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'A Nation of Whiners': McCain Adviser on 'Mental Recession'; Obama's Problem With Women; What Voters Want in a VP candidate

Aired July 10, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a top John McCain adviser complains the U.S. is a nation of whiners when it comes to the economy. And former Senator Phil Gramm didn't stop there. Now McCain is working on some damage control.
Hillary Clinton's at it again, helping Barack Obama try to appeal to women voters. But there's new evidence Obama's female support may be slipping.

And a vice presidential guessing game. We don't know who Obama or McCain will choose, but we do have a new read on what voters want.

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

First this hour, an embarrassing distraction for John McCain as he tries to convince voters he has their economic interests at heart. His top economic adviser and very close friend, former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, veered off course big-time today. Among other things, Gramm suggested that recession isn't reality right now, it's a mental condition.

Let's go right to CNN's Dana Bash. She's covering the McCain campaign for us.

Dana, how is the campaign handling all of this?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when McCain was asked today whether Phil Gramm, a long-time friend and adviser, would have a place in his administration, he responded, tongue firmly in cheek, that he would consider him for ambassador to Belarus if people the people of Minsk would have him. But jokes aside, McCain advisers knew immediately Gramm did not help their new effort at message control.


BASH (voice over): In hard-hit Michigan, this is the McCain mantra on the economy...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are hurting. People are hurting very badly.

BASH: A carefully-measured message that's part "feel your pain," part realist, but all optimist.

MCCAIN: But they need to have trust and hope and confidence in the future.

BASH: Given that, quotes in "The Washington Times" from Phil Gramm, one of John McCain's top economic advisers, were a big oops.

"We've become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness." Gramm also said, "You've heard of mental depression. This is mental recession."

McCain couldn't distance himself fast enough from his friend.

MCCAIN: Phil Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me. So I strongly disagree.

BASH: He struggled to steer his economic message back on course.

MCCAIN: I don't agree with Senator Gramm. I believe that the person here in Michigan that just lost his job isn't suffering from a mental recession. I believe the mother here in Michigan and around America who's trying to get enough money to educate their children isn't whining.

BASH: Democrats had already pounced.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not just a figment of your imagination.

BASH: Minutes earlier, Barack Obama shoved a dig about Phil Gramm's comments into his speech.

OBAMA: ... that America already has one Dr. Phil. We don't need another one when it comes to the economy.

BASH: Now, surrogate slipups have plagued both campaigns. Obama recently rebuked retired General Wesley Clark, his supporter, for questioning McCain's military service.

PHIL GRAMM (R), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: And John McCain has character.

BASH: The problem for McCain is that he relies on Gramm, a Ph.D. in economics, for policy advice, and as a character witness for voters worried that McCain doesn't get the economy.

MCCAIN: And the reason why I have the support of people like Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm is because of their confidence in my proven record of handling the economy.


BLITZER: Dana, I know you had a chance to speak with Senator Gramm today. What did he say about this flare-up?

BASH: That's right. I did speak to the former senator by phone this afternoon. He actually called me before he got on a plane saying he wanted to clarify his comments.

First, Wolf, he told me he didn't mean to say Americans were whining about the economy, but rather many of the country's leaders are. Here's what he told me.

He told me, "The whiners are the leaders. Hell, the American people are victims. But it didn't quite come out that way in the story."

Now, Gramm, when I spoke to him, though, Wolf, he did stand by his comments about a mental recession. Here's what he told me about that. He said, "We keep getting the steady drum beat of bad news. It's become a mental recession. We don't have measured negative growth. That's a fact, that's not a commentary."

Now, Gramm also insisted he was speaking for himself only, not on behalf of John McCain or his campaign, and he called the hoopla around his remarks part of the game where he says people are taken out of context -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana's watching this story for us. We'll have more coming up.

Dana, thanks.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, has his own campaign troubles, including his latest efforts to try to win over women voters. He got some new help in that area today from his former rival, Hillary Clinton.

Let's turn to Jessica Yellin. She's covering the Obama campaign for us.

How is Obama doing in trying to attract some new female supporters?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, CNN's polling shows that Obama has actually lost some support among women since the days right after Clinton left the race. In fact, a growing number of women are saying they plan not to vote at all. Of course, it's still early days, and Obama is fighting to win female voters over.


