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Obama Apologizes to Muslim Community; President Bush Challenges Democrats Over Offshore Drilling; Tim Russert's Memorial Service

Aired June 18, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, their fight over your security -- the presidential candidates stepping up their sparring over the war on terror, even as they find an hour-and-a-half today to sit together right here in Washington. Stand by for details on what happened.

Plus, a shift in the landscape of McCain vs. Obama. New battleground state polls are now out. And we're making a big change in CNN's electoral map, allocating a crucial tossup state to one of the candidates. You're going to want to see what is going on.

And Barack Obama apologizes to members of the Muslim community. We're taking a closer look at an incident involving two women in head scarves that prompted a civil rights group to complain -- all that and the best political team on television.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The politics of soaring gas prices ratcheting up right now, the ramifications for all of us who hate paying $4 a gallon enormous. President Bush warning Democratic leaders in Congress today, there is no excuse for delaying new energy exploration. His new call to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling comes only one day after John McCain laid out his own plan to do exactly that.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry. He's watching the story for us.

Important new developments with serious ramifications. What's the latest?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. Yesterday, Senator McCain reversed his position, now embracing this offshore oil drilling.

And, within 24 hours, President Bush has jumped aboard. And this could really complicate McCain's efforts to distance himself from this White House.


HENRY (voice-over): Republican John McCain is trying to appeal to independent voters by saying he is no President Bush.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president must be willing to break with the energy policies, not just of the current administration, but the administrations that preceded it, and lead a great national campaign to achieve energy security for America.

HENRY: And yet the president and McCain are marching in lockstep on how to deal with $4-a-gallon gas. They are demanding Democrats end the federal ban on offshore drilling, claiming it could lead to a drop in oil prices given the expectation of increased supply.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions.

HENRY: A clear attempt to spread political blame from a president fearful a recession could mar his legacy.

But Democrat Barack Obama fired back that offshore drilling will not help lower gas prices in the short term.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At best, you're looking at five years or more down the road. And even the most optimistic assumptions indicate that offshore drilling might reduce the overall world price of oil by a few cents.

HENRY: But Obama's solution, a push for plug-in hybrid cars and other alternatives to oil, will not give consumers short-term relief either.

And congressional Democrats are determined to block the president's push for offshore drilling, currently prohibited by a 1981 law and a 1990 executive order.

BUSH: When Congress lifts the legislative ban, I will lift the executive prohibition.

HENRY: A fascinating family drama, since it was the president's father who signed that order banning offshore drilling, while his brother Jeb more recently opposed such drilling as governor of Florida.


HENRY: Now, not necessarily the same qualms for the current governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. He's long been an opponent of this offshore drilling. He now has an open mind about it, since Senator McCain embraced it.

Obviously, Crist's name has come up as a possible vice presidential running mate. That might be why he's leaving the door open on that position. But, in the long run, the fact that President Bush has now embraced this position as well could really make it more difficult for John McCain to say that he's independent, to restore that sort of maverick image -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One high-profile governor hates this idea, doesn't he?

HENRY: That's right. There's a perfect example. The Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, putting out a statement saying he still does not believe it makes sense to have offshore drilling off the coast of his state of California. That's a dramatic example, a state that John McCain thought maybe he could play against the Democrats, California.

When you have got the moderate Republican governor now saying he's not happy about this policy, it's going to make it that much more difficult for McCain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thank you.

Barack Obama and John McCain both argue they would do better at capturing, killing or otherwise bringing terrorists to justice. And they are pressing their cases by pounding each other, each claiming the other would be soft or naive.

Dana Bash is watching this story for us.

It seems on this issue, the war on terror, it's heating up.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does seem that way, Wolf.

Senator McCain's campaign, you will remember, picked this fight with Obama on this issue, because they think it is a battle on what aides call his turf, experience and national security. But McCain just finished a press conference. And he didn't bring up the barbs that his surrogates have been throwing at Obama, didn't even talk about it until he was asked when his press conference was almost done.

It was perplexing, to say the least. But, Wolf, regardless, when it comes to the underlying issue, what all this shows is that there are some pretty stark differences for voters to choose from.


BASH (voice-over): The presidential candidates and their surrogates hammered away at the latest campaign fault line, fighting terrorism.

