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Uniting the Democratic Party; Supreme Court Lifts D.C. Gun Ban; Rewarding North Korea

Aired June 26, 2008 - 18:00   ET


Happening now: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton together. They're on the brink of showing some unity. And he's talking at length about the issues you care about most. A brand-new interview he granted, that's coming up this hour.

Plus, Obama and McCain on an historic new chapter in the politics of gun control -- the U.S. Supreme Court upholding your Second Amendment rights in a way it's never done before.

And dramatic new progress in the nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea, President Bush seizing a rare chance to claim a diplomatic success. Critics are wary and even angry -- all that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

You're looking at live pictures right now at the entrance to the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington, D.C. This is the hotel where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will be walking in shortly to attend a fund-raiser. Hillary Clinton's fund-raisers are there. They're getting ready to meet not only Hillary Clinton, but also Barack Obama.

And we're going to be watching for their arrival. I don't know if they're going to be arriving together or separately, but our cameras will be focused in on the arrival of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue right here in Washington. We're watching this story to see how much unity there really is in the Democrat -- among the Democrats -- that story coming up. Stand by for their arrivals.

Meanwhile, another huge story we're watching today, a major symbol of North Korea's secretive nuclear ambitions soon to be blown to pieces. Hours from now, explosives will bring down the cooling tower at North Korea's main nuclear reactor.

Hours ago, North Korea revealed secrets of its nuclear program, handing over its long-awaited declaration to China. For that, the United States offering rewards. President Bush lifts some key trade sanctions against that nation and says he intends to remove North Korea from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Let's get the latest from our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She's joining us live on the phone right now. Also standing by, our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

Let's get the latest from Christiane.

You're in North Korea, in Pyongyang. You're getting ready to witness this explosion of this tower tomorrow. Take us behind the scenes, Christiane. What do we know and what do we see?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is extraordinary that the North Koreans have invited a select group of press from the countries who represent the six parties, including North Korea, to these nuclear negotiations.

And in this dramatic closure to what's known as phase two of the long negotiations between the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia, this is really now coming to its denouement.

And in several hours now, we're going to go to Yongbyon. We're going to be driven along with the other press to the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which actually we had unprecedented access to in February. And we have seen that it has been and is being systematically disabled.

And what they're going to do this afternoon, Friday afternoon, North Korean time, is implode, collapse the distinctive cooling tower, which is the distinctive feature of a nuclear reactor. North Korean officials I have spoken to said that this actually demonstrates some courage.

In addition, the collapse of this tower actually falls under what's known as dismantlement. And dismantlement is actually for phase three. So, they're bringing up this dismantlement of the tower as a gesture of goodwill and as a gesture of their intent and their commitment to follow through with this process -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Christiane, stand by, because we're going to be all over this story. There are significant, significant developments happening right now.

Let's bring in our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

You're watching this about as closely as anyone, Zain.

It sends a powerful message, what North Korea is now doing. It sends a message to Iran as well, doesn't it?


Everyone in Iran is watching extremely closely as to what exactly is happening. But it's really important, too, to point out, Wolf, that there are significant differences with Iran and North Korea. Firstly, North Korea is a pretty poor and an isolated country. Iran is much wealthier. And it's not as isolated in the region. It is pretty powerful. It is very influential in Iraq. It backs Hamas and Hezbollah and does wield a significant amount of power in the region.

Iran also is insulated from sanctions simply because of high energy prices. So, one other thing that analysts have said, too, is that Iran is looking at this administration and really playing a waiting game. They're waiting for the clock to run out on the administration, and can afford at this point to wait and see and not necessarily come to the table to negotiate.

BLITZER: I'm going to have you stand by, Zain, as well.

Barack Obama is making the case that the progress in North Korea supports his policy of creating a dialogue with U.S. adversaries -- the Democratic presidential candidate talking at length today about the North Korean developments, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gun control, and more.

Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The key is to try to stop using this as a wedge issue, and let's figure out an intelligent way where we can stop having kids being murdered on the streets of American cities, while making sure that law-abiding gun owners are protected in their rights.

PETER COOK, BLOOMBERG: Sir, there are a lot of Democrats who are going to say the Supreme Court got this one wrong. You're not in that camp?