YELLIN (voice over): Defining a stark contrast with John McCain, today Barack Obama promised to back a law supporting equal pay for equal work.

OBAMA: The problem is, employers aren't treating women fairly. That needs to be changed, and I'll change it when I'm president of the United States of America.

YELLIN: McCain opposed the so-called Fair Pay law, saying in part it would lead to too many lawsuits. In breaking with McCain, Barack Obama is appealing directly to blue collar working women, many of whom are undecided in this race.

In the primaries, Obama lost women voters to Senator Clinton. She got 52 percent of the female vote. He got 43 percent. So he's appearing with the popular senator.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: It is critical that we join forces, because the Democratic Party is a family.

YELLIN: And today he unveiled a list of economic policies designed to help middle-and-low-income women.

OBAMA: It's unacceptable that women are denied jobs or promotions because they've got kids at home. It's unacceptable that 22 million working women don't have a single paid sick day. It's unacceptable that millions of working mothers could actually be fired for taking maternity leave.

YELLIN: Among the reforms he's promising, legislation protecting women who don't get equal pay for equal work; a tax break to help pay for child care; and a campaign for new laws guaranteeing that workers get paid during family and medical leave.

One Democratic pollster explains, "It's not surprising that many blue collar women would be torn between Obama and McCain."

ANNA GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: These women really struggle between their economic vulnerability concerns and their social conservatism, and which side sort of wins out plays a big role in who they vote for.


YELLIN: Well, today, John McCain said that many of the promises Obama is making, like guaranteeing that family leave and sick days are paid, are issues that McCain believes are better resolved between workers and their bosses, and government should stay out of it.

But in the meantime, Obama will continue to press this message about reforming these laws, saying, in fact, he believes it's the way of the future and it is a topic of many of Michelle Obama's public events -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's got his work cut out among those women voters. We'll watch with you, Jessica.

Jessica Yellin reporting.

Both Obama and McCain, by the way, are deep into their searches for running mates right now, but it's all very, very hush- hush. The voters are opening up, though, about the qualities they'd like to see in a vice president.

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's working the story for us. Are there any rules, Bill, for selecting a vice presidential running mate?



SCHNEIDER (voice over): What are Republicans looking for in John McCain's running mate? Answer: a strong conservative, according to a new poll by Clarus Research Group. What's the most important qualification Democrats want in Barack Obama's running mate? Answer: experience.

RON FAUCHEUX, CLARUS RESEARCH GROUP: They are really looking for qualities that fill the gaps in what the candidates for president themselves offer.

SCHNEIDER: Is there any evidence that a running mate ever made the difference in getting someone elected? Yes.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Lyndon Johnson is the only candidate that made a difference in the election of the president.

SCHNEIDER: But that was nearly 50 years ago. Since then, it's hard to argue that vice presidential candidates have made a big difference.

Walter Mondale's choice of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 broke barriers and created a lot of excitement.

GERALDINE FERRARO (D), FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.

SCHNEIDER: But Mondale still lost.

In 1988, George Bush's choice of Dan Quayle was widely criticized.

LLOYD BENTSEN (D), FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.

Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

SCHNEIDER: But Bush still won.

A vice presidential choice may not help you win, but it can do damage, particularly at the convention that has to nominate the vice president. Dissension at the convention, bad idea. That could happen if McCain picks a running mate who's unacceptable to conservatives, or if Obama picks someone who offends the Clinton wing of the party.

Hence, the one big rule for choosing a vice president...

FAUCHEUX: I think vice presidential candidates only affect the outcome of the election if they're a bad choice.

HESS: The rule of thumb is, do no harm.


SCHNEIDER: Now, even if it doesn't have much effect on the election, the choice of running mate, of course, is important. Vice presidents are in line to become president, or at least they go to the head of the line to become the party's next nominee. And as we found out with Al Gore and Dick Cheney, they can have a lot of influence in the new administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No doubt about that at all. And we certainly learned that in recent years.

Bill Schneider reporting for us.

Thank you.

Right now, John McCain's spokeswoman is standing by to respond to the Phil Gramm gaffe about a nation of whiners. Will McCain suffer for it?

