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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With David Dreier, Jane Harman; Interview With General Mark Hertling
Aired May 25, 2008 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: We can't afford four more years of George Bush foreign policy. That's why we can't afford John McCain.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: He does not have the knowledge, background or judgment to lead this nation.
BLITZER (voice-over): John McCain and Barack Obama set their sights on the general election battle to come.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: It is clear I am the stronger candidate against John McCain.
BLITZER: But with just three contests to go, Hillary Clinton hangs on. When will the Democratic race end? And which party will have the upper hand going into November? We'll ask two top members of Congress, Democrat Jane Harman and Republican David Dreier.
UNKNOWN: I decided not to drive this weekend.
UNKNOWN: I'm going to stay home and save my pennies.
BLITZER: As gas prices hit an all time here in the United States, which candidate has the best handle on the economy? The issue that is number one on the voter's minds. We'll talk to key economic advisers from all three campaigns.
Plus, insight and analysis on the presidential race from three of the best political team on television.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You perform with skill and valor and on behalf of a grateful nation.
BLITZER: On this Memorial Day weekend in the United States, we'll get the latest on the war in Iraq from U.S. major general Mark Hertling, commander of multinational forces of the north.
TILLMAN: There were points along the way in the last four years that we were concerned that Pat may have been killed deliberately.
BLITZER: Plus a special Memorial Day conversation with Pat Tillman's mother on her long search for answers, four years after her son died under a hail of friendly fire. The first hour of LATE EDITION starts right now.
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is LATE EDITION with Wolf Blitzer.
BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 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 our conversation with Congressman Jane Harman and Congressman David Dreier in just a moment. But first, Senator Barack Obama is getting ready to speak to graduates of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He is filling in for his ailing friend and colleague Senator Ted Kennedy, who announced earlier this week he has brain cancer.
CNN's Jim Acosta is in Connecticut getting ready himself to listen to this address. Jim, set the scene for us, Senator Obama's commencement address.
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. Senator Obama is not here yet. I should note to our viewers that you're hearing some drums behind me. Those are the ceremonial drums that students here at the university will be playing before Barack Obama makes this commencement speech. And aides to Senator Obama say that this is not a stump speech, this is a commencement address, so we'll see a different side of Barack Obama today.
The senator is expected to mention a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy who could not be here today, as you mentioned, Wolf, for medical reasons. His stepdaughter goes to this university. We're also going to hear Barack Obama tap into his autobiography and talk about his up from his boot straps upbringing in Hawaii. We'll hear some of that from Barack Obama as well.
But it's also important to note what has happened over the campaign trail over the last 24 hours. Senator Obama and Hillary Clinton were both campaigning in Puerto Rico over the weekend in advance of next Sunday's primary. And we heard Barack Obama on his campaign plane last night returning from Puerto Rico to Chicago make mention of the controversy that has been going on over those disputed delegates down in Michigan and Florida. He slammed Clinton's attempts to have the delegates counted, saying this is a last slender hope on her part to keep her campaign alive.
We should note that Hillary Clinton did have an op-ed in this morning's "New York Daily News" in which she defended the efforts saying she has every right to stay in the campaign. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thanks very much. Jim Acosta on the scene for us at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. And we're going to go there live once Senator Obama begins his remarks. This is a carefully drafted speech. He and his team have prepared it. I think you'll be interested to our viewers in the United States and around the world what he has to say today. We'll go there live once Senator Obama starts speaking.
Meantime, the general election may be more than five months away. But the rhetoric is already heating up between Republicans and Democrats, especially when it comes to foreign policy and the economy. Here now to talk about the differences between the two parties are two key members of Congress and both represent California. Democrat Jane Harman, she's a supporter of Hillary Clinton and Republican David Dreier, he's a supporter of John McCain. They're both joining us from our Los Angeles bureau.
Welcome both of them back to LATE EDITION, thanks very much. And I want to begin with this controversy that Jim Acosta just mentioned, the remarks that Hillary Clinton, Congressman Harman, made the other day evoking the memory of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy back in 1968, June of '68. The assassination obviously ended his race for the White House. I'm going to play a little clip of that because it generated a lot of concern out there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Was that a major gaffe, Congresswoman Harman?
HARMAN: She has regretted those remarks, Wolf, and frankly, so do I. This campaign needs, in my view, to be over very soon. I think it will be. The rules committee of the Democratic Party needs this weekend, next weekend, and I believe it will come up with some compromise to seat the Michigan and Florida delegation and then the primaries will be over after June 3rd.
I believe our party will pull together very quickly after that. Obama clearly has the momentum. I am a proud Hillary delegate. But I predict the race will be over soon. The loser will concede graciously. And I hope that we build what I call a unity ticket, either with both of them on the ticket or with the people on the ticket strongly representing the two bases which we will need to combine if we're to win in November over a very strong Republican challenge.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, because I want to get to all of those points in a moment. Congressman Dreier, I want you to listen to what Senator Obama said suggesting, you know what? People say strange things out on the campaign trail but they don't necessarily mean it. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I, you know, have learned that when you're campaigning for as many months as myself and Senator Clinton have been campaigning that sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make and I think that's what happened here. And, so, Senator Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it and I will take her at her word on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As a Republican, as a strong supporter of John McCain, what do you think?
DREIER: Well let me say, Wolf, you know, the line we're in year three now of the 2008 presidential campaign. It is a long campaign. The fact is that I think Bobby Kennedy Jr. said it very well and he pointed to the fact she has made this statement in the past. I do believe as Jane sort of implied that this race is going to end up being between not her first choice of a candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Frankly, I'm more comfortable with Hillary Clinton as a candidate than I am Barack Obama. And the main reason is that Barack Obama while he has put forward a tremendous, tremendous vision, he's inspired a lot of people, he's captured the imagination of a lot of young people, his policies clearly really embody what I call the ideological baggage of the past. I find that to be very, very troubling.
BLITZER: Do you want to give us one example?
DREIER: I'll tell you one example. Just the whole notion of expanding the reach of government. As I listen to him talk about the economy, he was talking about a dramatic increase in the capital gains tax rate. He was talking about, you know, this class warfare argument of us versus them. And that is a nonstarter. I don't believe that most Americans are interested in that. So, you know, Wolf, he's got a great image.
Frankly, I worked with him on democracy building in Africa and things like that in the past. I will say, John McCain has these deeply rooted principles and he understands pro growth. He is focused on reducing the size and scope of government which is what the American people clearly want. I tell you, on the issue of the Middle East and the issue of.
BLITZER: Hold on. I want -- I said one example. We'll get to the other examples in a moment.
DREIER: OK, I've got lots of them.
BLITZER: Let me let Congresswoman Harman respond, go ahead.
HARMAN: Well, I plan to enthusiastically support the Democratic ticket. I think that coming off the failed Bush presidency, voters are going to vote for Democrats in droves. Two words for the Bush presidency, Iraq and Katrina. And three words for the worry about the McCain presidency and that is the Supreme Court.
I think we have the arguments in our favor. John McCain is a hero and a friend of mine and a man I respect. But I think that the policies of the Democratic ticket are not quite what David describes. I think that if it is Obama, he will heal the country. If it is Obama/Clinton, a huge base will come together. If it is Clinton/Obama, I feel the same way. And I hope that the Democratic Party moves forward quickly in June to end the divisions that we have had during this primary.
BLITZER: Congressman Dreier, you say that the example you cited that John McCain would scale back government, reduce government, reduce its outreach. But over the past eight years, under a Republican president, the government has exploded in terms of its growth, and the national debt has exploded from $5 trillion to now more than $9 trillion. The country is in a deficit. Annual deficits have exploded as well. What kind of track record is that?
DREIER: Well, I'll tell you, the fact is John McCain has been very committed to reducing the size and scope of government, and I believe that as president, he's going to provide great leadership for that.
But you know, Wolf, the most important issue of all -- and Jane and I learned this from having been in Israel just last weekend -- here we are in a position where in Israel, the left and the right come together on one thing, and that is in prosecuting this war against radical extremism. And we learned very well from seeing the Israelis that it's as if September 11th had taken place just a week ago. The solidarity is like what we saw following September 11th of 2001 here in the United States of America.
