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THE SITUATION ROOM
Memorial Day Politics; Interview With Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham
Aired May 26, 2008 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Memorial Day and presidential politics, John McCain and Barack Obama in the same state, and at odds, serious odds, over veterans' benefits. It's getting personal between these two men.
Plus, Hillary Clinton makes a final push in Puerto Rico, while her husband complains his wife is the victim of a cover-up. We will explain some very strong words.
And an explosive story involving former President Jimmy Carter and information about Israel's nuclear arsenal -- all that coming up, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
On this Memorial Day, John McCain felt compelled to defend his vote against a veterans benefits bill, a vote that has been sharply criticized by Barack Obama.
We begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Mary Snow. She's covering McCain and Obama. They were in New Mexico today, both of these presidential candidates.
What's going on, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both of the candidates paid tribute to veterans. They stayed away from politics, but both did talk about a bill that has become a point of contention on the campaign trail.
SNOW (voice-over): Senator John McCain marked Memorial Day with fellow veterans in Albuquerque. He responded to criticism from Democrats, particularly Senator Barack Obama, for opposing a G.I. Bill that would extend education benefits to veterans. He didn't mention Obama by name, but did refer to fellow veteran Senator Jim Webb, who introduced the bill.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would be easier, much easier politically, for me to have joined Senator Webb in offering his legislation.
SNOW: The bill applies to people who have three years of service. McCain says he's concerned it would encourage people to leave the military after one enlistment. He wants the benefits tied to length of service, pointing out the country is fighting two wars.
MCCAIN: One study estimate that's Senator Webb's bill will reduce retention rates by 16 percent.
SNOW: But others, including Obama, say it would encourage enlistment in the long run. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, Obama paid tribute to vets. He did not mention McCain by name, but stressed the need for the bill.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Making sure that the G.I. Bill for a 21st century is passed. And although George Bush has threatened to veto it, our intention is to override that veto.
SNOW: But ever since the Senate passed the bill Thursday, Obama has taken aim at McCain for opposing it.
OBAMA: Putting a college degree within reach for our veterans isn't being too generous. It's the least we can do for our heroes.
SNOW: And the argument has turned personal, with McCain highlighting his military service.
MCCAIN: I take a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans. I grew up in the Navy.
SNOW: McCain last week took aim at Obama, saying he didn't need to be lectured by someone who chose not to serve in the military, a charge Obama says made no sense. And Obama has made his case personal, reminding people his grandfather served in World War II.
OBAMA: We should make sure that today's veterans make the same benefit that my grandfather got when he came back from World War II.
SNOW: And, Wolf, McCain also defended his stance to keep troops in Iraq, telling veterans here that he admits that mistakes were made, saying that, in his words, he felt heartsick without it. But he predicts catastrophe if troops are withdrawn. That's a sharp departure, of course, from Senator Barack Obama, who wants to withdraw troops from Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you.
While both Obama and McCain campaigned in the Southwest, Hillary Clinton is more than 2,000 miles away in Puerto Rico. She's making a major push before Sunday's primary there, with time almost out in this primary season.
Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's in San Juan, watching this story.
A real family affair down there for the Clintons in Puerto Rico on this day, Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you're absolutely right. The whole Clinton family is here in San Juan at this event.
Now, there are two competing messages that are going on here on the island. One is "Si, puedemos." Which is, "Yes, we can," Barack Obama's theme. He left early over the weekend, but Senator Clinton as well as her husband and Chelsea all here. This is the headline, anytime, anyplace, and a new challenge to debate Barack Obama on issues important to Puerto Ricans as they compete hard for this last big contest.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will come to Puerto Rico. I promise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you.
H. CLINTON: I will be a president who actually comes to Puerto Rico.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): For Hillary Clinton, campaigning in Puerto Rico is a family affair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many grandchildren all together now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said that she -- she lost count.
MALVEAUX: Several events were set up in people's homes to convey a sense of being intimately involved.
H. CLINTON: If he makes a career in the Army, that when I'm president we'll begin ending the war in Iraq. And you will not have to worry about him going back to Iraq. That's what I hope.
MALVEAUX: Clinton also brought her own family...
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But in Puerto Rico...
MALVEAUX: ... to remind voters how good her husband's administration had been to the island, providing federal aid following Hurricane George and getting rid of the controversial bombing range in Vieques.