Plus, Viagra on the campaign trail. It's a real issue that one presidential candidate was reluctant to discuss.

And Jesse Ventura is wrestling with a big decision, whether he should run for the U.S. Senate. The outspoken former governor of Minnesota talks to us about his plans for a possible, possible political comeback and a political revolution.

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


BLITZER: John McCain took a brief detour from his usual straight talk when questioned about a topic that's provocative in more ways than one. That would be Viagra.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's watching this story for us.

Tom, give us the background. What is this one all about?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Viagra, as you know, Wolf, is a little pill that gives millions of men a little extra. And it happens to have twisted the tongue of the straight talker himself, John McCain.

The story starts with Carly Fiorina, the McCain campaign's national chairwoman and a top surrogate. She was talking about health insurance recently, and listen to what she said. "I've been hearing a lot from women," she said. "There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth control medication. Those women would like a choice."

A reporter asked McCain about the issue yesterday. Listen to what the candidate said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (OFF-MIKE) talked about it being unfair that insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control.

MCCAIN: I certainly do not want to discuss that issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I think you voted against...

MCCAIN: I don't know what I...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... voting against coverage of birth control, forcing insurance companies to cover birth control. Is that a -- is that still your position?

MCCAIN: I'll look at my voting record on it, but I have -- I don't recall the vote right now. But I'll be glad to look at it and get back to you as to why.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess her statement was that it was unfair that health insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control. Do you have an opinion on that?

MCCAIN: I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer, because I don't recall the vote. I pass thousands of votes in the Senate.


MCCAIN: But I will respond to you. It's something that I had not thought much about. And I did hear about her response, but I hadn't thought much about it.

I will get back to you today on it. I don't usually duck an issue, but I -- I'll try to get back to you.


FOREMAN: A McCain spokesperson did get back to us, saying that the senator from Arizona supports competition in the health care industry. We checked, though, and the senator from Arizona has voted against measures that would have mandated insurance companies to cover birth control.

Sensitive subject for many women out there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a sensitive subject for men as well.

All right. Thanks very much. Tom Foreman reporting.

Let's continue this discussion. Joining us now, a top strategist, senior policy adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer for the McCain campaign. Also a McCain campaign spokeswoman.

Nancy, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Clarify, because Carly Fiorina, top adviser to the Republican candidate, she said it's sort of unfair that these insurance companies cover Viagra for men but don't cover birth control for women.

PFOTENHAUER: Well, and the whole root problem is that American consumers are not really dealing directly with their insurance companies. They're not the customers, if you will. Their employers are the customers.

And that's why Senator McCain's plan tries to put the consumers back in the driver's seat. And that's why we've established a program that would give every family a refundable $5,000 tax credit to go towards purchasing your own insurance.

BLITZER: But is there a double standard here that we're talking about, one standard for men, another standard for women, that Senator McCain would like to rectify?

PFOTENHAUER: What he wants to do is let each consumer decide or each family decide what should be in their own package, and they should be the ones dealing with the insurance company and be able to shop across state lines. That's one of the big components of our proposal, to allow for...

BLITZER: All right. So let's just be precise and then we'll move on.


BLITZER: As far as birth control, he doesn't believe that should be funded, because he opposes abortion. Is that right?

PFOTENHAUER: He believes that American families should be able to choose what their insurance covers. For example, if you're a woman and you're past child bearing age, you may not want to be paying for maternity benefits. Or if you're a single man, you may not want...

BLITZER: But if you're a young woman who wants birth control...

PFOTENHAUER: Then you should be able to purchase a program that has the things that you decide is important to you. If you have a child, for example, with a -- or a family member with a chronic illness, you may want to be able to choose a plan that will allow you to treat that person over decades.

BLITZER: And so McCain would support that.

What about Viagra? I don't know if you've had a chance to discuss it with him since he had the exchange with that reporter.

PFOTENHAUER: I think what he would say is every American family should be able to put in -- to purchase an insurance plan that will cover the things that matter to them. If Viagra matters to you, then you would be shopping for an insurance program that also covered that. However, if it didn't, if you were a single woman, then you wouldn't be willing to pay money for a program that covered things like that.