And I think that the unwavering commitment that John McCain has to ensuring that we are going to be successful is something that I think is unmatched and certainly unmatched when it comes to Barack Obama. And that's issue No. 1.
And getting gasoline prices down, which is what our constituents are talking about right now, so that we can pursue energy security is a very important part of that.
BLITZER: I want to get -- we'll get to all of that. But I want your quick reaction, Congresswoman Harman, to the delegate count right now. Barack Obama is inching closer and closer to that magic number. We'll put it up on the screen right now. By our estimate, he has 1,969 pledged and superdelegates. You need 2,026 right now. He's only about 57 delegates shy of that.
Hillary Clinton keeps saying Michigan and Florida should be included. That would bring the total number of delegates up to 2,210. But he still would be way ahead of her even if they found some formula to include Michigan and Florida. Is it too late? I guess that's the question for her to find the math that is going to salvage her race for the White House?
HARMAN: Well, I'm not an expert on the math in this race. But as I said, the rules committee of the Democratic Party meets this weekend. I think she has 12 supporters there. He has eight. But there are seven uncommitted. That means that if his plus the uncommitteds come to some deal, that is the deal that will stick.
But at any rate, I think there will be a compromise. Michigan and Florida voted out of sequence. They broke the DNC rules, which is why we're having this problem. But I predict there will be a compromise. They will be seated. When the primary votes are over on June 3rd, I think close to that, the superdelegates who haven't committed yet will commit, and we will have a winner in our race. And then it will be up to both the winner and the loser to be gracious.
As some pundits said, how the loser loses will have a big impact on whether the winner wins. And I'm certainly going to push for unity.
David says there are a lot of issues out there. Let's remember that Al Qaida and the terrorist threat has grown stronger during the Bush presidency, not weaker. It is time to change our policy in Iraq. We are doing better on the ground there. David and I both saw that. Now is the time to end the combat mission and move our troops out of there and redeploy them to more dangerous parts of the Middle East, and bring some of them home.
BLITZER: We're going to get to...
BLITZER: Hold on, Congressman. We're going to get to that. A lot of material to discuss. But we have to take a quick break, a short break.
Still to come, we're also standing by to go live to Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Senator Barack Obama getting ready to fill in for Senator Ted Kennedy and deliver a major commencement address at the school. We'll go there live once Senator Obama starts speaking and gets personal in his carefully drafted remarks.
Also coming up, a Republican senator had some very tough words for his friend, John McCain. We'll get reaction from these two members of Congress. To that and a lot more when we come back. Stay with us.
UNKNOWN: You're looking at a picture of Corporal Albert Gettings and his former wife Stephanie. Corporate Albert Gettings had his wife taken on January 5th, 2006. He embodied what it meant to be a United States Marine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You're looking at these live pictures from Wesleyan University out in Connecticut, where Senator Barack Obama is getting ready to speak to the school's graduates. We'll go there live once he starts speaking. But let's get back to our two top members of Congress right now. Joining us, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, Republican Congressman David Dreier of California.
Congressman Dreier, I will play this clip of what Senator Obama said on Tuesday of this past week, going after John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The Bush Iraq policy to ask everything from our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain's policy, too. And so is the fear of tough and aggressive diplomacy that has left this country more isolated and less secure than in any time in recent history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What about that notion of talking to adversaries the way Ronald Reagan spoke to the then Soviet Union, which had nuclear missiles aimed at the United States?
DREIER: You know, Wolf, this is Memorial Day weekend. And I'm sure, like Jane, I'm going to be participating in a number of services tomorrow. I'm going to be dedicating my remarks to Lieutenant J.P. Blacksmith (ph) and his mother, who recently passed away. J.P. was killed in the battle of Fallujah. And his father has regularly said to me, if we don't complete our mission, my son J.P. will have died in vain.
The fact of the matter is, and Jane saw this and I heard you say that you're going to have General Hertling on in just a little while. He commands the forces in northern Iraq. And what we have seen there is an 85 percent reduction in the number of attacks and a solidarity in taking on Al Qaida. So, in fact, Al Qaida has been weakened in that very, very dangerous spot.
I will say that on the issue of negotiating, we just this morning got the news that these negotiations taking place between Syria and Israel have in fact fallen on tough times because of the fact that Syria will not break with Iran. And I will say that clearly we know that discussions have been taking place. And in fact, Iranians and American negotiators have been involved in focusing on Iraq.
The fact is, we can't reward this behavior. And Jane was at a meeting that we had with the foreign minister in Israel, who was -- Ms. Livni -- she was very insistent that we not embark on these without preconditions negotiations with the Iranians.
BLITZER: All right. Jane Harman?
HARMAN: Yes. Today's L.A. Times, Wolf, has the names of 500 Californians who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan in these wars that are going on now.
HARMAN: Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and with the people currently under fire. And by the way, my thoughts and prayers are with Ted Kennedy and his family as well.
DREIER: Absolutely, absolutely.
HARMAN: But let me respond to that. The Iraqis are doing much better. I salute their courage. The Sunni leadership has taken on Sunnis in Basra and today the papers are full of their attack on Sadr City, which is another Sunni (sic) enclave in Baghdad. That is a reason I think why we should be reducing our footprint. Let them handle this civil war. Let them take back their country and use their oil service...
BLITZER: Hold on, hold on. Congresswoman, listen to Senator John McCain. He really goes after Barack Obama for being naive in his assertion that's he'd be willing to meet with various leaders including Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad of Iran without preconditions in a first year of his presidency.
Listen to Senator McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Such a statement portrays the depth of Senator Obama's inexperience and reckless judgment. These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What do you say?
HARMAN: Wolf, well, what I think is that that's nice campaign rhetoric. But it is not precisely what Obama said. By the way, I applaud his initiative this week to deal with Cuba. Our isolationist policy there has hurt the Cuban people and not accomplished much.
And I think the Bush axis of evil speech that cut off three countries that are not similar to each other has set us back many years. I think the right answer is that we should continue low-level contacts with Iran, which we do have, and we should prepare the conditions, this is what Obama is saying, for ultimately some meeting at the senior level. I don't know that it has to be with Ahmadinejad. It might be with the religious leadership of Iran. But the bottom line here is that we have made Iran stronger by our missed opportunities in diplomacy. As Madeleine Albright often says, former secretary of state.
DREIER: Jane, that is the real distinction between...
HARMAN: Diplomacy is not appeasement.
DREIER: That is the real distinction between the two. In fact, Barack Obama has not called for preconditions and John McCain has. And I think that what we need to realize is that what you aspire to, we all do. We want this war to end. President Bush wants this war to end. John McCain wants this war to end as soon as possible. Dave Petraeus has said, if the kind of success -- in his testimony this past week, if the kind of successes that we are seeing in Mosul, Basra, Sadr City, continues, we will be able to see a reduction in our troop level beginning this fall. And I strongly support and hope and pray that that will happen so that our men and women can come home.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, let's...
HARMAN: But, Wolf...
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have got to leave it right there. I know that there's a lot more to discuss, but we're up against a deadline right now. Jane Harman, thanks very much.
HARMAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: David Dreier, thank you to you as well.
DREIER: Always good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: A good discussion. But obviously, we would love to have more. We're standing by to hear from Senator Barack Obama. He is getting ready to address graduates at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He is filling in for Senator Ted Kennedy, who has brain cancer. Once Senator Obama starts speaking, we'll go there live. I think you're going to be interested in his remarks today.
But also, what will the next president do about record high oil prices? We'll ask key advisers to all three campaigns when LATE EDITION continues. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: My name is Dave Lemon (ph). I'm here for a reunion of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. And I'd like to pay a tribute to Larry Haines (ph), who is a brother of my best friend. He served as a Marine in Khe Sanh and was killed there. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A reminder on this Memorial Day of the high cost of all wars. Welcome back to LATE EDITION. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting. We're also standing by to hear from Senator Barack Obama. He is getting ready to address graduates at Wesleyan University up in Connecticut. That procedure -- that process has just started. There are several speakers ahead of him. We'll go there live once Senator Obama starts speaking.