OBAMA: I'm not in the camp of their overall reasoning. Now, how they applied it and how they will apply it in the future I think is the key question.

I think it's very important for everybody to understand that the Supreme Court ruling did not say that you can't have commonsense gun laws. It just said that this particular case violated the basic principle that people do have a right to bear arms.

COOK: All right, one other piece of news from today. President Bush, after this declaration from North Korea on its nuclear inventory today, taking the step of asking Congress to remove North Korea from the list of states sponsors of terrorism. Is that a wise move?

OBAMA: Well, I think that it's going to be important for Congress to verify what's in this declaration, to make sure that there's a full accounting of not only the current nuclear program that North Korea has, both in terms of plutonium and enriched uranium, but also some of the proliferation issues.

It appears that North Korea may have, for example, provided technology to the Syrians to build a nuclear reactor. We need to know all that information. Assuming that information is there, then this is an important step in terms of us dealing with not just North Korea, but putting back together a nonproliferation strategy that's going to be so important for our long-term safety and security.

But Congress has to review it. We have to make sure that North Korea abides by the future aspects of this agreement. I think it also, though, underscores the importance of direct talks. And keep in mind that, when we weren't talking to North Korea, that they were advancing their nuclear program.

Once we began direct talks, we saw the break that we -- that is bearing fruit today. And that, I think, is a principle that we have got to apply to other countries as well.


BLITZER: Barack Obama speaking with Peter Cook of Bloomberg TV.

John McCain is also responding to today's developments on North Korea, saying the nuclear declaration must be reviewed closely.

Here's Senator McCain sounding an especially cautious note. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we have put out a statement. We haven't seen all the details of it. But, obviously, the six-power, six-party talks have yielded some results here.

The North Koreans have pledged to give an accounting of their nuclear activities. There are still questions about the plutonium that was at Yongbyon. There are still questions about the Syrian facility.

So, we will have to have a look and see how the -- how the overall agreement is and whether we should continue to lift sanctions, whether the Japanese and South Korean concerns have been addressed.

And, so, my overall impression is that we should be very cautious, as I have said a number of times in the past. But I will be very interested in hearing all the details of the administration's new position or evolving situation on this issue.


BLITZER: John McCain speaking to reporters out on the campaign trail.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" right now -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There was a moment yesterday, Wolf, during his news conference, when Barack Obama could have made a huge mistake.

But, in the end, his political instincts proved much keener than those of Michael Dukakis a few years before. When he was asked about the Supreme Court decision on the death penalty for child rapists, Obama came down on the side of the conservative minority on the court. He criticized the court's 5-4 decision to outlaw the death penalty for people who rape children. Obama insisted the death penalty should be applied -- quote -- "in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes" -- unquote -- which he says includes the rape of a small child.

He thinks states should have the right to consider capital punishment in these cases. The moment when he was asked brought back memories of something similar that absolutely destroyed Michael Dukakis during his run for president in 1988, probably doomed his candidacy, this one moment.

Dukakis was asked at a debate if the death penalty would be appropriate if his wife was raped and murdered. He said, no, without any emotion, any passion, just, no.

Dukakis was ridiculed. Republicans used it against him. And George Bush beat him in a landslide.

Obama has two daughters. They are 7 and 9 years old. He has long supported the death penalty, while criticizing the way that it's used sometimes. As a state lawmaker in Illinois, he helped change the death penalty system, in an effort to protect against innocent people from being put to death.

So, here's the question: Barack Obama condemned the Supreme Court decision outlawing the death penalty for people who rape children. What effect will that have on his campaign?

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

BLITZER: All right. Good question. We will talk about it later. Thank you.

A major Supreme Court ruling also today, your right to protect yourself. The presidential candidates weigh in on that decision. We will take a closer look at how the gun rights issue could change the race in some of those critical swing states.

Democratic Party unity will be on display tonight. We're watching live pictures. Only moments ago, we saw Senator Obama arrive at the Mayflower Motel here in Washington. We're waiting for Senator Clinton to arrive. They're going to raise money tonight.

And fear some well-known Republicans could actually support Barack Obama, but not because they have political affection for his positions. We will explain.