MCCAIN: He doesn't have an understanding of the nature of the threat. And I look will forward to that debate quite often in the future. And I think the American people will agree.

B. OBAMA: George Bush and John McCain have been weak on terrorism. Their approach has failed. Because of the policies, we are less safe, less respected, less able to lead the world.

BASH: But the fiery to and fro may mask stark differences between the candidates on a key issue, how to treat and try suspected terrorists. John McCain does not believe foreign suspects have broad rights to appeal their detention, as the Supreme Court ruled last week.

MCCAIN: To treat enemy combatants, who are not citizens, and give them the sat rights as an American citizen, this is a decision that will harm our ability to detainee and prosecute individuals who are enemy combatants.

BASH: Barack Obama insists, detainees should not have the same rights as Americans, but should be able to challenge their detention in a civilian court.

B. OBAMA: My approach is guided by a simple premise. I have confidence that our system of justice and that our traditions of rule of law are strong enough to deal with terrorists.

BASH: To bolster his argument, Obama said this week that the 1993 World Trade Center suspects were -- quote -- "incapacitated by being convicted in U.S. courts."

That's where camp McCain pounced, saying, in hindsight, that trial is a glaring example in errors of fighting terrorism to learn from, not repeat.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: America should have gone on offense against terrorism. We didn't.

BASH: Obama calls that:

B. OBAMA: Demonstrably false, since I have laid out a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes military force, intelligence operations, financial sanctions, and diplomatic action.


BASH: Now, for all of their differences, the candidates actually agree on the fundamental issue that detainees should actually get a trial, which, at least at the beginning of this debate post-9/11, there was definitely some debate about that, particularly inside the Bush administration.

And they also agree on the idea that Guantanamo is a scar on the United States' image. Of course, the big question right now, Wolf, is which one of these candidates is going to be best from the point of view of voters to restore that image.

BLITZER: On a major issue of substance, the war on terror.

Dana, thanks very much for that.

I want to get to the race for the Electoral College votes right now, the Holy Grail in this presidential election season. We're making a big change in CNN's electoral map.

And here's why. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Barack Obama leading John McCain in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania by 12 points. So, right now, check out our CNN electoral map. We're changing Pennsylvania from a tossup yellow color to Obama's light blue.

CNN now considers Pennsylvania to be leaning Obama. And that gives the Democrat 21 more electoral votes than he had heading into today, for a total 211 -- 270 are needed to win the White House. McCain stands at 194 electoral votes. That's by our estimate. His states are in red or light red.

That leaves 133 electoral votes up for grabs in those so-called tossup states. In other battleground states today, by the way, according to that new Quinnipiac poll, Obama is up by four points in Florida and six points in Ohio. It's a shift for the Democrat, but not enough to change our electoral map involving those two states.

Let's turn to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's pretty remarkable stuff, isn't it?

Only two weeks after the end of the Democratic primaries and suddenly Obama seizes the lead in three battleground states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. And right before the end of the primaries, everybody was saying, well, he has got no chance. He can't carry those battleground states. Only Hillary Clinton can win in the battleground states. Now he's got three of them under his belt and it's only been over for 14 days. Would you call that stunning?

BLITZER: It's very impressive. But, remember, we have still got almost five months to go.

CAFFERTY: I knew you were going to say that.

Can you tell it's an election year? Well, after a moratorium against drilling for oil in Alaska in the National Wildlife Refuge and off the coast of the U.S. for the last 27 years, all of a sudden, the politicians are saying, to hell with the environment and the tourism industries in places like Florida. Let's drill for oil right now.

It's funny how gas hits four bucks a gallon, politicians throw their principles out the window. You used to be able to buy them for less than that. President Bush, John McCain both favor drilling, as though it's going to take the place of a coherent energy policy, something this country has probably never had, at least not in my lifetime.

If exploration started today, oil industry experts say it could take 10 years before you could pump the oil from the coastal areas in Alaska into your car as gasoline. The economic implications for states like Florida, that rely heavily on tourism, are immense.

In the event of a leak or a spill, the entire coastline could be ruined. Remember the Exxon Valdez? The political implications for John McCain's run for the White House, huge. If coastal drilling happens in California, McCain can forget about it. Californians are among the most environmental conscious folks in the country. They are staunchly opposed to drilling off their coastline for oil.