But right now, let's turn to issue number one in the U.S. election, that would be the state of the U.S. economy. The price of oil hit yet another record high this week, sending the national average for a gallon of gas here in the United States to $3.91. That is up 70 cents compared to last year's Memorial Day weekend. Joining us now to discuss this and more and what the presidential candidates would do to ease the pain consumers are feeling at the pump and a whole lot more, three advisers from the three campaigns.
In Los Angeles is Gene Sperling, economic adviser to Hillary Clinton's campaign. In Berkeley, California, Robert Reich, he is a former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, he is now a Barack Obama supporter. And here in Washington with me, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, he's a senior economic adviser to Senator John McCain's campaign. Want to welcome all three of them here to LATE EDITION.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in. And, Doug, let me start with you and talk about the price of a gallon of gas. Hillary Clinton has a program, she would like to see this windfall profit imposed on Exxon Mobil and Chevron and the other big oil companies. Here's how she put it the other day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: She said that in an interview with me the other day. Is that a good idea?
HOLTZ-EAKIN: No. We tried a windfall profits tax in the 1970s. It wasn't successful then. It wouldn't produce any more oil or gas in the United States. What we need is a comprehensive strategy. No more running for president when the United States is dependent on foreign oil and not having a path to getting the U.S. off that.
John McCain has a path that includes not the government picking ethanol or other substitutes, but taking some leadership on climate change, putting in place a cap and trade, which he has proposed in two congresses, making sure that the incentives are there to produce -- whether it's geothermal, wind, solar alternatives to reliance on petroleum.
BLITZER: Gene Sperling, what about it?
SPERLING: Well, it doesn't surprise me Doug is not too enthusiastic or the McCain campaign is not too enthusiastic about this. As you know, their main economic agenda is in fact to actually give more tax relief to major corporations even though they've had the greatest profitability and benefits as the typical American is facing nearly 2,000 more in energy cost and has had flat wages over the last five or six years.
Senator Clinton is saying...
BLITZER: Well, what about the argument that the windfall profit tax simply doesn't work?
SPERLING: Well, you know what? It's funny, some of the people made that argument when Senator Clinton first proposed that. And it was maybe $60, $65. You have to ask, is there no level in which people think that the major companies should be benefiting and having the high CEO salaries that they have while there is nothing happening for consumers? What Senator Clinton said...
BLITZER: Let me let Douglas Holtz...
SPERLING: Let me just answer...
BLITZER: Hold on, hold on. I want Douglas to respond to that, because a lot of people look at these big oil companies.
BLITZER: They see these tens of billions of dollars profits they're making. And they say this is obscene at a time when so many American consumers are suffering.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: And certainly Senator McCain voted against the 2005 energy bill that was just chalk full of special favors for oil companies. Senator Obama did not. He supported the bill. Senator McCain proposed eliminating all sorts of special perks for oil companies. What he wants and has the judgment to do is to make sure the economy grows. That you can have a growing economy so that people can get a job, keep a job. That is the most important thing.
BLITZER: Let me let Robert Reich come in, former labor secretary that supports Barack Obama. Secretary Reich, does a wind fall profits tax on big oil work?
REICH: Yes, it does, Wolf and especially now when oil prices are soaring higher than we've ever seen oil prices soar. When we have global demands on oil such as we have never seen before. Barack Obama supports a wind fall profits tax and a rebate of that money back to consumers. So consumers actually can get through. I mean not gimmicks like a summer tax holiday or other kinds of gimmicks. I mean the main thing is to get consumers back to where they were.
BLITZER: You want to respond, Doug?
HOLTZ-EAKIN: Well, it's a great gimmick. It's been tried twice, it's worked twice. I know there are all sorts of theorizing about giving a summer gas tax holiday, but when they did it in Illinois and Senator Obama supported it, gas prices fell. When they did it in Japan, gas prices fell. I just don't understand the opposition of having gas prices be lower.
BLITZER: Gene Sperling, here's a point that Senator McCain keeps making and I suspect it will be a centerpiece of this campaign in terms of the economy going forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I favor lower taxes, less government spending, less federal bureaucracy. Senator Obama has clearly stated his preference for raising the tax burden on Americans. Increasing government spending and giving the government more authority over the lives of American families and businesses. (END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. I assume he would have the same point about Senator Clinton as well. But go ahead and respond.
SPERLING: Yeah, we should be as clear as we can every time we debate. Senator Obama and Senator Clinton both agree that we should extend all the middle class tax cuts that were in the Bush package. In addition, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have additional middle class tax cuts for higher education and savings.
So what's the difference? The difference is that John McCain on top of that would give $300 billion in tax incentives to go to either to Americans making over $250,000 or over $150 billion to major corporations regardless of whether they're creating any jobs in the United States. That is the big difference. Where Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are is they would be using that money for universal health care and homeland security and for stronger fiscal position.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: Well gene, as you know, you've got a program that's full of mandates on small businesses, taxes on small businesses. This is the source of jobs in the United States and if you want to kill off the jobs, vote for Barack Obama, vote for Senator Clinton. We need to have an economy that grows. We need to have an economy that is linked with the rest of the world, not shut off and isolated. We need a president who understands that you cannot unilaterally negotiate international agreements. That controls health care cost that eat into people's wages. That's a reality. Put into place a program that doesn't.
BLITZER: Let's let Secretary Reich respond.
REICH: If I can intervene here for just a moment because Senator Obama's tax plan is very clear. And that is up to $1,000 tax cut per family. And on top of that, zero capital gains for small businesses. The only people who are going to see any kind of tax increase are in the top 2 percent of income and wealth -- 95 percent of Americans under Senator Obama's plan will actually see a tax cut. This is economics from the bottom up. This is economics for the middle and lower middle classes. John McCain's tax plan is a continuation of President Bush's tax plan which is trickle down economics.
BLITZER: Is that right?
REICH: It doesn't work.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: But Senator Reich, Senator Obama's plan is Washington in action. It's $2 trillion more spending by the federal government. You have to pay for that somehow or you are George Bush III. You have to have a plan that puts money in the hands of Americans, gives them the freedom and opportunity to pursue it. That's been the route to success.
BLITZER: I want everyone to hold their fire for a moment because we have to take a quick break. But we have a lot more to discuss. We're going to continue this conversation. We're also going to be talking about Americans' wallets. What's going on? We're standing by also by the way to hear from Senator Barack Obama. He's getting ready to address graduates at Wesleyan University. He is filling in for Senator Ted Kennedy. We'll go there live once Senator Obama starts speaking. Stay with us. LATE EDITION continues right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: My name is Gail Pointdexter (ph) and this is my son Sergeant Joel W. Lewis. The army threw him in because he just would not have survived behind a desk job. Being so tall, 6'6," you think he would be intimidating. But people were kind of drawn to him. He was a superb young man who was killed in Iraq on 5/6/07 and will be greatly missed and loved forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The sorrow of a mother who lost her son. In just a few moments, we'll be speaking with Mary Tillman, she lost her son, the former football star Pat Tillman in the battle in Afghanistan on this Memorial Day weekend here in the United States.
We're also standing by to hear from Barack Obama. He is getting ready to address graduates at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. We'll go there live once he starts speaking.
But right now, we're back with three top economic advisers to the three remaining presidential campaigns. Gene Sperling, Robert Reich and Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Let me play a clip, Doug, for you, of Barack Obama. He makes this point. I guess if he gets the Democratic nomination, will be a central point in his assertions against your candidate, John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We've had an administration that's been profligate that has raised our national debt to a record level. We have seen a lack of shared prosperity. John McCain is essentially offering four more years of the same policies that got us into this rut that we're in right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Obama made the points in an interview with me. What is the major difference if, there is any difference, on economic policy? What would John McCain do differently than the Republican president, George W. Bush has done for eight years?
HOLTZ-EAKIN: Well, we have a comprehensive vision of how the economy grows. You take on a comprehensive reform of health care so that we don't see people having coverage dropped.
BLITZER: And Bush has failed in that regard? HOLTZ-EAKIN: We've seen nothing. And instead of going the right direction, he made a very big expansion in the Medicare drug program which by the way is what Senator Obama would do with his health care plan.
BLITZER: That's was a mistake, you believe?
HOLTZ-EAKIN: The senator voted against it and can you do these things better and more responsibly.
