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DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee Meeting Set to Discuss Florida & Michigan Delegates; McCain Confronts Anti-War Hecklers
Aired May 27, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, John McCain confronts anti-war hecklers and challengers Barack Obama on Iraq. This hour, we have a tough new response from Senator Obama linking McCain to the president. We'll fact check the Democrats' claim that McCain would just be another George W. Bush. Do the two Republicans most often butt heads or do they see eye to eye on the big issues?
And the Democrats face their Michigan and Florida problem. Will a weekend meeting produce a compromise the Obama and Clinton camps can both accept?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Just a short while ago, a new attempt by Barack Obama to throw President Bush's baggage right at John McCain. This on the day Mr. Bush holds a closed-door fundraiser with the all but certain Republican nominee.
Listen to Obama speaking in Nevada, a state that could be crucial in a fall match-up against McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, John McCain is having a different kind of meeting. He is holding a fundraiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona. No cameras, no reporters and we all know why. Senator McCain doesn't want to be seen hat in hand with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years.
Now, the question for the American people is do we want to continue George Bush's policies?
OBAMA: I think the answer is now, because I don't think the American people want to continue the disastrous economic policies that have helped create catastrophes like the housing crisis that we're here to discuss today. I don't think we want to continue a misguided foreign policy and an endless war in Iraq that's cost us thousands of lives and hundred of billions of dollars while making us less safe and secure.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: As for Senator McCain, he is trying today to highlight his differences with Obama on foreign policy as well as his differences with President Bush. He was heckled, though, along the way.
Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is standing by. But let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She is with Senator McCain in Denver right now.
The Senator wanted to address the issue of nuclear proliferation, but as we said, he got heckled and that sort of changed at least part of what he was saying. What happened?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, protesters interrupted him four times during his speech. The speech was on nuclear security and in that speech he did take an indirect aim at his likely Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.
SNOW (voice-over): Senator John McCain says neither Democrats nor Republicans have gotten it right for the past two decades when it comes to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons. For one, he wants to work more closely with Russia on nuclear disarmament. And without naming Senator Barack Obama he took an indirect swipe at his likely Democratic rival over North Korea and Iran.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is to have our president sit down with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades.
SNOW: McCain has been repeatedly targeting Obama for his willingness to talk to enemies.
OBAMA: I would initiate direct diplomacy with Iran. That is what I have said and the reason is, I believe that the policy of not talking to our enemies has not worked.
SNOW: The Obama camp hit back, saying he had been a leader in nuclear nonproliferation while McCain had not, saying, "No speech by John McCain can change the fact that he has not led on nonproliferation issues when he had the chance in the Senate."
The subject of Iraq was forced on the table as protesters interrupted McCain's speech four times.
MCCAIN: And by the way, I will never surrender in Iraq.
SNOW: McCain took direct aim at Obama for wanting to withdraw troops from Iraq, challenging him to visit to the war zone, and saying, "He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time."
(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: And Wolf, we just got a reaction from the Obama campaign to John McCain's idea to go to Iraq together. It says, "John McCain's proposal is nothing more than a political stunt and we don't need any more 'Mission Accomplished' banners or walks through Baghdad markets to know that Iraq's leaders have not made the political progress that was the state purpose of the surge" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Mary.
Let's go right over to Ed Henry. He is with the president right now.
The president doing a fundraiser today with John McCain but we're not going to see a whole lot of these guys together, at least publicly. What's going on?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In fact, Air Force One has just left New Mexico. The president on his way to Arizona now for this first fundraiser with John McCain. A lot of controversy about the fact that the first picture we'll see is basically going to be after the nightly newscast about 9:15 Eastern Time of the two men, before Mr. Bush, leave Arizona.
But the bottom line is all this is likely to give Democrats more fodder for what they like to say when they call the Republican candidate McBush, but the fact is, the truth is not quite so black and white.
HENRY (voice-over): Two months ago President Bush hinted at the delicate balancing act for John McCain to stand side by side with an unpopular commander in chief.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If by showing up and endorsing helps him or if I am against him it helps him, either way I want him to win.
HENRY: While Democrats charge a McCain victory will be a third Bush term, the reality is not that simple.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator John McCain.
HENRY: Speaking about nuclear disarmament on Tuesday, McCain suggested he would take a tougher line with North Korea than the president has.
MCCAIN: The dictator, Kim Jong Il has tested a nuclear weapon and almost certainly possess several more nuclear warheads. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended.