Their governor, Schwarzenegger, made that very clear today. Florida could react the same way. Clean beaches are vital to that state's economy. But, suddenly, Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, who some think is positively salivating at the chance to be McCain's V.P., is all in favor.

Up until yesterday -- yesterday -- he was opposed. Critics of the idea point out the oil companies currently have 68 million acres under offshore lease that are not being developed at all. But critics be damned, full speed ahead. It's an election year, and the voters are mad about gas prizes.

Here's the question: Is drilling for oil in Alaska in the National Wildlife Refuge and off the coast the answer to high gasoline prices?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

You sure you wouldn't think that was a stunning turnaround, Wolf?

BLITZER: Impressive. We're very impressed. Got a little bounce of the -- Hillary dropping out, right?

CAFFERTY: Oh, really?

BLITZER: We will talk about it in a few minutes, Jack. Stand by.

Trying to get Jack going a little bit.

Democrats say they know the answer to Jack's question: Elect them. But what did the last Democratic administration actually do to lower gas prices and fix the energy crisis?


GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, in the Clinton administration, we pushed for renewable energy, for fuel efficiency. We should have pushed harder.


BLITZER: The New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, was the energy secretary during the Clinton years. What does he think about drilling offshore? Stand by.

Also, did people working for Barack Obama ban some Muslim women from sitting near him at a campaign rally in Michigan?

And tragedy brings Obama and John McCain together today. They sat side by side, chatted at length at Tim Russert's funeral. You're going to find out what happened there.

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


BLITZER: Would it ease your pain at the pump or is it just an election year feel-good measure?

Let's get back to our top story, the debate over drilling off America's coasts.


BLITZER: And joining us now from New York, the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, himself a former energy secretary during the Clinton administration.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president now supporting John McCain, saying that you have got to lift the ban on offshore drilling, given the crisis that's going on in the country right now, $4, some places closer to $5, for a gallon of gas.

I know you have said that would take some 10 years for it to have an impact. Some suggest maybe it could have an impact as quickly as five years. But you have got to get started sometime, don't you?

RICHARDSON: No. It's a very bad idea.

First of all, it will take 30 years before it affects gas prices, lowering them. And it's going to take those 10 years to start the drilling.

The president is addicted, once again, to drilling, drilling, drilling as a solution. The answer is a long-term policy that deals with substantial policies that promote conservation, fuel efficiency in vehicles, an emphasis on renewable energy.

This own president just last week worked with the oil companies to defeat in the U.S. Senate a provision that gives an investment tax credit to continue for renewable and solar energy. Yet, they're drilling, drilling, drilling just whatever...

BLITZER: But, in the short term, there is a lot of oil. There's oil supplies out there. Don't you have to increase the supply in order to reduce the price?

RICHARDSON: I don't mind drilling in an environmentally sustainable way in states like New Mexico, the West, in continental United States. That's fine.

Why don't we do that? We do have to go to fragile ecosystems, the coast of Florida, the coast of California, with no measurable impact? But the main point is that -- our continued addiction to petroleum. Why not develop new sources of energy? Push for renewable technology. Find ways to have transportation systems, so that we have more light and commuter rail. (CROSSTALK)

RICHARDSON: Find ways that the American people deal with appliances much more energy-efficient way, energy building.


BLITZER: What about nuclear power? McCain and President Bush, they said build more nuclear plants. Obama seems to be open to that idea. What about you?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think that nuclear power is an option. But we have got to resolve the waste issue, some safety issues. But it doesn't emit greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem, Wolf, is our energy policy pushed by this administration dramatically favors coal, oil, and nuclear, at the expense of solar, wind, biomass, biodiesel, biofuels, which I believe are the energy technologies of the future that are going to lead us away from a dependence on fossil fuel, reducing global climate change. I think it's a sensible, not just environmental policy, but national security policy.


BLITZER: Looking back on your years as the energy secretary back in the '90s, what should you have done differently that might have helped avert this current crisis?

RICHARDSON: Well, in the Clinton administration, we pushed for renewable energy, for fuel efficiency. We should have pushed harder.

And I'm the first to say that both Republican and Democratic administrations have not come forth with a sustainable long-range energy policy, because there are too many lobbies. There are too many special interests. We also have to say to the American people that we may need to sacrifice a little bit in terms of our appliances and the way we live and the way we work and how we transport ourselves.