If Barack Obama wins Puerto Rico in six days, he will reach the critical threshold in delegates to become the Democratic nominee. But Clinton is the favorite here, expected to pick up more delegates and votes. So maintaining her lead here means another day in the race.
MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, there are four million Puerto Ricans who live on the island, another four million who are on the mainland. Certainly, Senator Clinton is hoping that she has the advantage in representing one million Puerto Ricans in New York.
As for that challenge for that debate, Barack Obama has simply moved on. He is in New Mexico, where he is trying to solidify the Latino vote there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, thank you.
Fifty-five delegates are up for grabs in Puerto Rico's primary on Sunday. It has more delegates at stake than over half of the states that have held contests this primary season. As an unincorporated territory, Puerto Rico has a say in the primary process, but not in the general election in November. Residents of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island do not get to vote in November, even though they are U.S. citizens.
Jimmy Carter is generating a new controversy. A British newspaper says the former president of the United States is offering information on Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.
Let's go live to our White House correspondent Ed Henry.
Ed, just what did the president say, and how is the White House responding to all of this?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to "The Times of London," Wolf, Jimmy Carter said over the weekend at a literary festival in England that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.
This is startling, obviously, because Israel is not a declared nuclear power, even though it is widely assumed throughout the world that in fact Israel does have some nuclear weapons. The newspaper says the former president made these comments in the context of saying he believes the Bush administration should speak directly with Iran to try and convince Tehran to give up its own thirst for nuclear weapons.
And I reached out to spokeswoman Dana Perino here at the White House. she would not comment on this story. Neither would the State Department, nor an official at the Israeli Embassy here in the United States. The Carter Center also is not speaking out just yet on exactly what the former president said, what he meant by it.
It's also unclear when was the last time he actually had access to this highly classified intelligence, any sort of intelligence that would give him this kind of information. But while the White House is not commenting, you can bet officials in the administration are paying close attention to this. This story has enormous ramifications moving forward in the Mideast -- Wolf. BLITZER: Well, let's talk about that. You were just there in the Middle East. You covered the president's visit to Israel, elsewhere in the region. How is this likely to play out?
HENRY: Well, the fact that the administration right now is trying to make sure and rally the international community to make sure Iran does not have nuclear weapons, it's going to be that much harder if there's a story out there from a former U.S. president, who is considered an authority on subjects like this, for him to speak out and suggest that Israel has not just a few, but 150 nuclear weapons, it's going to be that much harder to get Iran, Syria, other folks in that region that the U.S. is pushing back against, it's going to be harder to get them to give up their own thirst for nuclear weapons -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, even though his hope, Jimmy Carter, would be for nonproliferation, it could have exactly the opposite effect by speaking publicly about that.
HENRY: Exactly. And that's why the White House is going to be monitoring this story very closely, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry, at the White House for us, thank you.
The Democrats' Rules Committee will soon meet to discuss the Florida primary fiasco, but:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB GRAHAM (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: What I want them to do is stop looking in the rearview mirror at what happened a year ago, Wolf, and let's look forward to what will put us in the best position to carry the fourth largest state in the nation in November.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former Senator Bob Graham of Florida wants Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and everyone else to move on -- my interview with the former senator mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, that's coming up next.
Also, President Bush will hit the campaign trail for John McCain this week, but you may not necessarily notice why there's -- they're raising funds behind closed doors.
And Barack Obama calls on new graduates to serve their country, but he doesn't ask them to join the U.S. military. What happened? The best political team on television will tackle that one and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As Barack Obama closes in on the Democratic presidential nomination, there's no underestimating the importance of the Electoral College-rich state of Florida. Would Obama consider a running mate from that key battleground? I spoke earlier with the former Senator and the former Governor of Florida Bob Graham, and I asked him if anyone's been in touch with him about the number-two job.
GRAHAM: Had no contact. And from my past experience, Wolf, I know this is the decision made 100 percent by the Democratic nominee.
BLITZER: What do you think? Is that something you might be interested in?
GRAHAM: Wolf, the decision is going to be made by the nominee. The reality is, if the nominee of your party for president of the United States asks you to serve in almost any capacity, most people are going to say yes.
BLITZER: I think that's a fair assessment.
You're 71-years-old. John McCain is 71-years-old. Should age be a factor in this race right now?
GRAHAM: I think whatever the American people think is relevant ought to be a factor. Whether you're too young, too inexperienced, or too maybe long in the tooth, it's up to the American people.