HENRY: But on Iraq, McCain is largely in lock step with the president, though he tries to distance himself by lashing out at mistakes made by former Bush officials like Donald Rumsfeld. MCCAIN: I too have been made heartsick by the many mistakes made by civilian and military commanders and the terrible, terrible price we paid for them.
HENRY: On the economy McCain is largely in concert with the president. After voting against the Bush tax cuts in 2001, the senator is now trying to woo conservatives by promising to make those very same tax cuts permanent.
MCCAIN: As president, I will keep the current low taxes rate and I'll leave that trillion dollars and more with the millions of Americans who have earned it.
HENRY: But on the environment McCain has broken dramatically with the president, calling for caps on carbon emissions and suggesting Mr. Bush has not shown leadership on global warming.
MCCAIN: I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears. I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges.
HENRY: Now, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino today tried to sidestep this whole controversy about pictures together by saying, look, President Bush will do anything he can to help John McCain but ultimately McCain has to stand on his own two feet -- Wolf.
MCCAIN: Ed, who pays when the president goes to a fundraiser like this for John McCain, the McCain campaign or American taxpayers?
HENRY: They both pay, Wolf, the bottom line is the president is trying to mix in a little official business today. He is going to speak at a cable company, some short remarks, that justifies for the White House charging the taxpayers for some of this trip and the McCain camp picks up the rest, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry in Scottsdale for us.
Thanks very much. We'll check back with you.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: "Hillary Clinton was a good senator before and she can be a great senator in the future." Those are the words of Barack Obama supporter and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. He tells the "Washington Post" that Hillary Clinton will need to decide what to do after the campaign since it's now a foregone conclusion she's not going to be the nominee.
Kennedy would know a thing or two about this. After he lost the primary battle to Jimmy Carter in 1980, Kennedy returned to the Senate, resumed his career as a lawmaker, eventually authoring landmark bills on issues like healthcare and education. A lot of Democrats think that's the path Clinton should follow to reshape her political career.
For example, she could champion a major piece of education like health care in a potential Obama first term. But within the Senate, Clinton doesn't have many options to advance. Majority leader Harry Reid's not going anywhere, especially if the Democrats increase their majority in November and his deputies, Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer appear to be interested in replacing Reid if and when he steps down.
There's also the question of whether or not Hillary Clinton would choose to run again for President. Some are suggesting she might set her sites somewhere else, for example, a run for the governor of New York State.
In the meantime, may Democratic senators say they expect Clinton to campaign hard for Obama this summer and fall. They agree that if she does that, any leftover feelings of resentment from the race will disappear.
So here's the question: What should Hillary Clinton do next?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.
John McCain's vice presidential search raising eyebrows amongst some conservatives. Is he reaching out to a potential running mate who could do him more harm than good?
I'll speak with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. He is standing by live. We'll talk about that and more.
Plus, the Democrats gear up for a critical DNC committee meeting on seating delegates from Florida and Michigan. We're looking at possible solutions and the sky-high stakes.
And which White House contender could have a big problem in Ohio? Bill Schneider is there right now with the CNN Election Express. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: John McCain says it was just a social gathering but his weekend visit with several possible vice presidential contenders is raising some eyes. There is word that social, religious conservatives have some specific concerns.
Let's discuss this and more with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
David, thanks for coming in.
DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, a very popular governor of Florida, Florida a critical state of the electoral college as all of us know, yet some on the right, the religious right are worried about Charlie Crist -- why?
BRODY: Well, a couple different reasons. The choice issue, the life issue so to speak. Abortion is a big problem amongst social conservatives when it comes to Charlie Crist. There is a questionnaire out there from 1998 where Charlie Crist said he was pro- choice. Now in 2006 -- or the last time he was really talking about it, said he was pro-life. So there's some issues there. The Terri Schiavo case, he pretty much stood on the sidelines according to many social conservatives and did not come to their defense in that case.
So those are two things. There's some other issues as well. This has been going on for a while, Wolf, within the social conservative ranks that Charlie Crist is not a good pick for John McCain.
BLITZER: Who do they like?
BRODY: There's quite a few. Mark Sanford has come up. Mike Huckabee. They really do enjoy him to a certain degree as well and then, of course, Mitt Romney's name is also being mentioned. Bobby Jindal as well.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney has changed his view on a lot of these social issues over the years as well.
