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Terror Suspects' Rights; Obama Fights the 'Smears'; Interview With Senator Claire McCaskill

Aired June 12, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the U.S. Supreme Court deals another blow to the president's war on terror and to the future of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. This hour, the ruling and what it could mean for the next U.S. commander in chief.
Plus, Barack Obama launching a new Web site to confront rumors about him and his wife. We're going to tell you about the first red-hot rumor he' trying to debunk.

And John McCain isn't satisfied that one of Obama's vice presidential vetters called it quits. The Republican candidate now is targeting another member of Obama's search team.

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

Let's begin with a major decision by the United States Supreme Court. It has ruled that foreign terror suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detention in federal civilian courts. This is the third time the U.S. high court has dealt a blow to the Bush administration's treatment of the prisoners at Gitmo, as it's called.

Some have been held without charges for more than six years. Their fate not just a legal issue, but a political one as well.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's following this story.

This could have major ramifications not only for this administration, but for the next president as well, Brian?


Now, either candidate as president will have to abide at least initially by what the court said today. But they have opposite views on the subject. Not just on this particular provision, but also on the whole plan for putting terror suspects on trial in special tribunals. That process was set up in 2006, but the next president could change it.


TODD (voice-over): The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling is in line with something Barack Obama has been asserting -- that everyone is entitled to habeas corpus, a constitutional provision for challenging your imprisonment, even foreign terror suspects.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to close Guantanamo and restore habeas corpus.

TODD: John McCain says the court's decision must be honored, but he disagrees with giving those rights to detainees.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It obviously concerns me. These are unlawful combatants. They are not American citizens.

TODD: Several terrorism suspects, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have already been arraigned. But some decisions on those trials may end up in the hands of the next president.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Given the pace we've been going, there is no doubt that the fate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the fate of Guantanamo will not be in President Bush's hands, but in his successor's hands.

TODD: And McCain and Obama have conflicting views on how to handle them. The military tribunal system established by law in 2006 provides less openness to the public and fewer rights for suspects than a normal court. Senator McCain supports the system, although he would like to change the venue.

MCCAIN: I would declare the cloture of Guantanamo Bay and move those prisoners to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and proceed with tribunals.

TODD: But Senator Obama voted against the tribunal system and has vowed to scrap it.

OBAMA: As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.


TODD: Now, on this ruling today, Obama's campaign just issued a statement a short time ago saying, "Today's Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice while also protecting our core values. The court' decision is a rejection of the Bush administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo -- yet another failed policy supported by John McCain."

We don't have a response yet from the McCain team to that statement. But when we get it, we'll put it on the air -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

About 300 detainees currently are held at Guantanamo Bay. That's America's oldest Navy base overseas.

The U.S. military says 500 suspects have been released or transferred from Guantanamo Bay since 2002. And it says at least 30 of those released have returned to the fight against the United States and its allies, including some who were killed in combat in Afghanistan. Others have gone on to their homelands to just live their lives.

And that's that.

Here's what President Bush had to say earlier today about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on terror suspects' rights. He spoke in Rome during a news conference with the Italian prime minister.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it.

It's a deeply divided court. And I strongly agree with those who dissented that -- and their dissent was based upon their serious concerns about U.S. national security.

Congress and the administration worked very carefully on -- on a piece of legislation that set the appropriate procedures in place as to how to deal with the detainees. And we'll study this opinion. And we'll do so with this in mind -- to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate so that we can safely say, or truly say to the American people, we're doing everything we can to protect you.


BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this U.S. Supreme Court decision coming up, including our own senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, who recently visited Guantanamo Bay. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get to the presidential contest though right now.

The Internet has helped make Barack Obama's presidential bid, and now his campaign is trying to make sure it doesn't break him. The Obama camp is up with a new Web site designed to quash rumors about the Democrat, rumors that are spread online. They're often spread like wildfire.

Suzanne Malveaux is covering this story for us.

You've been checking out this new Web site, talking to a lot of people. What is going on?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a lot of people who are definitely taking a look at this new Web site. Obama has been burned in the past, and the clips of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, showing the reverend cursing America, spread quickly over the Internet and damaged Obama's image for some voters.

