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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
McCain Campaign in Turmoil; Senator McCain is in Mexico; Obama Shifting Ground?; Bush Defends National Security Policy; Salmonella Outbreak; Freedom Under Fire
Aired July 2, 2008 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there. Thanks, John.
Tonight, a top level shake-up in the McCain campaign, charges that Obama is moving to the political center. We'll have the latest on the battle for independent voters.
Also, still no answers from the Food and Drug Administration on the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak. What in the world is going on in our government?
And creationism versus evolution, what many say is a new attempt to insert religion into science. We'll examine a controversy that won't go away, all that, all the day's news and much more straight ahead here tonight.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Wednesday, July 2nd Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Lisa Sylvester.
SYLVESTER: Good evening, everybody. Turmoil at the top of the McCain campaign tonight, Senator McCain today reshuffling his most senior campaign staff, this after rising criticism that McCain is unprepared to face the challenge from Senator Obama.
Obama appears to be changing some of his policies, as he steps up his battle for independent voters. Obama now facing questions about his promise to withdraw all our combat troops from Iraq. We have extensive coverage from the campaign trail. We begin with Dana Bash in Washington. Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Lisa here's a little bit of political trivia. Today is the anniversary of what McCain aides call black Monday, the day many in McCain's then large campaign staff were fired because his candidacy was in free fall. This time, the changes are in response to concerns we've within been hearing for months, that the McCain campaign is not equipped to win the White House.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, how are you?
BASH (voice-over): Just the fact that John McCain traveled to Colombia, South America, not a battleground or any U.S. state, is exhibit "A" of growing concern his campaign is off course and now an urgent shake-up to correct it. Senior adviser Steve Schmidt, a Bush '04 veteran, will take over the campaign's day-to-day operations, in order to, as one adviser told CNN, stop the unforced errors of this campaign.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis will stay in his post, but will now work on now long-term planning. Schmidt had been a regular on the road with McCain on the road until recently when he quietly returned to headquarters to help fix what insiders admit are severe structural problems that caused a series of missteps.
Some examples: Hiring, then firing lobbyists who worked for the military junta and Myanmar.
MCCAIN: We will vet everyone very seriously and make sure that it's not a repetition.
BASH: Then, creating a new strict anti-lobbyist policy became a purge that kept the story going.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States, John McCain.
BASH: And more poor vetting that led to endorsements by controversial figures like Pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley, which McCain didn't reject until months of bad press or paying for a TV ad to distance McCain from the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John McCain stood up to the president and sounded the alarm on global warming five years ago.
MCCAIN: We have to exploit our resources offshore.
BASH: Then reversing his position and standing with the president on the controversial idea of oil drilling offshore. That, combined with an erratic schedule of speeches too late to make newscasts and inconsistent themes against Barack Obama have all made for what senior McCain advisers admit has been a muddled message.
But even more alarming to many Republican strategists is McCain's unorthodox political operation. Instead of controlling crucial decisions about money and strategy from headquarters, campaign manager Rick Davis decentralized to 11 regional directors.
BASH: Now, that was aimed at holding on to the lean, mean operation that led McCain back to win the Republican nomination. But, we're told that McCain was warned a more traditional campaign structure is essential for the general election campaign, especially one, Lisa that despite a sour economy, an unpopular president and an unpopular war, still has McCain within reach of Barack Obama.
SYLVESTER: You know, Dana, we have seen McCain. We have seen him down. We have seen him back up. We have seen him down again. What practical changes do you think all of this will mean? BASH: Well, we're actually already seeing it. For example, we talked about some of the stage craft issues that he's had. Remember that infamous green screen behind Senator McCain during one of his prime-time speeches. They've already brought in a veteran from the Bush campaign to deal with some of those advance issues as they call them or some of those stage craft issues.
We already have a few other veterans from the Bush 2004 campaign. They already have in place what they hope to be kind of a McCain 3.0, if you will, to roll out next week, on Monday, a new economic message, so they have a lot of things in place.
They're also going to try to change that political structure I talked about and really try to centralize it at campaign headquarters across the (INAUDIBLE), so a lot of things are already in place, but they needed somebody who had done this on this level and, of course in California, in order to take the reins.
SYLVESTER: Well we will see if all these changes will make a difference. Thank you very much, Dana, for that report.
BASH: Thank you.
SYLVESTER: And as Dana reported, Senator McCain has been visiting Colombia in an attempt to push his so-called free trade agenda. McCain emphasizing again that he believes a retreat from free trade would have dire consequences for this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I think all of us should be worried because our history shows that isolationism and protectionism has very unpleasant consequences. We who support free trade, have to emphasize, time after time, that we are committed to providing education and retraining to displaced workers...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Now during his visit, McCain also spoke with the president of Colombia about the fate of three Americans and other hostages being held by left-wing rebels. Shortly after McCain left Colombia there was word the hostages had been rescued by the Colombian military. The three Americans and former Colombia presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt had been held hostage for more than five years.
Betancourt and the other hostages arrived at Bogota airport. You can see them there on a Colombian government aircraft just a short time ago. The Americans were on board a drug surveillance plane that went down in rebel-held territory. They were the longest-held American hostages in the world.