BLITZER: But you feel pretty good, I hope?
GRAHAM: I feel very good. This has been an extremely good period of my life, Wolf, other than the fact that I haven't had a chance to be with you very much.
BLITZER: All right. Well, we're going to change that in the coming weeks and months.
What do you think? I take it you have not endorsed one of these Democrats yet. Is that right?
GRAHAM: That's correct.
BLITZER: Why not?
GRAHAM: Well, I want to get this situation of the Florida delegates solved. And I have tried to be an honest broker in doing so. I think this could be a serious issue in November if it's not handled properly in May and June.
BLITZER: Well, they're going to meet, the DNC Rules Committee, this Saturday. What do you want them to do?
GRAHAM: What I want them to do is stop looking in the rearview mirror at what happened a year ago, Wolf, and let's look forward to what will put us in the best position to carry the fourth largest state in the nation in November. And I think that means treating the Democratic voters of Florida respectfully. We don't think we had anything to do with all this problem, and yet we're the ones who are being spanked. And frankly, a lot of Floridians are tired of that, and they want to see a different attitude from the National Democratic Party.
BLITZER: So do you want the delegates seated along the lines of the actual election outcome in Florida, even though none of the candidates went out there and actually campaigned?
GRAHAM: Here's what I would like to see. I would like to see all the delegates from Florida seated, each with a full vote.
I think part of the delegation should be allocated based on the flawed January 29 election. But it was the only election we had.
I think the other delegates -- and it should be about 50/50 -- should be allocated based on how America has voted. We say in Florida, truthfully, that Florida is the microcosm of America. America is the microcosm of Florida. Therefore, I believe the fairest way to allocate the second half of the delegates is on the basis of how America has selected its delegates.
BLITZER: What about this notion of only giving the delegates in Florida half their seats, which is what the Republicans did?
GRAHAM: Maybe the Republicans ought to sanction their delegation, because they were the ones, frankly, who passed the law that put this early primary into effect. But there's no reason why Democratic voters in Florida should not be fully represented at the convention in Denver. We consider ourselves to be victims, not perpetrators.
BLITZER: Who would have a better chance carrying Florida, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?
GRAHAM: Both will have an excellent chance. I think both will carry Florida if we don't make...
BLITZER: The polls show Hillary Clinton stronger.
GRAHAM: Both will carry Florida if we don't make some mistake such as the way we handle this delegate selection and seating process.
BLITZER: Because, you know, right now the polls show that she would be ahead of McCain by a wider margin than Barack Obama.
GRAHAM: But both will carry the state.
BLITZER: How do you know that?
GRAHAM: I know it because, first, they are very strong, effective people on the issues that Floridians care about. In the last week, both were not state. Both had very strong appearances before the various constituencies that make up the voters of Florida.
This is also a time when Florida is being hammered, as is the nation. Economically, we have one of the highest rates of foreclosures in the country, high rates of unemployment. We've lost scores of our people in Afghanistan and Iraq. And today, on Memorial Day, we are particularly sensitive to their sacrifice and the foreign policy judgments that cause them to be placed in a position of harm's way.
BLITZER: A couple of questions about Jimmy Carter. Then I will let you go.
He's now suggesting that after June 3, the final two primaries in Montana and South Dakota, Hillary Clinton should start thinking about dropping out given the math. Is he right?
GRAHAM: I think that's her decision to make. She's a very experienced, wise person. And I know she has the best interest of America and the Democratic Party at heart.
BLITZER: He also told a group in England that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons. You're a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Is he right?
GRAHAM: Well, I can't comment specifically, but as of today, Israel is not a declared nuclear power. It is not one of those seven or eight countries in the world which are professedly nuclear.
BLITZER: Is it appropriate for a former president to be talking about Israel's reported nuclear arsenal?
GRAHAM: I don't know exactly what the president said. But what we might know or speculate on that is very sensitive and highly classified.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.
GRAHAM: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: NASA scientists study new pictures from Mars. What those images might tell us about the possibility of water, ice, and even life on the red planet.
Bill Clinton says his wife is getting no respect, and he's making a plea for more time for her campaign.
He's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but his latest message to his troops is about politics. You are going to find out why -- that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Bill Clinton says his wife's critics are trying to cover up the fact that she could win in the fall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
W. CLINTON: I have never seen anything like it. I have never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And he doesn't stop there. You're going to want to hear what else Bill Clinton is saying. And we will talk about it, whether it will have an impact in this contest.