Well, now he's trying to reintroduce himself to voters across the country in the general election. So he is not letting any false rumors spread over the Internet go unanswered. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Barack Obama has had enough. While he's been dogged by rumors over the Internet for months, it was the claim that his wife Michelle was on videotape in church referring to someone as "whitey" that propelled his campaign to fight back.

His new Web site,, takes on that rumor first. It cites conservative Republican blogs and talk show host Rush Limbaugh as the sources behind the smear.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: They're waiting to use it in October of Michelle going nuts in the church, too, talking about "whitey" this and "whitey" that.

MALVEAUX: The Web site counters, "The truth is, no such tape exists." The rumor hit Obama directly last week when a newspaper reporter confronted him with it.

OBAMA: There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mail. And they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about them. And then that gives legs to the story.

MALVEAUX: Another story Obama confronted is the claim he attended a radical Muslim school.

OBAMA: This is the same kind of nonsense that we started with the madrassas, in which CNN had to fly to Jakarta to disprove it.

MALVEAUX: Obama's Web site actually has a link to CNN's report, which debunks the false rumor.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The deputy headmaster tells me he's unaware that his school has been labeled an "Islamic madrassa" by some in the United States and bristles at the thought.

MALVEAUX: Obama's Web site States he is not a Muslim, but a Christian. A photo shows he was sworn into the U.S. Senate with his hand on family bible, not the Koran. And there is video showing him leading the Pledge of Allegiance, debunking the rumor he refuses to do so.

The persistent false claims have been frustrating.

OBAMA: Simply because something appears in e-mail, that should lend it no more credence than if you heard it on the corner.

MALVEAUX: Conventional wisdom have been for candidates to ignore the buzz and hope that the vitriol goes away.

ALEX WELLEN, CNNPOLITICS.COM: At the lightning speed at which rumors are being spread, it's wise for a lot of these campaigns when they're learning this to respond in a way that kind of debunks the information quickly.


MALVEAUX: Obama's campaign aides say that the best antidote to a smear campaign is the truth. And it's the campaign's responsibility to make sure that the most accurate information about Obama is actually out there. The Web site also encourages supporters to fight these false claims by sending mass e-mails discrediting the Internet buzz -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very interesting story. Good work. Thanks, Suzanne.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."

You know, it's a whole new world in politics with this so-called Internet out there, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I'm still trying to get a phone for my car. I'm way behind the curve on this stuff.

The House of Representatives voted to send an impeachment resolution against President Bush to a committee where it will die. Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment this week, most of the resolution focusing on the Iraq war. But they also charge President Bush with illegally detaining both U.S. citizens and foreign captives, a charge upheld by the Supreme Court as you saw earlier, condoning torture, mishandling the response to Hurricane Katrina, and on and on and on.

But Congress doesn't want to hear it. They voted largely along party lines, 255-166, to send the resolution to the House Judiciary Committee, which is exactly what happened to Kucinich's impeachment articles against Vice President Cheney last year.

Congress sent that resolution to the same committee last November. It is still there. Nothing has been done. Nothing will be done.

Congress continues to refuse to exercise its constitutional responsibility, which is oversight of the executive branch of our government. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi long ago said impeachment is off the table.

This is a joke. We have a president who has abused the power of his office over and over and over again. It's what got the Democrats elected to the majority in Congress in 2006. Now it's election time again, and every member of the House is up for re-election in November.

The Democrats, no doubt, are worried what it will look like to many voters if they spend their time on impeachment. To hell with what's right or wrong. What will it look like?

This is why Republicans voted yesterday to bring Kucinich's resolution up for debate immediately, trying to make the Democrats look silly for focusing on this instead of gas prices, the economy, et cetera. I boggles my mind. Anyway, here's the question: What does it mean when Congress refuses to even consider 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush?

Go to file. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

There's a new move by Senate Democrats targeting lobbyists with foreign clients. I'll ask Senator and Obama supporter Claire McCaskill about the measure and whether it's an attempt to embarrass John McCain. She's standing by live.