BLITZER: Because for a lot of seniors, it is a pretty popular program.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: But there is no reason why we should be paying for Warren Buffett's drugs in retirement. This is a man who can afford to do so. And the senator is proposing we do it that way. So you have to do that. You have to make sure that people are educated.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: The senator has proposed not only that education be made to work in America so that people come out of high school prepared to go to college...
BLITZER: No Child Left Behind has been terrible?
HOLTZ-EAKIN: It's a step in the right direction, but we have inner city schools where half the students aren't graduating. That's not good enough. He has proposed a comprehensive reform of all the unemployment insurance and training programs, so that in America, if you lose a job, you get quickly to another job for the 21st century.
BLITZER: All right, Gene Sperling, you hear a McCain adviser like Douglas Holtz-Eakin make the point that John McCain is a very different kind of Republican than George W. Bush is.
SPERLING: Well, you know, there are a lot of similarities in their support for partial privatization of Social Security, their position on Iraq. But what's been amazing is that my only disagreement with Senator Obama -- and it's not much of a disagreement -- is that John McCain has actually been significantly worse than President Bush has in terms of what he's proposing fiscally and in terms of corporations.
Let's be clear -- he is supporting extending the over $100 billion in Bush tax cuts that just go to the most well-off, and then adding the largest tax cut for corporations, probably $150 billion a year, more than enough to do either the Obama or the Clinton health care plan.
BLITZER: Is that true, Doug?
SPERLING: This is more fiscally irresponsible and more tilted towards the well-off.
BLITZER: Is that true, Doug?
HOLTZ-EAKIN: Gene needs to do his homework a little bit. Yes, the senator has proposed...
SPERLING: I've done it just fine, Doug.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: ... to make sure that U.S. corporations that want to stay in America, that they can compete around the globe. That's how workers benefit. That's how they get and keep good jobs. And if you look at what Senator Obama, for example, is proposing -- $2 trillion in spending; $3 trillion in tax cuts over the next five years. That looks like the failed program of the Bush administration. It's hard to hear them...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Secretary Reich.
REICH: If I can. Look, if you add up the numbers in the plans, you see that Senator McCain's program costs $650 billion a year. There are almost no ways of spending for it anywhere in the McCain tax plan. That is $6 trillion over 10 years. I mean, this is a continuation of what we have seen under President Bush in terms of the debt and the deficit getting larger and larger, and no discussion about how to raise revenues whatsoever.
And on top of this, just one more thing -- when we talk about the economy and we talk about gas and oil prices -- I mean, one way to reduce oil prices is to stabilize the Middle East, to get out of Iraq.
I mean, John McCain has no plan to get out of Iraq. Barack Obama has a very clear plan to get out of Iraq, to stabilize the Middle East. And that is going to help oil prices. It's going to help the economy.
We've been spending billions of dollars in Iraq that could have gone to the economy in the United States instead.
BLITZER: So you hear that all the time. The Democrats make the point, the $100 billion a year, or whatever the cost, $50 billion a year it costs to maintain 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq -- that money could be spent on health care, on the economy right here at home, building roads, infrastructure. What does Senator McCain say about that? Because you want to continue to spend that money.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: Let's be clear. Senator McCain has been honest to the American people about what he is asking of them. He is asking of them the most precious thing -- the lives and the families of these servicemen, missing them. That's a clear and honest appraisal of what is necessary to preserve the Middle East and not to have to go back to it in disarray.
The kind of reckless approaches that we're hearing particularly from Senator Obama won't save any money. They'll cost lives. They'll cost more money.
And if you look at what's going on in the world today, we see the U.S. dollar much weaker than it used to be. Why is that? The world looks at the United States. It sees the Democratic Party, presumed to be the next controlling party. It's a party that believes in high taxes, big government, closing the borders, ripping up international agreements. Global investors don't want to show up in the U.S.
REICH: Wait a minute, Doug.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: We can't have those kinds of policies and be successful as a nation. BLITZER: All right, let me go ahead -- I'll let both of you respond, and that will be it. Go ahead.
REICH: I'm sorry. I mean just -- the dollar has been declining under George W. Bush because of fiscal policies that make absolutely no sense. A lot of people have lost confidence around the world in the United States because of foreign policies that also make no sense.
Obama will restore America's moral authority in the world, will restore the American economy, and also in the process restore the dollar.
BLITZER: All right. Gene?
SPERLING: Two points. One is, what's disturbing to Senator Clinton and so many others is not the hundreds of billions we spend in Iraq, but that we spend it and we feel no safer, no more secure.
And the second point is, John McCain, admirably at the beginning of this administration, said why are we having a big reckless tax cut when people are sacrificing? Now later, we're in more debt, we're in more deficit. He's not -- he asked Senator Obama and Senator Clinton -- said are doubling down or putting on the accelerator.
How can you possibly argue at this point that the biggest problem in the United States is that we need a larger, huge tax cut for multinational corporations and the most well-off? That's not class warfare. That is just about our priorities and our values about investing in the hard-working middle class, who are struggling now and want the next president -- whether it's Obama or Clinton -- to be focused on their bread-and-butter issues.
REICH: It is also very clearly a continuation of the Bush administration policies. And I think that's what Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are so concerned about. We just want to get rid of those policies. They do not help the economy and they do not help foreign policy.
BLITZER: I have to give Douglas Holtz-Eakin the last word, because this has been two-on-one in effect, and I want to make sure he gets to make his final point.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: This is about the future. John McCain has a clear vision of the future. He wants the United States to be safe. He is uniquely equipped to be commander in chief from day one. He understands and has the judgment to conduct both international economic policies and international affairs.
And at home, we need Americans to get out of bed, go to work in strong companies, have good educations, health care benefits that travel with them from job to job and job to home so they are not afraid of losing them, and the ability to sell around the world and have a more prosperous future. You can do that if you take on energy. He's promised to do that. You can make the environment cleaner at the same time. Jobs, clean environment, good standing in the world. That's the package.
BLITZER: I think we just got a preview of the economic debate that's coming up in the general election. I want to thank all three of our guests. Gene Sperling, Robert Reich, Douglas Holtz-Eakin. A good, serious discussion on the economy.
Remember, we're standing by to go to Wesleyan University in Connecticut to hear from Senator Barack Obama. He's going to be addressing graduates there. This is an important speech he's delivering, filling in for Senator Ted Kennedy, who has brain cancer. We'll go there live. That's coming up. That and a lot more right here on "Late Edition."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: Nathan was a true all-American boy. He was very respected, very kind-hearted. He was always full of adventure and very enthusiastic. Unfortunately, November 9th, 2004, he was killed. It was very heartbreaking for us to know that we're going to miss him a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're also standing by to hear momentarily, very soon, we're told, from Senator Obama. We'll go to Wesleyan University for the commencement address. That's coming up.
In the meantime, it's been more than four years now since Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. But his mother, Mary Tillman, is still not sure she has the full story surrounding his death. I spoke with her earlier this week.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Mary Tillman. She is the author of a brand new book entitled "Boots on the Ground by Dust." The story of her son Pat Tillman who was killed some four years ago in what has been described as a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.
Mary, first of all, our condolences to you and to your family. All of us are familiar with the story. But are you convinced even now that you know the full circumstances surrounding your son's death?
TILLMAN: Well, not exactly. I don't think we feel we have every possible question answered. But I think we pieced together to the best you are our ability that it was the cause of gross negligence on the part of the soldiers in the vehicle.
BLITZER: So U.S. soldiers where he was on patrol in Afghanistan?
TILLMAN: That's right, yes.
BLITZER: And define gross negligence to us.
TILLMAN: Well, according to the first investigative officer that did the investigation within 24 hours of his death, he said that after getting testimonies from the soldiers that were present that the soldiers acted very negligently. They were firing at soldiers that were waiving their arms, trying to get their attention to stop. They were shooting randomly on the ridge line. They shot at buildings that were housing women and children. In fact, they were shooting so carelessly and irresponsibly that they nearly shot the soldiers in the vehicle that were coming out of the canyon behind them.
BLITZER: Let me read from the book this paragraph. "It is a concern to both of us that local Afghans keep reporting to U.S. and foreign press that there was no enemy in the area when Pat was killed yet there are witnesses who state enemy were firing on the unit. I wonder if it's possible the ambush was staged. I wonder if Pat was killed on purpose."