We're not doing that. We should have a dramatic emphasis on green buildings and green jobs and energy-efficient technologies. And I think the future is in renewable. But all we seem to do is want to drill more, whatever the energy and oil companies want, and that's not good energy policy.

BLITZER: Let's make the turn to national security right now. You're in New York. The former mayor there, Rudy Giuliani, today accused Barack Obama of having what he called a pre-9/11 mentality. He sees these terrorists like Osama bin Laden out there as a criminal justice issue, as opposed to fighting the war on terror -- that's the charge Giuliani and McCain supporters make.

Do you want to respond to that?

RICHARDSON: Well, sure. That's false. Senator Obama has a very strong policy against terrorism that deals with improving port security, homeland security, not the way this administration has done, that has cut homeland security, but also recognizing that the way we rebuild our alliances around the world is a safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq, that has made us today less safe, this policy.

And, so, what Senator Obama wants to do is use not just strong homeland security and military power, if necessary, to protect us from terrorists, but soft power, too, diplomacy, negotiation.


BLITZER: Well, what about if you pick up al Qaeda suspects? Should they be given the rights of American citizens, allowed to get due process in a criminal justice system, or should there be special, special rules, which is what the Bush administration wants for what they call enemy combatants?

RICHARDSON: I totally disagree with the Bush policy.

You know, Wolf, we have to protect our country from terrorists, but we don't have to be like them by abridging our own freedoms. You know what I would do? The biggest weapon -- I just got back from the Middle East, from Europe -- is shut down Guantanamo. Bring back due process. Bring back habeas corpus, eliminate this torture policy, stop eavesdropping on our own citizens.

We are stronger -- we are stronger by taking moral leadership around the world. That's an America that the world wants to follow, not taking these steps that abridge our own freedoms and are not working and are in many cases against our own principles.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, thanks for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tragedy brings people together.


BLITZER: Today, fierce presidential rivals sat side by side for an hour-and-a-half at Tim Russert's funeral. We are going to tell you how Barack Obama and John McCain put aside their differences for such a solemn occasion.

And Obama is apparently being defend by an unlikely defender. That would be Republican Mike Huckabee. The man who ran against John McCain is warning McCain supporters, if you do one specific thing to Obama, you could lose.

And look at this live picture that -- it's a live picture from here in Washington, the nation's capital. Look that this rainbow over the Capitol. What a stunning picture that is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Now to a remarkable moment in the presidential campaign. And it happened today, John McCain and Barack Obama, rivals for the highest office in the land, sitting together, chatting like a couple of pals.

And joining us now, our Washington bureau chief, David Bohrman.

David, you and I saw something really pretty amazing today at Tim Russert's funeral mass in Georgetown.

DAVID BOHRMAN, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, we had expected a moving service and VIPs in Washington to turn out. And I think we thought that we might see Senators Obama and McCain. But they walked down the aisle pretty shortly after one another and then they sat down together.

BLITZER: They sat right next to each other. And they were deeply engrossed in conversation. We could see them. We were only a few rows away.


BOHRMAN: They were four rows in front and right across the aisle from where I was. And you were right next to me.

And the 15 or 20 minutes before the service time, they were having what seemed to be a great conversation. The body language was warm and friendly. They were talking. And they weren't making jokes, but they were really engaged in a conversation.

And it struck me that this is an only-in-America kind of a moment, that here we were at the funeral service for the son of a sanitation worker in Buffalo, and these two men, one of whom is going to be president in a few months, were sitting, having the warmest conversation you could imagine.

BLITZER: And you know what went through my mind was, here was Tim Russert, our friend who died so suddenly last Friday of a heart attack. Even in his death, he was able to bring these two presidential candidates together for that hour-and-a-half funeral mass, for that hour-and-a-half service.

And Cardinal McCarrick, who officiated, he made a point of it. And then Luke Russert...

BOHRMAN: Well, Luke actually lectured them.

BLITZER: The son, the son, he -- and tell our viewers what Luke said, because it was pretty poignant and it was so Tim Russert at the same time.

BOHRMAN: Well, he addressed journalists. He addressed people that have lost people.