Also coming up, McCain versus Obama on the issues and on personal qualities. There's a surprise in our brand-new snapshot of what voters are thinking right now.

Stand by for that.

And how safe is America's food supply, really? Amid new fears about tainted tomatoes, Congress is asking questions and now issuing subpoenas.

We're standing by for an update, by the way, on the salmonella outbreak.

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


BLITZER: On Capitol Hill today, two top Senate Democrats are offering up a bill aimed at closing loopholes used by lobbyists for foreign clients. Those loopholes allow the lobbyists -- foreign agents, as they're called -- to keep their activity secret. It's a sensitive issue for John McCain, because several former lobbyists working for his campaign have had past dealings abroad. Some have resigned in recent weeks, as we all now know.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is one of the sponsors of this legislation, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She has been for a long time a major supporter of Barack Obama.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Some will say, you know, you and Senator Schumer are doing this now to embarrass the McCain campaign, that there's really politics behind this, as opposed to a strict desire to tighten up some of those loopholes. What do you say to that criticism that's already being leveled?

MCCASKILL: Well, this bill came about because we learned that the Iraqi government had hired lobbyists. And some of us were very offended at the idea that our tax dollars were being used to hire lobbyists to lobby us. And so we wanted to look in to find out what the source of these funds were.

That's when we discovered that there was this glaring loophole in our law that allowed foreign entities to lobby our government without full disclosure. So that's where this came from.

And we're hoping that Senator McCain will cosponsor the legislation. It shouldn't be controversial. These foreign entities ought to be operating in the light of day if they're trying to influence the United States.

BLITZER: These foreign agents, as they're called, who register with the Justice Department, as opposed to those who register as lobbyists with Congress, they can go make representations to American officials abroad, but they're not supposed to do it on U.S. soil.

Is that one of the things you want to change?

MCCASKILL: We want to do two things. One, we want to make sure that every foreign company, dictator, government has to disclose their lobbying contacts in Washington. And we want to make sure that if those lobbyists that are hired in Washington go work on foreign soil, that they are also disclosed. So the important thing is that we know when Americans are being lobbied, the American government is being lobbied by foreign entities, the American people need to know all about it.

BLITZER: So you could say that your decision and Senator Schumer's decision to introduce this legislation has nothing to do with the lobbyists who are working for the McCain campaign? It's not designed to embarrass that campaign?

MCCASKILL: It is designed to make sure, especially right now -- under this economy, our dollar is so weak. Foreign companies are rushing into the United States to try to catch bargains. They're trying to buy businesses, buy land, influence our government. We need to know all about that right now.

The fact that Senator McCain has a lot of lobbyists working for him and that they may have some of these clients, that is ancillary to our focus. Frankly, if Senator McCain wants to show the American people he's serious about this problem, he ought to join us in this legislation.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll ask him about that.

Senator Obama has made a point of saying he's not going to accept lobbying or PAC money for his campaign now that he's the effective leader of the Democratic Party. He says he's not going to let the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, accept this kind of money. But yesterday, Senator Dick Durbin, the majority whip, the number two Democrat in the Senate, I asked him whether that same rule should apply to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee which raises money for Senate candidates, Democrats, incumbents and challengers. And he says, no, he doesn't want to do that because it would undermine their effort, he wants to take that money.

Do you agree with Senator Durbin on this sensitive point?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think that what Barack Obama is doing is the right thing. And he is using his authority as the head of our party right now to tell the national committee that they, too, must abide by his strict rules.

BLITZER: What about the DSCC?.

MCCASKILL: I think it would be great if the DSCC would do it too. Barack Obama is not in charge of the DSCC. And obviously one of the problems of the DSCC is that we are fighting head to head with the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

What would be great is if everyone would stop taking federal lobbyists' money and federal PAC money. I think that would be great.

BLITZER: The McCain campaign went after Jim Johnson, who was one of the vetters for the search for a vice presidential nominee. He has now gone ahead and removed himself from this process. Now they're going after Eric Holder, a former deputy attorney general, pointing out that he was among those who cleared Mark Rich for a pardon in the final days of the Clinton administration.