President Bush will be on the road, trying to raise money for John McCain. But you might not see them together. You're going to find out why.
And a top U.S. military commander warns the troops about something that is not appropriate in the cockpit, the camp, the conference room, or anyplace else. We will tell you what he's talking about. You will be interested in this.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Bill Clinton says he's never seen a candidate treated as disrespectfully as he claims his wife is being treated right now. We will go inside his allegation that people are trying to force Hillary Clinton out of the race.
Former President Jimmy Carter creates an uproar, reportedly offering details of Israel's nuclear arsenal, weapons it doesn't even acknowledge having, all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.
And find out what you won't be seeing as President Bush goes fund-raising for John McCain.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the race for the White House, Bill Clinton is making news once again out on the campaign trail, asking voters and delegates not to write off his wife.
Let's go back to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching this story for us.
Brian, what's going on?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the former president says his wife's campaign is not always getting a fair shot, and, this time, it's not a vast right-wing conspiracy that's to blame. Mr. Clinton says, every time you turn on the TV, someone is trying to end this race.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): The former president tells voters to ignore calls by -- quote -- "people on television" for Hillary Clinton to drop out and says she's been getting a raw deal throughout the campaign.
W. CLINTON: And I have never seen anything like it. I have never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.
TODD: Pleading for time, he tells an audience in South Dakota his wife still has a chance.
W. CLINTON: Why have all these people tried to run her out of this race? They're trying to get her to cry uncle before the Democratic Party has to decide what to do in Florida and Michigan.
TODD: The former president says he also sees an effort afoot to strong-arm undecided superdelegates to make their choice fast.
W. CLINTON: I can't believe it. It's just frantic, the way they're trying to push and pressure and bully all these superdelegates to come out.
TODD: But her rival, Senator Barack Obama, is taking the high road, praising her at every opportunity.
OBAMA: She has set the standard. She has broken through barriers, and will open up opportunity for a lot of people, including my two young daughters.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, he doesn't want her to feel disrespected and her followers to feel that she's been disrespected.
TODD: Will that be enough for Obama to win over her voters if he becomes the Democratic nominee?
ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEPOLITICO.COM: A lot of her supporters, women supporters, feel that she definitely has not been treated respectfully, and they believe that the best sign of respect that Barack Obama could deliver is to pick her as his vice president.
TODD: Even Bill Clinton himself reportedly believes that, if she does not win the nomination, that she has still earned a shot at the number-two slot. But, for now, Hillary and Bill Clinton are still focused on the top job, campaigning together today in Puerto Rico -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much -- Brian Todd reporting.
Let's discuss Bill Clinton's plea and more.
Joining us, our CNN political analyst Roland Martin. He's in Chicago. He posts hosts his own radio talk show. He's also a syndicated columnist. Also joining us, Richard Stengel. He's managing editor of our sister publication "TIME" magazine. He's joining us from New York. And here in Washington, our own Jessica Yellin.
They are all part of the best political team on television.
Rick, let me start with you.
Does Bill Clinton have a point?
RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": Well, look, Wolf, I would be a liar if I said that there hasn't been a certain amount of glee in the press corps about Hillary Clinton not doing that well.
To use a very fancy word, there's some schadenfreude among the press.
But the point is I don't think the press plays favorites. We're in favor of getting on the front page. And I think they've both have been treated ill at certain times and both have been treated well.
BLITZER: Because a lot of us remember that cover story in "Time" magazine, "And the Winner Is...". You obviously remember it very well.
I'll ask you the same question, Roland.
What do you think?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think Bill Clinton is whining, I mean pure and simple. I mean, really, if you look at his history, he talks about this whole issue of her doing well in the Electoral College votes right now. Well, wait a minute. If that was the case, basing the results on a poll, he would never have been president. She never would have been first lady because Michael Dukakis would have beaten George H. W. Bush by 17 points, you know?
So to sit here and say well, all the people are pushing -- pushing her out -- but, also, keep in mind something. We all -- all the pundits said that if John Edwards and Barack Obama didn't win Iowa and New Hampshire, she would have run away with the nomination. I never heard Bill Clinton complain about those comments.