Senator McCain tonight is in Mexico on the second leg of his Latin American tour. The senator expected to discuss Mexico's raging war against violent drug cartels and the border security and illegal immigration crisis in this country. Harris Whitbeck reports from Mexico City.
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stop two on a quick visit south of the border. Mexico, like Colombia, one of the U.S.' staunchest allies in the region and the homeland of a majority of Latinos in the U.S., a crucial voting bloc in this year's presidential election. John McCain comes to Mexico bearing the message of goodwill for President Felipe Calderon.
MCCAIN: We support him in his struggle against the drug cartel which has caused the deaths of many brave law enforcement officials and innocent people and our latest area of cooperation, Merida plan, is I believe a movement in the right direction, and we're with them in the struggle.
WHITBECK: But his visit puts Calderon in a touchy position, mainly because of his political affiliation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the Mexicans, they think that the Democrats are -- have been more aware of the problems with Mexico and they kept thinking more positive attitudes towards Mexico.
JESUS VELASCO, POLITICAL ANALYST: But that could create -- that perception could create the image that President Calderon is favoring the Republicans in this election and that's not going to be received by big-margin Mexican public opinion as a positive (INAUDIBLE) Mexican government.
WHITBECK: In addition to the drug war, McCain wants to talk immigration, a hot-button issue back home. McCain co-authored the comprehensive immigration reform package that calls for making borders more secure, but that also provides for a guest worker program, an approach that is palatable to Mexico.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He co-sponsored an initiative on immigration reform, which, by the way, was closer to what the Mexican government had expected to be approved in the United States.
WHITBECK: That alone all but guarantees a warm reception from the Mexican government.
(on camera): But the last time a U.S. presidential candidate visited Mexico made for touchy relations later on. In 1992, George Bush Sr. running for re-election was warmly received by President (INAUDIBLE). Bill Clinton won that election. And it took some time for relations between the incoming Clinton administration and Mexico to warm up.
Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Mexico City.
SYLVESTER: And that brings us to tonight's poll question: Do you believe Senator McCain should pay more attention to what's happening in this country than to what's going on in Colombia and Mexico? Yes or no. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll bring you the results later in the broadcast.
Mexico facing new questions tonight about the conduct of some of its police officers, this as the United States is spending $400 million on aid for Mexico security forces. A new video shows what appears to be the inhumane treatment of a suspect by police in the state of Leone (ph).
A heavy-set officer seen here jumping up and down on a man lying on the bed of a pickup truck. Another set of videos appears to show more questionable behavior by Leone police. The videotape shows police officers apparently being trained in aggressive interrogation techniques by an English-speaking instructor. Police said the tape showed a voluntary training exercise for officers to learn how to deal with high-stress situations.
The Obama campaign says McCain's visit to Mexico and Colombia is all about politics in this country and his battle to win Hispanic votes. Obama himself also seeking votes, of course, especially from independent voters. Some say Obama is shifting his policies and moving toward the political center to attract independently-minded voters. Jessica Yellin reports from Washington -- Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Lisa. Well Senator Obama's liberal supporters especially on the Internet have been all over what they're calling Obama's move to the center. Take, for example, his position on the D.C. handgun ban. He previously said he thought it was constitutional, but after the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, he said, well, he supports the court's position, although he also believes local jurisdictions can make their own laws, basically having it both ways.
Then there's the Terrorist Surveillance Act FISA. Obama once vowed to oppose any effort to give communications' companies immunity for cooperating with the Bush administration on eavesdropping, but when the House passed a bill doing just that, Obama said he would be on board too.
Then there is Iraq, now when Obama first started the campaign, he frequently pledged to get the troops out of Iraq fast. He laid out a 16-month time frame for withdrawal. But these days, he says, well, he's still for withdrawing troops, but now he emphasizes his willingness to adjust and there's less talk of that 16-month time frame.
Now I got off the phone with one source on the Obama campaign who is adamant that there is no change and Obama senior foreign policy adviser said especially on Iraq, Obama is not backing down. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, OBAMA SR. FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: He's been very clear that he will withdraw American forces at a responsible rate carefully from Iraq. He's also said that he will be responsive to what his commanders on the ground tell him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Now, there are more than a few upset liberal bloggers, but one of Obama's other advisers says to me, look, this is just what happens when you move from a primary to a general election -- Lisa.
SYLVESTER: Jessica, some people would call this flip-flopping. Is that the case here?
YELLIN: It's expanding his views, trying to reach more people. I think that's in the eye and the ear of the beholder.
SYLVESTER: Expanding his views, I like how you put that. Thank you, Jessica.
Well President Bush today faced tough questions about his national security policies. The president acknowledging that June was the bloodiest month of the entire war in Afghanistan for our troops. He said the rise in casualties is due to more aggressive tactics by our troops.
President Bush also tried to play down speculation that a military strike on Iran is likely. Ed Henry reports from the White House.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Asked about a flurry of reports suggesting the U.S. or Israel may attack Iran by the end of the year, the president did little to discourage the talk.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have always said that all options are on the table. But the first option for the United States is to solve this problem diplomatically.