BLITZER: All right.

PFOTENHAUER: At least in most instances.

BLITZER: Let's talk about former Senator Phil Gramm. He told "The Washington Times" -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- "You've heard of mental depression. This is a mental recession." He went on to say, "We have sort of become a nation of whiners."

Now, Phil Gramm is not just a former senator. He's a close friend, a top adviser. He and John McCain are extremely tight.

PFOTENHAUER: Well, Senator Gramm has had a long history of being a leader on economic issues. And, you know, he was the author of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation, bipartisan legislation that helped bring the budget back under control.

But clearly, he doesn't speak for Senator McCain. Senator McCain speaks for Senator McCain. And he has made -- he has spent the last year crossing the country, hundreds -- some people who have traveled with him say thousands of times listening to the American people, and he never...

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, Senator McCain doesn't agree with Phil Gramm that there is a mental recession under way right now, not a real economic recession?

PFOTENHAUER: He made that perfectly clear today. In fact, I think he said, "When I'm talking to someone from Detroit who's lost their job, that's not mental, that's real. When I'm talking to a mother who can't find money to pay for education," or I would add in there, health care, "facing rising prices in gas and groceries..."

That's why he's developed a program that will deal with the underlying problems, as well as providing immediate relief. And I have to say, Senator Obama doesn't do that. He has a Band-Aid approach to these things and he just says no across the board, whether it's energy or pro-growth tax policy. He says...

BLITZER: But you know this other statement, he said that, "We have sort of become a nation of whiners." That's about as politically, I guess, you know, bad to say something like that as you can imagine.


BLITZER: Because there are a lot of people who are really suffering.

PFOTENHAUER: Absolutely there are a lot of people that are really suffering. And I think all of us have someone within our family, our extended family, who is feeling the pain, if not many members. We know it's real. And particularly, there are pockets of this country where the -- as the economy has evolved, the industries that they work in have kind of been left behind. They have to transition.

BLITZER: Will Phil Gramm remain a key player in this campaign?

PFOTENHAUER: I think that Senator McCain will speak to that. He's made it clear that he disagrees with Senator Gramm on this as plainly as he could. And, you know, of all the folks out there who are in the political world, I think Senator McCain is someone who makes -- you know, who speaks for himself.

He's very, very clear. And he talks straight to the American people, as you know.

BLITZER: But is this something that's under consideration now, to dump him?

PFOTENHAUER: I have heard no even murmurs about these thing. So...

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch.


BLITZER: Together with you.

Nancy Pfotenhauer, thanks for coming in.

PFOTENHAUER: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Now that JonBenet Ramsey's family has been cleared of her death, we're looking at how their names were cleared, why it took so long. We're going to take you to the DNA testing office that helped establish their innocence once and for all.

And for anyone hoping to keep their homes, but facing foreclosure, help could soon be on the way. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Iran flexes its military muscles, warning it will strike back if attacked. But are we seeing more talk than action? A U.S. military source tells CNN Iran may be manipulating some truth about its military prowess.

Stand by for a full report.

His crimes during the Holocaust were said to be so monstrous, many people dubbed him "Dr. Death." The notorious Nazi has never been caught, but Nazi hunters say they're closing in right now.

And should workers be able to take guns to a place some people call the happiest place on Earth?

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

Barack Obama does something that critics say puts him closer to President Bush. It involves Obama's vote on legislation meant to protect Americans, but that some people say puts Americans' telephones and e-mail privacy actually at risk. And now some liberals are not happy with Senator Obama.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry has details -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a twofer for Republicans. The president gets to beat his chest on a big victory over government surveillance, while John McCain gets to beat up on Barack Obama over another shift in policy.


HENRY (voice-over): The president came to the Rose Garden for the second straight day to bring attention to a major victory for a lame duck, expanded wiretap powers he's been demanding for a long time.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bill I signed today will help us meet our most solemn responsibility, to stop new attacks.

HENRY: Without ever mentioning the name Barack Obama, the president's public celebration highlights a shift in position by the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Obama voted for the final bill, infuriating the liberal blogs that helped fuel his rise.


CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Where he has changed what he said before, is on the FISA, on the question of wiretap authority, surveillance, et cetera, et cetera. That's what has gotten the left up the wall, because it's a basic constitutional issue.