Is that fair game to go after these -- these vetters, as they're called?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think some of this is political gamesmanship. I know what Eric Holder has -- his reputation for is being a very tough prosecutor.

He was a great U.S. attorney who did great work in the courtroom as a prosecutor. And I think that's one of the reasons he's on this committee, because prosecutors can be very good vetters. They're used to looking at bad guys and figuring things out.

So I think that there is a little bit tit-for-tat going on here. And we go down this road and it does get a little ridiculous. But, you know, anybody who steps into the limelight knows that they're going to be scrutinized. And it's part of it. I think what everyone needs to stay focused on is Barack Obama, what he's going to do for our country, and John McCain, what is he going to do for our country, and make their decision on that basis.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but one quick question to you. I read in your paper in St. Louis, "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch," this quote from Barack Obama. Let me read it to you.

"There are very few people who are closer to me who I have relied on more for counselor advice. Should I be successful in this campaign, she will be somebody who has the utmost access to the Obama administration."

Senator Obama referring to you, Senator. I wonder if -- I mean, as soon as I read that, I said to myself, well, maybe she would be someone on the short list for a vice presidential spot on the ticket.

What do you think?

MCCASKILL: Well, you know, it's an honor to be mentioned. I have complete trust in Senator Obama's judgment in this regard. And I can't wait to help President Obama swing some really strong punches for change as a senator from Missouri in the United States Senate.

BLITZER: A major swing state, for that matter, as well. Missouri up for grabs big time right now.

Senator McCaskill, thanks for coming in.

MCCASKILL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Time for a political pop quiz right now.

Guess which presidential candidate many of you admire for his personal qualities, and which one you think has an edge on the substantive issues. We're going to reveal some answers that may surprise you.

And packing for a trip on a major airline? You may need to pack some extra cash. You'll soon be paying more to check in even one -- yes, even one piece of luggage.

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



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

Happening now, soon when you grab a Budweiser or Bud Light, you may be raising your glass to a Belgian company. Anheuser-Busch facing a takeover bid. Now some are outraged, saying it will cost American jobs and American pride if the U.S. icon transfers to foreign hands.

We're watching this story. Stand by for new details.

It's a word making people and politicians cringe -- the "L" word. But even though lobbyists are a target for Barack Obama, John McCain, and maybe you, many people can't do without them. We'll tell you why.

And McCain and Obama want something passed in the Senate to help you save on gas. But if they can't persuade their colleagues to get it done now, some people wonder how they'll do it as president.

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

John McCain and Barack Obama both say you deserve a positive campaign. Yet the political attacks and sideswipes from their campaigns can hardly be described as kind.

CNN's Dana Bash is in New York with the latest barbs being traded right now.

They're saying one thing, a lot of people say, Dana, but doing something else. What's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, John McCain and Barack Obama are debating issues -- deep divides over everything from tax cuts to the war in Iraq. But the general election campaign is barely a week old, and a dominant theme on both sides is what you might call a game of guilt by association.


BASH (voice-over): Not even 24 hours after the head of Barack Obama's vice presidential search team quit over questionable business practices, John McCain -- not so -- subtly launched at a new target, Eric Holder, another Obama V.P. vetter, a former Justice Department official who gave the green light for a Bill Clinton controversy in the final hours of his presidency: pardoning fugitive financier Marc Rich.

MCCAIN: Mr. Holder recommended the pardoning of Mr. Rich. And all of those things will be taken into consideration by the media and the American people.

BASH: The Obama campaign shot back that A.B. Culvahouse, who is helping McCain pick his running mate, is -- quote -- "a prominent D.C. lobbyist who served as the Reagan administration's point man on the Iran-Contra scandal."

It's the latest in an escalating to and fro, both candidates trying to prove the other isn't a real reformer because of the company he keeps. Camp Obama has been pounding away way at McCain's team for months, especially two former top lobbyists who help run his campaign. But this war on each other's advisers is at odds with how both candidates promised the races would be run.

MCCAIN: I have pledged to conduct a respectful campaign.