BRODY: He has. But there's a feeling that if Romney ever did get on the ticket that the talk radio chatter might stop on John McCain. Based on the fact that the Laura Ingrahams of the world and others do like Mitt Romney and that would help John McCain in the fall.
BLITZER: How worried are they about the Libertarian Party ticket, Bob Barr, the former congressman is going to be on the ballot on I guess almost all of the states. Do they think this will drain votes away in some of the states along the lines of what Ralph Nader did to Al Gore back in 2000?
BRODY: To a certain degree. It's not the chatter. The chatter is the fact that will John McCain pretty much buck social conservatives when it comes to the V.P. pick and really go and say, listen, you know what, I'm focusing in on independents, if this is what it's going to be about.
And think about it for a second, if he goes with Crist as you mentioned with Florida, he can lock down Florida essentially and as one Republican activist told me, a very prominent one said, listen, if he locks down Florida, then John McCain is running for governor of Ohio in essence for president, because Ohio becomes the key swing state at that point.
BLITZER: How much has he been hurt or helped by his decision last week to separate himself completely from Pastor John Hagee?
BRODY: I think it's going to go away. You know, it seemed, at least within the McCain camp and quite frankly within the social conservative movement that it was badly handled by McCain and it showed that he needs to tap dance with the evangelicals all the way through. I mean, clearly John McCain is having trouble with the evangelical movement when it comes to knowing how they operate, in terms of John Hagee, big on Israel, but there were some other statements that he made in the past that they didn't vet very well.
BLITZER: Because the argument that Karl Rove and other Republicans strategists have always made, is you really need these social conservatives, not only to support you but to get out the vote, to come out in big numbers, to rally the base.
Does McCain have that right now?
BRODY: No, he does not.
And that is a major talker within the conservative movement -- the social conservative movement -- because right now what they're saying is, you know, what, McCain may get my vote, when I'm saying my vote, we're talking about the national religious leaders and all of those, but the actual base, the list that they have, the millions, the hundreds of thousands, that they have on their list, you know, the McCain camp is not getting that type of list in their hands, which they need to mobilize the base like it was done in 2004.
BLITZER: President Bush is still pretty popular with religious conservatives, right?
BLITZER: So, what should the McCain strategy be in -- in being seen with the president, not being seen with the president? Distancing himself, what do you think?
BRODY: Well, there are a couple things. First of all, the chatter among social conservatives right now is that John McCain, one of the reasons John McCain is not as popular with evangelicals is because he has not been getting on his soapbox, talking about the life issue and embryonic stem cell research and some of these other issues. So, in answer to your question, if he can go ahead and not just give a policy speech, not just talk about judges, checklist and that's off the table, actually engage social conservatives like George Bush did a little bit, that would be helpful.
Real quick, Wolf, you know, some social conservatives are not happy about John McCain's statement on the California gay marriage ruling, because in essence, it came out as just kind of what they call a milquetoast (ph), some sort of just generic statement rather than really taking the issue as one about judges and one about marriage and taking control and being more forceful in that area.
BLITZER: Because in that area he doesn't disagree all that much with Clinton and Obama. He opposes a constitutional amendment on the issue of marriage, is that right?
BRODY: That's right. Therefore they are going to want it to slide by. The problem as you know in November that issue will probably come up on the ballot in California. It's not going away. Also on embryonic stem cell research, there what's a discussion about six months or so ago about adult stem cell research and this idea that, you know, there was progress in that area and that embryonic stem cell research may not have to be needed as much anymore, and therefore there was an issue by social conservatives that they wanted McCain to speak out more forcefully against embryonic stem cell research and he didn't do it.
BLITZER: He's got a delicate tightrope he's got to walk on these issues. Thanks very much, David, for coming in.
BRODY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: They're senators by day, but not just presidential candidates by night. How are John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton performing in the jobs they already have? You may be surprised what the campaign has done to their voting records.
And attention home buyers or sellers -- there are fresh reports on the pace of sales. Do you live in the city where sales fare best or worst?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Carol, what's going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, catching or killing the world's most wanted terrorist is the top goal for the United States, and so is catching or killing those who want to be just like Osama bin Laden. That's what the CIA director tells the Associated Press. General Michael Hayden said bringing bin Laden to justice would create a succession crisis and deliver a psychological blow to al Qaeda, but it would not stop the threat of al Qaeda.
Let's say you're a worker claiming discrimination because of your age or race, and then you face backlash? Well, today the Supreme Court said you can sue an employer for the retaliation. The court says retaliation is another form of unlawful discrimination, once specifically barred by the Civil Rights Act dating back to the civil war. Many business groups are opposed to that reading of the law.