HENRY: In October, when he was seeking the Democratic nomination, an Obama spokesman said he would support a filibuster of any bill with legal immunity for telecom companies that aided government wiretapping.

But, Wednesday, Obama supported a bill with immunity for those telecoms, increased government latitude in eavesdropping on people in the U.S. and abroad with alleged terror ties, and a partially scaled-back role for an oversight court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You supported the bill that lets phone companies off the hook.

HENRY: Pressed by an angry questioner at a town hall meeting in Virginia, Obama said Thursday he has not changed his position.

OBAMA: The surveillance program is actually one that I believe is necessary for our national security. An, so, I had to balance, or weigh, voting against a program that I think we need and that had been created so that your privacies were protected, or create a situation in which we didn't have that program in place.

HENRY: Still, liberals see a shift to the center for the general election on national security, a wedge Republican John McCain is all too happy to exploit.

MCCAIN: He was opposed to FISA in the past, and opposed to that, and now he is supporting it -- not the first change in position.


HENRY: You can see Republicans starting to make the case that Barack Obama is following in the footsteps of John Kerry, who was dogged by flip-flop allegations in 2004. Perhaps more worrisome for Obama is the fact that a storyline about him shifting with the political winds could undermine his broader theme, that he's a different kind of politician -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is at the White House watching this story for us.

It offers breathtaking views as far as the eye can see. But it may also offer breathtaking relief for America's energy problems. Underneath land in Alaska may be a partial fix for the nation's reliance on foreign oil.

Let's go up to Kate Bolduan. She's working this story for us.

Kate, some lawmakers are drilling for answers. They want answers. What do we know?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats and Republicans, they acknowledge that they got an earful back home about high gas prices -- no surprise. Now both parties are trying to position themselves as the one that's actually doing something about it.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): The congressional battle over whether to drill or not to drill reached a new level Thursday.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We will learn more about the 10 billion barrels of oil that sit there laying idle.

BOLDUAN: House Republican Leader John Boehner announced he and 10 other GOP members are taking what's being dubbed -- quote -- "an American energy tour," destination, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

BOEHNER: I want to go see just what is there. I want to talk to the local residents about how they feel about the development of this land.

BOLDUAN: Of course, Boehner and other Republicans already support opening part of the refuge known as ANWR to oil exploration, and they're inviting the media to go with them on the trip. After a stop in Colorado to visit a renewable energy lab, the tour will then head north to the controversial area in Alaska.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: He can call Orbitz, and there's a number of other stops he can make.

BOLDUAN: But Democrats in the House and Senate continue to reject any idea of drilling in ANWR. Instead, they tried to turn the tables on Republicans and offered their own plan for drilling, almost next door to ANWR in the National Petroleum Reserve, 23 million acres of land set aside in 1923 as an emergency oil supply for the U.S. Navy.

Unlike ANWR, this area's already approved for exploration, and Democrats say they favor making more leases available to oil companies.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you look at that area that's already been set aside in Alaska, according to oil projections, it would yield more than ANWR. And we could do that now, rather than later.


BOLDUAN: And while a drilling compromise remains unlikely, what seems certain, Wolf, is that both sides will continue to butt heads over this issue for the rest of the summer.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, Kate, that these 10 Republicans are going to make this a huge issue, even as the new leader of the Republican Party, John McCain, himself opposes drilling in ANWR, in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. It sets a major split between the Republican leadership in the House, John Boehner, and John McCain. It's very interesting stuff.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Kate, thanks very much for that report.

Presidential candidates campaign on it. Millions of people post video to it, but members of Congress are barred from using YouTube. Outdated House rules are finally being addressed, causing a spat up on Capitol Hill.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is following the story for us.

Abbi, all right, tell us what is going on. Is anyone in Congress actually using YouTube? Give us the background.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Yes, Wolf, dozens of members of Congress actually are. They're posting videos -- here's just a few examples -- letting their constituents know via video what they're up to.

But, technically, by doing so, they are breaking House rules. These are antiquated rules that prohibit members of Congress from posting to an outside Web site. And the question of how to update those rules, and basically pull Congress into the digital era, has created a little bit of a back-and-forth on the Hill in the last few days between Republicans and Democrats.