HENRY: But, by the administration's own account, those diplomatic efforts have done little to stop Iran from continuing on a path to try and enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Pressed specifically on whether he would discourage Israel from attacking Iran, Mr. Bush refused to be pinned down.
BUSH: The best way to solve it diplomatically is for the United States to work with other nations to send a focused message, and that is that you will be isolated and you will have economic hardship if you continue trying to enrich.
HENRY: Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister sent a mixed message at the United Nations. He claimed Tehran, too, wants to solve the issue diplomatically, but added defiantly, the U.S. can't attack Iran anyway.
MANOUCHEHR MOTTAKI, IRAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Following repeated deceits in the Middle East, we do not believe that the United States is in a position to impose another war on American taxpayers.
HENRY: At the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen acknowledged with wars already in Iraq and Afghanistan, opening a third front would be stressful on the military.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHRMN.: That doesn't mean we don't have capacity or reserve but that -- that would really be very challenging and, also, the consequences of that sometimes are very difficult to predict.
HENRY: Admiral Mullen said he's deeply troubled by the increasing violence in Afghanistan with June the deadliest month ever for U.S. troops there, but the president said he's confident his strategy will work.
BUSH: It has been a tough month in Afghanistan but it's also been a tough month for the Taliban.
HENRY: Now Admiral Mullen said that if the situation in Iraq continues to improve, he'd like to start shifting some troops from Iraq to Afghanistan by the end of the year. But if that comes right in the middle of the presidential campaign it could obviously get very controversial -- Lisa.
SYLVESTER: Ed Henry, thanks for that report.
HENRY: Thank you.
SYLVESTER: Still to come, the FDA takes emergency action to tackle the nationwide salmonella outbreak three months after it began. What in the world took the FDA so long?
And freedom under fire, the federal government taking harsh action against a gun owner trying to defend his Second Amendment rights, we'll have the latest.
SYLVESTER: The first case of salmonella in this latest outbreak was reported three months ago. Since then nearly 1,000 more cases have been reported and yet, only now is the Food and Drug Administration taking emergency action to find the source of the outbreak. Louis Schiavone reports.
LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the nation's tomato industry struggles and hundreds, possibly thousands battle back from a salmonella outbreak, the mystery only seems to be deepening.
VOICE OF DAVID ACHESON, FDA: We're still advising consumers as we were before. It's just that there is clearly a need to think beyond tomatoes. SCHIAVONE: Neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Centers for Disease Control will specify other produce they're now investigating. But an examination of the case clusters in the 36- state outbreak show four states especially hard hit, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Illinois.
JIM PREVOR, EDITOR, PRODUCE BUSINESS MAGAZINE: It really seems to be pointing to Mexican-style food and almost always if you talk about products like salsa, like guacamole, people eat those products with tortilla chips, with fresh tortillas, so maybe it's something in another area. It may not be fresh produce at all in which case of course what FDA and CDC did is unforgivable.
SCHIAVONE: Food safety experts say investigators walk a tight rope when they identify a source that could ultimately prove wrong.
DOUGLAS POWELL, PROF. OF FOOD SAFETY, KANSAS STATE UNIV.: At the end of the day, the politicians, the bureaucrats, they all still have jobs. It's the growers that get hurt when there's any -- when any food becomes what we call stigmatized.
SCHIAVONE: With the first case in this outbreak reported three months ago, investigators fanned out from Mexico to Florida and have yet to find a single tainted tomato. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (ph) told CNN quote, "The salmonella outbreak has caused considerable financial losses for the grower and food industries and exposed our vulnerability to a bioterrorism attack."
TONY CORBO, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: The fact that they activated the Federal Emergency Response Network sent some antenna up with me because that whole network was set up to deal with possible intentional contamination of the food supply.
SCHIAVONE: Lisa, the Food and Drug Administration has been working with the Department of Homeland Security and other officials in the tracing of this outbreak and, so far, officials have said they told us just this afternoon there is no evidence that there's been a malicious act, but there's no evidence yet as to the cause of the outbreak.
SYLVESTER: So all these weeks we've been avoiding tomatoes and it's not necessarily tomatoes. What do we know about the Food Emergency Response Network and their ability to step in here?
SCHIAVONE: Well this was a post-9/11 concept. It was by presidential directive in 2004 that this was set up. It's a chain. It's a network of 100 laboratories across the country. These laboratories participate on a voluntary basis. Yesterday officials said that there were 10 laboratories that were participating in this. The FDA and the CDC said they were bringing FERN into this because they had an expanding source of foods that they wanted to investigate.
SYLVESTER: So hopefully they will be able to come up with an answer soon. I know a lot of people are waiting for that.
SCHIAVONE: But if you talk to the FDA or the CDC, they tell you that it's very possible they may never find a smoking gun.
SYLVESTER: Amazing. All right, thank you, Louise Schiavone for that report.