Many more of you are not confident about the way things are going with the economy. This month an index measuring consumer confidence falls to its lowest level in almost 16 years. That's according to the conference board. High gas prices and low job opportunities are among the reasons why.
And mixed news about home sales. They were up slightly last month, yet new home sales remain near historic lows. The government said sales rose 3.3 percent in April but were still the second lowest annual rate since October of 1991. Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller report said sales fell more than 14 percent the first quarter of this year compared to last year.
It also says Las Vegas remains the weakest market. Prices down almost 26 percent the past year. While Charlotte, North Carolina, is the only place seeing home appreciation. Remember what that is? Prices growing there almost one percent.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.
We'll be back with Carol soon.
Many people think it's all but certain that Barack Obama will be the Democratic presidential nominee. But Hillary Clinton's campaign says they're the way to stop that. It all hinges on an important event happening this Saturday, right here in Washington.
John McCain hopes President Bush can show him the money. The president will raise money for McCain, but you won't see it. We'll tell you why. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, some say they should talk freely. Others say they should be muzzled. What do you think about former presidents criticizing the current president in U.S. foreign and domestic policy?
We're working this story.
Also, are people who are supposed to help the world's most vulnerable abusing them? There are shocking new tales of humanitarian aid workers and the United Nations peacekeepers sexually abusing children in conflict-torn countries. Equally disturbing, claims that children aren't talking because they need the money and the food those workers provide. We'll have a complete report on the shocking story.
And two weeks after China's earthquake, there's a new threat that could force more than 1 million Chinese to flee for their lives. We'll go there, to China.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This is what the Florida and Michigan delegations looked like at the 2004 Democratic national convention. But this scene could look entirely different come August in Denver. Might those seats actually be empty?
CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's working this story for us.
Brian, they won't be empty if Hillary Clinton has her way.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true.
But right now, Wolf, neither Florida nor Michigan has a seat at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer. They have been punished by the party for holding their primaries too early. Right now, it appears Hillary Clinton has the most to lose if those delegates are not seated.
TODD (voice-over): She counts Florida and Michigan as two of her biggest primary victories, and Hillary Clinton wants those votes to count, even though the Democratic National Committee barred candidates from campaigning in either state, and Clinton was the only one on the Michigan ballot.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Democrats in those two states cast 2.3 million votes, and they deserve to have those votes counted.
TODD: Without Florida and Michigan, Clinton's already slim chance of winning the nomination becomes even slimmer. But if she can persuade the DNC Rules Committee at a critical meeting on May 31 to seat those delegates, she's got a fighting chance. She'll have help. Florida Democratic superdelegate Jon Ausman will argue his state's case at this meeting.
JON AUSMAN, (D) FLORIDA SUPERDELEGATE: The policy that was proposed last August 25 has gone all the way through May 31 at a minimum. We spent a long time in the penalty box already. It's time to let our people go.
TODD: The DNC maintains that it acted properly and within the rules. "There is a difference of opinion," the committee says, "and resolving that difference is the purpose of the meeting May 31st."
Ausman hopes that all of Florida's superdelegates and at least half the pledged delegates will be restored at the meeting. But if all the delegates aren't restored, he wants the Convention Credentials Committee in Denver to seat the entire Florida delegation. This is sometimes called the nuclear option because it could lead to a nasty and very public floor fight.
AUSMAN: I don't think it will be a spectacle on television. I think we can make respectful arguments. I think we can reason together. I think we can have a good conversation and negotiation, that we can do it in a positive and constructive way.
TODD: But even a hint of a floor fight may be incentive enough for party elders to resolve any delegation dispute sooner rather than later.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't see any scenario where this issue is resolved in the convention in Denver, because the party wants the nomination resolved well before September. And they can't leave this issue hanging out there.
TODD: Jeffrey Toobin says, this situation is now ripe for compromise. He says, Hillary Clinton is not likely to get all the delegates she won in the Michigan and Florida primaries, but it's also not likely that all of those delegates will be excluded either.
We also called the Obama campaign for their position on this, Wolf. They say, only, that they are committed to getting the delegates seated. But they didn't comment on the proportion of those delegates. So, they are at least maintaining some distance at this point.
BLITZER: All right, we will see what is going to happen. We will have extensive coverage on Saturday of this very important meeting.
Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
And the meeting on Saturday, the Rules Committee meeting, is a hot ticket online, with supporters of both Democratic candidates wanting their voices heard.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
Abbi, what would we expect to see online on Saturday?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is a meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee of the DNC. But in this highly charged race, it's turning into a sellout show.
At 10:00 a.m. this morning, the Democratic Party could let people register for seats online, public seats. And, at 10:01 a.m., one minute later, this was the message: full to capacity. The DNC's Internet team then going online to explain to people who had missed on tickets that they had gone just so quickly.
And now the focus is on outside the hotel, outside this meeting. You have got Hillary Clinton supporters organizing online this count every vote rally, signing people up for transport into the nation's capital for this event. And look around online and you will now see Obama supporters as well thinking about doing a counterprotest to meet those Hillary Clinton supporters out there.
One Obama supporter writing on the Web site Daily Kos today, urging anyone that shows up, don't shout at the Clinton supporters, and please bring signs urging Democratic unity -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
Just ahead, I will be speaking with our own political contributor Donna Brazile. She will be taking part in those upcoming meetings this Saturday. She's a member of the DNC Rules Committee. We will get her assessment on what's going on. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
Meanwhile, Ohio certainly will be a critical battleground in the presidential race.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's taking politics to the people aboard our CNN Election Express. He's joining us now live from Columbus with more.
What are you finding out, Bill, from actual voters in Ohio?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We're finding out that there are likely to be two candidates this year with problems in Ohio.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): People who know Ohio say, if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, he will have problems here. After all, Hillary Clinton beat him in the Democratic primary.
JOE HALLETT, "COLUMBUS DISPATCH": Obama has real problems in Ohio, particularly south of I-70, which splits southern and northern Ohio.
PAT CROWLEY, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER": They look at him more as very, very lofty ideals and very lofty goals. And that's great to get people initially fired up, but they want some meat on that bone, as one voter described it to me recently.
SCHNEIDER: They also say John McCain has problems in Ohio.
CROWLEY: I think it will be really tough for him.
HALLETT: McCain's got to start to divorce himself from George Bush if he wants to carry this state.
SCHNEIDER: In 2004, Democrats organized a huge turnout effort in Ohio. But Republicans also got their base out and won the state.
HALLETT: John Kerry did all he needed to do in 2004 to win Ohio, but Bush did more, because he really turned out the vote in the rural and the suburban, the exurban counties around the big cities.
SCHNEIDER: Some of the former Bush supporters we spoke to said they may not be there for McCain this time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, I'm wide open.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm undecided at this point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It won't be a Republican.
SCHNEIDER: McCain may not be able to win Ohio the way Bush did, by rallying the Republican base.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would really like to see that he is more of a moderate, in terms of his stand on things, and that he's not going to the extreme right wing of the party.
SCHNEIDER: McCain's best bet in Ohio?
HALLETT: I think for Ohioans want to see that old independent John McCain from 2000 that so many of them crossed over to vote for in the Republican primary.
SCHNEIDER: The old independent McCain from 2000? That was the one that ran against George W. Bush -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you.
Bill Schneider is out with the CNN Election Express.
And, just a short while ago, Hillary Clinton responded to Senator McCain's speech today about nuclear safety. She said, McCain's goals will remain an illusion as long as the Republican continues to embrace what she calls President Bush's failed policies.
Senator Clinton is taking her underdog campaign to Montana today. The state holds its nominating contest a week from today. That would be the final primary day of this very long campaign season.
And the Democrat is also launching a new ad in South Dakota, the other state voting a week from today. The spot highlights Clinton's plan to reduce the federal deficit and promises to get the nation, "back to fiscal responsibility."
The presidential candidates aren't always keeping up with their day jobs. Still ahead, we will see who missed key Senate votes and whether voters are likely to care.
Plus, is John McCain getting too close to President Bush, or is he keeping him at a reasonable distance? Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, they're standing by live for our "Strategy Session."
And, later, real-life weapons are part of everyday life in Iraq, so why all of a sudden is there such deep concern about kids playing with toy guns?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: White House hopefuls who serve in Congress traditionally miss a lot of the action on Capitol Hill. The votes they decide to skip and those they choose to cast can say a lot about their campaigns.
Carol Costello has been going through the record.
You're looking at all of these presidential candidates, the three remaining candidates. And what do we know?
COSTELLO: Well, if you're not jaded, you might be a little surprised by this. Let's take a look at the top senators who have missed the most votes in the Senate.