OBAMA: I said that I was looking forward to a civil, substantive debate on the issues.

BASH: Ironically, in the very same press conference that he raised questions about Eric Holder, Obama's adviser, McCain decried the back and fourth, sound bites taken out of context, and renewed his call for a debate on the issues with joint town hall meetings.

MCCAIN: This is why we need town hall meetings. This is why we need to go to the American people and stand before them and have them ask the questions and us give the answers.


BASH: McCain went on to hold his own town hall meeting this afternoon in his favorite stomping ground of New Hampshire, where he did talk about a host of issues, from the gas tax holiday that he's pushing, to, of course, the war in Iraq again.

And he had hoped tonight here in New York, Wolf, would be the first of several joint appearances with Obama. But, so far, McCain advisers say they still haven't gotten a word back from the Obama campaign on that proposal.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

Dana is in New York for us.

Meanwhile, which of the candidates do you like more as a person, and which do you think would do best regarding items like -- that you care about the most?

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's looking at some new numbers.

We have a brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, Bill, as you well know. What did it reveal, if anything, surprising about this upcoming campaign?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one candidate has the advantage on personal qualities, and the other has the advantage on the issues. But it may surprise you which is which.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Barack Obama is supposed to be the rock star of this campaign. John McCain says he will win the election on substance. That may be backwards. Voters who say personal qualities are more important than issues prefer McCain.

MCCAIN: I don't seek the presidency on the presumption I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need.


MCCAIN: I seek the office with the humility of a man who cannot forget, my country saved me.

SCHNEIDER: Among those who say issues are more important, Obama leads by more than 20 points. What issues? The big one.

OBAMA: In the last eight years, we have failed to keep the fundamental promise that, if you work hard, you can live your own version of the American dream.

SCHNEIDER: Obama has the edge over McCain on the economy. It's a fairly narrow lead, just six points. It may have less to do with Obama's issue positions than with his party.

The Democratic Party now has a huge lead over the Republican Party on the economy, 2-1 in a recent poll. By winning the nomination, Obama has become the Democrat, the candidate who offers different economic policies than those of President Bush -- in a word, change.

OBAMA: So, there's going to be a very clear choice in this election. John McCain will dust off the old political playbook that George Bush used in the last two elections and the disastrous tax policies that have failed the American people. I am running to lead this country in a new direction.


SCHNEIDER: Despite the public's opposition to the war in Iraq, McCain leads Obama on foreign policy. But that's not the issue on most people's minds right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, with our latest numbers, thanks very much for that.

Whose tax plan would save you more and cost you more?

Let's go to our personal finance editor, Gerri Willis. She's joining us from New York.

You have been looking at all these numbers. And it's pretty interesting to see how much people would save under these very different plans.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, you know, Wolf, it's really a classic matchup, Democratic, Republican.

The Republican supply-siders believe that cutting taxes will actually end up people investing more in the economy, building businesses. The Democrats believe that tax dollars should be raised, so that we can have more government programs that could help people in trouble.

Let's take a look at this, though, by income category, comparing McCain and Obama's tax policies. If you are lower-income in this country, $38,000 to $66,000, McCain's tax plan, you would get a $319 tax cut. Obama, much more generous here, at over $1,000. Middle- class, $66,000 to $112,000, of course, $112,000 in most parts of the country would be very well off, indeed.

But McCain, again, the savings here about $1,000. Obama a little more at $1,290.

Now, once you hit the upper-income limits here, $112,000 to $161,000, things beginning to turn around here, McCain's savings $2,600, and Obama's $2,200. Once you hit the super-wealthy category, Wolf, you're looking at people who earn every year over -- over $2.9 million, look what happens with Obama's tax increase -- tax policies here. He's really penalizing these people, a $701,000 tax bill, very big indeed, and big, big savings for McCain, under McCain's plans, some $269,000.

So, that really tells you how they view tax policy and who should get the breaks and who shouldn't, very different ideas on tax policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, if you make $2.9 million, almost $3 million, under Obama, you're going to spend another $700,000 of that for taxes... WILLIS: Right.