This is the country's 13th salmonella outbreak since 1990. In the last four years, the FDA has lost nearly a third of its food safety and field staff and many more are expected to retire soon. At the current rate of inspection, it would take 1,900 years, 1,900 years to check all the food production facilities around the world.
Coming up, communist China tightening restrictions on its citizens and foreign visitors as the Beijing Olympics draw near, we'll have a report.
And the full weight of the federal government falls on an individual gun owner. We'll have a special report, stay with us.
SYLVESTER: Coming up, the battle over creationism versus evolution flairs up again. We'll examine a controversy that's being watched by educators, parents and students across the entire country.
SYLVESTER: A new development in a case that raises serious questions about the federal government's commitment to the Second Amendment. Gun owner David Olofson (ph) today began a 30-month sentence in federal prison for the illegal transfer of a machine gun. Olofson's semiautomatic rifle malfunctioned and fired two multi-round bursts. Federal authorities learned of the incident and rather than ordering him to repair the rifle, they charged him under federal gun laws. Bill Tucker reports.
BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): David Olson's home for the next two and a half years will be the Sand Stone (ph) correctional facility in Minnesota. The proud veteran, reservist, husband and father of three, reported to Sand Stone (ph) to begin serving his sentence three days before the Fourth of July holiday. Olofson was allowed to turn himself in.
He was accompanied by his father and by the executive director of the Gun Owners of America, the second largest gun lobby in the country, which has taken over legal representation of Olofson. He promised a vigorous fight on appeal.
LARRY PRATT, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: This issue is an enormous issue because we're dealing with a rogue agency that's a law unto itself and is behaving as if they are a law unto themselves and they don't give a never mind about any consequences because heretofore they have never been held accountable for their misdeeds. TUCKER: The agency that Pratt is referring to is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which won its case in court. Gone are the public defenders assigned to Olofson's case that resulted in his conviction for illegally transferring a machine gun earlier this year. That conviction is drawing attention among gun enthusiasts because it centers around a rifle that is widely owned, the AR-15.
It is designed as a single shot weapon, but it has been known to malfunction and fire multiple rounds, then jam. Gun owners fear that if the ruling is not overturned, the definition of a machine gun will have been dramatically changed and that any malfunctioning gun puts the gun owner in danger of going to jail. Prior to reporting Olofson said he continues to believe in the judicial system.
DAVID OLOFSON, CONVICTED GUN OWNER: I'm sure it may take a little longer than what I was hoping for, but I still have no doubts that this will be resolved properly within the court system.
TUCKER: Appellate arguments by the defense are due August 1st.
TUCKER: The government then has 45 days in which to respond to those arguments. It is not likely that the court will rule on any of the arguments until next spring at the very earliest, which means, Lisa, if this case should somehow be overturned, David Olofson will spend about a year in jail.
SYLVESTER: So David Olofson, we have a father of three, he didn't even fire the weapon, did he?
TUCKER: No, no, he lent it to a neighbor who took it to a firing range and it misfired or fired multiple bursts, depending on who you want to listen to, at the firing range. Nobody was hurt in this incident. No crimes were committed in the process.
SYLVESTER: And he's going to get how long?
TUCKER: Thirty months in prison.
SYLVESTER: That is amazing. That is truly amazing. What are the likelihood that he'll be able to overturn this, that an appeal...
TUCKER: It really depends on who you talk to. This case was heard by a jury. The jury convicted him. The judge upheld the conviction. There is some fairly convincing arguments that the defense has to make. Whether the court will entertain them and listen to them, we don't know. We won't know probably until this time next year.
SYLVESTER: Bill Tucker thanks for that report.
The AR-15, the type of rifle that David Olofson owned, is a civilian version of the military's M-16. It was first put into service in 1958. The National Rifle Association estimates AR-15s are currently owned by tens of thousands of American gun owners.
Time now for some of your thoughts; thousands of you have been responding to our Tuesday poll question about whether you believe senior members of the FDA deserve $35 million in incentive bonuses.
Teresa in Alabama writes, "No, the FDA employees do not deserve incentives. They deserve pink slips."
John in Georgia, "Lou, it is a disgrace that the FDA has not yet solved the current salmonella outbreak. Not only don't they deserve their bonuses, but some of the high-paid loafers should be fired, so that money could be used to hire more investigators in the field to solve this problem."
Sam in Arizona, "Maybe somebody with a conscience could introduce a bill that outlaws lobbyists and special interest groups spending billions of dollars on elected officials. Hey what an idea. This might actually benefit the American people, but I think conscience and Congress might be an oxymoron."
We'll have more of your e-mails later in the broadcast.
Coming up, a new campaign to insert religion into science, we'll examine latest controversy over creationism versus evolution and red storm rising, communist China's aggressive efforts to crack down on dissent before the Olympics. We'll have the very latest.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion, and Independent view. Here again, Lisa Sylvester.
SYLVESTER: Communist China wants to improve its image as the Beijing Olympics draw near, but China is trying to block criticism by cracking down on dissidents and anyone critical of the government. As Kitty Pilgrim reports, the repression is not having the effect the Chinese desire, instead, it's sparking international outrage.