BLITZER: Only a few moments ago, this was the scene at the front of the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington, D.C., Senator Barack Obama leaving his car, walking in, and getting ready to welcome Hillary Clinton. She's going to be there shortly as well, the Mayflower Hotel the scene of a fund-raiser tonight, Hillary Clinton's supporters coming over to show some unity with the Democratic presidential candidate. We will watch for Hillary Clinton's arrival. She should be arriving at the hotel momentarily.

Today, for the first time in America's history, the U.S. Supreme Court has defined gun rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution. And now people all over the nation are coming to terms with it. The impact is perhaps strongest right here in the nation's capital.

In its 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the district of Columbia's very strict ban on handguns. Two of the most famous people who work here in Washington, D.C., Barack Obama and John McCain, also are grappling with this historic decision and what comes next.


MCCAIN: Obviously, I'm very pleased about that decision. I had filed a brief along with 50 some other senators. Senator Obama had declined to do that.

OBAMA: It looks to me that the D.C. handgun ban overshot the runway, that it went beyond constitutional limits. But it doesn't mean that local communities can't pass background checks, that they can't make sure that they're tracing guns that have been used in crimes to find out where they got them from. So, there's still room for us to, I think, have some commonsense gun laws that are also compatible with the Second Amendment.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley and our own Dana Bash. They're covering this campaign about as closely as anyone.

First to you, Candy.

Is Obama's position, as he's articulating it, going to help him in some of those swing states right now, like Pennsylvania, maybe Virginia? Those are important battlegrounds.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. And they also have a lot of rural areas, where hunting is a huge part of the culture.

Listen, in 2004, more than 40 percent of voters said that they had a gun in the household. They went overwhelmingly for George Bush. Democrats have been trying to kind of split the difference on this, as you heard Barack Obama do, saying, look, I'm all for the Second Amendment and hunting, but we have to have some commonsense regulations here, because they want to take it off the table.

They know they're never going to win the overwhelming number of gun owners, but they want to take it off the table.

I will tell you, though, as I'm sure Dana will tell you, that there is an opening here for McCain, because they believe that Barack Obama has changed his mind about this, that he has said previously he supported the D.C. ban on handguns. A spokesman said that he did. Barack Obama never corrected that when a questioner asked him about it. So, there is some room there for McCain.

BLITZER: And, Dana, what about that? What does this Supreme Court decision do as far as McCain's standing with independents, and conservatives, for that matter?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're hoping obviously as you can imagine that it will help him a lot, particularly with the kind of thing that Candy was just referring to, in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

We have just talked to a McCain adviser, just got off the phone with her, who was saying, look, remember, this brings back the issue that really hurt Obama, at least in the public mind, at least in the mind of a lot of gun owners, during the Democratic primary, that he said that people who were bitter cling to their God and guns.

But the other thing that they think it helps them with, Wolf, inside the McCain campaign, is, look, they realize that, if they're going to win the White House, they're going to have to do it with a patchwork coalition. And one of the segments of that coalition could be sportsmen. And that is very, very crucial when you look at the map in areas like the Mountain West, in Colorado, in New Mexico, in those states where they are definitely swing states.

If they hear Barack Obama give what the McCain campaign, what they're calling a lawyerly response, not a hard and fast, I support it, this is the best decision the Supreme Court could have given response, like John McCain did, the McCain campaign are hoping that -- what they're hoping is that that will draw those voters over towards McCain. The big question is whether Senator McCain's campaign can capitalize on that.

BLITZER: It certainly is a big question.

All right, ladies, stand by. We have lots more to discuss, including a show of unity. We're going to be bringing you live pictures here in Washington tonight, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama come together. We will see what's going on at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where they're getting ready for a fund-raiser, a joint fund-raiser.

And Michelle Obama chooses her words very carefully when talking about Hillary Clinton.

And one major metropolitan area says this: Every adult should be tested for the virus that causes AIDS.

Lots of news happening this hour -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Only seconds ago, Hillary Clinton got out of her limo, walked into the Mayflower Hotel here in Washington. There she is on the sidewalk, getting ready for a big fund-raising event tonight. She's going to be there, together -- together with Barack Obama.