There's a Democratic proposal that would allow posting video to certain pre-approved Web sites. Well, that created a bit of a spat from House Republican John Boehner. He called that censorship of the Internet. He wants members to have the ability to choose where they're posting, and some of his colleagues were protesting online on some outside Web sites.

Well, Speaker Pelosi has just responded on her blog, expressing her commitment to various Web sites, and saying that these are initial recommendations, and it's not the intention to stifle or censor members.

Wolf, this has already been discussed on the Hill now for a few months. And, still, this Web site, they're prevented from using it.

BLITZER: Do these rules just apply to the House? What about the Senate?

BOLDUAN: Well, the Senate has a series of rules of their own. And they're currently -- senators are looking at that right now. The Senate Rules Committee is working on this issue, and they hope to have some more proposals in the next couple of weeks.

BLITZER: Abbi, interesting stuff.

The race for the Minnesota Senate seat is already pretty wild right now. If Jesse Ventura were to jump in, would it become even more dramatic? The answer is yes -- up next, an exclusive one-on-one with the former governor. He explains why he might just run.

And Barack Obama at a big fund-raiser forgot one important thing -- why he had to go back on stage after his main speech.

And a new danger to American troops in Iraq -- insurgents have a much more powerful weapon, and it's being used with deadly results.

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


BLITZER: Jesse Ventura is a man of many looks and many careers. He was a pro wrestler, an author, and, of course, the outspoken independent governor of Minnesota. What does he do for an encore? Ventura says he will announce next week whether he will run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.

CNN Randi Kaye had an exclusive interview with Jesse Ventura. And Randi joining us now live.

I take it this is a tough decision for the former governor.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is. It's a real lifestyle change for him, Wolf. Governor Ventura has a lot of factors weighing into this decision. He turns 57 next week. So, if he runs and wins, he would be in his 60s by the time his first term is done.

When he ran for governor of Minnesota in 1998, I covered his campaign and then his term as governor. So, I asked him about one policy he plans to push through, term limits for reporters. That's if he runs.


KAYE: You have said, if you run and win, you would bring a revolution to Washington, D.C., playing off the title of your book, "Don't Start The Revolution Without Me." What can we expect to see from a Ventura revolution?

JESSE VENTURA, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MINNESOTA: You can expect to see probably the most outspoken senator ever. You can expect to see the good old boys out there getting turned on their ear, because I'm not going to play any of the games.

And that's what you can expect to see, talking -- talking to the people straightforward, and finding out the truth about a lot of stuff. I'm interested to see if things are still under national security and you're not allowed to see them when you're a U.S. senator.

KAYE: If you run, what policies would you campaign on? What changes do you want to make?

VENTURA: Well, the changes I want is, I would not vote for any bill that increases the monetary of the budget. It would have to be budget neutral. If they're going to pass something new for a certain amount of money, that means they have to cut it somewhere else for the same amount of money, because we have got to do something about this deficit that they're all ignoring.

When you have a country that's $9 trillion in debt, how can you possibly have a robust, good economy with that type of dead hanging over your head? And you notice that neither of these two parties even want to talk about that federal deficit, do they?


KAYE: Now, as I mentioned, another policy the governor would like to push through which we all care a lot about, he says he wants term limits for reporters.

When I covered him as a governor when I was in local news in Minnesota, there was no lovefest between Ventura and the media, Wolf. So, it will be very interesting to see, if he does run, if he will be able to take the heat. He says, yes.

We will see.

BLITZER: He's a colorful guy. There's no doubt about that. But we expect his decision in the next few days? Is that right?

KAYE: Yes. He said he will either file on Tuesday or he won't. He will not hold a press conference.

BLITZER: All right, good. We will see what he does.

Thanks, Randi, for that.

And you can see much more of Randi's interview with Jesse Ventura tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on "A.C. 360."

Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Let's go back to her.