BLITZER: Because you hear a lot of Clinton supporters make this point, Jessica. And let me run it by you. They say if it were reversed, if Hillary Clinton were ahead in the superdelegates, ahead in the pledged delegates and he was mathematically in deep trouble, no one would be saying Barack Obama, get out of this race.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's silly. What we're hearing Bill Clinton do right now is play for time. Brian Todd said it right. And that doesn't take away from the fact that maybe the Clintons are astonished things have gone so badly for them, that the media cycle is as negative about her as it is. But that doesn't take away from the fact that we have to report the mathematical reality of the situation, as much as they don't like it.
His argument makes sense only if there were a secret well of superdelegate who are just chomping at the bit to come out for Hillary Clinton. And they're not.
BLITZER: When he comes out, Rick, and he complains like this -- complains about the news media, complains about the treatment that Hillary Clinton has been getting -- what goes through your mind?
STENGEL: Well, I agree with my colleagues. I mean he's playing for time. But, of course, the psychological factor is I think he feels that people are feeling a certain amount of vengeance about him, that they're feeling a certain gleefulness that Bill Clinton's legacy is not going to be part of American history. I think he, in many ways, is campaigning for his own legacy, even as much as he's campaigning for his wife.
BLITZER: Do you think, Rick, that this idea of Hillary Clinton being offered the number two spot on an Obama ticket is at all realistic?
STENGEL: Well, we reported that and broke that news last week, Karen Tumulty's story, in the magazine. And I think, in some ways, he would look at that as a further vindication. The idea that Hillary Clinton would still be involved in national politics, she could eventually be president if she's vice president to Barack Obama, whether he wins or loses, I think that's on Bill Clinton's mind.
BLITZER: A lot of people say well, look...
MARTIN: She might not...
BLITZER: Hold on, Roland.
A lot of people say you know what, he may not like the idea -- he may not like the idea of Bill Clinton hovering over his presidency, but if he is convinced, when all is said and done, this might be the only way -- the only way he can beat McCain come November, he might do what John F. Kennedy did, he might do what Ronald Reagan did -- they had to suck it in and accept it.
MARTIN: Well, first of all, I don't know how one could determine this is the only way for that...
BLITZER: To unite the party.
MARTIN: ...person to win. Look -- well, look, but here's the deal, though. Unite the party. But at the same time, you have the people who make the argument with a 61 percent negative rating, that Hillary Clinton also unites the Republican Party. So you have to judge that. I can tell you right now, Wolf, if I had to put $100 down, I would bet all or nothing she will not be on the ticket with Barack Obama.
YELLIN: Well, I think, look, you have you to go through the process of elimination. She does fit on the national security credentials. She does fit on a lot of categories. There is a scenario in which you could see that Barack Obama would feel it's necessary to put Clinton on the ticket, especially if it's something she wants so badly that she suddenly make it's clear that she's not going to go all out campaigning for him if she isn't on the ticket.
BLITZER: Did the...
YELLIN: And we're not getting that indication, but that's a possible scenario.
BLITZER: Rick, did the news media go too far on Friday and over the weekend in reporting all this speculation about Hillary Clinton's remarks about campaign -- earlier campaigns going into June and mentioning Bobby Kennedy's assassination in June of '68?
STENGEL: Well, as I think you know, Wolf, she talked to me about that back in March and mentioned Bobby Kennedy's assassination. But I have to say, I think she's doing it in the context of the timeline. She's basically saying look, why call it quits now, it's gone on much longer.
What I think is disingenuous, though, is this idea of how long it has gone on. In fact, her husband really did, in fact, clinch it in March. And Bobby Kennedy, back in June in 1968, let's remember, the New Hampshire primary in 1968 was in March. The whole time line is completely different.
BLITZER: Roland, was there anything sinister in her comments or was it just an awkward way of phrasing it?
MARTIN: No, I don't think there's anything sinister. But people should be rightfully upset. Anytime some -- you know, a presidential candidate brings up assassination, especially when dealing with a Bobby Kennedy -- and I mean I'm sorry. There are some things you don't have to bring up to make your point. All she simply had to say is let's allow all of the states to vote. But you don't have to invoke the assassination of Bobby Kennedy to make your point.
That was an egregious mistake. It should not have been made. And any kind of way to spin it, dance around and talk about a time line, it's ridiculous. Don't even mention it.
YELLIN: Well, I'll tell you, I know some members of her campaign are feeling blowback about it already, people going up to them and saying it was inappropriate. So while the political class might think, you know, maybe we made too big a deal out of this, it did not play that well out there with the general public. And at this point, she needs to watch her words very carefully in this last week-and-a-half.