She's waving to people who have gathered along the sidewalk. A lot of people are there, as well as a lot of reporters and photographers. Only minutes earlier, Barack Obama arrived separately, got out of his car, and walked inside as well. And he obviously waves, as all politicians do, and people stand by. And that is that.

We will see what happens tonight. This is their first joint fund-raising event, lots of Hillary Clinton supporters, fund-raisers have been invited to come over and show their support for the Democratic presidential candidate, the presumptive nominee, Barack Obama. Tomorrow, they have got a big unity event in Unity, New Hampshire.

We're all over this story.


BLITZER: Anticipation is building among Democrats right now. But what had Barack Obama biting his tongue during the primary battle? There's new word on that -- the best political team on television standing by.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger is hammering a fellow Republican governor over oil, and this isn't pretty.

We're awaiting, also, new remarks by Michelle Obama. She's speaking south about Hillary Clinton.

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


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

Happening now: Democratic unity, at least on the face of things right now. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they're coming together right now. They will be together tomorrow. But what about the wounds from the bitter campaign?

Conservatives backing Obama, the so-called Obamacans, what's driving them away from the GOP?

And Arnold Schwarzenegger violating Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment by speaking ill of fellow Republicans -- all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they're together right now here in Washington. We just saw them walk into the Mayflower Hotel for a fund-raising event. She's introducing him to her fund-raisers.

And, tomorrow, their first joint appearance on the campaign trail since the end of their bitter campaign battle, but true unity appears still somewhat elusive.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's working this story for us.

Mary, I know you're talking to a lot of sources all around. Take us behind the scenes. What's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, there are still some hard feelings among Clinton supporters, and this as Hillary Clinton moves on.


SNOW (voice-over): Nearly three weeks after dropping out of the presidential race, Senator Hillary Clinton is heading back on the campaign trail, this time for her former rival.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We have to be determined to chart a new course, and we cannot do that without electing Senator Obama our president.

SNOW: Clinton and Senator Barack Obama will make their debut together in Unity, New Hampshire.

OBAMA: I'm looking forward to campaigning vigorously with her. I think we will have -- I think we will have a -- a terrific time together in New Hampshire.

SNOW: But behind the photo-ops, say some political observers, there are wrinkles.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, CENTER FOR POLITICS: The reality hasn't quite caught up to the image that's going to be projected. The reality is that a lot of Clinton supporters are still unhappy. Their feelings are raw after a very tough campaign.

SNOW: Clinton supporter Will Bower launched a movement rejecting the unity bandwagon.

WILL BOWER, JUST SAY NO DEAL: A lot of us still want to see Hillary Clinton as the nominee and we're working hard to make that happen. It's still possible.

SNOW: But while some Hillary Clinton holdouts fight on, Clinton is introducing her top fundraisers to Obama. One member of Clinton's national finance committee says it will take time for some fundraisers to open their wallets.

NOAH MAMET, CLINTON FUNDRAISER: The vast majority of donors are with Obama now. There's a few that are taking a little bit longer to get there, but they'll be there soon.

SNOW: And as the campaigns merge, one person who won't be on hand for the initial push is Bill Clinton. The former president is traveling, but said to a spokesman this week he's committed to supporting Obama.

Donna Brazile, for one, predicts old wounds will heal.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Once Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have been able to unite the party fully, there's no question that Bill Clinton will be on the campaign trail, along with former Vice President Al Gore and many others.


SNOW: And to get a glimpse of some of the behind-the-scenes meetings taking place, at last week's meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, two sources who are members of the Caucus and Obama supporters tell CNN that Obama said he bit his tongue during the primary, signaling he held back criticism of Senator Clinton. Now, the sources say the comment came after a Clinton supporter repeatedly stressed during that meeting that Obama needed to make amends after the bruising primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I heard that, biting his tongue to hold back. He could have lashed out against Hillary Clinton, but he thought, you know what, let others do that. That's not my role. I assume that's the way he concluded.

All right.

Thanks very much, Mary Snow.

Another huge issue today a big story. That would be North Korea disclosing details of its nuclear program. But the next president of the United States will still face a very delicate diplomatic situation.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior analyst, Gloria Borger. Also join us, Jack Cafferty, as he always does. And Michael Gerson. He's a "Washington Post" columnist, a former speechwriter for President Bush.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Jack, honestly, President Bush and Condoleezza Rice, do they deserve credit for this dramatic development in North Korea?