As you can see, John McCain comes in first. He missed 60 percent of the votes in the Senate. Next is Tim Johnson. But, remember he had that brain hemorrhage back in 2006. He's been recovering. He's back in the Senate now, supposedly, casting votes, as he is supposed to.
Next comes Barack Obama. He missed 42 percent of the votes in the Senate, next, Joe Biden at 33 percent. Then comes Hillary Clinton at 32 percent.
So, let's center on the three presidential candidates. Yes, they are three of the top five senators who have missed the most votes. I guess the question is, do voters care?
MCCAIN: Encouraging people to choose to not become noncommissioned officers would hurt the military and our country very badly.
COSTELLO (voice-over): That's John McCain speaking out about a bill he's dead-set against, which he says would encourage many in the military to leave after just one enlistment.
But the Republican senator from Arizona missed his chance to vote against the bill, because he was working his other job, presumptive GOP presidential nominee. His Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, did make it back for the vote. But McCain is not alone.
OBAMA: I'm saying hello to everybody.
COSTELLO: Senator Obama back on Capitol Hill earlier this month, meeting with colleagues, but missing votes in the Senate that day.
And what about Hillary Clinton? We asked Ben Pershing, who keeps a close eye on Congress for "The Washington Post."
BEN PERSHING, "THE WASHINGTON POST": She's got the best voting record of the three of them, but that's not saying much.
COSTELLO: And she missed a vote earlier this year on an important bill to keep kids' toys safe. In fact, all three candidates have been mostly missing in action from their day jobs since this long campaign began early last year.
But do voters care?
PERSHING: I don't think they care that much on the whole. I think a broad attack for missing votes might not necessarily work.
I do think a specific vote saying, John McCain missed the vote on the G.I. Bill of rights can be effective. You know, that's a pretty powerful political ad. And it's hard for McCain to sort of give a response that's process-oriented, saying, well, I supported it; I just didn't make it to warrant. I don't know if that cuts it in a 30- second TV ad.
(END VIDEOTAPE) (LAUGHTER)
COSTELLO: I don't know, but it sure founds familiar, doesn't it? We all remember how Senator John Kerry, in the last presidential campaign, tried to explain that he voted for the war in Iraq, before he voted against it. It's sort of what John McCain is going to have to do.
BLITZER: A lot of those TV commercials are going to have some fodder, basically.
BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you very much.
We will be watching to see if Senators McCain and Obama show up, by the way, for some important votes in the days ahead. The Senate is expected to take up an Iraq war funding bill as early as next week, when Congress returns from its break. It includes that measure to extend education benefits to veterans, which McCain and Obama have been sparring over.
The Senate also expected to take up the most comprehensive measure to date, aimed at easing global warming, also legislation to help homeowners at risk of foreclosure because of the mortgage crisis -- some important votes coming up. Carol is going to be monitoring all of that for us.
In our "Strategy Session": the difficult dance of John McCain. He wants President Bush's help to fund-raise and to attract conservatives, but he doesn't want to be tagged as running for a third Bush term.
And what happens if the Democrats can't come to terms over Florida and Michigan delegates this weekend? Donna Brazile will be at the meeting. She and Rich Galen, they're standing by live to discuss this and more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: One political writer puts John McCain's political relationship this way: Can't live with him, can't live without him. True or not, their relationship does appear to be a delicate balancing act.
McCain embraces the president's ability to raise funds for his campaign, but hasn't been seen publicly with the president in a few months.
Let's discuss this, and more, in our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Rich Galen.
Guys, thanks very much for joining us. Here's one of the problems, Rich -- and I will start with you -- that McCain has. In our most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, how is Bush handling his job as president? Among all Americans, 28 percent approve -- 71 percent disapprove.
But, if you focus in on the Republicans only, 65 percent of the Republicans approve of the job he's doing -- 33 percent disapprove. I suspect that helps explain part of this delicate balancing act.
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: As Norm Peterson once said at the beginning of cheers, women, can't live with them, pass the beer nuts. And I think that's approximately what the McCain folks are saying.
And, by the way, I mean, you had a -- you had a clip of the president earlier, I think, during one of Jack's pieces. The president is a seasoned guy. He's grown up in politics, his dad, his uncle, all this stuff. So, he understands where he is. He understands the relationship.
The good news is that those 65 percent of Republicans are probably the people that are most likely to donate to the Republican National Committee. The president, any president, is a prodigious fund-raiser for the national party. And that's where the president will make his dent.