BLITZER: Well said by you.
BLITZER: All right guys, stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. Our analysts are standing by after the break.
We'll also talk about this -- the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, reportedly spilling very sensitive secrets about Israel.
What will it mean for Middle East peace?
What does it say about Carter's legacy?
And President Bush fundraising for the GOP candidate, trying to raise money for John McCain. But you might not see them together.
That story and a lot more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter once again stirring up controversy, reportedly offering up information about Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.
We're back with the best political team on television.
Rick, let me start off with you once again.
He's reported by the "Times of London" to have told a group yesterday that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.
It may have 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, I don't know.
But should a former president of the United States be discussing this publicly?
STENGEL: Well, Wolf, as you know, Israel has never declared itself to be a nuclear power, even though everybody assumes so. And Secretary Gates, for example, recently confirmed it in -- just a couple of years ago.
But Jimmy Carter has been a loose canon throughout this campaign, you know, saying the other day about the superdelegates that whole remark. A former president who has information that other people do not have shouldn't be using it.
I also wonder whether it actually hurts Barack Obama, who he is obviously for, as a superdelegate. And the American Jewish community has qualms about Barack Obama and suddenly there's Jimmy Carter talking about Israel's nuclear arsenal and on June 3rd probably endorsing Barack Obama.
BLITZER: He went out of his way at that synagogue the other day in Boca Raton, Roland, Barack Obama, to say I disagree with Jimmy Carter when it comes to having direct talks with Hamas and Hezbollah. You know, he's clearly walking away from Carter on that front.
MARTIN: Well, first of all, if Jimmy -- if Hillary Clinton or John Edwards or Joe Biden got the nomination, Jimmy Carter is going to endorse them anyway. So I don't think that should -- I don't think anybody who is Jewish should somehow hold that against Obama.
But here is the issue here. But I'm amazed. We sit here as a nation and talk about North Korea, talk about Iran, talk about all these other countries trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
Why is it such a big deal if he's simply stating that Israel may have them?
Either you have them or you don't. And so we're putting pressure on other countries on that notion, what's the big deal?
I don't see why all of the sudden...
BLITZER: Well, the argument...
MARTIN: ...it's like well, you know, he made the point.
BLITZER: The argument, Roland...
BLITZER: ...is that if a president of the United States talks about it and says, you know, Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, that's merely going to fuel the desire of Iran or Syria -- or even Egypt or Saudi Arabia, for that matter -- countries in that part of the world, to try to catch up. And that could have the exact opposite effect of what Jimmy Carter would like to see, which is nonproliferation.
MARTIN: Of course. But here's the deal, Wolf. They're all -- they all assume Israel has it anyway. So it's not like this is somehow going to say, hey, now let's -- now let's really get going. So they all assume anyway. Most experts do.
So, really, what's the big issue?
BLITZER: Well, Jessica, I guess the issue is the pressure it would put on other countries, not friendly to the United States, unlike Israel, to go ahead and build nuclear bombs.
YELLIN: Right. It really does potentially turn up the heat in that region of the world. And the fact that you have a former president, who was privy to national security secrets and could be revealing this as part of his background and that information as president, would be a real first.
And I'll tell you, Bush -- sorry, Wolf. I was at that event in Boca Raton where Barack Obama went out of his way to distance himself from Jimmy Carter. And I have to disagree with Roland, who is fabulous. But on this one point, I'll tell you, there were people I talked to in Boca Raton who needed to hear Barack Obama come out and say I do not stand with Jimmy Carter on Hamas. And they need to know that Barack Obama is not sort of liberal and provocative on this issue as Jimmy Carter is. Even though it might be assumed that he wouldn't take that position, they weren't confident in it and they needed to hear Barack Obama articulate more position that put him at a respectful distance from the positions that Jimmy Carter takes.
So I think this could be problematic for him.
MARTIN: But there's a -- well, Wolf, the point I was making about what Jimmy Carter was saying is he is a Democrat. He is going to support any Democratic candidate. And so, clearly, somebody would say I don't agree with him on that. But the bottom line is he's going to be -- he's a Democrat. He's going to back the ticket regardless.
BLITZER: All right. Rick, we're almost out of time. But I want to you weigh in on this. Today, Barack Obama delivered a very moving speech hailing the men and women in uniform, praising them on this Memorial Day. Yesterday, he gave the commencement address at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, filling in for Ted Kennedy. And his big theme was community service, public service, urging these young men and women who are graduating to go out and serve their communities.