A few times in the book you use the word murder. I want you to explain what you're suggesting.
TILLMAN: Well, of course, this book was written in a present tense. It was written so the reader could understand the kind of contradictions that we were being faced with and why it was so confusing and disturbing to us. There were points along the way in the last four years that we were concerned that Pat may have been killed deliberately just because of the circumstances, you know, that were evaluated in the document.
I think we've come to the conclusion, though, that that is not the case. But there were points along the way that we thought possibly he could have been killed on purpose. I mean the families need to be very vigilant on behalf of their soldier.
BLITZER: He was a great football player. Gave up that career to serve in the military after 9/11. Gave up a huge sum of money that he was making. We all remember him very, very fondly. Leave us with one final thought about your son, Pat.
TILLMAN: Well, I would say that, you know, Pat liked life. He liked living life. He tried especially in his adult years to live with a great deal of integrity. And I think that, you know, hopefully in the future the military and the leaders in the administration will start acting with a lot more integrity.
BLITZER: Mary Tillman is the author of the book "Boots on the Ground by Dusk." Mary, once again, our condolences to you. Thanks for sharing thoughts on this Memorial Day weekend.
TILLMAN: Thank you very much for having me.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And we're also standing by to hear from Senator Barack Obama on this Memorial Day weekend. He's going to be addressing graduates at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. That speech, a carefully prepared speech by Senator Obama with several personal references. He is filling in for Senator Ted Kennedy who is ailing from brain tumor, a malignant brain tumor. We'll go to Wesleyan University, that's coming up.
BLITZER: Getting ready to hear from Senator Barack Obama. He is at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Fairly soon, he's going to be addressing the graduates there. He has written a personal account of his life going from Hawaii to now. And we're going to be -- we'll have an opportunity to hear directly from Senator Obama on this Memorial Day weekend. That's coming up and a lot more right here on "Late Edition."
BLITZER: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: (voice-over): The battle for Mosul.
HERTLING: It's not a militia, it's a true terrorist organization.
BLITZER: On this Memorial Day weekend, we'll get the latest from the commander of the forces fighting in northern Iraq, U.S. Army Major General Mark Hertling.
MCCAIN: It's dangerous, it's dangerous to America's national security if you sit down and give respect and prestige to leaders of countries that are bent on your destruction.
OBAMA: Unlike John McCain, I would never, ever rule out a course of action that could advance the cause of liberty.
BLITZER: John McCain and Barack Obama battle over foreign policy. Hillary Clinton fights to stay in the race. We'll have insight and analysis from three of the best political team on television.
Plus a look back at 10 years of LATE EDITION and some tough words from candidate George W. Bush.
BUSH: Look, any time I found that the Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction, they wouldn't exist any more.
BLITZER: This second hour of LATE EDITION starts right now.
ANNOUNCER: Live, from CNN in Washington, this is LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER.
BLITZER: Welcome back and we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. On this Memorial Day weekend, we're going to be going out to Wesleyan University in Connecticut to hear from Senator Barack Obama. There he is, he's getting ready to address graduates there. He's sitting in for -- filling in for Senator Ted Kennedy who earlier this week was diagnosed with brain cancer. Barack Obama has prepared a speech reflecting on his own rise over these years. We'll go there live once he starts speaking. I want so bring in Jim Acosta, though, our reporter who is on the scene right now. He has been working his sources.
Jim, set the scene for us for Senator Barack Obama, what we expect to hear from him today.
ACOSTA: Well, aides to Senator Obama say that this will not be a stump speech, Wolf, this will be a commencement address. And so we're going to hear not only from Barack Obama's autobiography, he will talk about his hardscrabble roots, his upbringing in Hawaii, then transitioning to the streets of Chicago after graduating from Harvard, working as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago.
So we'll hear some of those stories, but he's also going to pay tribute to the Kennedy life time of service, paying tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy, who, as you mentioned, could not be here today. His wife, Vicki Kennedy, is expected to be here and we should mention that Kennedy's stepdaughter goes here to Wesleyan College. So -- Wesleyan University, I should say.
So this will be a mixture of both a tribute to the Kennedy family and a review of Barack Obama's autobiography -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim, stand by, we're going to be coming back to you, but I want to bring in our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger and Bill Schneider, they're both here as well.
Gloria, the Kennedy endorsement of Barack Obama was a significant moment in this campaign even though he wound up losing to Hillary Clinton in Massachusetts.
BORGER: It was a significant moment. It was the moment when party elders in the Democratic Party said, you know what, this fellow might well become the nominee. It was quite a blow to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Obviously the Clintons and the Kennedys have been close over the years. And when Ted Kennedy did it after his niece, Caroline Kennedy, had endorsed Barack Obama, that kind of opened the door for a lot of other party regulars to say, we're going to endorse him, too.
BLITZER: I guess the point I'm trying to make is that he owes Senator Ted Kennedy, and if Senator Ted Kennedy says, would you fill in for me at this commencement address at Wesleyan University, that's a minor, minor, little thing he could do.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. He owes him a lot of favors. That was an electrifying moment. We watched it here in Washington, at American University. There were people dancing on the streets in Massachusetts Avenue.
It was electrifying because it meant the party establishment gave Barack Obama its blessing. Until that moment, Hillary Clinton had been the establishment candidate. After that moment, he was the establishment candidate and it really gave him enormous momentum.
BLITZER: And she said this week, after what a lot of people saw as a blunder, that the remarks she made out in South Dakota, raising the specter of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. She said, well, you know, after we all spoke so much about Senator Ted Kennedy, the Kennedy name was on my mind.
Here's what she said at an editorial board meeting in South Dakota, with The Argus Leader editorial board, a major newspaper in South Dakota, in which she was asked why she's staying in this race and the pressure on her to leave. She said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California Primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. I know a lot of people are saying, you know, this was a blunder, some are saying, you know, she's just tired. What do you think?
BORGER: Look, I think the comments were really unfortunate. She had made them before, Wolf, in an interview with TIME magazine. I think we have to take her at her word that she misspoke and she -- everyone in her campaign understands that she should not have said this.
So I think at this point, even Obama's chief aides are saying, just let it go away and Obama himself is saying that.
BLITZER: And she is -- as a piece in today's New York Daily News, Bill, among other things, she writes this: "I was deeply dismayed and disturbed that had my comment would be construed in a way that flies in the face of everything I stand for and everything I am fighting for in this election."
SCHNEIDER: It is clear the words did not come out the way she had intended. We've all had that experience. She apologized. There were explanations. And Barack Obama has said that he agrees that the words just didn't come out, there was nothing intended by those remarks.
But if there are hard feelings, the consequence could be that it makes it difficult to contemplate the idea of an Obama/Clinton or Clinton/Obama ticket.
BLITZER: Here's how he said it -- he summarized his reaction on Saturday. This is Senator Barack Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Well, I mean, I think it was an unfortunate remark, but as I said today, I think that when you're on the campaign trail for 15 months, you're going to make some mistakes. And I don't think that Senator Clinton intended anything by it and I think we should put it behind us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right.
BORGER: You know, neither of these candidates right now wants to do anything to kind of inflame the tensions that already exist between these two campaigns. We're heading to June 3rd.
BLITZER: They need to work together...
BORGER: They need to work together.
BLITZER: ... if a Democrat is going to be elected.
BORGER: Exactly, whether Hillary Clinton is on the ticket or not. He needs her to work with him. And I think that they just kind of want to tamp this down because at the staff level, there is a great deal of tension. And that's not healthy for the Democratic Party right now.
BLITZER: When you say that this may have strengthened those who say don't put her on the ticket right now, there are plenty of her supporters who say, you know, if you really want to unite the party, that's the single best way to unite both sides of this party.
SCHNEIDER: Look at what she wrote in The Daily News. A very interesting comment in that article you mentioned. She said, I am running because I believe staying in this race will help unite the Democratic Party. That's an argument you don't often here.
She said, in the end everyone will be more likely to rally around the nominee. So she's saying two things: I'm going to stay in this race, my voice and our voices are going to be heard, and in the end, that will strengthen the ticket. It's an odd argument.