Carol, what is the latest?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, senators may be at odds over the Iraq war, but they overwhelmingly confirmed General David Petraeus to get a promotion from chief military officer in Iraq to top commander in the Middle East. Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa cast the only two no-votes. The Senate also approved Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno to replace Petraeus as U.S. commander in Baghdad. More proof that the Bush administration is not backing away from controversy over the Beijing Olympics -- the State Department announced today that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend the closing ceremonies next month. President Bush's decision to attend the opening ceremonies is being panned by human rights groups concerned about China's crackdown on protesters in Tibet. The Bush administration says it's treating the Olympics as a sporting event, and will deal with China's human rights issues in other ways.

A plane crash, killing everyone on board, it happened in Chile. A two-engine airplane crashed shortly after takeoff. A boy is among the nine who died. Witnesses described the horror of seeing a ball of flames falling in the sky as the plane came down. It crashed near a residential area. Fortunately, no one on the ground was hurt.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Carol. We will check back with you shortly.

In our "Strategy Session": a fund-raising faux pas by Barack Obama.


OBAMA: Hey, hold on a second, guys. I don't want us getting all carried away.


OBAMA: I have got one more thing that is important to me. Now, don't worry. This is not -- this is not -- the speech part, but it is important.

Senator Clinton still has some debt.


BLITZER: Is Obama's heart really in helping Senator Clinton retire her debt?

And a surrogate headache for John McCain. Are the nation's economic woes a figment of the imagination? Donna Brazile and John Feehery, they are here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": Barack Obama forgets what he intended to do at a fund-raiser. It involves helping Hillary Clinton with her campaign debt, millions of dollars in debt.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, our CNN political contributor Donna Brazile -- she's a Democratic strategist -- and Republican strategist John Feehery. We saw the clip just now. He -- he gave his speech. Then he left. The music came up. And then, all of a sudden, he came back and cut off the music and said, you know, I have got to remind you to give some money to Hillary Clinton.

That was a pretty significant faux pas.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think it was a very embarrassing moment.

But, you know, Senator Obama's heart is into it. He is trying to help Hillary Clinton raise money as he prepares for the general election and tries to raise money as well. He's encouraging many of his top donors to give money. And, of course, he's encouraging people to hold fund-raisers across the country.

BLITZER: To Hillary Clinton supporters, who are passionate, as you well know, this looks like an afterthought to him, that he really wasn't thinking about this. And to -- I assume, to some of them, it will be seen as a slap in her face.

BRAZILE: You know, Wolf, there are many people who are passionate on both sides. But Senator Obama is clearly doing everything he can to help make this transition very smooth. And -- and there's no question that Senator Clinton is also deeply involved in trying eliminate her debt as well.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, Barack Obama -- this is painful for Barack Obama, because it's painful for a lot of his supporters, who do not want to give the money to Hillary Clinton.

And it shows that there's still a little -- a lot of anger there, as Donna points out. And this is not good for them going into the general election. And I think that, you know, Barack Obama has really got to be worried more about the general election and less about paying off Hillary Clinton's debts. And I think that's why it was an afterthought for him.

BLITZER: You know, what a lot of the Obama supporters say is, they can't stomach the thought of giving Hillary Clinton money, which will then wind up in the hands of her former top strategist, Mark Penn, who they despise.

BRAZILE: I would say those supporters, what would you prefer Hillary do, sit home and spend all her time raising money to retire her debt, or out there on the stump helping to raise hope and -- and inspire people to get out the vote for Obama?

I think the Obama supporters will help eliminate Senator Clinton's debt.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Phil Gramm today, the former senator from Texas who, now in "The Washington Times," speaks about a mental recession out there, suggesting that this country has become a nation of whiners right now. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And, obviously, McCain has quickly distanced himself from those remarks.

FEEHERY: Talk about stupid political comments. That was a stupid political comment.

I think what he's -- his quote is in "The Washington Times." They're all conservatives there. He's thinking, you know, these nation of whiners. I think he's actually talking about the media.

But people are really struggling. And I know this from personal -- people are struggling to make their payments on their credit cards. Their gas prices going up. Their worries about their mortgages going down.

This is something that's really seriously damaging to a lot of folks. So, these comments were not very helpful. And I think that John McCain and his campaign know that.

BLITZER: Should he dump him?

FEEHERY: Yes, you know, they're good friends. Gramm gives him a lot of economic advice. You go around dumping every surrogate who says something stupid, pretty soon, you are not going to have any advisers.