But then he addressed politicians and Senators McCain and Obama. He said, keep the discussion at a high level. He said, don't stoop to calling each other names. And then he said the best thing of all. He said, if you have changed your mind, admit it. He said, that's what my father got most people on. He would put up a quote, and it didn't agree with what they were thinking now. And they pretended like they had never said it. He said, people change their mind. So, if you change your mind, Senator Obama, Senator McCain, just admit it and move on.

BLITZER: And it was really a nice tribute to Tim, the fact that these two presidential candidates could take some time away from their campaigning, come to church, spend an hour and a half together, sitting right next to each other, amidst a lot of other politicians and well-known journalists and celebrities and just average folks, and make a statement like that. I have got to tell you, it was pretty moving for me, too.

BOHRMAN: And hats off to the Secret Service. They kept their distance. They weren't surrounding them the way they do so often. They were several rows further back and they let the moment happen and they didn't intrude at all.

BLITZER: David, thanks very much.

BOHRMAN: Thanks.

BLITZER: As floodwaters surge down the Mississippi River, new communities are threatened, and more levees are close to the breaking point. We're going to live to the flood zone and a city in crisis.

Michelle Obama is trying to give voters a broader picture of who she is and what she stands for. Was TV's "The View" the place to do it today?

The best political team on television is standing by.

And they will debate the wisdom of Mike Huckabee's warning to Republicans not to demonize Barack Obama.

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


BLITZER: Happening now, disaster unfolding in the Midwest. Floodwaters breaching at least 20 levees, with 30 more at risk. We're about to take you live to the flood zone.

Also, a huge twist in one of the largest military contracts ever. Congressional auditors now urging the U.S. Air Force to reopen bidding on a fleet of air tankers, citing errors in the initial progress. This is a victory for Boeing, which lost the $35 billion deal to Northrop Grumman.

Then, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says North Korea is finally about to declare its nuclear programs, more than six months late. That sets the stage for the United States to formally remove North Korea from its list of terrorist sponsors.

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

There's water as far as the eye can see, causing the worst natural disaster in the United States since Hurricane Katrina. President Bush will go to the region tomorrow. He'll be seeing scenes of utter devastation. Right now, it's the man versus the Mississippi in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Crews are desperately trying to shore up levees.

Our CNN meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf, is in Quincy, Illinois. He's joining us now with waders.

It looks like they're working behind you with those sandbags. What's going on, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the latest we have, Wolf, this is a staging error, as you mentioned, in Quincy, Illinois, where what we're doing is filling up these sandbags, putting these into front loaders, like this one you see here behind me. And we've got of America's finest right behind me, some of these are Reservists. And they've been working here since sun-up. They're going to be here long after the sun goes down.

And the objective is simple -- get as many of these sandbags as they possibly can into these front loaders. We put them in. They eventually go in trucks farther off in the distance. And then those trucks take these sandbags to, well, wherever they're needed, which happens to be nearly 100 miles up and down the river.

It's going to be a big effort. It's an effort that they've really been working hard at, not just the Reservists here, but members of many communities. And let's see, we've got some folks from the Amish community over here. We've had some people from the Latter Day Saints Church have been here. It's been a great cross-section not only of locals, but people from states away, people from around the country all coming together to battle this immense flood.

That's the latest we've got here, Wolf. It's a big story. We're going to follow it for you throughout the rest of the weekend and into possibly next week -- back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Reynolds Wolf.

Thanks very much.

Reynolds on top of this story.

Let's get right back to the race for the White House right now. Oil a huge campaign issue that could prove slippery for both John McCain and Barack Obama.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, she's here in Washington; our own Jack Cafferty and our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. They're both in New York. They're all part of the best political team on television.

A lot of Americans are very worried, as you well know. And they're having trouble paying $4, $4.50, in some places, almost $5 a gallon. They want the supply to go up to bring the price down. And President Bush and John McCain say they have a solution to that.

Jack, what do you think?

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, I don't know if it's a solution or not. The entertainment value in this is watching the politicians jump around like catfish in a hot skillet because gasoline prices have finally reached the tipping point during an election year.

John McCain was against offshore drilling. Now he's for it. Florida Governor Charlie Crist was against off-shore drilling until yesterday, when McCain said he was for it. Now Charlie Crist is for it. President Bush is for it, which not only hurts John McCain politically -- because now the Republicans can say see, they're just alike, Bush and McCain.