BLITZER: A big meeting coming up next Saturday here in Washington. The Rules Committee of the DNC. There will be cameras, by the way, inside and we'll be able to hear what these DNC insiders really believe about what it to do with Michigan and Florida.
Because I guess the bottom line is that if you don't include Michigan and Florida, which is the current rule right now, the magic number needed to become the nominee is 2026. If you include Michigan and Florida, all of a sudden it goes up by about 200, that magic number, to 2210. And that might be, Gloria, Hillary Clinton's only remaining hope of getting this nomination.
BORGER: It is her only remaining hope. And I think what you're probably going to have coming out of that meeting is some sort of a compromise which I presume is being worked on as we speak, and that perhaps there is some talk that before they go into that room, Wolf, they will already have a deal worked out.
But you know, everybody is asking the question now, what does Hillary Clinton want? What does she want out of that meeting on May 31st? What does she want? Does she want a place on the ticket? What does she want in terms of the campaign going forward? And really, even people in her campaign right now don't know the answer to that.
BLITZER: And I'll put these numbers up on the screen, Bill. The delegate count that we have estimated right now at CNN. He has 1,969, she has 1,779, 2,026. As of right now, before the DNC meets on Saturday, that's the magic number they need.
And what Hillary Clinton wants just to put it in some sort of chronological perspective, she wants the DNC Rules Committee on Saturday -- next Saturday, the 31st of May, to include Michigan and Florida.
Then she wants to win Puerto Rico on Sunday, June 1st, and Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday, June 3rd. That's what she would like.
SCHNEIDER: And what would be the bottom line? She wants to end up with more popular votes than Barack Obama. That's the game now. Puerto Rico could go overwhelmingly for her. Latino voters in the mainland in the United States have gone very strongly for Hillary Clinton.
SCHNEIDER: If they seat Michigan and Florida in the strength that she believes they're entitled, their full delegation, that will give her a huge boost in popular votes and conceivably Barack Obama won't get a single vote in Michigan because he wasn't on the ballot. I don't being that will happen, but that's what she wants and she could pile up popular votes and claim a moral victory.
BORGER: I think Michigan honestly is going to be an easier deal to cut because everybody understands that Obama's name was not on the ballot. Florida is going to be a much more difficult deal to cut for them because his name was on the ballot and that's going to be the real problem. And by the way, Hillary Clinton is already saying she's ahead in the popular vote because she's counting Florida and Michigan.
BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures, by the way, as you can see right now, Barack Obama at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He's being given an honorary degree from the university himself. He's filling in for Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator Ted Kennedy ailing as we all know from brain cancer right now.
But momentarily, Barack Obama will be speaking there. Right now they're giving him the honorary doctorate, the honorary degree. Bill Schneider, as you look at these live pictures we're getting in from Wesleyan University right now, he has an opportunity now to speak to these students, but probably more important, to his campaign, he's speaking to voters out there, as well. SCHNEIDER: Yes. These are, of course, young people, young voters which have always gone strongly for him. Going to be a very, very friendly audience, there's no question about it. But he also can strengthen the link to the Kennedy tradition with this speech because he's there in the place of Senator Kennedy. And I believe in his speech he's going to pay tribute to the Kennedy ideal of service, which the Kennedys, of course, John Kennedy, made an explicit part of his platform, inspiring a generation when he became president at the time Barack Obama was born.
BLITZER: This won't be an overtly political speech, Gloria, but as Bill said, the whole Kennedy legacy hangs over.
BORGER: It does. And it's going to be a call to service.
BLITZER: And here he is, Barack Obama getting ready to speak at Wesleyan University. These remarks have been carefully prepared, so I think it's worthwhile listening in to the Democratic presidential candidate getting ready to address these students, graduates of this university.
OBAMA: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you Chairman Drescher, President Roth for welcoming me to your campus. And congratulations, President Roth, on your first year at the helm of Wesleyan. Congratulations, also, to the class of 2008 and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your graduation.
I have the distinction honor today of pinch hitting for one of my personal heroes and a hero to this country, Senator Edward Kennedy. Ted is at home getting some much need and deserved rest. And we are so pleased to see many of his family here today, including his wonderful wife, Vicki. He called me up a few days ago and I said that I'd be happy to be a stand in, even though there was no way that I could fill his shoes. I did, however, get a chance to glance at the speech he planned on delivering today and I'd like to start by passing along a message from Ted. "To all those praying for my return to good health, I offer my heartfelt thanks. And to any who would rather have a different result, I say don't get your hopes up just yet."
So we know that Teddy's legendary sense of humor is as strong as ever and I have no doubt that his equally legendary fighting spirit will carry him through this latest challenge. He is our friend, he is our champion, and we hope and pray for his return to good health.
Now, the topic of his speech today was common for a commencement. We heard some of the themes from President Roth. But one that nobody could discuss with more authority or more inspiration than Ted Kennedy and that is the topic of service to one's country. Because it is synonymous with his family's name and legacy.
I was born the year that his brother John called the generation of Americans to ask their country what they could do. And I came of age at a time when they did. They were the peace corps volunteers who won a generation of good will towards America at a time when America's ideals were challenged. They were the teenagers and college students not much older than you who watched the civil rights movement unfold on their television sets, who saw the fire hoses and the footage of marchers being beaten within an inch of their lives, who knew it was probably smarter and safer to stay home, but decided to get on those buses and get in their cars and get on those trains anyway and take those freedom rides down south who still decided to march and because they did, they changed the world.
I bring this up today because are you about to enter a world that makes it easier to get caught up in the notion that there actually are two different stories at work in our lives. The first is a story of our every day cares and concerns, the responsibilities we have to our jobs, and our families, the bustle and the business of what happens in our lives.
And the second is the story what have happens in the life of our country, of what happens in the wider world. It's a story you see when you catch a glimpse of the day's head lines or turn on the news at night. A story of big challenges like war and recession, hunger and climate change, injustice and inequality. It's a story that sometimes can seem separate and distant from our own, a destiny to be shaped by forces beyond our control.
And yet the history of this nation tells us that it isn't so. It tells us that we are a people whose destiny has never been written for us, but by us, by generations of men and women, young and old, who have always believed that their story and the American's story are not separate, but shared.
For more than two centuries, they've served this country in ways that have forever enriched both. I say this to you as someone who couldn't be standing here if it were not for the service of others. And wouldn't be standing here today if it were not for the purpose that service gave my own life.
You see, I spent much of my childhood adrift. My father left my mother and me when I was two. When my mother remarried, I lived overseas for a time, but was mostly raised in Hawaii by her and my grandparents from Kansas. My teenage years were filled with more than the usual dose of teenage rebellion. And I'll admit that I didn't always take myself or my studies very seriously.
I realize that none of you can probably relate to this, overachievers that you are, but there were many times where I wasn't sure where I was going or what I was going to do with my life.
But during my first two years of college, perhaps because of the values my mother had taught me, the values of hard work and honesty and empathy and compassion had finally resurfaced after a long hibernation, or perhaps because of the example of wonderful teachers and lasting friends, I began to notice a world beyond myself.
I became active in the movement to oppose the apartheid regime in South Africa. I began following the debates in this country about poverty and health care. So by the time I graduated from college, I was possessed with this crazy idea that I was going to work at a grass roots level to bring about change. And I wrote letters to every organization in the country I could think of.
And one day, a small group of churches on the south side of Chicago offered me a job to come work as a community organizer in neighborhoods that had been devastated by the closing of steel mills. My mother and my grandparents, liberal minded though they were, wanted me to go to law school. My friends were applying to jobs on Wall Street.
Meanwhile, this organization offered me $12,000 a year plus $2,000 for an old beat up car. And I said yes. I said yes. And I didn't know a soul in Chicago. And I wasn't sure about what this community organizing business was all about. I had always been inspired by the stories of the civil rights movement and by JFK's call to service.
OBAMA: But when I got to the South Side, there were no marches, there were no soaring speeches. In the shadows of empty factories, there were just a lot of people who were struggling. And at first, we didn't get very far.