BLITZER: Because Barack Obama has suffered from stupid things that surrogates have said as well, Donna.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, it just goes to show you the limitations of having surrogates out there speak for you, when voters clearly want you to have an understanding of their pain.

And this is not a country of whiners, or -- and this is not newspapers trying to sell misery. It's real. Home foreclosures jumped 53 percent last month. That's one out of 500 households losing their homes every month. This is a country that is in serious economic trouble. And the last thing we need is surrogates out there complaining about the American people, who really want to go back to work.

BLITZER: Because this is issue number one, the state of the economy, the pain that so many people are spending $4 a gallon. It's getting up in many parts of the country closer to $5 a gallon, the foreclosures. The whole spate of the costs out there are just making families very, very miserable right now.


FEEHERY: And, for Republicans, they have been on a pretty good roll talking about gas prices. And the troubling thing about these comments, it gets away from that message of gas prices, gas prices, gas prices, drilling, drill here, drill now, energy independence. Let's do it.

And, you know, the Democrats are vulnerable on that. John Boehner and the Republicans have been very successful. And this comment just kind of...


BLITZER: You said earlier he was speaking to the editorial board of "The Washington Times," which is a conservative paper here in Washington.


BLITZER: But he had to know that they were going to print what he said. This wasn't just an off-the-record kind of conversation.

FEEHERY: I have been to plenty of editorial board meetings at "The Washington Times," and you say things that you really shouldn't say. And they do print them. And, actually, people read them. So, as a cautionary tale, when you go to any editorial board, be careful what you say.

BLITZER: Because this is especially painful for John McCain, given his longstanding friendship with Phil Gramm. When Phil Gramm was running for president back in 1996, McCain was one of his national co-chairmen.

BRAZILE: Look, Phil Gramm was supposed to fill a gap in John McCain's resume as it related on the economy. And he clearly made a very serious error. He also went before "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board.

BLITZER: Who's he?

BRAZILE: Phil Gramm.

And, once again, McCain is using somebody who is basically out there. He's a big bank executive right now. Phil Gramm was once in the United States Senate, ran for president. But, once again, he's saying it's the American people's fault. That's not John McCain's message. And he has a serious problem if Phil Gramm is speaking for him.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, John Feehery, guys, thanks.

FEEHERY: Thank you.

BLITZER: The three American hostages held in captivity in Colombia share their incredible story with CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was very, very painful. It was very painful. And I couldn't -- I couldn't lift my chin. My head got so heavy. And I was just like this. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what was it like spending years in chains, and why they always believed they would eventually be rescued. The exclusive interview, that's coming up.

Plus, airlines are charging for everything these days. And now they're asking for help from the passengers -- what the airlines want you to do to help them save some money.

And the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the day after he made some pretty crude remarks about Barack Obama, hear what he's saying today to CNN.

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


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Baghdad, a boy looks at the remnants of a car after an explosion targets the Iraqi army.

In New York, steel beams are placed at construction at the World Trade Center site, as it continues that construction there.

In Japan, lines are forming and people already camping outside a cell phone store for the new iPhone.

And, in Alaska, a father and son gaze through binoculars to see a black bear on Mount Marathon -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

On our "Political Ticker" today: new evidence that John McCain's age is more of an issue for voters than Barack Obama's race. The Republican turns 72 next month and would be the oldest president elected to a first term.

In a brand-new Gallup poll, 23 percent of Americans say that McCain's age is likely to make him a less effective president. That compares to 8 percent who said Obama's race would make him a less effective president.

In Georgia, Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis is facing something he hasn't faced in 16 years. A primary challenge. Two younger Democrats are on Tuesday's ballot against the 68-year-old Lewis. They say they're promoting Barack Obama's campaign for change in Washington. Lewis initially backed Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, but later switched sides to Barack Obama.

The senator who appears in the upcoming "Batman" is also a huge Grateful Dead fan. Senator Patrick Leahy was recently heard singing a Grateful Dead song whose lyrics include being -- quote -- "high on cocaine." But Leahy stopped short of singing that part. The senator says he plays Grateful Dead songs every election night.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out That's where you can also download our new political screen saver, where you can check out my blog as well.