BLITZER: ... and, under McCain, you're going to save money, $269,000.


BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed.

Is there one area where these two candidates agree when it comes to tax policy?

WILLIS: Well, interestingly, there's some agreement on the alternative minimum tax. Now, Wolf, you know what this is. This is an entirely separate set of tax regulations originally developed to penalize people who made a lot of money and tried to hide from taxes.

Now it's affecting middle-class people and the source of a lot of angst for people who are middle-class. Both of the candidates here say they want to diminish the impact of the alternative minimum tax. But, as you know, Wolf, that's hard to get rid of because it provides so much income to the treasury -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Gerri, thanks very much, excellent explanation for us.

WILLIS: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: The search still is on for the source of salmonella- tainted tomatoes. We're getting new information about the outbreak. And members of Congress are asking a bigger question: Is our food safe?

Plus, John McCain's new issue with religious voters -- is he snubbing the Baptist Convention? Our "Strategy Session" is standing by.

And what happened to essential supplies that were supposed to go to Hurricane Katrina victims? A CNN special investigation uncovers the shocking reality. The government -- yes -- the government gave away the supplies, but not to the people who actually needed them.

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


BLITZER: We have this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM: new information from federal health officials on the tainted tomato outbreak that's left a lot of people sick across the country, a lot of other people very, very anxious.

Let's go to Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill. She's watching this story for us.

What are we just finding out right now, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we -- I just jumped off a call that the Food and Drug Administration officials were holding with reporters. And they say the numbers are up when it comes to this tomato contamination.

They said they last updated the number of reported illnesses on Monday. Then, it stood at 167 cases of illness, salmonella illness in 17 states. And, today, they just updated their numbers, and now it stands at 228 reported illnesses in 23 states.

And the FDA says they still have yet to identify the area where these contaminated tomatoes come from. Now, while the FDA continues to scramble to find the source of this contamination and this outbreak, a House committee is also trying to examine a larger issue of food safety and just how safe is the nation's food supply.

During this committee hearing just this morning on food safety, where the FDA was in the hot seat once again, the tomato scare was on the top of all the lawmakers' minds. And, as they pointed out, this recent scare is just the latest in a very long list of outbreaks.

Listen here.


REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: We know it is time for action. People are so weary of rhetoric and talk and saying we have a plan, but nothing gets done. My goodness gracious. Certainly, this issue should rise to a level of importance to you. And you have had time.


BOLDUAN: Now, the FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of a majority of the nation's food supply.

And, to that end, this very same House committee today voted to issue subpoenas for information from nine private labs. These labs were responsible for testing foods that are being brought into the country. Now, this is part of an ongoing investigation that this committee has on.

These lawmakers have raised concerns over these private labs and their testing practices and whether or not they're trying to get around some FDA food safety rules -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan watching this story for us -- when you get more information, Kate, let us know.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We will update our viewers.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session," McCain vs. Obama. While some say McCain may have a problem with Southern Baptists, Obama is aggressively courting the evangelical vote right now. Could 2008 change the equation on how people of faith vote? And McCain's attempt to cast more doubt on Obama's vice presidential search team, is he really trying to call Obama's judgment, his overall judgment, into question?

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


BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session," John McCain is a no-show at the Southern Baptist Convention.

So, how might evangelical voters react to this?

Let's discuss. Joining us now, the Democratic strategist Jonathan Prince, a former deputy campaign manager for John Edwards, used to work in the Clinton White House, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden, a former spokesman for Mitt Romney.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

What do you think? As a good Republican, what do you think? Should John McCain be going to the Southern Baptist Convention?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, outreach to evangelicals is going on, on a regular basis with the McCain campaign.

But the problem is with all campaigns, as you know, the candidate can't be everywhere at once. So, right now, John McCain is in New York getting ready for a town hall meeting at Federal Hall tonight, where he's going to try to engage undecided voters and talk to America about the issue they care about.


BLITZER: But it does send a sort of message to the Southern Baptists.