I still remember one of the very first meetings we put together, the community had been plagued by gang violence and so we tried to mobilize a meeting with community leaders. And I had worked for weeks on this project and we waited and waited for people to show up and finally a group of older people walked into the hall and they sat down and a little old lady raised her hand and asked is this where the bingo game is?
It wasn't easy. But eventually we made progress. Day by day, block by block, we brought the community together and we registered new voters and we set up after school programs and fought for new jobs and helped people live lives with some measure of dignity.
I also began to realize that I wasn't just helping other people. Through service, I found a community that embraced me. Citizenship that was meaningful and the direction that I had been seeking. Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America.
Now, each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come. And I say chance because as President Roth indicated, you won't have to take it. There's no community service requirement in the outside world. No one's forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and the other things that our money culture says you should buy.
You can choose to narrow your concerns and live life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America's. But I hope you don't. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although I believe do you have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all those who helped you get to where you are today, although I do believe you have that debt to pay. It's because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it's only when you hit your wagon at something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role that you'll play in writing the next great chapter in the America's story. There are so many ways to serve. And so much that needs to be done at this defining moment in our history. You don't have to be a community organizer or do something crazy like run for president. Right here.
BLITZER: All right. Barack Obama addressing students graduating from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. We're going to assess what we've just heard, continue to monitor what he's saying. Much more of our coverage coming up right here on LATE EDITION.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: My brother, Daniel, was in a military for a combined eight years. He was a sergeant with the U.S. army. My brother was a very loyal person to his friends, to his family, to other soldiers. Everybody trusted him. I know he's in a better place. They say God only takes the best and I totally believe that because my brother was the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On this Memorial Day weekend, we're remembering U.S. troops who have fallen in America's various wars.
We're also assessing right now what we just heard from Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, addressing graduates at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Joining us once again, Gloria Borger and Bill Schneider, our senior political analysts. Gloria, we just heard a personal reflection from Barack Obama, which is appropriate giving a commencement address.
BORGER: A personal reflection about his own life, also about what Senator Ted Kennedy has meant to this country. And he told students "hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself." Which is, I think, something you hear at a lot of commencement speech. But given the fact that he was telling them that he started his career as a community organizer, wasn't very organized in his own personal life, came from a split family with a lot of problems. And I think it's something that students can really relate to.
BLITZER: He graduated from Harvard Law School, was editor of the Law Review. He could have gone to a Wall Street firm and made a ton of money or some other law firm. But instead he decided to become an organizer in the South Side of Chicago. He tells that story.
SCHNEIDER: He does. And it's a place he never lived and he devoted himself to community service and now to national service. There was something, however, strange with this speech that could I point out. He talked about how to serve your community and your country. He talked about rebuilding places like New Orleans, about fighting poverty, energy, education. All the ways in which these young people could serve. But on Memorial Day weekend, I didn't see anyplace in his prepared remarks -- he hasn't finished speaking -- he didn't say anything about military service. I thought that was strange on Memorial Day weekend.
BLITZER: Yes, you would think that on this Memorial Day weekend he'd be referring to that.
BORGER: And that's clearly something that John McCain if you think about the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, that is clearly something the would be talking about.
BLITZER: Because he'd been going after John McCain and voting against an expanded G.I. bill to allow veterans who have served three years to get complete college education as opposed to more limited benefits right now. And McCain has been hammering him right back, don't lecture me about veterans. You never even served in the military.
BORGER: Right and McCain's theme has always been going back to his campaign in 2000 is serve something larger than yourself, which is of course the same we're hearing from Barack Obama today. But McCain would certainly, of course, be talking about military service.
SCHNEIDER: He made one reference to the military and it's interesting. He said, "at a time of war," this is in his prepared remarks. "At a time of war, we need you to work for peace." As far as I can tell in the prepared remarks, that's the closest he comes to mentioning anything military.
BLITZER: All right guys, stand by, because we have a lot more to talk about. Suzanne Malveaux is also standing by. She's in Puerto Rico already getting ready for next Sunday, next Sunday's primary there. Suzanne, stand by. I want to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll go to you. We'll get the lay of the land, what's going on in Puerto Rico and a lot more.
We're also standing by to speak with the commander of U.S. and multi-national forces in northern Iraq, Major General Hertling. He's in Tikrit. All of that coming up right here on "Late Edition."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: This is Jim McGovern (ph). This is my mother, Marilyn (ph). We'd like to send out a happy Memorial Day tribute to my two uncles, Uncle Bob and Uncle Jim, one of whom unfortunately passed away, both of whom served honorably in World War II. And we'd like to say thanks to all the troops for all your efforts. Keep it up. We're right behind you. Take care. Happy Memorial Day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go out to Puerto Rico right now. Our Suzanne Malveaux is in San Juan. She's joining us live. Suzanne, a week from today, there will be a primary in Puerto Rico. Both of these candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been campaigning, will be campaigning. Set the stage for us. Puerto Rico potentially could play a role in what's going on.
MALVEAUX: And Wolf, a lot of people are really excited about that. As you know, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth. It's not a state, so under the constitution, people here cannot vote in the general election, but they certainly can weigh this on the primary.
And so what we have seen is these two candidates crisscrossing Puerto Rico especially this weekend really trying to get those 55 delegates. A lot of people here very enthusiastic. We saw Barack Obama yesterday and he was talking about obviously veterans affairs, appropriate for this weekend. But he also participated in a political parade, Puerto Rico style, they call it boricua style, where you have a lot of music, maracas, a lot of enthusiasm, a big caravan, obviously trying to generate as many people as possible.
We see Hillary Clinton very much doing the same. She is favored here. We have seen Bill Clinton, Chelsea, over the last couple of weeks making numerous trips here. And because you have about four million Puerto Ricans here on the island, there are about the same number on the mainland. About one million of those, Hillary Clinton represents in the state of New York.
So really is favored for her to come up next Sunday. But this is something that a lot of people are looking at. It's not going to determine who is the winner, but it will certainly bring someone a lot closer. Wolf? BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux wins the prize, she covered the Hawaii primaries for us, now she's covering Puerto Rico. Good work, Suzanne. We'll be checking back with you early and often as they say. Coming up here on LATE EDITION, we're going to go to the front lines for a special conversation on this Memorial Day weekend with the commander of U.S. and multi-national forces in northern Iraq. General Hertling is in Tikrit. That interview and a lot more right after this.
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UNKNOWN: Peter Burks, he was really not only one of my best friend, but he was very responsible, very trustworthy person. He was a very big patriot. He said I'm a soldier, my country demands of me to go to Iraq to fight for freedom and this is my duty to serve my country. I just wish there were more guys like Pete in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On this weekend where we remember those who fell in war, we shouldn't forget that there are still troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For an update on the situation on the ground in Iraq, we spoke with U.S. army major general Mark Hertling just before the holiday weekend.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Tikrit in the northern part of Iraq, the U.S. commander, Major General Mark Hertling commands U.S. forces, Multi-National Forces north of Baghdad, all the way up through Kurdistan all the way up to Turkey in fact.
You've got a major area of responsibility, General, thanks for taking a few moments to update our viewers around the world on what's going on. Let me get your immediate assessment, because you see this happening on the ground.
Are the Iranians, the government of Iran -- is there evidence that Iranians are directly or indirectly involved in killing American troops in Iraq right now?
HERTLING: Well, I can't say the government of Iran, Wolf, I can certainly say we have seen some Iranian-made weapons, certainly not as much as I'd seen in the south or even in Baghdad. But we have seen some Iranian made weapons in the northern part of the country.
We believe those have flowed across the border. They are some of the same weapons that they have found in Baghdad and in places south. But we have a different problem set in the north, and it's mostly the extremist groups.
We have some Shia extremists, not as many as they do in the south and in Baghdad, but we certainly have the criminals and the various Sunni extremist groups as well.
BLITZER: Mosul is an area of your responsibility. I was there back in 2005. It was relatively quiet then, but there have been some heated battles going on in recent weeks. What's the latest in Mosul, because that has been one of the areas where Al Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents have really sought to gain some ground?
HERTLING: They have, Wolf. And what we've seen over the last, oh, almost half year-plus is, as Baghdad has become more secure, some of the insurgents, specifically Al Qaida, have moved to the north.