There are 68 million acres of land under lease to the major oil companies as you and I sit here talking which are not being explored or drilled in or developed in any way.

So all of this political razzmatazz about the wildlife refuge in Alaska and offshore -- I don't know, you know, whether it's going to solve our energy problems, but it's a great political show. These guys are unbelievable.

BLITZER: What do you think, Candy? What's going on here?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, look, I think a couple of things. First of all, I think it shows just in general that when politicians approach a subject -- and we have some culpability in this -- they are required to be one way or the other. And it's very gray. So now we've come up to a subject where it is very gray.

Because, on the one hand, the entire country wants to be greener. So they've been out there talking about alternative energy sources and windmills and all that kind of thing. And, on the other hand, consumers are paying more than $4 for a gallon of gasoline.

So they have these two kind of competing issues that make it not a black or white answer, but a gray answer. I think both sides in this, Obama and McCain, are struggling with how to find that sweet spot, where they're addressing what have been competing concerns.

BLITZER: Jeff, the governor of California, himself a moderate Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, issued a statement saying: "California's coastline is an international treasure. I do not support lifting this moratorium on new oil drilling off our coast."

The political question is this -- does this mean California is really unreachable for John McCain?

And what about Florida, because it's been a sensitive issue there, as well? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: Well, I think California is completely off the map. Florida, of course, is very much in the middle of this presidential campaign. And what's so interesting about this is that this is really Economics 101, because when you want to lower the price of a product, you can raise supply, like John McCain wants to do -- get more oil out of the ground. Or you can reduce demand, like Barack Obama wants to do, with conservation, with alternative fuels.

What economics doesn't cover is what's -- economists -- sorry, economists call externalities, which is pollution, global warming. That's the problem that I think McCain has, is that his problem -- his solution doesn't really address that really at all.

BLITZER: All right guys, stand by.


BLITZER: Stand by, Jack.

CAFFERTY: this. That's the fact that oil is still -- is priced in dollars. And the value of the dollar has gone down precipitously over the last couple of years. So until the value of the dollar begins to recover, the price of a barrel of oil is going to remain high to reflect the decline in the value of the dollar. And no amount of supply or demand is going to affect the value of the greenback (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: That is...

CAFFERTY: is what it is.

BLITZER: That's an excellent point.

All right guys, stand by. We're going to take a quick break and continue this conversation.

Mike Huckabee has a warning for his fellow Republicans and it has to do with Barack Obama. You're going to find out what the former Republican presidential candidate is saying, what he's warning could be a fatal mistake for his party.

Plus, is Michelle Obama going for an image makeover? Does she even need one?

We'll talk about it with the best political team on television, right after this.


BLITZER: Former Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, is issuing a warning to Republicans. This is what he's saying -- the Republicans will make a fundamental, if not fatal mistake, if they seek to win the election by demonizing Barack Obama.

Good advice, Jeff, or does negative politics, attack ads, really work?

TOOBIN: I think it's bad advice. I think those kind of ads are very successful. They worked very well against John Kerry. And in this environment in particular, where the issues favor Obama so much -- the war in Iraq, dissatisfaction with the economy -- I think attacking Obama is the only way the Republicans have any chance of winning this race.

BLITZER: Candy, what do you think?

CROWLEY: Well, but there's a difference between attacking Obama, which surely they will, as he will attack them, and demonizing him. So I'm assuming what Huckabee was talking about was you need not go where the Internet has gone. You need not bring up these is he a, you know, an African-centric candidate, is he a Muslim, is he a -- you need not to push those things. Because I think if there's one thing that the Obama campaign has shown and what I've seen out there on the rail is that there is a real desperation for some of the nastiness to be gone.

I think going after him and saying, look, he's a tax and spend liberal, he's a this, he's a that, I think absolutely they need to do that. I think demonizing is different. I think Huckabee -- I think that's what Huckabee was trying to say there.

BLITZER: All right. Let me make a quick turn to Michelle Obama, Jack. I'll play a clip. She was on "The View." And I want you to tell us what you think about this, this notion of her getting a makeover.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel there was any sexism in the media?

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: There is -- yes. There's always a level of -- people aren't used to strong women.