MADDEN: I would probably worry more, Wolf, if there wasn't robust outreach to a lot of these influential folks in these influential areas of the country that have constituencies within the evangelical community. That's where the work is being done right now. And I think that's probably where it's best applied.

BLITZER: And the strategy I see from Barack Obama, he's aggressively going after what we call these...


BLITZER: ... these voters of faith.

PRINCE: He sure is. And he ought to be.

And what Kevin didn't say is that it's true you have got to make a lot of decisions when you're planning out the scheduling for a potential candidate. One of those rules is kind of make sure that, when you show up to a party, it's a party that's going to be happy to see you.

And that's why Barack Obama is making such an effort to go after this group, because John McCain has got problems with...


BLITZER: Well, you think, if he would have shown up to these convention, Southern Baptist Convention, he would have been booed?

MADDEN: John McCain?


MADDEN: Oh, absolutely not.

Look, John McCain is right with the evangelicals on a lot of the issues. They care about the issues like life. John McCain has a long history of supporting on issues like that. The idea that Barack Obama is going to appeal to social conservatives anywhere in the country is absurd, I think.

PRINCE: Well, the notion really is that Barack Obama is going to appeal to folks because a great portion of the evangelical community care about folks who are not doing as well. There's a great compassion among folks like Jim Wallis on the progressive side who have really kind of brought that to the fore. That gives a real opening for Barack.

BLITZER: Because of the -- like global warming, for example, poverty, HIV-AIDS. These are issues a lot of evangelicals are looking at right now as well.


MADDEN: It is true. The evangelical movement is evolving on a lot of these issues. But John McCain's been right on all those issues.


PRINCE: I think, if you look at the new analysis by I think it was Brookings and the Urban Institute that came out on tax policy, you would see that, talking about issues of poverty, for example, Barack Obama's tax cuts will be three times the size of John McCain's big tax cut for folks who -- you know, middle-class folks and working-class.

BLITZER: Is it smart for the McCain camp, as a strategist, to be going after the Jim Johnsons, the -- now the Eric Holders, these guys who vet -- that vet these prospective candidates for the number-two slot on the presidential ticket?


It's been a very good week for the McCain campaign, because they have drawn blood on the issue. Look, I think, any time that you have a chance to show that Barack Obama is not a transcendental figure, but I instead a conventional politician, with conventional, liberal views, they win.

And they did that this week. They showed that, here's Barack Obama. He went out there talking about mortgage crisis and demonizing that whole industry. Yet, he's got somebody on his veep vetting team, the leader of this veep vetting team having had sweetheart deals from these -- from these mortgage companies. It shows the hypocrisy and it shows that he's ever bit the conventional politician.

BLITZER: And what they're trying to do is raise questions about his judgment as well.

PRINCE: Right.

I think the idea that Americans are going to look at Barack Obama's choice to do -- the lawyer to run the background checks on his vice presidential candidates and somehow connect that to his judgment is just comic, particularly when, on the issues of the day that really matter, his judgment has been flawless.

He's been against the war in Iraq from the beginning, while Senator McCain is ready to double down in Iraq.

BLITZER: But it is sort of embarrassing, the guy you hire to be in charge of looking at prospective vice presidential running mates has to step down because he doesn't want to be a distraction.


PRINCE: It's comic. It's kind of like, yes, OK, it's a bummer. But the only people about care about it are people like...


BLITZER: McCain has had several lobbyists who have had to step down. He's basically told them, you know what? You're a distraction. Move on.

MADDEN: Look, I think John McCain has a concrete reputation in Washington, a concrete reputation outside of Washington, as somebody who's never been beholden to special interests, has always been a straight shooter. He's been very, very important on a lot of the reform issues in the Senate and in the country. People know that.

So, the idea that you're going to try to assault John McCain on those issues, it just doesn't work.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jon?

PRINCE: I think that that -- the brand that John McCain has worked so hard to build over the course of the last seven or eight years, but, on the big issues of the day now, as his kind of presidential ambition has taken control of his decision-making process, all that's kind of changed and gone by the wayside.