BLITZER: Because the Democrats, already, as you know, Donna, they are trying to paint McCain as basically a third term for Bush.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I will tell you one thing. John McCain is making it easier by showing up with George Bush today.
Look, John McCain, on one hand, said that he's proud to have the president's support, but when the president is in town, in Phoenix, of all places, John McCain cannot find the time to see the president, until it's late at night, and, of course, and fund-raisers that are not open to the public. It shows me that he's not excited to have this...
BLITZER: Well, late at night on the -- late at night on the East Coast, but not late at night out in Phoenix, Arizona. There's a time difference.
GALEN: Let me just say this. The Democrats saying it's a third Bush presidency has all of the charm, order and intellectual honesty as Republicans saying tax-and-spend Democrat. You have got to come up with something better.
BRAZILE: Oh, but, look, there's nothing better when John McCain and George Bush shows up together, shake hands.
BRAZILE: And you have tax cuts. Plus, he supports the president's tax cuts.
GALEN: With the veto pen.
BRAZILE: So, supports the president's policy in Iraq. That's what makes the American people...
GALEN: With more troops.
BRAZILE: Look, Tom Davis said -- to quote someone -- Tom Davis said that George Bush is radioactive. That's a Republican congressman. That's not Howard Dean.
GALEN: I didn't -- I'm not disagreeing with you on the fact that they're not going to be together. What I'm saying is that the president gets to raise money for the RNC, which is the only...
BLITZER: I think what Donna is saying, that, on the two biggest issues right now, the economy and the war in Iraq, there's not a whole lot of daylight between the president and John McCain.
GALEN: It's a nuanced difference, but it's a major difference.
One, on war, McCain has always said that there weren't enough troops, always.
BLITZER: But we're talking about the policy right now.
GALEN: I understand that. But now -- but, with the surge working, that's more troops. So, he was right on that.
On the tax cuts, McCain has said that he owns the veto pen, so he will require spending cuts to...
BRAZILE: But what is the new metric that the surge is working, that we now have political compromise, that the Iraqi government can stand on their own, and our troops can begin to come home?
BRAZILE: We have 120,000 troops in Iraq.
GALEN: But that's what Petraeus is going to recommend. So, the answer is yes.
BLITZER: Donna, let me pick your brain on the big meeting this Saturday, the DNC Rules Committee. You're going to be there obviously. You're a member of the DNC Rules Committee. You're a superdelegate, undecided, at least so far.
Moving the goalposts -- I write about this at CNNPolitics.com today, because there's a possibility the Democratic leadership will move the goalposts this weekend.
Take a look at these numbers we have up here on the wall. Right now, without Michigan and Florida in the equation, they need 2,026 delegates to clinch the nomination, either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. If they decide to seat completely the Florida and Michigan delegation, the magic number goes up to 2,210. If there's this third option, which a lot of people are talking about now, doing the Republican option, if you will, taking half of their seats away, seating only half of their pledged and superdelegates, the magic number goes up to 2,118.
I guess -- are those the options that you guys are going to be considering?
BRAZILE: I'm sure there are more options on the table, because, as you can imagine, Howard Dean has called this meeting, and requested that we respect the rules, respect the voters in Florida and Michigan, and to try to come up with some accommodation. We don't have a metric yet.
But, clearly, we're going to work very hard as members of the committee. And, also, we have to respect the 48 other states, the District of Columbia, and the territories that also complied with the rules. At the end of the day, we will respect both Senator Obama, as well as Senator Clinton. But the most important thing is to leave in place the integrity of the process, so both candidates and everyone knows that...
BRAZILE: ... fair process.
BLITZER: One option that I have heard is to seat half of the pledged or elected delegates, but all of the superdelegates of Florida and Michigan. Right now, none of their delegates, super or elected, or pledged, none of their delegates will be seated on the floor at the convention.
BRAZILE: Well, I have heard that option as well. You can imagine that we have 30 members, so there's a lot of options that are being floated around as well.
And, also, we are hearing from people from all over the country, who would like us to seat those delegates, and some who are saying abide -- you know, keep the rules as is. So, we have a big job ahead of us. And I'm looking forward to seeing my colleagues and coming up with an accommodation.
BLITZER: We're looking forward to it, too.
GALEN: Here's the biggest job that the committee has, is to come up with something that does not lead to a floor fight in Denver. And that's, I think, what everybody on your side would want to avoid. Of course, on my side we are cheering for this.
