't buy it. They say the cross pollination between the meat industry and government has made the lobby a major force.

TONY KORBO, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: They've managed to put some of their former key people in key positions at USDA makes it very unusual.

MESERVE: And very powerful?

KORBO: And very powerful.

MESERVE: The meat recall triggered by the Humane Society videos, the largest meat recall in history, was opposed by the industry because no one had gotten ill. Nevertheless, food safety advocates maintains there was one aspect that illustrated the meat industry's pull with USDA.

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), CONNECTICUT: We can't even get a list of the retail outlets where this product was sent. We cannot get a list of the schools to which the product was sent. And that's because the industry regards and has labeled these lists as proprietary.

MESERVE: Food safety advocates have been pushing for USDA to release that kind of information. But for two years, it has been hung up. Some blame the power of the meat lobby.

KORBO: From what we're hearing, the Bush White House is -- is taking the industry's side and saying, don't even bother to send this rule to us.

MESERVE: The USDA refused our request for an interview saying, quote this is not a good time.


MESERVE: The beef lobby says it is appropriate for the USDA to hire people who know and understand the beef industry. And what better place than their ranks. But critics say the interrelationship is weakening our food safety system -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thank you; Jeanne Meserve reporting.

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

CAFFERTY: That's just really discouraging.

BLITZER: Yes. I think you're right.

CAFFERTY: It's really discouraging.

The question this hour is: What does Barack Obama have to do to persuade Florida's Jewish population to support him or another way of wording it, does he have a problem with the Jewish voters in Florida?

Vick in Wantagh, New York writes: "Last winter Obama became the uniting phenomena because he held the promise of transcending race, ethnicity and class distinction. After the Reverend Wright affair, the sucking up to Iran business and now old Jewish folks in Boca Raton, we can see what the American presidential election is all about. America the melting pot of social groups becomes America the boiling pot of politics and media attention."

George in Atlanta says: "He doesn't have to do anything. Enough of the double talk and analysis. Their minds were made up long before Obama entered the presidential race. Many of the older Jews in places like Century Village simply will not vote for any African-American."

Joe writes: "Senator Obama doesn't need to go too far out of his way to persuade Florida's Jewish population to support him. His base of support is nontraditional. In one sense he doesn't really need them. That doesn't mean he should ignore Florida Jews, of course. Rather he just needs to keep doing what he's doing already. That is reaching out across traditional boundaries and being the embodiment of true change."

Audrey in Miami, Florida: "I'm a Jewish white girl from Florida. I'm praying Obama gets elected. I know some of my older family members are iffy about him but they'll still vote for him if he's the nominee."

Bob in Florida on whether Barack Obama's got a problem: "No more than Hillary Clinton has a problem with math, the DNC rules, the superdelegates, Howard Dean, delegate count, number of states won, popular vote, white educated people who work, the electoral map, bill, defeat and the truth."

And Elaine: "I think that's right, writes Obama needs to go to Israel after the Puerto Rico primary, make a mayor policy address on his Middle East policy showing detail and a depth of understanding. Or he could just wear an Israeli flag lapel pin."

If you didn't see your e-mail here go to my blog, Look for yours there among hundreds of others. It's not bad duty getting to read all these e-mails. Some are just terrific.

BLITZER: These guys are very clever. There are hundreds more there at your blog.

CAFFERTY: You read them all, don't you?

BLITZER: Not every one but most of them.

CAFFERTY: Well, start.

BLITZER: OK. Thank you.

A federal lawsuit to get Florida's votes to count. We're going to show you who's behind it and what it could do to the Democratic race.

Plus, Ted Kennedy is speaking publicly now for the first time since he was diagnosed with brain cancer. You're going to hear what he's saying. That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our political ticker, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former presidential candidate himself, is in Puerto Rico campaigning for Barack Obama. Puerto Rico holds its primary on June 1st with 55 delegates at stake. Richardson is one of the nation's most prominent Hispanic politicians and has often been mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick.

Barack Obama is stepping in for Ted Kennedy. The ailing senator was scheduled to give the commencement address at Connecticut's Wesley University this Sunday but he was forced to cancel in the wake of his diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. So Obama, who Kennedy has endorsed for president, will give the speech instead.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNN That's where you can download our new political screen saver and where you can check out my blog.

Let's check out Lou Dobbs. He's got a show coming up in an hour.

Lou, I want to pick your brain on the lawsuit that's been filed in Florida today by some Democrats saying the DNC has to seat those delegates, those regular delegates and superdelegates come the convention in August.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": That's a lawsuit brought by State Senator Steven Gellar, Wolf. It means to have those votes counted one and three one and three quarters million Floridian Democrats voted and not being counted. The lawsuit may -- there's no question, the folks in Florida are awfully upset, as are folks in Michigan, but in Florida, as you know, Wolf, the governor made the decision on the timing of that election.

The Democratic Party had absolutely nothing to do with it. What the DNC has done in disenfranchising those voters is not only irresponsible, it's reprehensible and Howard Dean and the entire DNC, they should be really -- the act is beneath contempt. They really should be embarrassed.

BLITZER: They have a chance to do something on May 31st. The rules committee will be meeting.

DOBBS: The Rules Committee will be meeting. But meanwhile, there's something called the American way and democracy. And if the leader of the Democratic Party and Senator Obama and Senator Clinton can't get together and say, look, we're going to count those votes or we're going to give them another opportunity for a primary election in the next month, then there's something terribly, terribly wrong. Private money has been offered to fund those elections, as you know, and it's crazy what the Democratic Party is doing.

And Senator Clinton has ratched up and escalated the battle. She says if -- if they don't want to count those votes in Florida and Michigan, perhaps the Republican Party might want to.

BLITZER: Lou, we'll have more in an hour on this story.

Thanks Lou, very much.