He likes to talk about how he used to criticize the war in Iraq. Now, like I said, he's for accelerating and staying there for 100 years. He's retreated from his positions on global warming and basically taken the president's side. He supports a $4 billion giveaway to the five biggest oil companies. I think that, the more folks find out about these aspects of John McCain's plans, they're going to understand that the whole maverick brand has kind of been shunted aside.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by, because our discussion will continue. Appreciate it very much.

Straight ahead: more on the U.S. Supreme Court's newest blow to the Bush administration. It's now ruled that foreign terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay can, in fact, challenge their detention in federal civilian courts. Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is just back from Guantanamo Bay. He is going to be here to discuss the ramifications of this major decision.

And if John McCain and Barack Obama can't use their influence as candidates with fellow senators, will they be able to do so as president? Something each of them wants is not necessarily working out. We will explain.

Stay with us. We will be right back.


BLITZER: This just coming in to our CNN Political Ticker.

We have just confirmed that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has now officially suspended his presidential campaign. He will announce a new effort to help elect Libertarian-leaning Republicans to public offices around the country. A Ron Paul spokesman says the announcement is expected during a speech outside the Texas Republican Convention.

We just went to his Web site. The announcement is already there.

Ron Paul will be among our guests here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. If you want to send us a question, an I-Report video question, go to and send us a question for Ron Paul tomorrow.

John McCain goes north of the border next week to deliver a speech about free trade to the Economic Club of Canada. The Republican is expected to once again chide Barack Obama for saying the North American Free Trade Agreement should be renegotiated, and accusing the Democratic rival of his of protectionism.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, reportedly wants to change the 2012 presidential primary calendar to reduce the influence of both Iowa and New Hampshire. The "A.P." quoting Reid as saying the current system is -- quote -- "fundamentally flawed." "A.P." reports, Reid said all that to Democrats at a private fund-raiser in Michigan -- that state still smarting from its disputed Democratic primary and the party's compromise plan to seat Michigan's delegates at the convention with half-a-vote each. Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out That's where you can download our new political screen-saver and where you can check out my latest blog post. Wrote one before the show on the ramifications of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision today.

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

CAFFERTY: That's the third time the Supreme Court's ruled against the administration on the treatment of these people, isn't it?

BLITZER: Yes, it is.

CAFFERTY: And the last two times, they just changed the law. So...


BLITZER: That's what they're probably going to try to do this time, if they can.

CAFFERTY: And I love President Bush's reaction. He said, this is a deeply divided court. It's the same vote that gave him the presidency in 2000, 5-4, right?


CAFFERTY: These guys are amazing.

The question this hour: What does it mean when Congress refuses to even consider 35 articles of impeachment, 35, against President Bush, not even going to take a look?

Bruce, Saint Paul, Minnesota, writes: "If this happened in a family, Nancy Pelosi would be called an enabler and sent to family counseling. This has been the greatest abuse of power since Reagan didn't sell weapons to Iran, give money to the Contras, or remember doing anything about it. To ignore it for political expediency only makes Congress an accomplice. It sends a message abuse of privilege and government corruption are just business as usual. We deserve better."

Allison in San Diego: "I wouldn't mind seeing the Democrats debating impeachment, and it wouldn't seem like a waste of time to me, even at this late date. Seems to me it would be better to make a statement that we will not allow another inept president to run this country and our Constitution into the ground."

B. writes: "Congress abrogated its constitutional role as the third branch of government shortly after 9/11 by giving Bush a free pass and refusing to act as a proper check and balance to the power of the presidency. The Democrats had a chance to put Congress back in play when they gained a majority, but they let the opportunity slip away. Impeachment would expose Congress' voluntary impotence and shortcomings at a time when they are focused on trying to win the upcoming election." Cindy writes: "Because Bush is a lame duck anyway. The damage is done. Spending time discussing things in the past takes away time spent on the future. I think history will not look kindly on the Bush administration."

Robert writes: "Jack, as long as Bush is in office, the Democrats have the presidential election locked up. It's kind of sad, really, but that's the political reality."

And it is summertime. And we got this from James in Florida: "Dear Jack, please don't let McCain veto our beers."


CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, and look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.