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Congressman Chris Smith just got back from Beijing last night, but today he was already on camera, demanding the Chinese government live up to its promise. The Chinese pledged increased freedom when they were awarded the summer Olympics.
REP CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: In just a month or so we'll watch opening ceremonies of the Olympics with smiling faces, flags waving, but that belies the reality on the ground for those who truly want human rights, they will be sitting in a prison.
PILGRIM: When Smith and Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia tried to meet with dissident lawyers in Beijing this week, they were blocked, and the lawyers detained.
SARAH COOK, FREEDOM HOUSE: The people that these lawmakers were trying to meet with, they weren't just your kind of run of the mill people, these were some of the most prominent lawyers in China, part of the movement really promoting human rights and the things that the Chinese government likes to talk about on the level of rhetoric.
PILGRIM: In the lead-up to the Olympics, ordinary citizens and journalists have been repressed for criticism of the government. Reporters Without Borders says 24 journalists have been detained since January, in addition to at least 100 journalists behind bars, falsely accused of revealing state secrets. Countless Chinese citizens have suffered the same fate.
TALA DOWLATSHAHI, REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS: On June 2nd, the Chinese government issued a new and revised list of clampdowns on what foreign journalists are allowed to cover when they go to the region.
PILGRIM: U.S. human rights organizations, Freedom House has branded China not free in its annual list of countries. It cited limitations on reporting the earthquake in China and blackouts in coverage of the protests over Tibet as examples as new press restrictions by the Chinese government.
Activists say now is the time to press for expanded human rights and freedoms in China before the Olympics games, while China is still trying to win the approve of the world. Reporters Without Borders and other groups wrote a letter to Condoleezza Rice asking her to bring up human rights before she attends the G-8 Summit in the region next week -- Lisa.
SYLVESTER: But Kitty, is the United States doing enough, here?
PILGRIM: Well, you know, we had the congressman presenting a list -- Chris Smith and Frank Wolf -- presenting a list of 700 political prisoners they want released. They actually went to Beijing to present that list. Activists would actually like to see President Bush boycott the opening ceremony, they say that would send the message.
SYLVESTER: Certainly would sent a very strong message. All right, thanks, Kitty, for that report.
Two more products made it communist China were recalled, today. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall for 160,000 D.C. power supplies sold by Radio Shack. It recalled about 2,000 paintball gun adapters made by Real Action Paintball. There have been more than 120 recalls so far this year for products made it China.
This just in, the Kroger Company has expanded its recall of ground beef products to more than 20 states, its beef products have been linked to e.Coli illnesses in Michigan and Ohio. The over 500 pounds of ground beef was supplied by Nebraska Beef Supply and was produced between May 16 and June 24. We'll have more on this story throughout the evening, here on CNN.
And still ahead, a new push to sneak religion back into the science class. We'll talk to one expert who says there is a link between creationism and Evolution.
And Senator Barack Obama appears to be moving towards the center. Is he trying to win over independent-minded voters? Three of the best political analysts in the country join me next.
SYLVESTER: There is a growing movement that critics say will reintroduce intelligence design or creationism in our schools, the focus of concern now, so-called "Academic Freedom bills." Opponents of these bills say they are just back door attempts to bring religion into the classroom. Bill Tucker has our report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The basic working knowledge right now of Evolutionary theory...
BILL TUCKER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Teaching the concept of Intelligent Design as biological theory, explaining life on earth, was banned in schools by a federal judge in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2005. The court found Intelligent Design to be philosophical, a religious concept, not scientific theory. The Discovery Institute continues to actively support Intelligent Design. And the institute also actively supports so-called "Academic Freedom" bills, to protect instructors who, it says, teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of Evolutionary theory.
JOHN WEST, DISCOVERY INSTITUTE: We think we should learn more about Evolution in fact, I'm most concerned I think that the Evolution education in this country is dumbed down.
TUCKER: The language of the Academic Freedom bill is now being considered in six states even includes a clause that says, "Nothing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine." Discovery officials adamantly deny that they are trying to sneak religion into the science class. But, then they don't consider Intelligent Design a religious concept, they call it a scientific theory and they consider Evolution flawed science. So, Intelligent Design becomes an answer.
Fundamentally, it's a clash of Creationism versus Evolution, one that Evangelist, Michael Dowd, says in his book "Thank God for Evolution" is unnecessary, but not surprising.
MICHAEL DOWD, AUTHOR: I don't think we're going to see an end to the science/religion war, nor an end to the conservatives trying to keep Evolution away from their children until people -- Christians especially, are exposed to a sacred meaningful, inspiring way of thinking about Evolution.
TUCKER: The lawyer who led and won the fight to ban Intelligent Design from science classes puts it in less prosayic terms.
WITOLD WALCZAK, ACLU: The legislators can pass all the bills they want. It's the school districts that are going to foot the bill for litigation when they have some teachers who introduce religious concepts under the guise of science.
TUCKER: In Texas, they may be about to test that legal theory.