CAFFERTY: I don't know, you know. And I don't think anybody else does either yet. If there's some meat on the bone, yes, maybe a little. But there can't be much meat on the bone because they're not telling us very much. They're going to blow up a cooling tower and they're saying that they're not involved in uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons production right now.

We don't know how much plutonium enriched uranium, how many nuclear weapons. I wouldn't trust those guys any farther than I can throw them. And until there's some verification, I think it's a little too soon to be taking a lot of bows on this thing.

BLITZER: You're probably right, because there's still lots of unanswered questions, Gloria. And as Ronald Reagan used to say, trust but verify. And we remember the end result... GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know the...

BLITZER: ...was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

BORGER: Of course. You know, Jack, I have to tell you, you sound a lot like John McCain today, because you're saying exactly what John McCain was saying earlier in the day, which is this is good news, let's take it one step at a time and we need...

CAFFERTY: I said it a lot faster, though.

BORGER: And we need to verify. And of course, Barack Obama is saying this is really a victory for diplomatic engagement, which he would argue, I think, that the administration has not done previously.

BLITZER: Michael, a lot of us remember when you were a top speechwriter for President Bush. You collaborated in that really memorable phrase "the axis of evil."

BORGER: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: And we remember North Korea was a charter member.

MICHAEL GERSON, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Sure. No, I mean people -- in speechwriting, they remember the poetry and they forget the prose. The president always said that these countries -- three countries were going to be treated differently. And he embarked on the six party talks in 2003. This isn't recent.

So, you know, I think it's seeing some results. I share the skepticism. I mean the accusation here is that they're giving up a pretty much an outdated plutonium enrichment plant...


GERSON: ...for moving toward normalization of relations. But there's an important response to that, an old foreign policy principle, which is, well, what the heck would you do?

And there aren't too many good options here, except this step by step approach.

BLITZER: But, Michael, is there a lesson that the U.S. should learn -- whoever the next president of the United States is -- as far as Iran is concerned?

GERSON: Yes. No, I think so. But the lesson could go either way.

BLITZER: Well, give me...

GERSON: Well...

BLITZER: What lesson do you think they should learn?

GERSON: The reality here is that since the Clinton talks with North Korea, they've exploded a nuclear bomb. And it put them in a better negotiating position in many ways. So nations could draw the wrong conclusion from this type of negotiation, as well.

BLITZER: All right. A fair point, indeed.

All right, we're just getting started. We're going to continue this conversation.

And we're going to move on to Obamacons.

What the hell is that?

We're drawing some conservatives into the Democratic Party -- at least that's what the suggestion is. Obamacons-- we're going to discuss.

And blowing smoke -- that's what Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said some politicians are doing when it comes to energy solutions.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Some big name Republicans may be frustrated with President Bush and some are thinking they may even side with Barack Obama. We'll talk about it.


BLITZER: We've all heard of neo-cons, but what about conservatives drawn to Barack Obama, the so-called Obamacons?

Let's discuss. Gloria, what do you think? Is this realistic?

Bob Novak wrote a whole column today...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...saying some of those conservatives, they're inclined, actually, to lean toward Barack Obama.

BORGER: I don't think you're going to see a huge conservative melt toward Barack Obama, particularly as Republicans go out of their way to portray him as a liberal. But you are seeing a lot of disaffected conservatives who believe that this administration has not been fiscally conservative, who believe that this administration has mismanaged the war and who also just don't like George W. Bush very much and don't think John McCain is conservative enough.

So you are going to see some of them, maybe prominent ones -- I mean Bob Novak mentioned Colin Powell -- maybe prominent ones going over and supporting Obama. But it's not because they love Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Neither Chuck Hagel nor General Powell, Michael, have come out in favor of John McCain yet. GERSON: That's true. I have great respect for Secretary Powell. It's hard to regard him as a conservative voice within the Republican Party. He was always a moderate -- very uncomfortable with the domestic policies -- of conservative domestic policies, although I have to say, he'd be an amazing vice presidential candidate for Obama, if he could manage just a thing. I mean it would be transformational...