But you know what, he never mentioned serving in the military. And that raised some eyebrows to people that were listening very carefully -- never telling them go out and join the military.
Was this an oversight or was it sloppy or what's going on?
STENGEL: Yes. Well, Wolf, as you know, we made the case for national service last year and came out for a federal policy on national service that all young people ought to serve either civil or in the military.
I would say about Barack Obama, who's been very strong on national service, like John McCain, that this would be a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission. I don't think he deliberately neglected to mention military service. I think that probably he neglected to mention it as an oversight.
BLITZER: What do you think, Roland?
MARTIN: Well, I think we should be encouraging all young people to do something. I think probably what he was saying is I'm talking to college students. He was saying don't get so consumed with your job, do something for your country. And I don't somehow divorce military service from public service. And, so, I mean, sure, we could say well, you have to mention this and mention that, but, frankly, it can be all-encompassing.
BLITZER: Well, he had mentioned...
MARTIN: I think he was saying do something. BLITZER: He mentioned...
MARTIN: Do something.
BLITZER: He mentioned several specific things that these college graduates could be doing for the community, for the nation, including helping in Darfur and helping poor people. But he never went out and actually said, you know what, maybe it's a good idea also to serve in the military.
MARTIN: Well, again, that's a particular personal choice. He should have mentioned it. You mention all of it. But, look, I think the challenge is, is you're telling young people don't get consumed with making money and it's all about you, do something for the world, not yourself.
BLITZER: All right, Gloria, button this up for us...
YELLIN: Well, it's...
BLITZER: Excuse me, Gloria. Jessica, I'm sorry.
YELLIN: That's OK. I'm happy to be Gloria for the day.
YELLIN: I'll tell you, I talked to the Obama campaign about this and they say -- they pointed to four other times he's encouraged young people to participate in military service. They say there were a number of things he left out in the list of kinds of military -- of kinds of national service people could engage in. Maybe at a liberal college like Wesleyan, he didn't want to push buttons that could spark some sort of boos from those graduates. They tend to be outspoken at Wesleyan.
BLITZER: But you -- do you really think, Jessica, he would -- they would boo if he were to say that?
YELLIN: I've been at college campus graduations where worse has happened. Yes.
YELLIN: Stood up and turned their back on speakers because they supported military service.
BLITZER: Do you believe that, Rick?
STENGEL: I think it -- I don't believe that. I think that particularly in the post-9/11 era, young people, even at liberal universities, honor people and honor their service. You know, today is Memorial Day. You know, thousands of American men and women have given the last full measure of devotion, as Abraham Lincoln said. And I think he should have mentioned it. BLITZER: I agree.
But what did you think, Roland?
MARTIN: Well, again, you can mention it or you don't.
BLITZER: No, no, no. But do you think...
MARTIN: Sure, go ahead and mention it so nobody even raises this question.
BLITZER: Do you think that would have been a controversial statement?
MARTIN: Oh, no. I mean I -- you know what, look, you never know on a particular campus. You might have one person out there who didn't particularly like it. I've heard stuff I didn't like. I didn't start booing.
So I'm not going to somehow, you know, criticize this university and say what they could have done. And so we simply don't know.
BLITZER: Roland Martin, thanks very much.
Rick Stengel, thanks so you.
Jessica Yellin, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in on this Memorial Day.
An emotional Memorial Day tribute to U.S. troops by President Bush. We're going to show you what happened today over at Arlington National Cemetery.
Plus, we'll have details of a stern warning to U.S. servicemen and women about politics.
All that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tomorrow, President Bush headlines the first in a series of fundraisers for John McCain. But most Americans won't see more than a quick glimpse of the two Republicans together. The McCain camp is making sure of that.
Let's go back to our White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mr. Bush is still very popular with Republican campaign donors. So John McCain is trying to tap into that without getting too close to the president -- a very delicate dance.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HENRY (voice-over): Two months after President Bush tap-danced at the White House waiting for John McCain to show up for his endorsement...
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been nice seeing you. Thank you.
HENRY: ...there will also be some fancy footwork this week, as the duo embarks on their first joint fundraiser. While the event was initially planned to be open to cameras at the Phoenix Convention Center, it's been moved to a private residence and is now closed to the media. So there will only be brief pictures of McCain and the president on an airport tarmac.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: If John McCain is to win in November, it's not going to be on a Bush coattail.