Seven of the 15 members of the Texas state Board of Education subscribe to the theory of Intelligent Desire, just one vote shy of a majority. And that's important because what happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas, at least regarding textbooks. The state is the largest buyer of school textbooks, so what Texas wants, most of the rest of us get.
Bill Tucker, CNN, New York.
SYLVESTER: The Texas Education Board will decide this summer whether the strengths and weaknesses of Evolution should be taught in schools, and the Texas decision could impact other states as well.
Now there are those who believe there is a link between Evolution and Creationism. The Reverend Michael Dowd is at the forefront of that movement. He is the author of the book "Thank God for Evolution" and Michael Dowd joins me now.
Thank you very much for coming here. Now, in your book, you say this idea that science and religion cannot only coexist, but Creation and Evolution can coexist, how so? And you also say something really interesting -- the facts are God's native tongue. What do you mean by this?
DOWD: There's a huge body of people in the middle, it's the millions in the middle who are not being reported on. If you just pay attention to mainstream media, what you get is the idea that there's just the new atheist on the one end, there's the young earth Creationist and Intelligent Design folks on the other. But, if you ask most Americans, do they see a conflict between science and religion, they'd say no. in fact, I'd love you to do a poll on that one, because there's so many people, there's 11,000 clergy, for example, that have signed the clergy letter -- it's called the Clergy Letter Project and they signed the letter saying they see no conflict between a mainstream scientific understanding of Evolution and their faith.
SYLVESTER: How do you explain it, though? I mean, most people present it as an either/or, it's either Creation or Evolution. How do you bridge the two?
DOWD: Well, because it can be understood as 14 Billion year, of grace and creativity. In other words, we can take the same science and interpret it meaningfully. In fact, in the clip, one of the things that I pointed out there that I think is the truth is that we're going to continue to see conservatives reject Evolution and fight against it in schools until it's been interpreted meaningfully for them and it's not right now. Most conservatives have only been exposed to a way of thinking about Evolution that's meaningless, chance, purposeless, directionless, godless process, and of course they're not going to accept that. SYLVESTER: So, you were a minister, so when you go around country and you are talking to different religious groups, how do you tell them, hey, this makes sense?
DOWD: Well, my wife is a science writer and we've been, for six years traveling on the road...
SYLVESTER: Your wife is also an atheist, isn't she, she's not just a science writer, she's also an atheist?
DOWD: Well, if what you mean by atheist is a big daddy in the sky, the yes, she's an atheist, she doesn't believe in that kind of God. But, the way we talk about it in terms of this Evolution theology, and Evolution theology is this is kind of Religion 2.0, it's the place in the middle where most Americans are.
Now, they solve that conflict differently. For example, Francis Collins wrote a best-selling book. He solves it that there are so many different people that working in Theistic Evolution or Religious Naturalism, these movements that see that they cannot only not conflict, but they can actually be mutually enriching, that science can enrich ones faith, Evolution can deepen one's faith.
SYLVESTER: You know, yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution and you are a reverend. I know that you said there was one point in your life where you said that Darwin -- you essentially dismissed him as the devil. So, how did you go from there to where you are today?
DOWD: I was a student at Evangel College, it's now called Evangel University, but it's affiliated with the Assemblies of god in Springfield, Missouri and they teach Evolution, there. I didn't know that at most Evangelical colleges and seminaries teach Evolution. Well, when I discovered that, I walked out of class. And it was only after I really came to see that Evolution could be understood in a, to use religious language, a god-glorifying, sacred, meaningful way, in a way that inspired people to greater compassion, love, integrity. And again, most people have not been exposed to a way of thinking about Evolution like that, that's why I wrote my book "Thank God for Evolution."
SYLVESTER: We only have about 30 seconds, but really quickly, with the debate that's going on, what do you make of that?
DOWD: I think it makes complete sense. I feel -- my heart goes out to conservatives that feel threatened that their kids are going to go to hell if they accept an Evolutionary world view. It's, of course, I don't think -- it's not the case. Evolution can strengthen their faith. But again, they have not been exposed to that way of thinking, yet. And I think until we do, until churches preach and teach Evolution sacredly, meaningfully, inspiringly, I think we're going to continue to see this battle.
SYLVESTER: So you mean, you're really saying that there's some middle ground, here.
DOWD: More than middle ground. I think Evolution can actually broaden and deepen and strengthen religious faith.
SYLVESTER: OK, Michael Dowd, adding to the discourse, your book, the "Thank God for Evolution," we certainly appreciate it. Thank you very much for your time.
DOWD: Thank you, Lisa.
SYLVESTER: A reminder now, to vote in tonight's poll. Do you believe Senator McCain should pay more attention to what's happening in this country than to what's going on in Colombia and Mexico? Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com and we'll bring results in a few minutes.
Now, coming up at the top of the hour, the ELECTION CENTER with Soledad O'Brien in for Campbell Brown.
Soledad, what are you working on?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hey Lisa, good evening to you. We're going to continue to follow this breaking news, those 15 hostages rescued in Colombia, including three Americans and a former Colombian presidential candidate. We'll have all latest, including reaction. And take a guess which U.S. presidential candidate knew about the rescue ahead of time. We'll fill you in on that, too.