BORGER: I think there's the matter of the war...

BLITZER: He was always a...


BLITZER: He was always a fiscal conservative, General Powell.

GERSON: Right.

CAFFERTY: A lot of this...

GERSON: A fiscal conservative, yes.


CAFFERTY: A lot of this stuff is driven by a hatred of George Bush. Colin Powell got pushed out of his job in the Bush administration after they allowed him to go over there to the U.N. and make a complete fool of himself with that dog and pony show about those mobile chemical weapons laboratories.

Hagel has been violently opposed to the Bush administration conduct in the war in Iraq.

Some of these people are not so well-known and I've been looking forward all day to reading this quote from Larry Hunter. He's an ardent conservative who's known inside the beltway. And this is the way he characterizes what he sees as the failings of the Republican Party under George Bush: "The Republican Party is a dead, rotting carcass that is being led by a few decrepit old leaders stumbling around like zombies in a horror version of "Weekend At Bernie's," handcuffed to a corpse -- the corpse being George Bush.

BORGER: Strong words to follow.

BLITZER: We heard something...

CAFFERTY: But I mean that's the...

BLITZER: We heard something...


CAFFERTY: ...that's driving this Obamacon thing.

BLITZER: The outgoing Republican congressman, Tom Davis from Virginia, he made some similar comments, although not as dramatic, Michael.

GERSON: Yes, that's true. I would say that Larry Hunter and Bruce Bartlett supporting Obama is mainly news in the Bartlett and Hunter households. They're not conservative leaders in any sense. And if you look at the polling, the Republicans supporting Obama are pretty equal to the Democrats supporting McCain. It's the interesting thing about the election -- both of them can appeal to the middle and I think it's going to be an interesting race for that reason.

BLITZER: All right, listen quickly, because we don't have a lot of time -- to Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking out in opposition to McCain's recommendation for offshore drilling.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: From the rethinking nuclear power to pushing biofuels and more renewables and ending the ban on offshore drilling. And he goes on and on the list. But anyone who tells you that this will bring down our gas prices immediately or any time soon is blowing smoke.


BLITZER: All right. That seems like a real slap at Senator McCain and Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, who has supported McCain.

BORGER: Well, I guess Schwarzenegger can't be on the veep list anyway, right?


BORGER: So he's off the list if he could have been on the list.

BLITZER: He can't be on the list because he wasn't born in the United States.

BORGER: Right. That's right.

BLITZER: Michael, what do you think?

GERSON: No. I mean -- I think it's -- the big story is that Crist and McCain are now on the drilling issue. And about 67 percent of Americans, according to one poll, support drilling. They think it will reduce gas prices. And $4 a gallon gasoline concentrates the mind. I think this is going to be part of an eventual solution, but not the major part.

BLITZER: Michael Gerson, thanks very much for joining us. We'll definitely have you back.

Gloria, of course, thanks to you.

Jack, don't go. We've got "The Cafferty File" coming up.

John McCain courting voters today in the swing state of Ohio and reaching out to the conservative base along the way.

Let's go back to Dana Bash -- Dana, what are you hearing about McCain's private meetings with Ohio conservatives?

BASH: Well, Wolf, I actually talked to a couple of the conservative activists who met today with John McCain. And they tell me they gave the Republican candidate a little of what he likes to call straight talk about the challenges McCain still has with his own GOP base.


BASH (voice-over): At this Cincinnati town hall, John McCain talked about a lot of issues -- from Iraq to taxes to gas prices.

MCCAIN: I wanted to given Americans a little tax holiday.

BASH: He spoke for more than an hour, but never mentioned issues social conservatives skeptical of McCain want to hear -- his opposition to abortion and gay marriage or appointing conservative judges. Conservative activists say that's a big problem.

PHIL BURRESS, CITIZENS FOR COMMUNITY VALUES: John McCain needs to talk about life more often. He needs to talk about marriage. If the senator thinks he's going to run the campaign appealing to the middle by avoiding to talk about these social issues, he's going to lose Ohio.

BASH: Bill Burress delivered that warning to McCain personally -- one of a handful of Ohio conservatives invited to meet privately with McCain.