HENRY: Democrats already use chummy photos for ads, charging a McCain victory will amount to a third Bush term.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is John McCain the right choice for America's future?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: A McCain aide acknowledged the Arizona event was originally supposed to be open, but chalked up any confusion to the campaign still working out the kinks on its first event with the president.
The McCain aides said the senator is absolutely not trying to minimize public photos with Mr. Bush. And the White House agrees.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The McCain campaign has a practice of having their fundraisers as -- as closed press.
HENRY: Closing the fundraiser gives McCain the best of both worlds -- a candidate trailing the Democrats in the money chase gets help from the fundraiser in chief without getting too close to a president whose disapproval rating reached 71 percent in the latest CNN poll.
"The Phoenix Business Journal" reported the event was moved to a private home because tickets were not selling well. So McCain was worried about not filling up the Convention Center. A McCain aide told CNN that report is, "not based in fact."
But the campaign is refusing to release how much money they're expecting to raise.
HENRY: On Tuesday night, we're not expecting to see the first picture of the president and Senator McCain together until after the fundraiser. That just so happens to also be after the nightly newscasts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much.
A familiar Memorial Day scene -- President Bush laying a wreath of the Tomb of the Unknowns over at Arlington Cemetery. A very emotional day for the president, as well, the last time he'll mark this holiday as commander-in-chief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the commander-in-chief and try to tell you how proud I am of the sacrifice and service of the men and women who wear our uniform. They're an awesome bunch of people and the United States is blessed to have such citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president added that he's humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and for our liberty.
In our Political Ticker, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a warning for the U.S. military. Admiral Mike Mullen writes in a rare open letter to U.S. forces serving in the United States and around the world that anyone in uniform should stay out of politics. Mullen writes that in the -- writes that in coming issue of "Joint Force Quarterly" -- and I'm quoting now -- "The U.S. military," he says, "must remain apolitical at all times and in all ways."
Remember, for the latest political news anytime, you can check out CNNPolitics.com.
Just when we thought we'd seen all things bobble head, now there's a new twist to the toy -- the bobble foot.
Look strangely familiar?
CNN's Jeanne Moos will be all along to tell us what this bit of satire is all about.
BLITZER: (AUDIO GAP).
Well, here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bobble her again.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one thing to bobble Senator Hillary Clinton's head. But Senator Larry Craig's foot?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It bobbles up and down and taps. MOOS: Just when you'd thought you heard the end of bathroom stall jokes...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All that little tappy, tappy on the tootsie.
MOOS: They're back, thanks to what one Web site called the greatest minor league giveaway of all time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It reminds me of that senator from, what was it, Oregon?
MOOS: Idaho, actually. But the bathroom Senator Craig got arrested in was at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport and the St. Paul Saints decided it would be a great publicity stunt to have Bobble Foot Day. What a giveaway. There were only enough for the first 2,500 fans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did have a lineup that began at about 10:00 o'clock in the morning for a game that began at 7:00 o'clock.
MOOS: Things could have been worse. Last May, the Milwaukee Brewers had Rectal Exam Day. Or, as one Web site put it, "turn your head, order a bear and cough." The idea was to promote prostate cancer awareness by offering two free tickets to a future game if you let a proctologist do a quick exam.
Bobble Foot Day stirred up some complaints.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question was, how do I explain this to my kids?
MOOS: Here's what happened if you didn't explain it.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: He's going to the bathroom.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: He's going to the bathroom.
MOOS: The stall even included some graffiti: "For a good time, call this number."
(on camera): Hey, I like a good time.
(voice-over): But the good time number was just more self- promotion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for calling the St. Paul Saints baseball club.
MOOS: This team is famous for oddball giveaways, like a doggie chew toy dedicated to dog fighting organizer Michael Vick and a seat cushion that allows you to sit on the face of either the baseball commissioner or the players union leader.
We always thought the Larry Craig talking doll would be the ultimate dumb toy from this scandal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not gay. I never have been gay. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could even put him in his famous wide stance, which has been in the press so much.
MOOS (on camera): The bathroom stall not included?
(voice-over): Now the bathroom stall is practically all that's included -- plus that spring-loaded foot. And some fans who got them free are trying to sell them on eBay for around 200 bucks. Now, that's mind-boggling.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" with a Memorial Day special honoring our heroes.