M. OBAMA: And I don't think that -- there are times when we don't even know how to talk about this. And, so, yes, there was obviously that. There was also, you know, there were elements of racism. That will go on.


BLITZER: What do you think about all this, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know. I think saying she's going -- undergoing a makeover is not accurate at all. I think the country doesn't know very much about Michelle Obama or, for that matter, about Cindy McCain. And there's a getting to know process that's probably underway right now.

This is a woman who went to Princeton University and graduated from Harvard Law School, and is probably, in the grand scheme of things, vastly overqualified to preside at the national tree lighting and the Easter egg roll, as Jeff Toobin would be, because he went to Harvard Law School, as well.


CAFFERTY: To suggest that she somehow is undergoing or needs a makeover is nonsense.

And I think what we're seeing is a kind of a get to know the folks tour, not unlike the one John McCain took shortly after wrapping up the nomination.

BLITZER: Good point. Good point.

What do you think, Candy?

CROWLEY: I think that there is going to be a difference in emphasis for Michelle Obama. They are aware in the Obama campaign that there is building up this sort of, oh, she's harsh; oh, she's mean; oh, she's angry; kind of story line. And what you have to do if you're a politician or a politician's wife, anyone involved in that campaign, is to get out there and define yourself before other people's definition of you hardens. And that's what they're worried about.

I think what you're seeing is what you're going to get here with Michelle Obama -- more of an emphasis on her roots and more of an emphasis on her role as a mother and kind of making that balance, because, obviously, that's something a lot of women can relate to.

BLITZER: All right. Good point.

TOOBIN: I -- I just think this is an example of the media -- media echo chamber out of control. Here's a woman, as Jack said, Harvard Law School, worked for a great big law firm in Chicago, representing corporate clients, became vice president of a hospital.

How does that turn someone into being a radical or harsh?

BLITZER: All right...

TOOBIN: I mean it's just -- it's totally made up.


BLITZER: All of you making excellent points, as usual, guys.

Thanks very much.

Jack, don't leave -- "The Cafferty File "coming up.

There was an embarrassment of sorts for Barack Obama's campaign. You're going to find out why he's now apologizing for an incident involving two Muslim women. We'll tell you what happened.

Plus, the emotional and remarkable tribute to NBC's Tim Russert by his son. We're going to show you what happened right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Lou is standing by with a little preview -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Coming up at the top of the hour, our big show. We'll be reporting tonight a common sense victory for America's working men and women. The General Accountability Office today, after almost three months of investigation, concluded that Boeing should have that new refueling tanker contract. The Air Force had awarded the critical contract to a European consortium that makes the Airbus.

And protecting our nation's borders becoming more and more dangerous. A deadly booby trap found on a border road regularly traveled by our Border Patrol Agents.

Please join us for those stories and a great deal more at 7:00 Eastern, for an Independent perspective on all the day's news -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lou, very much.

The Obama camp is trying to assure Muslim supporters he's glad to have them on his side after accounts of an embarrassing incident.

Brian Todd is watching this story.

What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Muslim groups are very upset about this incident. It occurred at a rally earlier this week -- a rally with former Vice President Gore.

Two Muslim women who were wearing head scarves claimed they were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers.

We spoke with two relatives of one of those women. One of the relatives told us that an Obama volunteer said because of the political climate and "what's going on in the world," it wouldn't be good for her to be seen on TV and associated with Obama.

The Obama campaign sent us this statement: "This is, of course, not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together and simply is not the kind of campaign we run. We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers."

An Obama aide tells us they are investigating these incidents, but they also want to point out they believe this is anomaly. They point to other rallies, like one in Seattle in February, where you can see someone in Muslim wear behind Obama, other images like this photograph here they say show that Senator Obama is clearly not concerned about being shown with women wearing head scarves. The brother of one of the women told us this does not change their feelings about Senator Obama. But this is a very sensitive topic for Barack Obama. He has denied rumors on the Internet and elsewhere that he's really Muslim. The nature of his denials have sometimes upset the Muslim community, so the campaign, Wolf, handling this with supreme sensitivity at this point.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf: Is drilling for oil in the Anwar National Wildlife Refuge and off the coast the answer to our high gasoline prices?