BURRESS: He did take detailed notes. And he was very sincere about telling us that he heard us loud and clear.

BASH: McCain downplayed the meeting to reporters.

MCCAIN: I think it's just a normal thing to do. We all know that Ohio is a very crucial state.

BASH: But he has reason to worry about conservatives coming out for him. In a new "L.A. Times" poll out this week, nearly one in five self-described members of the religious right said they would vote for someone other than McCain. The same amount are undecided. And more voters who attend weekly religious services say they'd vote for Obama over McCain.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm ready to lead for four more years and I want your help.

BASH: That's especially worrisome for McCain in Ohio, where George Bush won the state and re-election with votes from social conservatives. McCain is out of step with his base on some issues, like stem cell research. But for the most part, they agree. The problem, say activists, is rank and file conservatives don't know it. BURRESS: We can't deliver that message completely by ourselves. Senator McCain is going to have to put his hand on the wheel of the ship.


BASH: The other thing conservative activists tell us they warned McCain about today, who he picks as his running mate matters to them a lot. They said if he chooses someone with well-known conservative positions, it will help McCain. If not, it will reinforce doubts that many social conservatives have about whether a President McCain will push or avoid their issues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana watching this important story. Thank you, Dana.

Ohio a very important battleground state.

The Supreme Court outlawing the death penalty for people who rape children. Barack Obama condemns the ruling.

How will it affect his campaign?

And Ralph Nader throws a new jab at Barack Obama. This one has racial overtones, as well.

And Barack Obama is forced to break up with someone he barely knows. We'll tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, wildfires are burning across Northern California, with more than 158,000 acres burned so far. One of the most threatening right now is near Big Sur near Monterey. It's moving in on 500 homes.

Remember TAMIFLU?

It was touted as the only treatment for a possible flu pandemic. Well, it still hasn't happened and now the drug maker is facing slumping sales. So it's encouraging businesses to stockpile TAMIFLU for their workers. They can reserve enough for all of their employees -- for an annual fee, of course.

This fashion statement just in from the Vatican. The rumors are so not true. Pope Benedict's bright red loafers are not from Italy's legendary designer, Prada. The Vatican newspaper says: "High fashion footwear would not be consistent with the pontiff," described as a simple man despite his show of shoes. As the newspaper put it, "The Pope does not wear Prada, but Christ."

And you know there was a rumor he was wearing Gucci sunglasses. As one Vatican spokeswoman put it, Wolf, "He wouldn't know Gucci from smoochy."

BLITZER: I know all of your shoes are either Prada -- what, Jimmy Choo?

Those are all your...

COSTELLO: Manolo Blahnik.

BLITZER: Yes. That's right.

COSTELLO: Yes. Sure. I wish.

BLITZER: You walk around with all those shoes every single day.


BLITZER: See you.

Thanks, Carol, very much.

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

I know his loafers aren't as fancy as those.

CAFFERTY: Buster Browns.

BLITZER: They're Ferragamos?

CAFFERTY: They're Buster Browns.


CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Barack Obama condemned the Supreme Court decision outlawing the death penalty for people who rape children. We were curious how you thought it would affect his campaign.

Dick writes: "It's important. The types of judges that Obama says he'll appoint to the court are the ones who supported the verdict. So it seems Barack wants it both ways. It's a legitimate campaign issue that could be a problem for him.

Scott in Minneapolis disagrees: "If anything, it will help Obama's campaign, especially with some conservatives who are leaning away from McCain. They say that everything a candidate does until November is 100 percent political. But I don't think that this statement is purely political. This is one of his personal beliefs and I think it humanizes him even more."

Sam in North Carolina: "They keep saying Obama is the most liberal senator. It just goes to show you whether you call yourself a conservative or a liberal doesn't always mean that in every situation you will lean that way. I, for one, don't want to be labeled, which is why I am an Independent."

J.D. in North Carolina: "It's a small issue with little impact, if any. This is an issue that rightfully touches everyone's conscience, but it's not part of the national dialogue because of broader issues like the war, economy and the environment."

Joe in St. Louis: "Pedophiles have become commonplace in our society. Furthermore, they're released from prison early and allowed to live in neighborhoods full of children. Most people would be shocked if they took the time to get a sexual predators list from their local law enforcement. This is another example of a real solution to a real problem. His campaign will benefit."