Also, tonight, word of a big shake-up atop of John McCain's campaign. We'll ask if Barack Obama needs to shake up his position on Iraq. We'll have much more and all that as well coming up at the top of the hour -- Lisa.
SYLVESTER: Soledad, thank you very much for that.
And, still ahead, a major shake-up in the McCain campaign. Why Senator McCain is making big changes in his staff.
And Senator Obama is moving towards the political center. Some say he's sounding more like President Bush. Three of best political analysts join me next to discuss those issues and more.
SYLVESTER: Shares of General Motors today plunged to their lowest level in more than half a century. GM closed below $10, that's a loss of 15 percent. The automaker has been hurt by skyrocketing oil price and a shift towards more fuel-efficient cars. GM yesterday reported an 18 percent drop in sales from a year ago. Today, Merrill Lynch said bankruptcy is not -- is quite not impossible.
Now, we've got a major shake-up, though, at the top levels of the McCain campaign, today. A veteran of President Bush's re-election campaign is now running daily operation. And joining me for more on that and all of the day's political news are three of best political analysts and CNN contributors: Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Ed served as White House political direct under President Reagan. Ed most recently chaired Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "New York Daily News," Michael Goodwin, and of course Democratic strategist, Robert Zimmerman.
Thank you, gentlemen, for joining me, today. We've got great company, here.
Now, as we all know, there was a major shake-up in the McCain campaign. I mean, it seems that there's a change in the operations, what's going on with the McCain campaign? The straight talk express, is it in trouble?
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's not in trouble. Maybe because I'm a Republican, I'll go first. It is still very close, we still have a period of time to go, but we've not done as well as we should have over the last three or four months, and a lot of Republicans are very unhappy. Steve Schmidt, who is coming in as a very tough -- he will run a very effective campaign. He ran the response mechanism for the Bush/Cheney campaign, he's experienced at presidential level. He ran Governor Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign and he will bring order to that campaign. They'll have a very important consistent message, and he'll fix the logistics. The logistics have been terrible in this campaign.
SYLVESTER: Ed, you sound almost subdued and almost depressed as...
ROLLINS: I'm just -- for one, I'm very pleased. I like Rick Davis. Rick used to work for me, he's a good guy. He's certainly going to play a critical role, but he wasn't making it work.
SYLVESTER: Does Senator Obama have an opportunity here to step in, then?
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think, realistically. Look, you know, Democrats are being very glib about the changes in the McCain campaign. You're hearing lines like they're restructuring deck chairs on with the "Titanic" or you know, the idea that it's not just the McCain running with the principles for a third Bush term, he's running with the players of the Bush administration for a third bush term.
But the reality is, this change is significant. These people are political pros and they're very effective. And the challenge is going to be whether they can put the Democrats on the defensive or not. And I think and I believe the way Barack Obama has run this campaign, he's a good counterpuncher, and I don't know that -- I don't believe the typical playbook that Karl Rove used is going to work this time.
SYLVESTER: Michael, I want you to weigh in on this. The "Wall Street Journal" lead editorial today is talking about a presidential candidate and Bush's third term, but here's the clincher -- they weren't talking about Senator McCain, they were talking about Senator Obama. And I want to pull up a full screen here, a graphic here that we can follow along.
"Mr. Obama isn't merely running to the center, he's fleeing from many of his primary position so markedly and so rapidly that he's embracing a sizable chunk of President Bush's policy." Is he basically just moving to the center on this, this issue, and -- these issues, rather, and will this work?
MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Well, I agree with that because I wrote something just like it last week. In fact, Obama is -- I think he's just running away from who he was in the primary. And of course, then he had to sort of outflank Hillary Clinton on the left, which he did successfully, but now he's got to move to the center. Some of that is traditional, but I think what's caught everyone's attention is that he's doing it so quickly and such a wholesale fashion.
For example, the FISA ruling, the campaign finance, I mean, these things are not just evolutions, they are total change, 180 degree, overnight, and it's rather shaky. And I think the problem for Obama is that people still don't know him that well and so, when he does that, you begin to question who he is.
When McCain makes changes, we sort of think, well, we know McCain and he's been around for a long time. But for Obama, it does say, well, we don't really know this guy.
SYLVESTER: Ed, is he a flip-flopper?
ROLLINS: Well, I think he flip-flopped on some very serious issues. Is it going to hurt him in the end? I don't know, because what the end is going to be about is the economy and I think to a certain extent, both these campaigns has to go out and connect with ordinary voters. I think what he is, though, as Michael said, he's an unknown candidate, still a canvas that can be written on and whether it's McCain who writes on it or he writes his own picture, is going to be the key thing.
But, the other part of that is, John McCain's got to go out and be John McCain and people don't know who he is. I think that's -- that he has been a war hero, they know he's been around for a long time, but both men have to define themselves far more effectively in the remaining period of this campaign.
SYLVESTER: And Robert, your thoughts.