As Anbar has gone through the awakening, some of the insurgents there, Al Qaida has moved to the east and then up. We've seen foreign fighters crossing the borders with Syria. And Mosul is a very historic and popular place. And it has ebbed and flowed in terms of the amount of insurgent actions up there.
We have seen an increase, a huge spike in the last several months up there. And over, oh, the last three or four months or so, we have done some things in that city with both coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces to improve the security for the people.
And the prime minister asked General Riyadh, my counterpart in the city, to begin operations. It was originally called Lion's Roar, as it's been reported. It's now called Umm al-Rabiain, or Mother of Two Springs, which is the nickname for the city. And it is -- it has been pretty exciting this week. Not a lot of battles this week, but over the last several months there have been a lot of contentious fights, both with coalition forces and Iraq security forces against the insurgents in that city and in all of Nineveh province, quite frankly.
BLITZER: On Wednesday, the New York Times published a story by two reporters, Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, in which they said this, the battles that have been going on, two other cities, in Basra and Sadr City, areas not of your direct responsibility.
"In both cities, the militias eventually melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American firepower. Thus nobody can say just where the militias might reemerge or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again."
In your area, in the north, is that happening? That Iraqi -- these militia groups are sort of melting away, disappearing, only to return on another day? Or are you crushing and destroying them?
HERTLING: Well, we have said over the last nine months or so that we have been in a pursuit operation. And what we have been attempting to do here in the north is secure the cities. And we have done that in Hawijah, in Samarra, in Kirkuk, and turned over to, in that particular city, the Iraqi police, which is really a centerpiece now.
In Mosul, it has been a variety -- a literal variety of different insurgents groups, led by Al Qaida, led by Islamic State of Iraq, some smatterings of Nosh Kibandi (ph), another extremist group. Ansar al- Sunna, Jaish al-Islami. It really is a group of individuals up there led by Al Qaida.
So Mosul is a different story. It's not a militia; it's a true terrorist organization.
In some of our southern cities in Diyala, like Baquba and Muqdadiyah, we have been continuing to pursue Al Qaida, and there has been a balancing act with some other criminal agents that once Al Qaida leaves, some of the others have felt that they can grow stronger and begin to intimidate the population. So we've been attempting to do that balancing act, a very complex situation in Diyala province, which is our southernmost province, bumping up against Baghdad.
BLITZER: It sounds...
HERTLING: It has been just a complex counterinsurgency operations. And you throw in a little bit of criminal activity as well, and we're fighting on several fronts with our Iraqi partners.
BLITZER: It sounds as if you're making progress. And if you are, does that mean you're going to be able to reduce the U.S. troop levels in the northern part of Iraq anytime soon?
HERTLING: Well, I think you see, Wolf, that we will shift around our forces. And we have been doing that in the various provinces. The decisions to reduce are certainly made by others. But what I'll tell you is, we have shifted units around the various provinces as we've continued to pursue.
But the key aspect of all this is what the Iraqi forces have been doing. I partner with four different Iraqi divisions up here now. And over the nine months we've been here, we have seen just an unbelievable improvement in those forces.
BLITZER: I know this is not your first tour of duty in Iraq. You have two sons that have served in Iraq as well. You have a daughter- in-law who has served in Iraq. Your family certainly has made a major sacrifice for this effort.
I want to read to you, General, on this Memorial Day weekend, some words you said last summer in an NPR interview, National Public Radio, because I want you to explain what you mean, because you spoke from the heart.
And here is what you said: "We are sometimes feeling like we are an army at war, not a nation at war." And then you went on and said: "It's very nice to have people say that they support the troops, but I think those in the military, those in the government sometimes don't see the actions being backed up by the words."
On this Memorial Day weekend, General Hertling, tell our viewers what you were saying, in effect, what were you telling the American public?
HERTLING: Well, what I was saying at the time, Wolf -- and thank you for your great research on that -- what I was saying at the time was I think many of us in the military felt we were carrying the burden of this conflict on our shoulders.
What I've seen since I've been over here now is we now have partners over here. The State Department has filled up the provincial reconstruction team. USAID is starting to do some significant work out here. The Department of Agriculture, the Department of Treasury are all contributing workers over here.
So I think we're seeing other governmental organizations contribute, and that has been significant.
What I see, quite frankly, we get support from the American people, but even now, as the elections are ongoing, it seems like the 140,000 soldiers that are over here sometimes take a backseat, and as you said on this particular Memorial Day -- frankly, Wolf, I went to a memorial service today for a young soldier in one of our units that was killed down in Samarra, near Samarra. And it struck me that we were conducting the memorial service at about 6:00 in the evening, and I just happened to look at my watch and I said, hey, there is probably a lot of people back in the United States right now trying to figure out how to get out of work early so they can start their long weekend. And here we are, memorializing this young soldier, Private Hadrick (ph), who gave his life for this cause.
And I'm wondering if people truly understand that. And I hope during this Memorial Day weekend that people pause and reflect how much service their soldiers, Marines, airmen and Navy sailors are giving, not only to protect the freedoms of the United States, but to help -- really help the freedoms of this new emerging country over here in Iraq.
So I hope everybody just takes a few minutes on this Memorial Day to thank a soldier or, more importantly, thank a family member of a soldier, because they are sacrificing just as much.
BLITZER: Very well said. General Hertling, on this Memorial Day weekend, let me thank you for your service, thank all the U.S. military personnel for their service under these difficult circumstances.
Thanks very much for joining us.
HERTLING: And thanks for covering us over here, Wolf. There is -- you're sticking by us, and we appreciate all of the efforts that you're doing to tell the story over here.
BLITZER: Thanks so much, General.
BLITZER: And when we come back, we're going to wrap up what's been going on on this day. Gloria Borger and Bill Schneider, they'll be back. They're part of the best political team on television. "Late Edition" continues right after this.
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UNKNOWN: Steven was killed in Iraq, April 21st, 2007. He was ready to retire after serving 18 years in the military. He was looking forward to coming home and seeing his wife and his kids. And we miss him every second of every day. Steven, you're our hero and we love you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Gloria Borger, how is this war in Iraq going to play? Because we're going to have two candidates, John McCain, his stance on the war very clear, and it looks like Barack Obama has a very good chance of having a very different stance on Iraq. It's going to hover over this election.
BORGER: I think you're going to have some very clear choices on the war. I mean, John McCain has said, we need to stay in, that the surge is working. That to leave now would be surrender, is the word he uses all the time. Barack Obama says just the opposite, says we need to find a way to get out of Iraq.
He would not withdraw all troops immediately, but he wants to get combat forces out there have as quickly as possible. Not only on Iraq, but on the economy, on health care. If Obama should be the nominee, or if Hillary Clinton should be the nominee, the choices are going to be very stark in this campaign. BLITZER: Has there been any changes recently in the polling, Bill, as far as U.S. attitudes towards the war this Iraq right now?
SCHNEIDER: Not really. The war remains very unpopular. Americans would like to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. It has not been a big issue in the primaries because the candidates within the parties have not differed very much. The most conspicuous exception, Ron Paul is an anti-war Republican and didn't get very far in the Republican primaries.
But the debate that we need is a debate that we might get, it's over what is the best way to protect the security of the United States. To stay in Iraq, to prevent it from becoming a nest of terrorists, or to get out of Iraq so that we no longer will be there to help recruit terrorists. It's an important debate.
BLITZER: Because this will be a substantive, major policy difference right now between the Democratic candidates and McCain.
BORGER: Absolutely, absolutely. And if you look at the campaign as a whole, it's going to be really a question of change, which no doubt people want in this country. We've heard a lot about that. Versus risk, which is, what are you willing to risk in order to get the change that you want? Because in a post-9/11 world, people are still quite insecure about national security.
BLITZER: Gloria Borger, Bill Schneider, guys, thanks very much for coming in. Have a nice rest of this Memorial Day weekend.
We'll take a quick break. More LATE EDITION right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: David, we're proud of you and we miss you every day. You're our hero. I love him and I'm proud of him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And that's your LATE EDITION for this Memorial Day weekend, this Sunday, May 25th. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
And remember, we're also in "THE SITUATION ROOM" Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS" with Tom Foreman starts right at the top of the hour.