And J.B. says: "It only affects the crazy in the brain left- wing. You know, Jack, like you. Funny, I thought Obama and I had nothing in common. After expressing his views on the death penalty, I stand corrected."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack.

Thank you.

On our Political Ticker right now, America's largest labor organization endorses Barack Obama. The AFL-CIO says it's proud to stand with him and that he will help improve the lives of working class people. The AFL-CIO represents 15 million union workers and has a $200 million campaign war chest -- lots of money.

Ralph Nader is keeping a sparring match going with Barack Obama. The Independent presidential candidate issued a statement today repeating his claim that Obama is not willing to tackle -- and I'm quoting now -- "the white power structure." Obama dismissed that charge yesterday and Nader's suggestion that he is "trying to talk white." Obama contends Nader is simply trying to get some attention for his own campaign.

Barack Obama is forced to break up with someone he barely knows. That and the best pictures from the campaign trail in today's political Hot Shots.

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


BLITZER: Let's check out some of the Hot Shots.

In Washington, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison speaks to reporters after the Supreme Court's gun ruling.

In Cincinnati, Republican presidential candidate John McCain leans in to better hear 5-year-old Piper Mackey (ph).

In Pittsburgh, Senator Obama smiles for the camera as he boards a plane. That's what candidates do.

And in Washington, President Bush receives an air kiss after speaking at a faith-based and community initiatives conference.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots.

Senator Obama says contrary to what some comedians are saying, he and the actress Scarlett Johansson hardly know each other, which makes their so-called break up Moost Unusual.

CNN's Jeanne Moos reports.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forget the Scarlett letter. The only thing scarlet about the e-mails in this story was the sender's name -- Scarlett Johansson.


JAY LENO, HOST "THE TONIGHT SHOW": A 23-year-old gorgeous blonde actress e-mailing a married presidential candidate.

Well, what could go wrong there?


MOOS: And though nothing did go wrong, the story was irresistible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why does Senator Obama trade e-mails with Scarlett Johansson?

Well, frankly, wouldn't you?

MOOS: Senator Obama told reporters on his plane he traded only one e-mail with the actress, no doubt hoping to put the kibosh on jokes like this.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST "THE LATE SHOW": For example, John McCain frequently consults with General David Petraeus. Barack Obama frequently consults with Scarlett Johansson.


MOOS: Johansson once joked that she was engaged to Barack Obama. But it's his politics she finds most engaging.


SCARLETT JOHANSSON, ACTRESS/OBAMA SUPPORTER: The first time that I met Barack, I was so star-struck.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: Johansson e-mailed Obama, offering her thoughts on the campaign. She told the Web site Politico: "You'd imagine that someone like a senator, who is constantly traveling and constantly on, how could he return these personal e-mails? But he does."

Still, while Scarlett seemed to be saying...




MOOS: ...Senator Obama was saying no, we weren't -- e-mailing a lot, that is. Obama told reporters Johansson sent one e-mail to his personal assistant, Reggie Love.

OBAMA: Reggie, Reggie.

MOOS: Reggie forwarded the e-mail to the senator. Obama said: "I write saying thank you, Scarlett, for doing what you do" and suddenly we have this e-mail relationship -- meaning that's how everyone made it sound.

(on camera): Senator Obama seemed to distance himself from the actress without even so much as a "Dear Scarlett" e-mail.

(voice-over): The next thing you know, some of the blogs are saying he dumped Scarlett, that he threw her under the bus.

As for their first meeting...


JOHANSSON: You know, he came up to me and the only thing that I could say to him, I was like, "Hi, Senator. I love your wife. So nice to meet you." And he was just like OK. You know, like, oh, I'm sure she loves you, too or whatever, like patting me on the head.


MOOS: Instead of e-mailing, maybe Johansson can console herself with a Barack Obama action figure featuring eight points of articulation so you can pose him presidentially.

The e-mailing brouhaha led one whit to write: "I did not have textual relations with that woman, Scarlett Johansson" -- just like a certain pointing president.

Is that what they mean by posing your action figure presidentially?

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

That's it for us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.