ZIMMERMAN: Let's be realistic. Unlike Michael's writing, I read the editorial in the "Wall Street Journal" and unlike Michael's work, the "Wall Street Journal" wrote a conclusion, they were trying to find facts to justify it. Obviously, Barack Obama is moving to the center, as is John McCain -- John McCain is attempting to. But, for the McCain campaign to pursue the tactic of calling Barack Obama flip- flopper after John McCain has flipped on tax cuts for the very wealthy, supporting the Bush economic program, after he's flipped on his own illegal immigration bill, now saying he wouldn't vote for his own Bill, after he's flipped on off-shore oil drilling. McCain's not pursuing a political strategy, he's really practicing political chutzpa.
SYLVESTER: Everybody's -- OK, you clearly want to jump in.
GOODWIN: No, look, I do think that Obama is moving on a lot of positions very quickly and there's no question that his inexperience -- he doesn't have a record to point to and say, this is what I always believed, and that's the problem for him. For example, on the gun thing, I mean, he's been all over the place and so at this point, I don't know what he really truly believes about the Second Amendment, what he would do as president in terms of gun control in terms of court picks. Those are the sorts of things that, playing out at this stage, can really come back to bite him at the end.
SYLVESTER: OK, we're going to have to hold off there, we're going to go to a quick break and we'll have more with our panel coming up, and the result of our poll. Stay with us.
SYLVESTER: We're back now with our panel. Now, we were just saying how Senator Obama -- he's, I guess, is not only getting grief from Republicans about the whole flip-flopping, but also I guess, Robert that there are some Democrats that are not too pleased with him, either.
ZIMMERMAN: There's no question. The Liberal blogosphere is going into therapy over this. And that's a serious problem because unless the left-wing understands this election is not about them, it's about building broader coalitions, that's going to be a serious problem. Now, I strongly disagree with Senator Obama regarding his FISA position and think he has changed from what he said in the primary, without question. But the point is, he's building broader coalitions and trying to expand his base and he's -- the measure of this man is much bigger than that one issue. Hopefully, the Democratic Party gets it.
GOODWIN: But, I think one of the things in a presidential campaign, as someone said today, it's a giant personality contest. And if your personality's in question, if you can't be trusted, if your word doesn't mean anything, if you can change it so quickly, so without any kind of explanation, really, you know, you just don't show up for vote or say "yes, I'm for that" that's the sort of thing that's really held against you, that's a fundamental issue in a presidential campaign. Because people know they can't agree with you on every position, they want to trust you. That's what I think he's risking, now.
SYLVESTER: Well, this is a general election. And I want to switch to Senator McCain in Colombia, because speaking of somebody who is sticking to position, I mean, he is really sticking to this free trade position, even though he's gotten some hits from it. Today, defending his free trade agenda in Colombia, here's some of what Senator McCain had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think all of us should be worried because our history shows that isolationism and protectionism has very unpleasant consequences. We who support free trade have to emphasize time after time that we are committed to providing the education and retraining to displaced workers...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROLLINS: The problem with that is, he's referring to Hoover, which no one's alive today except maybe me and McCain who were alive when Hoover was president. But at the end of the day, when people in America are worried about losing jobs, and are losing jobs, and when Starbucks closes and, when people give up their coffee or people can't buy gas to go out on their vacations, talking about NAFTA and exporting jobs and saying it's going to be good for the long term is just not a good story. It may be what he believes, and it's very important that he sticks to his guns, but there are other things he ought to be talking about.
What he ought to be talking about is what ordinary people want to hear, and that is that you get it and you've got to basically go out and try and do something to help me move forward.
GOODWIN: Also if you're going to talk about NAFTA, I don't know why he doesn't do it in Ohio and Pennsylvania, instead of Colombia and Mexico.
ZIMMERMAN: Well there's a good reason, Michael. The only two countries John McCain has voted to create jobs are Colombia and Mexico because of all the free trade policies that have cost Americans jobs, and have sent jobs overseas. That's where he can talk about job growth.
ROLLINS: Well he obviously --
ROLLINS: He's obviously not going to get much out of this. And the key thing is -- I think we all should be very grateful for -- the brilliant rescue effort that took place there.
ROLLINS: But going back to his running of his campaign, and getting on message, here he is down there today, tomorrow in Mexico, the Fourth of July weekend is coming here. He ought to be running around in this country and -- equally as important, this is the day when he's down doing international -- talking about being commander- in-chief -- his staff has a major shake-up. He's not even here.
That's a story that should have been on Friday morning or next Monday morning, not today. This campaign has been in disarray and obviously it needs to be altered.
SYLVESTER: Well we're out of time right now, but certainly that staffing shake-up -- perhaps it will make a difference for what's going on with the McCain camp.
ROLLINS: I certainly hope so. SYLVESTER: All right. Thanks, gentleman. Thanks for your time. We appreciate it very much. Always a pleasure.
Time now for tonight's poll results -- 95 percent of you believe Senator McCain should be paying more attention to what's happening in this country than to what's going on in Colombia and Mexico.
So Ed was right.
Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow. Good night from New York.
The "ELECTION CENTER" starts right now with Soledad O'Brien in for Campbell Brown -- Soledad.