Isabel: "Ridiculous. We've been talking about drilling. It's time to knuckle down and demand more efficient vehicles from mfrs, search for and spend money on alternative energy sources and bit the bullet about gas prices. They're high. They're going to stay high until we learn to wean ourselves off oil."

Mark in Oklahoma City: "Drilling for oil in Alaska and offshore will probably not make our energy crisis go away. But for us to allow environmentalists to force us into an economic collapse to save caribou and a few other forms of sea life is absurd."

Brock writes: "Absolutely not. The answer to lowering gas prices is lowering demand. So maybe the politicians and voters that are supporting this idea should get off their lazy bottoms and start walking or riding their bikes more. I don't even own a car."

T. writes: "It's amazing how many people oppose a commonsense, rational idea, such as drilling for our own oil. They prefer to remain captive to OPEC and terrorist states."

Ed in Sebring, Florida writes: "The best way for us to pay for gas is to buy our politicians for what they're worth and then sell them to a foreign country for what they think they're worth. This would go a long way toward solving our economic problems, as well."

Ray in Florida says: "What I'd like to know is this -- where are we going to refine all this newfound oil? For years, we've been told it's not the shortage of oil that's driving up the price of gas, it's that we can't refine it fast enough. Either Bush and McCain are confused or they're pulling our gas nozzle."

And Andy writes: "Hi, Jack. By offshore, do you mean Iraq?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at We got a lot of very funny stuff this time around. There are hundreds of them there. You can spend the whole night if you wish.

BLITZER: I spend a lot of time reading those letters and comments.

Jack, thanks.

CAFFERTY: That's what's wrong with you.

BLITZER: I know.

Thank you.


BLITZER: A big mistake.

He was among Bruce Springsteen's biggest fans. Now, the late Tim Russert gets a touching tribute from "The Boss." We'll share it with you, when we come back.


BLITZER: Bruce Springsteen at a memorial service for Tim Russert. It was almost like an All Star version of "Meet The Press" -- members of the media, politicians and the two presumptive presidential nominees among those gathered today to bid a final farewell to Tim Russert.

Here are some of the sights and sounds.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: I'm Brian Williams. And until today, I thought his full name was Washington bureau chief, moderator of "Meet The Press," Tim Russert.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: He would say, "It's wild. Wild." My family, my closest friends from near and far, the powerful, the ordinary and the largest contingent of all in this room -- those who think that they should be his successor on "Meet The Press."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the 17 years that I've had the great honor to work with you and learn from you, you have never once steered me wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tim once said to me that he could never understand why a politician could not say, you're right, I've changed my mind on that issue. There was only one politician who could consistently give Tim the answer he craved. But that would mean bringing Abraham Lincoln back as Tim's guest on "Meet The Press".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a politician was serious, substantive, prepared and candid, he or she passed the Russert test. And they in America were better off for it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hear God. Here's little Timmy Russert. You're in heaven now, Tim, where every day is "Meet The Press". Welcome home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have lost the benefit of Tim's political wisdom at a time when we need it most. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace that wisdom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a boy of summer. He met his wife on a summer day. His son was born in summer. And so it is that we blow him a kiss goodbye on a soft summer evening, this sweetheart of a man who always, always left us smiling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Candidly, I'm not much for this talk that Tim's death is the end of what he stood for, his brand of objective journalism or all that he built up. I don't think Tim, candidly, would believe that, either.

LUKE RUSSERT, SON OF TIM RUSSERT: Well, my dad was a force much nature. And now his own cycle in nature is complete. But his spirit lives on in everybody who loves their country, loves their family, loves their faith and loves those Buffalo Bills. I love you, dad. And in his words, let us all go get 'em.


BLITZER: Yesterday when I went to the wake at St. Albans here in Washington, I got some time to speak with Luke, the 22-year-old son of Tim Russert. And he asked me to utter these words in honor of his dad and I will. I'll utter them right now for all of you. And they're simple words, indeed, reflecting our love for our joint hometown.

He asked me to say, go Bills. So I'll say it again, go Bills.

We miss you, Tim. Our deepest condolences to Luke, to Maureen, to Big Russ in Buffalo. A unique talent, a wonderful, wonderful human being.

That's it for us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Much more coming up tomorrow.

Let's go to Lou.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now -- Lou.