BRAZILE: Of course, you want your peanuts and your beer.
BRAZILE: No. Fat chance.
BLITZER: You're an undeclared delegate, not an undecided delegate; is that right?
BRAZILE: I'm going to support the nominee. And the magic number today is 2,026. So, when the nominee -- the person hits 2,206, I am going to support the nominee. That's been my position.
BLITZER: That could happen Sunday after Puerto Rico. That potentially could happen next Tuesday, after Montana and South Dakota.
BRAZILE: And, when that day happens, I will...
GALEN: If Obama has 2,025, will you put him over the top?
BRAZILE: Well, look, if Senator Clinton has 2,025, I will help the nominee. That is my position. And I will respect both candidates.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we will be watching every step of the way. Thank you.
BLITZER: Barack Obama has a new message for you. It's designed to court a key group he hasn't necessarily been doing all that well with, and it's airing in a state with a key primary only a few days away.
Obama apparently also has a message for McCain: He won't cede some Western states to Republicans. You're going to find out which states Obama is determined to try to win.
And two weeks after China's earthquake, there's a new threat that could force more than a million Chinese to flee for their lives.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our Political Ticker: Barack Obama has a new ad out today in South Dakota featuring a top supporter in that state, the former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. In the spot, Daschle says Obama understands rural America, as well as the cities, an effort to try to shore up his support with working-class voters -- South Dakota's primary a week from today.
John McCain is going up with a TV ad tomorrow in the crucial swing states of Michigan and Pennsylvania. It's the latest sign the Republican trying to get a jump-start on the general election campaign. The ad promotes McCain's pledge to lower taxes, make health care more affordable, and address the country's energy problems. The spot previously ran, by the way, in Iowa way back when.
A new political ad campaign is pressing Senate Republicans and Democrats to vote against the bill aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The conservative advocacy group the Club For Growth is behind the $250,000 TV and radio ad campaign. The spots target Republicans Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, as well as Democrats Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can download our new political screen-saver and where you can check out my latest blog post as well. Posted one just before the show.
Let's go back to Jack right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: What should Hillary Clinton do next, since it seems increasingly likely she's not going to be the next president?
W. wrote: "Hillary needs to lobby Obama to be the vice president, where she can lead the Senate, fill her vacant seat with another Democrat, and finally fulfill her promises on health care."
Deb writes from Bow, New Hampshire: "Hillary already seems to have the makings of a leader in today's politics. She can change the facts, or at least her view of them, in whatever way benefits her the most. She can agree to rules, and then say they have to be changed when she doesn't like the outcome. She can conveniently forget what has happened, or make up what hasn't. But if she really wants a respected future with her party, she needs to campaign through next week, without bashing Obama or whining about the inevitable outcome, and then graciously concede, and throw all her support and efforts behind Barack Obama."
Richard writes: "Mr. Cafferty, according to the tone of your comments about the primary race, Senator Clinton should be exiled from the planet."
Drew in Florida writes: "Good question. She's almost expended all her political capital. People will remember this primary race for a long time. Her behavior will not be forgotten."
Sally in California writes: "I see her as promoting women's rights around the world. That way, she gets to travel, learn Spanish, begin a foundation in her name for a meaningful legacy, help people in need, meet with foreign politicians, speak at the U.N., provide a vehicle for her die-hard supporters, and -- oh yes -- save face -- the sooner, the better.
And Terry in North Carolina: "Jack, I moved to North Carolina two years ago. I was a New Yorker all my life, worked in Manhattan for 20 years. I think it's OK now for Hillary to run for governor of New York now -- now that I am down here."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there, among the hundreds of others that are posted each hour -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, quickly, Jack, what do you want the DNC to do at their Rules Committee meeting this Saturday?
CAFFERTY: Oh, I don't care what they do. And I'm sure they don't care what I think they should do.
But if they somehow fold up and allow Michigan and Florida to get away with this, then what happens in four years? Every state in the country will want to have their primary on January 1. I don't know if you can let that happen.
The other thing that's worth pointing out is, both campaigns, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, agreed to these rules before -- before Florida and Michigan voted. Now the Clinton camp seems to forget that they did that. So, I -- but I don't know what they -- you know, I don't care what they do. Let them do what they want.
BLITZER: OK. And they will.
All right, Jack...
CAFFERTY: And they will.
BLITZER: ... stand by.
BLITZER: We will get back to you in a moment.